HC Deb 30 April 1968 vol 763 cc971-3
1. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Health what steps he has taken to assist the mobility of the disabled passenger group.

8. Mr. Fortsecue

asked the Minister of Health what action he now intends to take in order to provide vehicles for those too severely disabled to drive, and thus in need of the services of a second person as driver.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

With the exception of certain disabled war pensioners, invalid vehicles are provided at Exchequer expense only to those who can with safety drive the vehicle themselves. I have no plans for changing the present policy in this respect.

Mr. Marten

Does the Minister realise that these people, many of whom suffer from such diseases as muscular dystrophy, are unable to use any public transport and are less well treated than disabled drivers? We all recognise the problems involved, but should not the Minister try to set up a study in depth to ascertain the size of the problem and the difficulties facing these people so that we understand better what we are talking about when we refer to the disabled passenger group?

Mr. Robinson

I can give the hon. Gentleman some idea of the size of the problem, because we have made estimates. The capital cost of providing cars to those eligible for a vehicle but unable to drive themselves is estimated at about £25 million. In addition, there would be annual maintenance costs of about £6½ million.

Mr. Fortescue

Are not there more anomalies in connection with this group than with any other, because they are provided with transport when their illness is at a comparatively mild stage, but when they get worse and thus need more help the help is taken from them?

Mr. Robinson

I would not say that this problem is without its anomalies. I have no power at present to enable additional groups of the disabled to be provided with cars. The Health Services and Public Health Bill will provide those powers, but I would not want to raise any false hopes at the moment that any wide extension of the provision is likely in present economic circumstances.

Mr. Edynfed Hudson Davies

Is my right hon. Friend aware that under the present system for the assistance of disabled drivers great hazard is caused by the fact that the cars supplied have only one passenger door and that, if these vehicles overturn, which they are particularly prone to do, on to the nearside the passenger is trapped and, moreover, the petrol tank is then directly above the hot engine?

Mr. Robinson

I would not accept all that my hon. Friend says, but in any event I do not think that it arises out of the Question. If he would care to table a Question, I will do my best to answer it.

Mr. Dean

Will not the Minister agree to have another look at this? Does he accept that there is much evidence to suggest that the greater the need for transport facilities the less can be provided under present regulations?

Mr. Robinson

We have done a study of this. A certain amount of research has been done into the classes to whom it might be possible to make an extension when economic circumstances permit. This is one deserving group. It is not the only one.

Mr. Tinn

Will not my right hon. Friend try to give us grounds for a little more optimism about what will happen when economic circumstances improve? Will he bear in mind the very real difficulty facing disabled drivers in singleseat vehicles in the event of breakdown or other mishaps, which might deter them from even applying for a vehicle?

Mr. Robinson

These matters are always being studied. We are always doing our best to improve the safety of these vehicles, which I do not accept are unsafe at present. Of course I would like to extend the eligibility for vehicles, but we must wait to see how the economic situation turns out.