HC Deb 20 March 1970 vol 798 cc837-40

The Secretary of State shall as respects each year lay before Parliament a report on the progress made during that year in research and development work carried out by or on behalf of any Minister of the Crown in relation to equipment designed to benefit disabled persons, and in particular such equipment designed to improve the mobility of such persons.—[Dr. John Dunwoody.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Dr. John Dunwoody

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this Clause we can also discuss New Clause 5: "Mobility of disabled persons" and Amendment No. 31: In page 7, line 9, leave out Clause 19.

Dr. Dunwoody

This Clause would require my right hon. Friend to report on progress in research particularly in relation to equipment to improve mobility of disabled persons. Such equipment embraces all types of road vehicles as well as wheelchairs and limb prostheses. There is a very wide range of wheelchairs available to those who require mobility because of certain disabilities. The new, more powerful vehicle which we intend introducing in the latter part of this year would feature in such a report. It should be of particular value to haemophiliacs about whose problems I know hon. Members have been concerned. It will be of particular value to them because of the simple automatic transmission it incorporates. Because of its special design features it can cope with a wide range of disablement and offers much to the leg-disabled haemophiliac, seeing that any type of vehicle presents certain disadvantages to sufferers from haemophilia.

The Clause, which would replace Clause 19, makes the Secretary of State responsible for reporting because he is primarily concerned with research and wholly responsible for its application to the National Health Service. It limits the duty to report to work undertaken by Government because there is no power to obtain information from other sources at home or overseas. It does not preclude mention of activities elsewhere, when those responsible are willing. My Department keeps a very close watch on what is happening not only outside Government in this country, but in other parts of the world. In many respects we lead the world in this provision. It is hoped that important developments sponsored by others will be included by arrangement.

A small point in the Clause concerns not only the provision of vehicles, but the means by which people are recommended for supply of vehicles. At the moment this is a rather complex and involved matter entailing reference to a hospital consultant. Subject to consultations with the interests concerned, my right hon. Friend will be glad to give favourable consideration to an arrangement by which recommendations for the supply of wheeled chairs and powered vehicles could be accepted from general practitioners and local authority doctors as well as, or instead of, hospital consultants. This might be of considerable significance because for many of these patients it is difficult to make a special journey to hospital for a consultation and then to be examined by my Department. These difficulties are very real. If we are able to make this small advance, it will be of great help.

Mr. Marten

I do not want to open up the whole question of vehicles for disabled drivers, but I thank the Under-Secretary for what he has said about the recommendations which I am sure will be of great help. I am sure that the new three-wheelers which are coming out are better than the old and particularly useful for haemophiliacs, but a four-wheeler is much more stable in rough wind and bad weather.

I hope that there will be no censorship by the Secretary of State of reports coming from other Ministries. I hope that he will so organise reports that they can be printed absolutely without censorship and that on reports from the Ministries of Technology and Transport there will be no "fiddling".

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I welcome the approach made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to this problem. One of the difficulties which has faced those who have been working in this field has been a lack of information and knowledge. Although we shall have a report, it is a feature of this House that we have reports and do not debate them. I should like there to be a situation in which we have a report about equipment for disabled and debate it annually. That would enable publicity to be given in the Press and it would probably enable voluntary societies which have worked so well with us on this Bill to use the information contained in the report and spread it among their members.

My hon. Friend said that it was not possible to get information from outside sources. Mr. Duncan Guthrie, of the National Fund for Research into Crippling Diseases, has signed a report on research and development for the disabled. It would be useful if the Department, in addition to its own activities, could take account of the work done by such voluntary societies.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I emphasise the last two points which have been made particularly about the work done within the Department and the large amount of work in hospital units for rehabilitation. The Department has not published the studies, however. I wish to make sure that there is full coverage within the hospital services.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

The New Clause—"Priority seats for chronically sick and disabled persons"—to which I put my name, has not been selected. I should like to know whether the effect of the Clause which we are debating can have impact on the Ministry of Transport with reference to public transport. There is considerable trouble for the perhaps less seriously disabled in using public transport. This matter should be looked into carefully.

Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)

Will the new vehicle be available for war disabled?

Dr. John Dunwoody

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) that we are very conscious of the need to co-ordinate information available from various sources. I take the point which he made.

On the question of information from overseas and non-Governmental information raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), all I intended to say was that my right hon. Friend has no power to obtain such information but this does not mean that we shall not attempt, and probably succeed, in obtaining it. We have no power to obtain information from private organisations in the way in which we can obtain it here for the Government machine.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Would my hon. Friend be prepared to accept information from voluntary associations before producing a Report each year?

Dr. Dunwoody

I should be prepared to consider any information put before us from any responsible source such as the voluntary organisations.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) asked me about new Clause 4, which has not been selected. It covers a rather different subject. New Clause 6 deals with equipment designed to improve the mobility of disabled persons.

Sir E. Errington rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) must not pursue the Clause, which I have not selected. I allowed him to refer to it delicately.

Sir E. Errington

With respect, Sir, I was only going to ask a question about the less seriously disabled. The Under-Secretary did not answer that point.

Dr. Dunwoody

I attempted to answer the question. As I understand it, the problem which is concerning the hon. Gentleman is rather different from that which we are discussing on new Clause 6. However, if he has a special point on which he would like to write to me about transport facilities for disabled persons, whether they be less seriously or more seriously disabled, I should be willing to look into it.

The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) raised the question of the provision of the new vehicle for the war disabled. It is hoped that this new vehicle will eventually replace the three-wheelers which are being provided to disabled drivers, whether they be civilian-or war-disabled. I am sure that we shall look seriously at the problems, not only of the civilian disabled, but especially of the war disabled. We have always given special consideration to this group. They will certainly be considered for the issue of the new vehicle as and when it becomes available.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.

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