HC Deb 27 January 1969 vol 776 cc929-32
23. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his time-scale for making the new prototype P5 invalid tricycle available to disabled drivers; and what additional cost per vehicle he estimates to be involved in making this a two-seater vehicle with storage for an invalid chair.

24. Mr. Macdonald

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress is being made in the development of the P5 prototype two-seater invalid car; and if he will make a statement.

25. Mrs. Braddock

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what new categories of disabled drivers will receive four-wheel vehicles.

26 and 27. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will list the first three categories of disabled drivers which are to receive four-wheel vehicles in the next extension of this facility;

(2) what is the estimated cost of providing a second seat and stowage arrangements for a wheel chair in the prototype P5 invalid tricycle.

28. Mr. Macdonald

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will draw up categories of the totally disabled with the object of gradually granting concessions similar to those for which they would be eligible if they were less severely disabled, including financial assistance towards the cost of private transport.

Mr. Snow

The 1969 three-wheeler will have greatly improved suspension and a new three-wheeler with a bigger engine and automatic transmission will be introduced in 1970. These important improvements will considerably increase the cost of providing vehicles for the disabled. Although the actual fitting of a second seat in a new three-wheeler which did not need to carry a wheelchair would not be difficult or costly, the consequences of permission to carry a passenger would be costly and my right hon. Friend is unable to provide further additional funds for this service at the present time at the expense of other National Health Service developments. For the same reason, the conditions applying to the issue of cars are not being changed. The timing and nature of any future changes cannot yet be forecast, but when available resources permit an extension of the service my right hon. Friend will consider the needs of all suitable groups.

Mr. Roberts

Is my right hon. Friend aware that disabled people generally will welcome the news that this three-wheeler will be introduced at a reasonably early stage? Will he accept, however, that there will be considerable disappointment at the fact that there are not to be facilities for carrying passengers? Will he bear in mind that loneliness—including when driving—is a real problem to the disabled and will he, therefore, look at the matter again?

Mr. Snow

This is a matter which is deserving of the sympathy of hon. Members in all parts of the House. In fact, we are reviewing our future provision most carefully. It must be understood that the arrangements aim to provide a degree of personal mobility. This is expensive enough and the cost of this is increasing yearly. We do more for our disabled people in this respect than does any other country in the world.

Mr. Macdonald

Concerning Question No. 28—I do not see how this Question has a direct connection with the others being answered by the Minister—does not my hon. Friend consider it curious to make a distinction between the civilian partially disabled and the civilian totally disabled to the disadvantage of the totally disabled when no such distinction is made in respect of the war disabled? Will he think further about this distinction?

Mr. Snow

The association of my hon. Friend's Question with the other Questions arises because of the same regrettable fact that there is an economic factor here which we find difficult to cope with at the moment. The totally disabled war pensioner who cannot drive can have one of our vehicles or an allowance towards the cost of running his own and is thus in a more favourable position than the National Health Service patient. This is in line with policies that have been adhered to by all parties for a long time. One day, perhaps, we might have an expression of view by the House about the present views of hon. Members on this subject. The House must face the fact that to make the practice general as between war disabled and other disabled people would be a very expensive exercise indeed.

Mrs. Braddock

Would the Minister explain why there is no other category for the four-wheel disablement vehicle?

Mr. Snow

When further resources become available, the desirability of making improvements for those who are already entitled to vehicles will have to be considered together with the claims of those who do not at present qualify for any such help. This is the problem. We may extend the use of four-wheeled vehicles but, on present form, it would be to the detriment of many categories of people who marginally are not at present entitled to three-wheeled vehicles.

Mr. Marten

Does the Minister's somewhat disappointing reply—he will agree that it is disappointing—mean that the new P5 three-wheeler is not to be a two-seater simply because it would be more convenient and, because it would be more convenient, more people would want it?

Mr. Snow

There is no technical difficulty involved in making the P5 a two-seater. Where the difficulty arises is in then finding space in it for a wheelchair. The hon. Gentleman, whose work in this respect, together with the work of many of my hon. Friends, is well known, will appreciate that there is no unanimity of opinion outside the House on this matter. Indeed, it would be helpful if he could use his influence to see that there is a clearer definition of the disabled people's views on this matter. I can find no uniformity on this issue at present and, as I explained, it is a question of developing as resources become available.

Mr. Archer

When my hon. Friend is looking into this matter, will he take into account the anomalies which arise? Will he examine, for example, the position of those disabled through respiratory complaints who are entitled to a three-wheeled chair only if they are going to a place of employment? Is he aware that often the difficulty for these people is that they are too ill to have an occupation?

Mr. Snow

This is one of the factors which we shall be taking into consideration as the situation develops. I do not wish to conceal our great difficulty in meeting the demand that is coming from disabled people who are only marginally not entitled to some sort of vehicle.