HL Deb 08 July 1982 vol 432 cc891-3
Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals they will be making to the United Nations World Assembly on Ageing, in Vienna during July, to improve conditions for the aged in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the assembly, whose main business will be to discuss and approve an international plan of action, will provide an opportunity for an exchange of views between delegations representing Governments of member states of the United Nations Organisation. Her Majesty's Government are marking the assembly in this country in two ways: by sponsoring an award scheme aimed at encouraging local voluntary initiatives by or on behalf of elderly people, and by mounting a major seminar on research relating to elderly people in the community.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his very courteous reply and I am relieved that he did not mistake my Question for ageing in Vienna! Will the Government give practical application to Help the Aged's recommendation that the massive transfer of resources from the industrial nations to the developing countries, as proposed by the Brandt Report, is essential so as to enable impoverished nations to have resources available for programmes for the elderly?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Brandt Commission report was, of course, a very wide-ranging document, but it is perhaps worth remembering that in the United Kingdom we spend something in excess of £12 billion a year on retirement pensions and other benefits for elderly people, and we have a record of which I think we can be proud.

Lord Banks

My Lords, has the noble Lord's attention been drawn to the report in the Guardian today to the effect that, in the opinion of the Expenditure Steering Group for Personal Social Services, which comprises representatives of Whitehall and the local authorities, the Government are demanding cuts in the social services which would mean the loss of 11,000 residential places in old people's homes, 80,000 fewer meals on wheels and 70,000 fewer people having home helps? What is the noble Lord's reaction to that assessment and, if correct, would it not be discouraging news for the United Nations World Assembly on Ageing?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if that report were correct, it would indeed be discouraging, but I would advise the noble Lord not to believe anything he reads in the newspapers.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, following on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, will my noble friend not agree that the hospitals are having to accommodate a number of elderly people who could more happily and better be cared for in the community were the resources available?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I certainly agree that it is an important feature of our policy to get all people who are unsuitably accommodated in hospitals into community homes of every kind, whether they are handicapped people, elderly people or infirm people in some other way. We have an order of priority in that regard. We are particularly concerned at the present time with mentally handicapped people and wish to get them out of long-stay hospitals. I certainly agree that the other categories of people who are inappropriately housed in that way ought to be seen to, and we shall do so just as soon as resources permit.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, further to my noble friend's question, if the cuts which are stated to be planned by the Government in the Guardian are not correct, will the noble Lord say what cuts there will be in the services for old people? Will he not agree that it would be more likely to convince the House and the country that there will not be any cuts if statements of policy were made by the Government, instead of simply denials of assertions made on the basis of thorough investigations by a newspaper?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, policy statements will be made in due time.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that it is through voluntary organisations that great steps have been taken towards helping the aged to lead happy lives?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, yes, I agree with that. The voluntary agencies certainly play a very important role in this matter and, indeed, we provide help from central Government sources to quite a number of them.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, may I be allowed to express my gratitude to the noble Baroness for her interest in helpless people like me?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have never regarded the noble Lord as helpless, but then he might like to go to the conference himself.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, will the Minister agree that there has been general disappointment as a result of the replies which he has made? If I heard him correctly, in his first Answer he said that British proposals would be limited to encouraging voluntary or- ganisations and an educational seminar. Is not that entirely inadequate for a Government to propose to an international conference on this subject?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, with respect, I think that the noble Lord slightly misunderstood the Answer. Perhaps I did not make it sufficiently clear. The two matters to which he referred are things which we shall be doing in this country to mark the convention in Vienna, but what actually happens at the convention is different. It will be a forum for discussion. There will be a number of major proposals put forward. I think that a draft document has already been circulated for consideration by delegates informally before they come to the conference. I was particularly asked what we would do in this country, and those were the items to which I referred.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he can have the best of both worlds? Local authorities can make a massive contribution by providing old people's homes in their areas. At the moment these homes are constructed and older folk move in; they seem to attract the attention of a proportion of our youth who indulge in a great deal of voluntary help to aid the old people. Will the noble Lord also take into consideration relieving local authorities from any cuts that prevent them from building old people's homes, which then prevents local authorities attracting voluntary services to assist them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I said earlier in answer to my noble friend Lady Trumpington, we greatly welcome the activities of the voluntary agencies in this sector. But, with respect to the noble Lord, the main thrust of his supplementary question went slightly wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, with reference to the noble Lord's reply to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, he said that he had been asked what we would do here. Surely the question of the noble Baroness is what proposals we shall make to the assembly?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the assembly is not actually one in which proposals are to be made by individual delegates. We estimate that there will be 100 or more delegations at the conference. Anyone who is a member of the United Nations is, I understand, entitled to send a delegation. As we understand it—the conference is still some weeks off—the principal work of the conference will be to consider an important document which, as I have said, has been circulated in draft.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, will the Government consider increasing attendance allowances and back-up services to enable old people to be kept more in their own homes rather than be sent to institutions?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, with respect, that is another question.

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