HC Deb 09 May 1972 vol 836 cc1121-3
Q1. Mr. Alfred Morris

asked the Prime Minister if he will now arrange a further meeting with the representatives of the Disabled Drivers' Association and the Spastics Society further to the deputation he received on 7th December, 1971.

Q18. Mrs. Castle

asked the Prime Minister if he will fix a date for a further meeting with the representatives of the Disabled Drivers' Association and the Spastics Society whom he met on 7th December, 1971.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

As a result of my previous meeting, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced improvements in the invalid transport scheme on 21st February. In addition, Lady Sharp has accepted my right hon. Friend's invitation to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into ways of helping those who are immobilised by severe physical disablement, and is already in touch with the Disabled Drivers' Association and the Spastics Society. I have at present no plans for a further meeting.—[Vol. 831. c. 213–5.]

Mr. Morris

While acknowledging the recent changes affecting haemophiliacs and disabled mothers, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he recalls the emphasis which we placed last December on the mobility needs of those who are too severely disabled to drive themselves? Why are they still waiting for help?

The Prime Minister

This matter is to be considered by Lady Sharp because it is set out specifically in the terms of reference of her inquiry. As the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) were both present at the meeting, they will recall that those present agreed with me that we could not deal with all the problems at once and that there must be an order of priorities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has set out that list of priorities and I am glad that we have been able to do as much as we have in the time.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he offered this deputation tea and sympathy but precious little else'? Is he further aware that the improvements to which he has just referred are being paid for not by the Government but by other disabled invalid vehicle users, who have forfeited certain concessions in order to pay for the improvements? Can he tell us what increase in expenditure there has been, as a result of these talks, on vehicles for the disabled?

The Prime Minister

I cannot accept what the right hon. Lady said, which is very grudging and is certainly not borne out by the letters which I have had from those concerned—namely, the members of the organisations I met. The right hon. Lady says that nothing has been done. Five major improvements have been introduced by my right hon. Friend. Those qualifying for a vehicle will in future be able to forgo it and to receive instead an allowance of £100 a year tax free. This was specifically asked for in order to introduce flexibility into the scheme. It is no longer necessary for those individuals unable to walk because of a lung or heart condition to show that they need a vehicle to get to work in order to qualify for one. That is another group for which help was asked. Mothers who qualify for vehicles can have a car instead of a three-wheeler if they have young children. That was another case put to us. Disabled people living alone in their own households, who would normally have to have full-time employment to qualify, will be able to have a vehicle even if they are not working. That was a further major point put to us. Any vehicle issued by the Department or run with the assistance of the new allowance will be exempted from vehicle excise duty. The question of the haemophiliacs has already been mentioned. These are all valuable steps which the Labour Government could not take and which we have taken.

Mr. Marten

As a vice-president of the Disabled Drivers' Association, I can say that we are grateful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for receiving us and for all that has stemmed from that meeting. But much more remains to be done and the great need is to put the case to Lady Sharp and her Committee.

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The two major organisations mentioned in this Question are already in touch with Lady Sharp. We are anxious to hear views from any who have proposals to put forward. We have already shown that we are prepared to take practical action. When Lady Sharp reports—she has been asked to do so within the year—we will consider her recommendations.