§ A mechanically propelled vehicle fitted with controls enabling it to be driven by persons having a particular disability or a vehicle specifically and extensively adapted for use by persons having a particular disability that so incapacitates them in the use of their limbs that they have to be driven and cared for by a full-time constant attendant and registered in the name of such a disabled person under the Vehicles (Excise) Act 1962 shall not be chargeable with any duty under that Act by reason of its use by or for the purposes of that disabled person or by reason of its being kept for such use where—
- (a) he caused the controls to be fitted to the vehicle and obtained in respect of the cost thereby incurred a grant paid by the Minister of Health and Social Security or (in Scotland) the Secretary of State out of moneys provided by Parliament; or
- (b) whether or not he caused the controls to be fitted to the vehicle his disability is of a kind in the case of which grants in respect of the fitting of such controls are so paid;
- (c) conspicuous and permanent adaptations have been carried out on the vehicle to make it suitable for the transport of the disabled person by his or her constant attendant as driver and where the disabled person is sufficiently disabled to be eligible under the National Health Service Act 1946 and the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 for an invalid tricycle but too disabled to drive it.
§ and where regulations under section 16(3) of that Act requires a person to furnish particulars as to a vehicle exempted from duty by this section, they may require him to furnish in addition such evidence of the facts giving rise to the exemption as it is prescribed by the regulations.—[Mr. Marten.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
I suggest that it will be for the convenience of the House also to discuss new Clause 46 (Exemption from vehicle excise duty used by husband or wife of disabled person).
§ Mr. Marten
As can be seen from the list of hon. Members sponsoring the new Clause, it is a non-party or all-party proposal.
On Saturday, I was playing cricket all day, not very well. On Sunday, I played six sets of tennis, not so well. I make that point because it is when one has done that over a weekend that one counts one's blessings. We hope that a Clause such as this will have an effect upon the Government Front Bench and get them in the end to change the attitude that the Treasury has always taken to this very limited subject which we as an all-party group are trying to put right.
There have been similar Clauses moved in this House before. On 16th July, 1969, there was an excellent speech on this subject, and it sums up exactly what we feel and exactly what we want. I do not wish to take up the time of the House. For that reason, it may be convenient if I make some pretty free quotations from that speech, which says it all so well and so movingly. At the end of my quotations, I shall reveal who made the speech.The objective of the Clause is to grant road tax exemption to certain rather limited classes of severely disabled persons and to lessen the burden on such persons, many of whom are now totally immobile because of the difficulties with which they are especially faced.The people to whom this applies are those whose mobility is dependent on travelling as passengers in private transport. We are, therefore, concerned here with a relatively small number of people and the cost is likely to be very small.I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury bench have hoisted in that last point.The wording of the new Clause would strictly limit the number of persons to whom it could be applied for two reasons. The first is for ease of administration and definition and the second is to make it clear that there can be no increase to potential costs through abuse, through creating precedents, or through any form of escalation.The limitation is twofold. We ask this "Concession only for people who fulfil two conditions. The first is that they are so severely disabled as to be unable to use an invalid carriage to which they would otherwise be entitled. This means that, by definition, they cannot use public transport. The second condition is that the vehicle for which we are seeking road tax exemption, in which they are to travel as passengers, should be so adapted for disabled persons as to be completely identifiable. This means that it has 1130 to have a hoist for a wheelchair or other form of extensive alteration which is already a criterion.We seek this exemption because, among all those who have the misfortunate to be physically or mentally disabled, these are people for whom nothing has as yet been done to help or encourage or enable them to leave their own homes. They are not a large group. It is estimated that between 1,000 and 1,250 would be directly affected by the Clause. The estimated cost is between £25,000 and £30,000 in a year. But the concession would give a great deal of benefit and remove a serious anomaly, because these people cannot use any form of public transport, such as a ship, train or aircraft, without first having to use private transport to get there from their homes, and they are by definition unable to use an invalid carriage. They are equally obviously unable to use a bus, tube or any other kind of local public transport. They are, therefore, dependent entirely on their own resources as passengers.Secondly, they are the only people among the disabled who get no help for any form of outdoor mobility—the others getting help with the servicing of invalid cars, and so on. The new Clause would only partly reduce the anomaly—an anomaly whereby the State gives help to the disabled man to get himself out of doors if he can drive an invalid carriage himself, but not to those more severely disabled who cannot drive themselves.This is a ludicrous anomaly in some ways and one which could be eliminated without very much increase in cost to the State. The costs to the individual are now very high. With purchase tax at over 36 per cent. on vehicles, 4s. 6d. tax on petrol and the road fund tax at £25 it is possible for a disabled person in this sort of category to be paying in tax now between £100 and £110 a year to remain mobile. We are asking that part of the costs—the vehicle licence duty—should be removed from them.What about the cost of such concessions? The Joint Committee on the Mobility of the Disabled has made an elaborate calculation indicating that the persons who would be affected by the limited concessions sought … would number between 1,000 and 1,250. I will not weary the Committee with all the details of these calculations, which seem to have been done with scrupulosity and conservatism as to the numbers.A little later, it continues:The disabled passengers for whom we are seeking this exemption are not difficult to identify. The same procedure could be applied as is applied to invalid tricycles. The disabled passengers could satisfy the conditions which they now have to satisfy, and administratively it is not difficult to identify the individuals concerned.If the concession is, as we suggest, limited to specially and conspicuously adapted vehicles, those, for example, fitted with car top hoists or van conversions enabling a disabled person to enter the vehicle while still in a wheelchair, there is no chance of abuse, as the vehicle is easily recognised. It is even 1131 easier than most such concessions to police, since only two or three firms in the country are capable of undertaking such conversions. So there are no difficulties either in identifying those who are entitled to the concession or in policing the vehicles.Then I skip a bit and finish off with these words:Those people, of all people, are in a difficult situation. They cannot go out alone. The mere fact that they require constant attendance could be another way of policing this. It could be a condition of road tax exemption that the vehicle is insured for one driver only and that driver a full-time attendant of the disabled person.I see no reason why the Government should not accept the Amendment. I hope that the Financial Secretary will tell us that this is what he intends to do. He will be creating no precedent, and he will be helping a small number of people who are badly in need of help. He will be acting in a merciful, compassionate way at no cost to himself, the Government or the future. If he shows himself markedly reluctant, I shall ask the House to take this matter to a vote.That was a very long quotation from the speech of the present Chief Secretary to the Treasury. It was, in fact, the speech which I would have made that year. It is, I think, just, right and appropriate that I should quote that speech fairly fully to show what less than two years ago the Chief Secretary, who is not present at the moment, felt about the matter.
I should like now to make one short quotation from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), now the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who regrettably also is not present. He said:The Amendment, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) and supported by hon. Members on both sides, is a modest one. The Financial Secretary has not made what we regard as a wholly convincing case, and we therefore think that it would be right to divide in favour of the new Clause."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 624–44.]Need I say any more than those two excellent speeches, made less than two years ago by the two Treasury Ministers who are in charge of this matter? I think that at this stage I should sit down in the hope that they will now honour what they then said.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I have played some part in 1132 supporting the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) in this matter. First, I pay tribute to them personally for what they have done. A good deal is achieved only by the dedication of individuals to specific objectives. I hope that the hon. Member for Banbury and my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe will succeed on this occasion. If not, I am sure that they will eventually succeed.
It is a misfortune that the party government of the House precludes decisions of this kind being taken opportunely. I am sure that on a free vote the whole House would wish to accept the new Clause. The House should realise that by acting in this present way it is not serving the public interest; it is serving a bureaucratic interest. I think that the bureaucracy should be brought before the Bar of the House and made accountable to it.
The hon. Member for Banbury has been particularly modest. I think the argument is overwhelmingly in favour of acceptance of the new Clause. This, however, will not encourage me to prolong the debate unduly, but it is a pity that we cannot incorporate into the record statements of interested parties. I have before me, as I am sure the Minister has, the statement of the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled. This makes an unanswerable case for acceptance of the new Clause.
We should realise the new Clause is concerned and that we are concerned with people who are so disabled that they cannot drive their own vehicles and must have drivers. These people have to rely on others to drive their vehicles for them. I know that the bureaucrats can make out the case that as this proposed provision is particularly open to evasion, someone may use the vehicle on occasions when the disabled person is not a passenger. This is not an argument which we can accept. More or less everything is open to evasion by people who are particularly anxious and determined to evade. We must strike a balance here and I should think that the overwhelming balance of advantage is in favour of the disabled person.
1133 In paragraph 8 of the document to which I have referred, the Joint Committee states:It is patently unjust that, through increasing physical disability alone, a disabled person can lose not only the ability to drive, with the consequent loss of freedom, but also lose all financial benefits he or she may have enjoyed as a disabled driver. The cruel anomaly whereby an increase in physical disablement results in decreasing help from the community must be corrected.This is the case which the House puts before the Front Bench. I say this without any party political bias, because the Minister can point out that his predecessors have previously rejected this proposal. In terms of cost, it is a small anomaly which the hon. Gentleman is asked to rectify. It will not cost very much. I concede that there is a small risk of evasion. I confess that a few days ago my daughter converted a van into a caravan. This was accepted by the Customs and Excise. However, I concede that there is some risk of evasion. Overall, one has to judge the balance of advantage. Here the balance of advantage in favour of the disabled is overwhelmingly greater. I would far rather a few people might evade the law than that these people, to whom we owe a great obligation, should suffer this disadvantage.
I hope that on this occasion we shall be successful. If not, we shall continue to pursue the matter as Finance Bill follows Finance Bill and eventually we shall succeed. Despite the argument which can be made against the proposal, that it is open to possible evasion, I hope that on this occasion we shall be successful. I hope that as the hon. Member for Ban-bury is now on the Government benches he will reap his reward.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I should like to add my support to the case which has been so admirably expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and by the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey).
It is time that a democratic Parliament put first the case for the individuals who require this new Clause to be carried rather than the financial aspects in cases of evasion. I think that people count more than the House of Commons sometimes gives credit for. I therefore think that the new Clause is most important.
1134 I do not know quite what words to use, but it goes against the grain when the then Opposition argue a case and then change their mind when they become the Government of the day. If there is a case to argue fairly, and it is argued in the way that this one has been in the past, I cannot believe that the Government—any Government—are entitled to use the arguments that were used on previous occasions to defeat similar Clauses. I think that to do so is alien to the British character. The same sort of thing happened yesterday when we were discussing lifeboat men, and I took great exception to it.
My hon. Friends on the Front Bench are men of great integrity, and I am sure that they will accept what I am saying. It is not right to make a speech in Opposition and then change one's views on becoming a member of the Government. Men of great responsibility, as they must be if they are on the Government Front Bench, be it a Conservative or a Socialist Government, have sufficient knowledge to know what is involved. They do not need to be told. They know because the administration of Government makes them fully aware of the facts. They know, because they have to carry the responsibility of Front Bench administration.
When my hon. Friends were in Opposition they must have known the case that was going to be made against them. I do not care a hoot for the case against the Clause. I only know that it ought to be accepted, and I cannot think what I shall do or say if it is not. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Clause, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting it forward. I cannot believe that my Front Bench will turn it down.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
I should like, first, to congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on the overwhelming and outstanding case that he has made for the acceptance of the Clause. He has made such a devastating case that it is hardly necessary for others to speak in support of it. Nevertheless, I believe that many hon. Members know from their experience that this problem, though small in numbers, is very real to those affected, and I sincerely hope that if the Clause goes to a Division it will be overwhelmingly carried.
1135 The reason why I have decided to take part in the debate is that there is someone in my constituency who will benefit from the Clause being accepted. His is a very sad case, indeed, and because it is so sad I shall relate it.
He is a young man aged 22, with many years of life before him. He went on holiday to the seaside, and while there he dived into the sea and broke his back, with the result that he is now completely paralysed. He will never walk again. He can hardly move in his chair. His parents are not rich—in fact, they are rather poor—but they have done their utmost to provide transport for him, and I am glad to be able to say that with the assistance of his former employers and friends he has been able to get some form of transport. The fact remains, however, that the tax on his transport is an additional burden on the parents and those who wish to assist. I do not think that they should be asked to bear that burden.
There is a further point to remember. The adaptation of the special vehicles—and this was referred to by the hon. Member for Banbury—is very expensive indeed. I have seen one of these adaptations taking place, and I know that over a period of time any assistance that we could give by way of relief of tax towards the conversion of suitable vehicles would, indeed, be welcomed.
Most of us in this House, and most people outside, enjoy reasonable health. We all know what a joy it is to be able to go out on a Sunday and play cricket or tennis. We know how marvellous it is to be able to go into the countryside and breathe the sweet and pure air which is so absent from our cities. Is it not our duty, as Members of this House—and would not people outside be with us if we were to do this—to say that every facility that we can possibly grant should be made available to people like my constituent to enable them to enjoy at least the fresh air of our beautiful and pleasant land?
There is far too much bureaucracy in this country, and in many others, too. There are too many accountants looking at the books. There are too many people who judge everything in money terms. There are too few people with sheer commonsense and a little humanity. 1136 I submit that all we need is a little commonsense, a little humanity and perhaps, I was going to say a little more courage, from Ministers, but I had better not prejudge them, because they may say, "Well, chaps, this is an excellent idea. We said certain things while in Opposition, and as men of honour we shall translate them into action". I hope that Ministers will have the strength to stand up to the bureaucrats and say, "We are going to support the Clause because we believe that it is in the interests of common sense, in the interests of humanity, and in the interests of giving those less fortunate than ourselves some little extra relief".
§ Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford)
I earnestly hope that the Government will accept the Clause, for the reasons which have already been put forward, to which I have one further to add. The case in terms of compassion and humanity is so obvious that it hardly needs to be restated. It has been abundantly put forward already. The case in terms of logic was very clearly put by the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), and I need not add to what they said, but I should like to say something by way of economic argument in support of the Clause.
I should like to consider one example where it is possible to make a fairly precise calculation of the economic consequences to an individual of accepting the Clause. Among the cases that have been circulated to many hon. Members by the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled, there is the case of a man who has been suffering from multiple sclerosis for about 10 years. Three years ago, having, presumably, been able to drive himself up to that time, he was forced to give up driving, and he has been in a wheel chair ever since. He has a wife and two daughters at school.
When this man was able to get about and go to work and his wife was able to go to work, between them they earned about £40 a week, on which they no doubt paid tax. They must now live on a total of less than £15 a week derived from sickness benefit, family allowance, and so on. When one adds to that £15 1137 which is drawn entirely from public funds the tax which was previously paid on their joint income, the cost to public funds of keeping the man in idleness is about £1,000 a year. He is in this way being subsidised from what he doubtless regards as charity to do nothing, instead of being enabled to get out and earn his living and instead of his wife also being able to earn her living, which she can no longer do because she must stay permanently at home to look after him.
This is one case where £1,000 a year in public funds goes to a man and his wife who are capable of earning their living, in return for their doing nothing. I do not know how many such cases there are. We are told that between 1,000 and 1,250 disabled people would benefit from the Clause. It is inconceivable that there are not at least 25, 30, 40 or 50 people in a very similar situation who are being subsidised from public funds at the rate of £1,000 a year to do nothing instead of being enabled to earn their living. We are told also that the total cost of the concession asked for by the Clause would be between £25,000 and under £40,000 a year. In other words, there need be only 30 or 40 cases such as I have described to wipe out the cost to the Exchequer of granting the concession.
This is a simple example. I have no doubt that many others could be given.
I turn from a purely economic argument which is unanswerable to an argument in human terms. My constituency has perhaps a higher proportion of disabled people than many other parts of the country, because the hospital and rehabilitation centres in Oxford are so exceptionally good that they attract large numbers of disabled citizens. I do not know any of these disabled people who would not put as their first priority being able to get out to earn their own living and to live as nearly as possible a normal life and not feel that they are a burden on the community.
It is for this reason, as well as for reasons of logic and economics, that I earnestly press my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to accept the Clause.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
The question of transport for cripples has been near to mv heart for many years. I 1138 have interviewed on this subject every Minister of Health since Iain Macleod in 1951. Always one gets the answer as to the technical difficulties. The Clause touches only a very small fringe of the problem, but it is none the less a right one.
My interest is based upon what I believe to be the fundamental principle of Socialism and it may be of Christianity, too—from each according to his capacity to each according to his need. I can conceive of no greater need than the man who cannot walk having a means to enable him to move, to enable him to live, to enable him to earn his living.
Now we are being asked to tax these substitute legs. It is an indecent tax for any community to levy. The State is taxing these cripples for that which is utterly necessary to them. This is indecent. It is not because we need the money. The amount of money involved is trivial. It is because there are administrative difficulties in making this exception and because, if we are just here, we might have to be just somewhere else. This always seems to be the most contemptible and also the most usual excuse of bureaucracy, that being just in one area might open a door which would involve one having to be just somewhere else. I do not mind if that happens.
There may be technical objections to the Clause. I think that it is well drafted, and I heartily congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on having produced it. None the less, drafting is the business of Government. If the Government think that they can draft a better Clause, good luck to them. At least let them say as a matter of principle, "We will do what in Opposition we said that we would do. We will stop this indecency of taxing cripples on their injury and on their helplessness". Imposing and continuing this tax is something which no Government can decently do. However difficult it may be for our bureaucrats, this is a small thing which we can put and end to.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
I can add little to the eloquent and moving things which have been said on both sides. The hallmark of strong government is sensitivity, flexibility and an ability to stand up to those who issue briefs marked "resist".
1139 I hope that we shall take a small but significant step towards the establishment of the just society which we all believe is necessary by supporting the Clause. The Government have singled out many categories of people who are in special need. I believe that they have made significant developments in these directions. This is another development which the Government must make. The numbers are few. The amount of money is negligible. The need of these people is enormous. The Minister has it in his power to come to their aid today. Unless he can do so by supporting the Clause—by accepting it wholeheartedly, or by producing a good alternative remedy of his own—I, for one, will find it impossible to support the Government in the Lobbies.
§ Mr. James Tinn (Cleveland)
I heartily agree with what the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) has said. We recognise that when parties move from Opposition into Government there are cases when, faced with the responsibility of government, Ministers have to express views which were previously expressed by their opposite numbers. This is to some extent inevitable and justifiable, but not in the present case.
On a free vote the Clause will command the support of all hon. Members. It would be a gross abuse of our party system for the Whips to be so applied as to compel hon. Members to vote against their conscience on a matter like this. There is no great issue of party contention here, and there would be no great cost to the Government. Only a very small improvement is asked for, but it would be thoroughly worth while.
My only doubt is whether the new Clause is too limited and restrictive. I can envisage cases which might be excluded. Perhaps the Minister may take up that point and say that the fact that some cases might be left out is an illustration of the argument that a concession such as this could give rise to fresh anomalies. Perhaps it could, but, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, if other injustices, unfairnesses and needs are disclosed as we make this small but worthwhile advance, so much the better. Let us at a later date look at them also and see what can be done in their case, too.
1140 For heaven's sake, let us not deprive the people concerned of the real benefit which would flow from the new Clause simply on the argument that wider needs might be disclosed. We have seen the way our social services have developed. Every advance in our social services reveals more of the iceberg beneath the surface. But this is no argument against advance. On the contrary. It is further evidence of the need to continue to advance.
All of us, I am sure, either from our personal experience or our experience as Members of Parliament dealing with the problems of constituents, have come across cases of need, for example, people suffering from multiple sclerosis or other progressive diseases who at first are able to drive but who, as time goes on and the disease inexorably develops, are no longer capable of driving and who are then condemned, if their means are slender, to stay at home, their horizons limited by the garden wall, or not even that if they live in a city centre.
If the new Clause were adopted, such a person would be enabled that much more easily to spend his or her remaining years able to enjoy the benefits or the countryside, of travel, and, what is more, of access to the welfare services which the nation provides. It is utterly wrong that anyone such as a constituent whom I have in mind, a severely disabled girl, should be confined to one visit a week, or sometimes even less, to the local welfare centre because she is not able to drive herself. The facilities are there, they are not overcrowded, and she would be perfectly acceptable on many other occasions, but the local authority cannot provide the transport more than once a week or once a fortnight. The door to those facilities would be opened to such people by the new Clause.
I am a little concerned about one phrase in the Clause, the reference to "full-time constant attendant". I hope that this would not exclude parents, or husband or wife, as the case may be, for they would clearly be full-time constant attendants. If the new Clause is taken up, it should be made clear that a member of the family will be so regarded.
The cost to the public purse would be negligible, so much so that it is difficult to calculate. The Clause is limited 1141 in its application, and it could not be said to open the door to a flood of similar applications. It may, as I said, disclose the need to extend its provisions further, but, even so, the commitment would be strictly limited. The Clause commands the sympathy and support of all right hon. and hon. Members, including, I hope, those on the Government Front Bench.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
I wholeheartedly support the new Clause, which has been so ably and lucidly presented and expounded by hon. Members on both sides. One is always deeply impressed by the sincerity which one senses in the House in debates on disablement. It has been that sincerity and the force of the cases presented which have in recent years led to the progress which we have made in care for the disabled.
The new Clause represents another vital step forward. Mobility has for many years been accepted as an important social factor in the lives of the disabled. Since 1964, when exemption from vehicle excise duty was first granted to disabled drivers, there has been a constant battle to fulfil this worthy social objective by extending the exemption to those too disabled to drive themselves or so severely disabled as to require help and attendance.
These disabled passengers are desperately hampered in their attempts to live an independent life. Their work opportunities are rare. There is high unemployment among the disabled. Public transport is not designed to assist them to any great extent. If they wish to attend interviews for jobs or to travel to office or place of work, a vehicle or a driver is essential. Social and family life is severely restricted for them. Unless they can afford to run their own vehicles, the impromptu visit to friends or relatives or to the cinema or an evening concert is not possible. The difficulties facing the disabled family man or woman with children are so great that the quality of their family life is threatened.
No one can deny the need for as much assistance as possible for these people who, because they are too handicapped to drive, do not receive the concessions 1142 which are given to others who can drive and who are, therefore, eligible for the free invalid tricycle with free insurance, vehicle excise licence and petrol allowance or for a grant towards the cost of converting an ordinary car.
The disabled person who cannot drive becomes less and less mobile. The concessions and help are removed, and his or her mobility is again sharply reduced. The disabled driver, regardless of income, can have a grant of £90 to convert the controls of a car and he has a tax exemption of about £25 a year. The disabled passenger, on the other hand, perhaps suffering a worse handicap, has to adapt a vehicle so that he or she may travel as a passenger but receives no grant and no exemption from road fund tax.
The cost to the Exchequer would not be substantial—perhaps £30,000 or £40,000 in lost revenue—but the gain to the 1,500 or 2,000 people concerned would be enormous. Their motoring costs would be sharply reduced, and a wider and more independent home life would ensue. I sincerely hope that the new Clause, which meets a social objective which both sides of the House wish to see achieved, will receive favourable consideration from the Government.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
This is one of those rare parliamentary occasions when there is a general consensus in this House to do something sensible by putting on the Statute Book a small reform at low cost which will give a great deal of happiness to a small proportion of our fellow citizens who are suffering great disability. I hope that the appeals made from both sides of the House will not fall on stony ground.
I have been long enough in the House to know that there are many occasions when it cannot be laid at the door of politicians that a certain course has not been taken. It is often the conflict of party positioning which is at the root of some of our failures in this House. I will not go into that matter in detail, but I will say a word or two about bureaucracy.
We all know that behind the scenes we are served by some excellent people. In all the public departments there are highly qualified experts in this or that discipline, but they carry out their official 1143 functions in the most cautious manner. There is sometimes a feeling in the House that because something is not done, it is not because of any objection by the Minister who is answering at the Box on behalf of his Department, but because of the ultra caution of the bureaucrat who fears that abuse will creep in if the House gives authority for a departure of this kind.
I will not make too much of that matter in this short debate, but I appeal to the hon. Gentlemen who are on the Front Bench to look carefully at the question of the disabled being assisted by motor traction. This proposal seeks a small concession which will go beyond the concessions which have already been granted, We know that at the moment one department of State deals with the needs of the disabled war service pensioners who are suffering certain degrees of disability. Their disability is measured by how many inches of a particular limb have been severed, and all this is laid down in orders and regulations. I have always contended that such regulations are too narrow and that their administration is too inflexible. I appreciate that an unqualified discretion in the hands of the Minister can be dangerous, and I would much prefer to see these matters set out in a statute to give them firm authority.
Perhaps it will help if I cite a particular case. There is provision for small motorised vehicles to be given to severely disabled ex-Servicemen, but the regulations are so tightly drawn that it is impossible to extend the benefit to people who ought to enjoy it. There are other circumstances, on which I have been in correspondence with the Department, in which a married couple are both severely disabled. The question arises whether a vehicle should be provided to cater for both their needs. Unless both parties to the marriage carry the same degree of technical disability as closely defined in the regulations, they cannot have a two-seater vehicle and therefore the one partner cannot accompany the other when the vehicle is used.
This may be only a marginal case, but this reinforces my view that the regulations which relate to concessions available for disabled persons are too tightly drawn and ought to be considerably loosened. This Clause is an attempt to do that and 1144 I add my congratulations to those hon. Members who have had the enterprise to table this proposal.
In these days it is not so much a matter of public funds as a matter of the flexibility with which the system is operated. If the matter were a little more flexible, it may mean that somebody who finds himself in such a situation may be enabled to lead a more useful and fuller life if he or she is given the chance. Certainly when some 52 per cent. of all families in Britain have at least one motor car, it is particularly humiliating to the disabled to find that they cannot have facilities comparable to those possessed by their neighbours who enjoy their full faculties. Therefore, this Clause is a step in the right direction and is based on the strongest humanitarian principles.
I hope that the hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench, despite what is marked on briefs emanating from the Treasury which say "Resist this" or "Do not give way on that", and so on, will continue to control their own machine and will not let the Treasury machine control them. There is abundant evidence that it is the feeling of the House that in this affluent society there should be a greater liberalisation to bridge the gulf which exists between those who are suffering serious disablement and the rest of the population. This can be done in this small way by enabling such people to have the assistance of motor vehicles to enable them to cope more easily with their disability.
Therefore, I add my small voice to those pleas which have already been advanced. I ask that we should break with tradition to the extent that, on a matter which is not of world-shaking importance in regard to any loss of revenue to the Treasury and which would enhance the prestige of Ministers, the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will have the courage to stand at the Dispatch Box and to say that, in response to the feeling of the House, he is prepared, if not to accept this precise Clause, to put forward an Amendment to give us what we ask.
§ Mr. William Clark (Surrey, East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and I would also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) for the tremendous work they 1145 have done for the disabled. We are this afternoon dealing with an all-party matter, and the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled should be congratulated in the way in which it has put forward a logical case. It so happens that the chairman of the Joint Committee is a constituent of mine.
It rather appears that in these sort of debates we play a game of charades. It depends upon the clothes we are wearing, or indeed on the side of the House on which we sit, as to whether we support a particular item. What we propose when in Opposition it appears we reject when in Government. This applies to Governments of both political persuasions who have both been at fault in not taking the opportunity to put right this anomaly.
One must look at this matter from the point of view of the disabled. Such people because of their disability do not necessarily want to mix; they are rather frightened by their disability. Therefore, it is incumbent on everybody, including the Government, to do all we can to help. Since the cost is so low and will amount to some £30,000 or £40,000, this is surely a step which can be taken; I am sure that this proposal would be agreed to if it were put to a free vote. I am sure that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench in their heart of hearts know that this is an anomaly which should be remedied. There is a special allowance for the blind, and I do not see why this idea cannot be extended. There is an anomaly in that the partially disabled are able to drive a vehicle, but the severely disabled who cannot drive a vehicle receive no benefit at all.
The Minister in winding up no doubt will say that he does not wish to deal with the matter in a piecemeal fashion, and after he has replied we all know that nothing more will happen. Surely in such a case as this we must firmly grasp the nettle. This is an anomaly and it may open the floodgates to evasion, but it should not be beyond the wit of the Inland Revenue or the Treasury to make regulations to overcome evasion.
I hope that the Minister of State will not say that this should be dealt with globally or that we should consider the possibility of evasion. On humanitarian and even economic grounds, it is ludi- 1146 crous that this small percentage of people should be forced to stay at home, as a charge on the State, because they have no mobility. It is better to give them the confidence which they have lost, and the opportunity to mix in the world and get a part-time job.
I hope that my hon. Friend will realise the strength of feeling on this small Amendment and that it will be accepted in the spirit in which it was moved.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
My only criticism of the new Clause is that it does not go far enough, but we all recognise the difficulties in trying to extend the aid for the disabled. I pay tribute to the sponsors of the Amendment because it recognises the dignity of disabled people—something which has been ignored for far too long—and their right to independence. Independence and the ability to participate in the social life of the community are essential parts of the treatment required by the disabled. This may mean that the community will save money in the long term.
Only those who have been house-bound appreciate the problems involved for a disabled person and his family. There is a great deal of truth in the saying, "Show me a disabled person and I will show you a deprived family". If we can help to offset this kind of situation, we should do so. I hope that the Government will note the sincere and non-political views expressed by those with personal experience of the hardship cases involved. A community can be judged not only by how it caters for its aged and its young, but also by the way in which it caters for those who are less fortunate. If the Amendment assists these people, their families and the community it will have rendered a service of which we can be proud. I hope that the Government will not expect their own members to oppose a genuine and sincere attempt to provide a better life for those who, in the past, have been considerably ignored not only by the House but by the nation.
§ Mr. John Astor (Newbury)
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). He and others have already made out such a powerful case that there is very little more to say in justification. We know that some of my hon. Friends who are now on the Treasury 1147 Bench have previously expounded similar views, so the argument is already well known to them.
The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said that if there were a free vote there was little doubt that the new Clause would be accepted. It is to the credit of outside organisations and hon. Members who are particularly concerned with promoting the interests of the disabled that this process has gone on free of party political warfare. We all have the common interest of doing our utmost to help the disabled.
We have all welcomed the new benefits introduced by this Government and their predecessor for the disabled. Many of us are impatient that we have not gone far and fast enough. This is a comparatively modest proposal affecting a comparatively small number of people—but for those people the benefit of the independence, dignity and opportunity for work which will be given by the new Clause is absolutely fundamental. I hope that my hon. Friends will appreciate the genuineness of feeling and will be able to respond sympathetically.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
Perhaps it is because I am a comparatively new Member that I am so unused to such agreement on both sides of the House, but I am glad that it is shown in such a worthy cause. I hope that this strong feeling will affect the Government Front Bench.
I hope that the Government will somehow signal their acceptance of the new Clause, but if there is to be a vote I hope that it is a little time coming, because, unfortunately, I am paired and I would not break the honour of that pair. I feel so strongly on this issue that I want to speak, but I cannot vote, although I want to vote. I hope that the debate will continue or that the Government will signal their acceptance. This must be very difficult for the Government, because their hon. Friends have expressed the matter so much better than I can express it.
I wonder whether the Government have ever seen a person living as a cabbage. I often saw elderly folk in this condition before I became a Member of Parliament as well as after. They can hardly 1148 move around the room and their life is confined to four walls. It is a great joy for them to reach the window and see the traffic passing or children playing.
Their only hope of enjoying a slightly fuller life is to be helped by somebody to see what is going on in the big world outside. I trust that the Minister will make this concession and avoid my having to describe it as the "hard" world outside. I urge him not to niggle over the small cost that this proposal would involve.
I have no doubt that the Minister will say that to make this concession would cause a precedent. I see nothing wrong with that if, by establishing a precedent, we can begin to sweep away some of the hardship that is faced by the chronically disabled. We glibly vote millions of £s for the building of weapons of destruction. This concession would cost only a tiny amount of the cost of building a warship or warplane. Are we more concerned to destroy or preserve life—or, in this case, to bring a little succour to those who are least able to provide for themselves?
Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think that I am making an impassioned plea. I am, not just because financial people are tough nuts to crack but because this is a subject on which I feel emotional. If I thought that it would serve any useful purpose, I would beg for this worthy cause. In an age of computers and space travel, it should not be beyond the comprehension of the gentlemen who serve the Government in the Civil Service to find a way of administering this proposal which would ensure that only the minimum of abuse occurred.
In the 12 months or so that I have been in this House, I have seen measures taken which were capable of being abused. The Government have insisted on those measures being implemented, and the civil servants have had to find ways of avoiding the abuses which could arise. I appreciate that we must watch the taxpayers' money. We are all taxpayers. In this case, however, abuse is unlikely, and if it were to occur it would be on such a small scale that it would not present a balance of payments problem or create an economic disaster.
As with other hon. Members, cases of this kind are regularly brought to my political 1149 surgery. I have a number of cases on the books involving, for example, people requiring motorised wheelchairs. People come to me seeking assistance for their aged mothers and fathers. It is difficult enough to obtain these wheelchairs, let alone other assistance. Some of the red tape that is encountered is incredible. Perhaps we can begin to formulate a code of practice which ensures that the right people get the equipment and assistance they need. I am sure that such a method could be built up if the civil servants involved were instructed by the Government to put their minds to it.
We know only too well of the ways in which people avoid their taxes, and particularly taxes applying to motor vehicles. By tightening up on the present motor taxation laws we could save many thousands of pounds and so gain far more than would be lost by any minor abuses that might arise out of implementing the new Clause.
I appeal to the Minister will all the eloquence I can command—as I said, I would beg if I thought it would do any good—not to force this matter to a Division. If he does, he might find a surprising number of his hon. Friends in the Lobby voting against him.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
I do not claim to be able to put the case with such clarity as others who have spoken this afternoon, but I claim to be able to do so with as much fervour as anyone in the House. Those of us who have been very close to total disablement know how lucky we are and appreciate more than anyone else how lucky we are not to be as those who suffer grave disablement, those whom we are discussing.
There are many endearing things about people who are totally disabled. One is the way in which they appreciate small concessions so much more than do others. I have seen, when some concession has been given to the drivers of disabled persons' vehicles, particularly that enabling two persons to be in a vehicle instead of only one, the enormous joy which has been brought to married couples. That was a small concession, but it was well worth while.
This Clause is a concession well worth making. We have charitable and humanitarian Ministers on the Front Bench. I sincerely hope that they will not be overruled by some bureaucratic intellectual 1150 arguments aginst the new Clause. With all the fervour I can muster, I hope that the House will support it and that the Government will accept it.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I have listened with great interest to what has been said today, particularly to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney). I do not know why he accused the Government Front Bench of being so stony-hearted that we should have a vote. How we could possibly have a Division on a matter of this kind I do not know.
I remember the way in which the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, so ably piloted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), went through the House. It was not a party Bill; it had complete support from both sides. In Committee we discussed how we could help the disabled, and there was not a single dissentient vote. I remember hearing the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on provisions to assist the disabled with their transport.
I had no intention of participating in this debate, but I have listened with interest to all the speeches. Ministers will recognise that there has not been one voice dissenting from the general view. Not one argument has been advanced to show why the Clause should not be accepted. It has universal support and it is not a party measure.
In the long years that I have been in the House, I have noticed that when a party takes office the party in opposition puts forward a proposal which the Government deny, but when the party in office becomes the Opposition it puts forward the same proposal and the then Government will deny it. Here is a typical example. I do not know why this should be. A cause is worth supporting or it is not. Here is the House of Commons anxious to support the cause of the disabled.
In the year since the Government took office many questions have been addressed to the Secretary of State for Social Services—and I am glad to see a Minister from the Department here today—about the disabled. I always understood that the Government were only too anxious 1151 to help the disabled in every way possible. Here is an instance when the Treasury could help in an extremely important matter.
What are the possible objections to the Clause? I jotted them down as I listened to the speeches. First, there is the drafting. We are too sincere about this matter for anyone to get away with an excuse of that kind. I am certain that if the drafting is defective the hon. Member for Banbury would be only too ready to accept any improvement, although I have read the Clause and I think that he has done an excellent job.
Secondly, there is expense. Surely this proposal would involve a comparatively small sum. We are dealing with only a small number of the disabled in a particular category and the Government could not possibly resist the Clause on the ground of expense Thirdly, there is administration. It has been suggested that there might be some objection on that ground, but I do not understand that argument. I do not see why there should be any difficulty about dealing with any snags in administration. If there were, they should be overcome in the interests of those concerned.
Fourthly, it might be open to abuse. What abuse? Does this mean the sort of abuse which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South mentioned? If, as there always is in some matters, there were any possibility of abuse, why should the Clause be rejected on that ground? It is designed to assist the disabled and it has been supported by every speech this afternoon, eloquently supported by many of them. No objection of any kind has been argued. In my small way I have tried to visualise the objections which the Minister might advance and I have dealt with each.
I refuse to think that the Minister will want a Division on a matter of this kind. How could an Administration—and in a party voice I say even a Tory Administration—have the disgrace of having a vote about support for the disabled? Surely the Front Bench cannot be so stony-hearted as to refuse to accept the Clause. I confidently ask the Minister to say that he fully supports it and that, if there is any question of redrafting, he 1152 will see that it is altered to secure the relief which we seek to give.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
It is just over a year ago when we were all fighting a General Election and all trying to tell the voters how compassionate we were. All that is proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), supported from both sides of the House, is a sensible piece of applied compassion.
The mandarins of the Treasury have always puzzled me. They ask Parliament to swallow the most enormous camels when they themselves will strain at the very smallest gnats. This is a very small gnat at which to strain. I cannot believe that the cost would be very great. I hope that we shall be told what the estimated cost is. I should have thought that it would be so small as to make it absurd not to grant the concession.
We have reached a rather strange position in the exercise of applied compassion in government, and I am glad to say that a vast amount of compassion is exercised. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security has reason to pride himself on the amount of money which his Department has got out of the Treasury for making all kinds of improvements in our social services. No doubt he had big battles behind the scenes, but they were battles which he won. Here is a very small battle being fought on the Floor of the House, coram publico. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is a compassionate man, and he would not be giving way on a big front if he granted this concession.
It is hard to see what precedents would be created which might cause the Treasury some trouble in next year's Finance Bill, or in the years to come. This is something which so essentially and logically stands by itself on its merits. But even if it created precedents, I should still say that the case for it was made out.
It is one of those rather sad things, when we are all anxious to improve the social services, that we cannot do everything at once—if we could, we would always avoid any kind of criticism that we were helping one good cause in advance of another—we cannot achieve 1153 that. But here is a very small thing which, at very low cost, can be done at once without causing any trouble whatever to the Treasury. It is eagerly supported on both sides of the House and is a mere exemption from vehicle excise duty. There are already various exemptions, sometimes for commercial purposes, and this would be an easy one to grant.
It has surprised me very much that the debate has lasted as long as it has. Perhaps it is an expression of the strong feeling which it has aroused. When other hon. Members have had their say, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able either to say that he grants the principle of the new Clause and accepts the drafting, in which case it can be added to the Bill straightaway, or that he accepts the principle but cannot accept the drafting, in which case he must find some other early method of attending to the matter, or that he is, and I hope that he would be able to say that although he does not feel that this is the occasion, at any rate he could give the firmest possible and most unequivocal undertaking that the Government will find another opportunity this year—I do not mean this financial year, but this calendar year—for doing what the new Clause aims to achieve.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)
I also support the new Clause, and I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), both of whom have done so much in this and the previous Parliament to highlight the needs of the disabled. I do not need to repeat the arguments in favour of granting this tax concession to this section of the disabled, not because the argument was not self-evident, but because no one in the House needs to be convinced any longer; everybody agrees. When I say "everybody" I suspect that I include also the two Ministers on Front Bench who, I am sure, in their hearts would love to accept the new Clause; indeed, perhaps they will.
Something happens to Treasury Ministers when they become Treasury Ministers. They are the unwilling recipients of bleats from the Treasury. My heart goes out to the Minister who is to reply, if he has to rely on a Treasury brief full of technical arguments as to why the Clause cannot be accepted.
1154 The debate is also peculiar in that not only is the House convinced that we would be doing the right thing if the Clause were accepted, but the public also would agree. That is not always the case. Very frequently matters about which we agree in the House do not necessarily have the overwhelming public support. All sections of the public would be very surprised if they knew that this anomaly exists, that this one section of the disabled, those who are more disabled than the disabled and to whom a car is an absolute necessity, to whom it makes the difference between life being bearable and being unbearable, are somehow exempted from this tax concession.
I hope that the Government will find a way to accept this very reasonable and cleverly-drafted Clause.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). I came into the Chamber with the express purpose of intervening in the debate. As it has progressed, pretty well every point that I wish to make has been swept away from under my feet. Nevertheless, I congratulate most heartily my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on bringing forward the new Clause.
It is obvious by this time that it has the support of all hon. Members who have spoken so far and, no doubt, of all those who have listened to the debate. That being so, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury, must have taken on board the feeling of the entire House about this matter. I am glad to see him smiling; it has got home.
Until a few minutes ago, my hon. Friend had with him the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security. Perhaps he would not mind if I referred to him as the Angel Michael. I understand that the Angel Michael is at all times ready to assist those in difficulty. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has left the Chamber because my hon. Friend the Minister of State may need a little more assistance even yet.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) sugested that the Government would need to take some action. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) also touched on the difficulty that 1155 the Government are now in at this stage of the Bill if they do not accept the Clause. On the Report stage of the Finance Bill in July, 1969, a similar clause was introduced. Two years almost to the day have elapsed. In that period there has been time for this Clause to be brought forward. Without doubt there have been improvements in the drafting. I am not a lawyer, I am thankful to say. I have no legal backing. However, the Clause seems to me to be perfectly adequate in what it seeks to do and in its wording.
I therefore suggest that the Minister of State should accept the Clause as it is drafted. If he does not, the very least that I personally will accept from him is an assurance that at the earliest possible opportunity—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire gave the Minister of State some amplification of what an early opportunity would be like—he will bring forward legislation to take care of this point.
§ Mr. Baker
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He has been in the House for even longer than I have and has had a great deal of experience of Parliamentary procedure. I commend the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks to the Minister of State.
It is conceivable that the Minister of State will deploy all sorts of arguments. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North referred to some of the argumnts which the Minister of State might adduce. I believe that the new Clause is similar in content, though perhaps not exactly in wording, to new Clause No. 13 which was considered by the House in the debate on the Finance Bill in 1969. On that occasion the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member or Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever), said this:On new Clause 13, it is not a question of worrying about floodgates of expenditure, or anything of that kind. I am not in the least concerned with that here. I do not think that vast expenditure is involved.1156 We have heard today that it is only a small sum that is involved. The right hon. Gentleman continued:It is simply an attempt to keep some coherence which makes me unwilling to accept the Clause.I warn my hon. Friend against using such language. What on earth does that mean? I repeat that I am no lawyer, but I can claim to have a certain degree of intelligence. The phraseit is simply an attempt to keep some coherencemeans less than nothing. The right hon. Gentleman continued:What is done here is to give to those who are rather worse disabled a fraction of the help that we now give to people who are less disabled.That is another brilliant statement which does not exactly help the cause.This will not do as a remedy, or as a purported remedy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 641.]No amount of rhetoric and verbiage will dissuade me from the view that the Clause is in essence right and it is the feeling of the whole House that it is more than welcome and, to say the very least, a very just move to help the disabled.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
The paradoxical situation may arise in the near future when advances in technology make it possible for certain people who are now too severely disabled to drive, in fact to drive. At Possom Controls, which is possibly the most advanced unit in the world for helping disabled people, developments are taking place which will allow a paralysed person to drive a vehicle and to obtain a licence to do so.
There is the classic case of the constituent of the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern). Paul Bates is the longest-living polio case in the country, existing in an artificial lung. He, in a paralysed state, can drive a vehicle and holds a Ministry of Transport licence to do so. He is condemned to life in a horizontal position, and is so disabled that most people would write him off, but in terms of disablement he would be entitled to exemption under the Act.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor) recently accompanied me to Aylesbury. We saw some developments 1157 at the laboratory there which are fantastic. A large number of people are unable to use vehicles now because they are too severely disabled. Until the improvement in technology occurs, they have to be driven around by, and depend upon, relatives. This is a triple hardship. There is the hardship of severe disability. There is the financial hardship of having to pay for the vehicle. Then there is the amount of time which is absorbed either by someone they must pay to drive them or by one of their loved ones.
One of my constituents who is a multiple sclerosis sufferer was a senior consultant to the Manchester Regional Hospital Board and he would be completely isolated in his home or, if he did not have a wife to take great care of him and drive him about, completely isolated in hospital. Why should this category of person suffer this triple disadvantage? On grounds of quality of life alone, quite apart from the moral issue, these people are entitled to the same treatment as is accorded to less severely disabled people.
It is an anomaly that there are probably people who cannot qualify for tax exemption but who are driven about by their wives or by paid drivers and who may, in the not-too-distant future, qualify for exemption because technology will enable them to overcome their disability, though not to cure it.
On this ground alone, the Minister of State should concede the argument. According to the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled, we are talking of only 1,000 to 1,500 people. The loss to the Revenue would not be all that great and at least we should be treating all people as equals. What a disabled person wants more than anything else is to be treated as an equal.
The Financial Secretary, when he was in opposition, fought for this cause for many years. Those on the Treasury Bench now have a chance of testing the water or of proving that they were genuine when they were in Opposition. They should accept the Clause.
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), who was good enough to refer to Mr. Paul Bates, one of my constituents, and I shall take up 1158 some of the hon. Gentleman's observations because the case of Mr. Paul Bates is a typical example of the sort of case which would be helped by the new Clause.
I was much moved, as were all right hon. and hon. Members who have so far spoken, by the merits of the case so well propounded by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). The fact that my hon. Friend's speech consisted in large part of quotations from speeches made by my hon. Friends the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary two years ago did nothing to lessen its qualities. Indeed, the case was as forcibly and well made today as it was two years ago. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is put in no great difficulty. He has merely to follow the observations made on that occasion, and repeated by my hon. Friend today, and do what the House wants.
It is not right, nor is it in the long run tolerable that a view expressed strongly and voted upon by Members when in Opposition should be changed just because their party comes to Government. I realise that the position will not be quite so simple as that, however. I understand that there is in first-class tennis something called the Australian syndrome. This term, I gather, is applied to the sort of play which consists of serve followed by return of service, followed by volley, followed by overhead lob, followed by smash. It is rather repetitive and entirely predictable if one watches much tennis on television, and it is not, perhaps, very attractive after one has watched it for some length of time.
That description, it seems to me, applies in every respect to the attitude of the Treasury towards this and many other proposals which are brought forward by way of Amendment or new Clause from time to time. The Treasury's attitude in answering the arguments is that of a brick wall seemingly capable of blocking any ball hit at it from no matter what angle. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) put up a strong case last night for the lifeboat-men, and we had what I can only call the typical Treasury reply.
Broadly, the Treasury reply rests on three main principles, if principles they can be called. First, the proposal is 1159 said to be too expensive. Second, it would create an anomaly. Third, a commission of inquiry has just been appointed and will be reporting in due course. Those are the three usual lines of argument.
On this new Clause, we know for certain that there will be hardly any loss to the Revenue. It will be scarcely perceptible. So that argument cannot be adduced.
Next, we have the second point of principle, the creation of anomalies. All our legislation affecting the disabled is riddled with anomalies anyway. It is our purpose as Members of Parliament to create even further anomalies in the pursuit of some alleviation for the victims of disablement.
I come now to the case to which the hon. Member for Eccles was kind enough to refer, that of my constituent Mr. Paul Bates. I had an Adjournment debate on his problems a little time ago, and I received a sympathetic reply from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security. But the answer was still "No". The simple point in Mr. Bates' case is this. He is so severely disabled as a war disabled pensioner that he is not able to climb into a car such as is provided free by the Government for less severely disabled war pensioners. Nor is he given any of the allowances which are given as of right to those other war disabled pensioners who are less disabled than he. So he fits precisely into the category covered by the new Clause.
It is our purpose as Members of Parliament to add to the anomalies which already exist, and very happily exist through the exertions of such people as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and the hon. Members for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) and for Eccles. It will be their never-failing endeavour, I am sure, to see that further anomalies are created.
I come now to the third general Treasury point of principle, that there is a major inquiry proceeding and it is hoped to bring forward proposals in due course to cover not only this situation but many others as well. I earnestly ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State not to try to pass that one across us. The new Clause is in virtually the same form as 1160 it was two years ago. It was pressed hard then, and pressed to a Division, by my hon. Friends the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary, who spoke most eloquently in its support.
The new Clause has been on the Paper for a long time. It has been available to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his hon. Friends the Financial Secretary and the Chief Secretary, who will have recalled it readily because they spoke strongly in its favour some time ago. So let there be no question of my hon. Friend the Minister of State telling us that a special inquiry is already under way and examining the situation.
We know what the point is. We know what we want. It is time that we had satisfaction.
§ Mr. John D. Grant (Islington, East)
I add my congratulations to those already offered to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris). As so much of the ground has been adequately covered, I shall follow the good example of other hon. Members and be brief.
There has been a great awakening to the cause and plight of the disabled in recent times, typified most, perhaps, by the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act and by certain subsequent Government action which served to underline it. Some local authorities have, perhaps, lagged behind in applying the spirit of that Act adequately. I must say that my own local authority in Islington has had a particularly poor record in this respect over the years—one of the worst in London—although I am now assured that it is trying to apply the spirit of that Act with somewhat more enthusiasm and is to have a special report on it shortly in order to see what more may need to be done.
This is not just a question of local authority concern. It is very much a matter of Government action as well. The Secretary of State for Social Services has gone on record publicly as saying that he wants to do far more for the disabled. Here is an opportunity for his friends on the Treasury Bench—their number has grown to formidable proportions in the last ten minutes—to help him in furthering that aim.
1161 There is no party division on this matter. It is said that there may be technical reasons why it would be difficult for the Government to accept the new Clause, but everyone knows that technical difficulties can be swept away if the will is there. Red tape can be cut through if the Government really want to do so. It will not be a large step to take, except for the relatively few people who will benefit directly from it. It is obvious from the small number involved that it will not be a costly measure to introduce, but it will be of enormous assistance to the disabled people whom it will help.
This is an issue on which the Government can give way with good grace. If they do, they will receive—perhaps an unaccustomed experience for them nowadays—not only the good will of this side of the House but the good will of the country as a whole. In the tennis terms used by the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern), the Government have already lost this debate game, set and match. I join every other hon. Member who has spoken in appealing to the Government to accept the Clause tonight, not to put it off, and not to force a Division.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
The House should not assume that the Government have lost the debate game, set and match yet. I have been watching our Front Bench closely for the past two hours trying to discern the atmosphere around my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who was at first alone. He did not intervene to say what was the Government's opinion on the Clause, but I have noticed that he has recently been significantly strengthened by the presence of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and I can only hope that that presages some advantage to the House.
I must declare to the House and my own Government how I feel on this issue. I would rather they knew where I stand now than that I should make excuses to them afterwards. Notwithstanding all the difficulties which they could use as excuses, difficulties which my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) described so clearly and which were perhaps fed to them by the Treasury, the Treasury Ministers can make a decision which clearly meets the will of the House.
1162 We are admittedly taking part in a small debate within the framework of a large Bill, a debate affecting a small but very important group of people. When the debate is over it is not my colleagues and my Government that I am concerned to have to face but the disabled people whom I represent here and to whom I must declare what I have done today to help them. I speak as one who is closely connected with the Disabled Drivers' Association. Only last month I was a member of a packed congregation in Canterbury Cathedral at a yearly service which I always attend to pray for the disabled. But a Member of Parliament is required to do something more than to pray; he is here to take action, to do more than just persuade. He is here to show that he means what he says when he tells his constituents, "I will do all I can to help you".
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor cannot ignore what he has heard in the debate. We know that he and his Treasury team are all men of considerable compassion. We know it from his record when he was a great Minister of Health in a former Conservative Administration. We know of the actions he took then for the disabled, at a time when he described those whom we are considering as the most severely disabled of all. I am sure that no hon. Member who has spoken today has been speaking to deaf ears. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench will appreciate that while they can make decisions, and so recognise the will and determination of the House, decisions in Parliament can also be made elsewhere.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said in moving the Clause that it has all-party support. It certainly has, even though no Liberal hon. Member's name is attached to the Clause.
This is by no means the first time the House has faced all-party Motions and Amendments on the subject, and various of my hon. Friends have spoken in favour of them in the past. Allusions have been made to the shuttlecock nature of our debates on this kind of subject. That element is perhaps one of the nastier of our parliamentary system, whether it is the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) 1163 changing his mind about growth since he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Leader of the Opposition changing his mind about the Common Market, the two Front Benches throwing school milk at each other, or a debate about the disabled. I hope that it is not a party point, but at least one of the advantages of being a Liberal Member is that one can watch the changes with a detached air of cynicism and hope that one of these days the gods will intervene.
What we are witnessing is not government by the House or by the elected Government but government by the civil servants, in this case the Treasury civil servants. That is a very nasty element in our democratic, or undemocratic, procedures. We have in the debate a general illustration that we do far too little to encourage people who wish to look after their relatives, whether those relatives are suffering from disablement, ill-health or any kind of old age. We happily finance vast schemes for old people's homes, homes for the disabled and homes for the mentally-handicapped, but we give far too little help through the tax system or direct welfare grants to those families which wish to look after their own disabled and elderly.
We already have in our welfare system a means of helping disabled drivers to obtain special vehicles or specially converted vehicles. He we are talking about people who are almost certainly too disabled to drive themselves but have relatives who are willing to do it for them, yet apparently the Government are not prepared to help.
We know only too well what the objections will be, if indeed they are objections. I think that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is being a little too optimistic in supposing that the Government may intervene at this stage, because if they meant to accept the Clause they would have saved us a great deal of breath and time if they had said so in the early stages. But perhaps it is not too late to persuade them.
When the matter was debated in Committee on 27th May last year the then Minister of State—of a different political persuasion, but on issues of this sort that makes no difference; the record remains the same—said: 1164Treasury Ministers perhaps more than others occasionally find themselves in impossible positions.That is undoubtedly true, but there is no reason why this should be an impossible position. The Government would not have to spend vast sums in implementing the Amendment. As the hon. Member for Banbury has pointed out, the money involved would be peanuts compared with our total welfare commitments, so I do not see that money can be an excuse.
The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the possibility of abuse, but said that he was not saying that the argument about abuse was overwhelming. We can all echo that. I hope that the Minister will not tell us that it is overwhelming. I hope also, since right hon. and hon. Members opposite have now had about 12 months in the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Security to consider the matter that they will not plead administrative obstacles. That again was mentioned by the then Minister of State on 27th May, 1970. when he said:Nor shall I say that there are administrative obstacles which cannot be overcome. There are administrative obstacles to doing virtually anything…He promised that he would discuss it with his colleagues and, presumably, his civil servants—probably more with the civil servants than with his colleagues—and that he would try to come up with a solution. He added:…I should regard it as a priority to discuss with my colleagues in the Treasury and my hon. Friends at the Department of Health and Social Security whether we can make an advance in this respect…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1970; Vol. 801, c. 1847–9.]A year has passed and surely there has been ample time for the Treasury and the Department to consider the whole matter. When the matter came to a vote on that previous occasion, 144 members of the Labour Party, then the governing party, voted this proposal down. I hope that on this occasion a substantial number of hon. Members of the present governing party will put their votes where their consciences are and where the desires of their constituents rest.
I am aware that it is difficult for a member of one of the two large parties in this House to vote the way his conscience dictates.
§ Mr. Pardoe
It is rare indeed that I get a chance to be patronising. I would have thought, on an issue like this, when hon. Members have stated so clearly where their views lie, that it would not be easy, though it is possible, for them to go back on their views and vote other than where they have stated that their consciences lie. I shall certainly support the new Clause.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Anthony Barber)
I want first to say how sorry I am that, because of certain other duties, I was not able to be here to listen to the debate earlier. I had expected, as I think hon. Members opposite had expected, that this new Clause might have been taken yesterday evening, in which case it would have been possible for me to have been here. I wanted to be here because obviously this is a matter of great importance.
I am particularly pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) referred to the time when I was Minister of Health and had to grapple with the very difficult problems involved in trying to get a sensible system for dealing with the mobility of the disabled. No one is more acutely aware of the problem than I am. No one is more acutely aware than I am that, during my year of office as Minister of Health—the last year before the 1964 general election—I failed to do other than improve the situation marginally, but I have always firmly believed, as do my right hon. Friends, that something has to be done to deal with this situation. It is in no carping spirit that I say to right hon. Gentlemen opposite that what we are trying to achieve in the present review by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is something which might well have been done in previous years. Be that as it may, the review is now going on.
I remind the House of the present position. At present, all those who qualify for help by the Health Departments through the provision of transport are relieved in one way or another from the payment of vehicle excise duty on their vehicles. Under Section 4(1)(g) of the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1971, vehicles 1166 up to and including 8 cwt., adapted for use solely by invalids are covered. This exemption, originally made under the Finance Act, 1962, was extended by the Finance Act, 1964, to vehicles with adaptations to the controls installed by owners eligible for the assistance of Health Department grants. This extention is incorporated in the Vehicles (Excise) Act, 1971.
At present, there are three categories of eligibility for conversion grants for the provision of invalid carriages. Broadly speaking, to become eligible, a person capable of driving an invalid carriage or a car with the necessary adaptations must have lost the use of his legs, be virtually unable to walk or be rather less disabled and need a vehicle to get to work and back again. Nearly 30,000 persons who are currently provided with transport or conversion grants under this scheme are given exemption from vehicle excise duty.
I turn now to the purpose of the new Clause. It is in exactly the same terms as a new Clause put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) in Committee but not reached for debate. It is also in exactly the same terms as a new Clause put down by the then Opposition when the Labour Government were in office. At that time, it was thought right by some of my hon. Friends to press that new Clause to a Division. The then Government decided that it did not have merit, resisted it and voted against it. I merely state the fact that most hon. Members opposite who were in the House at that time voted against the new Clause, doing so for the reasons advanced by the then Government, who took the view that it did not merit being passed by the House of Commons. I think I am right in saying that the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) was among those who voted against the new Clause.
The purpose of new Clause 29 is to extend the scope of the exemption from vehicle excise duty to vehicles used by the disabled. At present, duty is payable for a vehicle owned and driven by a disabled person who receives or would be eligible for assistance from the Health Departments either in the form of the provision of an invalid carriage or 1167 through a conversion grant for an ordinary private car. The effect would be to extend the exemption to cars owned by disabled persons who are too disabled to drive either a privately owned vehicle or the invalid tricycle for which they qualify under the National Health Service Act, 1946, and the Health Services and Public Health Act, 1968, provided that conspicuous and permanent adaptations have been carried out on the car.
The Government have accepted that the present arrangements for assistance with transport to the disabled are not satisfactory, and I have said frankly to the House that when I was Minister of Health I came to the same conclusion. It is for this reason, among others, that I have been a firm supporter of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his determination to try and sort out the whole problem and to attempt to find a solution which will be both equitable and within the reasonable bounds of public expenditure.
In the previous Conservative Government, before becoming Minister of Health, I was first Economic Secretary and then Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I played a leading part in the passage of four Finance Acts.
Often pressures were brought to bear on the Government of the day, and the Chancellor, to accept particular proposals. I think my hon. Friends will agree that I have always been one of those who believe that any Government should have regard to the views of the House of Commons. I must say, however, that I believe that no Chancellor is worth his salt if he is prepared to accept amendments which he does not, after full consideration, believe to have merit.
For my part, whatever the pressure coming from either side of the House, I shall always resist any amendment or new Clause if I am not in sympathy with the proposal which it embodies. There is no doubt that those disabled people whom it is intended to benefit by the Clause are deserving of help. As I have said, I found, when Minister of Health, that that is not in itself enough. There are many people at the present time who are deserving of help, but what 1168 any Chancellor or Secretary of State for the Social Services must also decide is what are the righit priorities and, if public expenditure is involved, whether one particular form of expenditure is preferable to another, bearing in mind the limited amount of national resources.
Having been told of the views put forward, and taking into account the attitude—I hope that this is the kindest way of putting it—which the Opposition took when in office to this self-same Clause, I must tell the House that, subject to certain important qualifications, my advice would be to accept the Clause. It is clear from the Clause—and, indeed, has been accepted—that a vehicle excise licence duty concession would benefit only those disabled who could afford a vehicle. I must make it clear, therefore, to those who have supported the Clause—and I speak to those who have supported it throughout, not just on this occasion—that there can be no commitments of any kind to help those who cannot afford the vehicle. I recognise that the Clause has been supported on both sides of the House. We shall have to see how the definition ofconspicuous and permanent adaptationsworks. It may be necessary, if the present system were to be continued, to alter those words in some way. I could not, at the moment, on the information before me, put forward any better prosal for dealing with that aspect.
The most important qualification I must make is that when the Government's review is completed—I must make this clear—they must hold themselves free to reverse this decision if they should reach the conclusion that it would be preferable to provide the help in some other way.
For my part—and it is as much my responsibility as that of the Secretary of State for Social Services—I would have hoped that by now we could have resolved the difficult problems inherent in this question of providing transport for the disabled. It is a most difficult problem which we found impossible to solve when we were last in government. The Labour Administration also found it impossible to solve. Despite the fact that we have been in office for a year now, we still have not yet found a 1169 solution. It is, therefore, essential this time to find a solution which will last and which, while it will not please everyone, will be seen to be as fair and as equitable as we can make it.
With these qualifications, I believe it right, because the Clause falls into that very small category of new Clauses and Amendments which Chancellors of the Exchequer find have merit, and in the light of the views which have been expressed, to advise the House to accept this Clause.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
This has been something of a parliamentary occasion. Although I speak from this Despatch Box, I know that I reflect the feelings of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House in welcoming the very important concession which the Chancellor has just announced. It seemed likely in the early part of the Chancellor's speech that he would be the first Member of this House to speak in criticism of the new Clause.
There was, however, a very important shift of emphasis as his speech progressed. Whether he has been in contact with the Patronage Secretary, I am in no position to know. Naturally, I warmly thank him for saying that the proposition we are making in the new Clause is now acceptable to the Government.
The Clause was moved with all his customary felicitousness by my co-sponsor, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). When his party has been in power, he has been in favour of the proposition, just as he was when his party was out of power. There are those of us on both sides who, year by year, have pressed on the Government of the day the importance of making what, in financial terms, is a very minor concession to some of the most severely disabled of our fellows. The House knows that the Clause seeks to give to those who are too severely disabled to drive the same concession as is given to those who are fit enough to drive and to have their own vehicles. I am happy that the Minister of State has been saved the task of opposing the Clause. I would have sympathised with any Minister who may have had to speak against the proposition that has been made with such eloquence and force from both sides of the House.
1170 The Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled will be highly appreciative of the right hon. Gentleman's announcement. As the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. William Clark) said, his constituent, Mr. Peter Large, is chairman of that important body. Mr. Large has said that the rule which we seek to correct is a cruel anomaly. Through this debate, all of us know that we have removed a long-standing and extremely cruel anomaly. I feel sure that disabled people everywhere will be grateful not only to the Chancellor, but to the hon. Member for Banbury for having introduced the Clause.
§ Mr. Barber
By leave of the House. May I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he said. He has done as much as anyone in his attempts to help the disabled. I ought to say one thing. There is another new Clause linked with this, standing in the name of the hon. Member, new Clause No. 46. I ought to say that, as it goes wider than this Clause and in view of what I have said, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press it.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I, too, would like to say how grateful the House should be to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) who has today won a very remarkable parliamentary victory. Apart from that I am extremely glad to hear the Chancellor say that this matter will be reconsidered. I do not regard that as a retraction. I regard it as a promise—that it will be reconsidered; but when this matter is considered generally I hope that one other point will be considered as well. It is one which the hon. Member for Banbury and I myself have pressed on very many occasions. It is the need for a second seat.
People who are not crippled have no idea how terrifying it is to be crippled and alone in a vehicle, helpless if it stops, helpless if it collides, helpless if anything happens, and all alone.
Time and again we have had this argument, and when it has been considered, it has been argued that somebody not crippled would, if the provisions were changed, be able to have a free ride at 1171 public expense. That is just not a good enough argument against the case, and I very much hope that it will be reconsidered very carefully.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.