HC Deb 28 October 1980 vol 991 cc217-9W
Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has received the report of the Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality and Handicap; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alison

I have received and welcome the report of the advisory committee, which is being published today. The report provides specific guidance to reduce infant mortality and handicap in Northern Ireland and for improving the health and welfare of mothers-to-be and of infants.

An important theme of the report is the need for more health education. It makes clear that expectant mothers and the mothers of young children can do much to help themselves, in particular by making better use of the ante-natal and post-natal services already provided. I fully endorse this view. To ensure that the report's message on these matters reaches a wide audience, I am arranging an immediate publicity campaign designed to bring that message home to parents and prospective parents.

Another important theme in the report is the necessity for further preventive measures in the fields of personal and environmental health. I shall discuss the recommendations on health education in schools and on housing with ministerial colleagues.

The report also draws attention to the need for a reappraisal of caring practices and attitudes and of training programmes for professional personnel. I am confident that the professions would share my view that progress can be made on this front also. Arrangements are therefore being made to begin early consultations with the relevant bodies.

The report makes wide ranging recommendations for improvements in the health and social services. While I accept the general thrust of these recommendations they will require close study and detailed consultation with health and social services boards, the professions and other interests—but no additional resources can be provided or earmarked for these purposes at this stage. Attention must therefore first be directed to the many recommendations which have minimal or no cost implications and which point the way to making better use of existing facilities and of professional staff time and can be put into operation quickly. Further progress will depend on the extent to which the other recommendations can be accommodated, perhaps through a reallocation or redeployment of resources. Current constraints on money will, however, afford time to which to plan developments requiring additional finance so that action can be taken quickly when the opportunity arises. There will of course be competition from other priorities for any additional resources.

The report recommends a substantial increase in maternity grant and changes in the conditions under which this grant and maternity allowances are at present paid. Persuasively as the committee may have argued these matters. I must say that the present economic situation rules out their acceptance. However, the Government are inviting comments on ways in which the system of maternity benefits might be changed and are prepared to consider any proposals that would not involve additional expenditure. Of course, under the policy of strict parity in the social security system, any changes could not be implemented unilaterally in Northern Ireland, but only on a United Kingdom basis.

There is no way in present circumstances of evading the problem of resources. But to say this does not detract from the value of the advisory committee's report. I am extremely grateful to the chairman, Dr. Baird, and to the members of his committee for their work in producing a report so comprehensive in its scope, so lucid in its analysis, and so positive in its concern for the amelioration of a major social problem in Northern Ireland. I trust that the boards and the professions in Northern Ireland will see the report as a framework for policy and action in the years ahead.

Copies of the report are being made available in the Library today.

Notified vacancies remaining unfilled on 8 August 1980
Order number Standard Industrial Classification Registered unemployed on 14 August 1980 At employment offices At careers offices
I Agriculture, forestry, fishing 1,372 37 10
II Mining and quarrying 2,333 45
III Food, drink and tobacco 2,222 53 4
IV Coal and petroleum products 198 16
V Chemicals and allied industries 1,280 91
VI Metal manufacture 9,362 41 2
VII Mechanical engineering 2,086 168 7
VIII Instrument engineering 373 20
IX Electrical engineering 2,002 73 3
X Shipbuilding and marine engineering 203 3
XI Vehicles 1,468 103 4
XII Metal goods not elsewhere specified 2,629 101 7
XIII Textiles 1,185 31
XIV Leather, leather goods and fur 141 2 1
XV Clothing and footwear 1,672 65 12
XVI Bricks, pottery, glass, cement etc. 747 62 2
XVII Timber, furniture etc. 1,045 57 2
XVIII Paper, printing, publishing 842 48 3
XIX Other manufacturing industries 2,515 46 3
XX Construction 17,326 430 20
XXI Gas, electricity and water 416 73 2
XXII Transport and communications 3,623 140 6
XXIII Distributive trades 9,122 607 42
XXIV Insurance, banking, finance and business services 1,630 323 15
XXV Professional and scientific services 4,315 623 8
XXVI Miscellaneous services 8,684 1,342 37
XXVII Public administration and defence 5,847 499 14
Unclassified by industry 37,950
Total 122,588 5,099 204