§ 5.52 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Alfred Morris)
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 48, line 11, at end insert:'and otherwise required in connection with those provisions'.
§ The Chairman
It will be for the convenience of the Committee if we also discuss Government Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, and new Clause 1:
|40||(7) A payment to or in respect of any person by way of a mobility allowance, and the right to receive such a payment, shall (except in prescribed circumstances and for prescribed purposes) be disregarded in applying any enactment or instrument under which regard is to be had to a person's means.".|
|(2) In Part III of Schedule 4 to the principal Act there is inserted:—
"3A. Mobility allowance …£5".
|(3) Regulations may make provision—|
|45||(a) for permitting a claim for a mobility allowance to be made, or treated as if made, for a period beginning after the date on which the claim is made;|
|(b) for permitting an award on any such claim to be made for a period beginning after the date on which the claim is made subject to the condition that the person in respect of whom the claim is made satisfies the prescribed requirements for entitlement when benefit becomes payable under the award;|
|50||(c) for the review of any such award if those requirements are found not to have been satisfied.|
|55||(4) Regulations may provide for disqualifying a person for receiving a mobility allowance for a period not exceeding six weeks on any disqualification if he fails without good cause to attend for, or to submit himself to, such medical or other examination or treatment as may be required in accordance with the regulations.|
|(5) In the case of regulations under section 114(1) of the principal Act (determination of questions), so far as they relate to any question arising in connection with mobility allowance, subsection (3) of that section (determination of questions by Secretary of State's officer; reference of question to local tribunal, etc.) shall not apply.|
|60||(6) Section 139 of the principal Act (consultation with National Insurance Advisory Committee) shall not apply to any regulations contained in an instrument which states that they relate only to mobility allowance and are made consequentially on the introduction of the allowance'.|
§ Sub-amendment (d), in line 20, leave out "5" and insert "2".
Sub-amendment (f), in line 31, leave out lines 31 and 32 and insert
(b) of an occupant-controlled powered wheel-chair issued for general use outdoors
|'47A. In section 125(1) of that Act, in paragraph (a) for the words "the sum specified in Part III for" there shall be substituted the words "the sums specified in Part III for mobility allowance and".|
|47B. In section 135(2) of that Act, after paragraph (c) there shall be inserted— "(cc) a mobility allowance".|
|47C. In section 145(1) of that Act, after paragraph (b) there shall be inserted— "(bb) payments to or in respect of persons suffering from physical disability such that they are unable to walk or virtually unable to do so"|
§ and sub-amendment (a), leave out lines 1 to 3, and Government Amendment No. 1.
§ Mr. Morris
Amendment No. 2 is a technical amendment adding to the description of the amendment specified in Schedule 4 so as to cover amendments proposed for insertion in the schedule in connection with the new provisions for mobility allowances which may not strictly be described as consequential on those provisions.
Amendment No. 3 extends mobility allowances—a non-contributory benefit—from the items included in Chapter 1, Part II of the principal Act, the contributory benefits.
§ under the enactments relating to the National Health Service.".
§ Government Amendments Nos. 5 and 6, and Government Amendment No. 7, in Schedule 4, page 66, line 12, at end insert—
§ Amendment No. 4 enables different operative days to be appointed for mobility allowances for different age groups so that allowances can be phased in progressively.
§ I now move to the main proposition affecting the introduction of the mobility allowance. This is the occasion of a major breakthrough for 100,000 of the most severely disabled people in the country. This clause provides for the conferring of an entirely new benefit on disabled people and their families. The provisions add significantly to the legislative base for the Government's programme of improvements for the disabled which we announced last autumn. Legislation for 465 the other new benefits—non-contributory invalidity pension and the invalid care allowance—has already been passed.
§ The general non-contributory invalidity pension will start in the autumn. The invalid care allowance will start next year. The non-contributory invalidity pension for housewives will begin as soon thereafter as we can fit it in. New Clause 1 inserts in the Social Security Act 1975 a new Section 37A which adds mobility allowance to the existing list of noncontributory benefits.
§ I am well aware of the volume of argument related to the interests of disabled drivers. If disabled drivers were the only persons to be considered, if an adapted car could meet all the needs of this group, and if it were right for the Government to run a car service on a large scale, cars for disabled drivers might be the right answer. Neither I nor most disabled people are ready to accept any of these propositions.
§ We have chosen the cash approach because we believe that it is the fairest approach to a much broader range of mobility needs including the needs of those who cannot drive, those who do not want to drive and those who have no one to drive them. I understand other views but I think that those who are obsessed with cars are starting at the wrong place and drawing the wrong conclusions.
§ In September we announced a £4 mobility allowance, which has now been increased to £5. That higher sum should be set in the context of our broader cash benefit strategy. We have opted for cash and not a car in this area because the present mobility scheme for the disabled is based on a cruel anomaly. Help is given not on the basis of disability but according to whether the disabled person can drive. This means that large numbers of the most severely disabled receive no mobility help at all.
§ The present scheme is both illogical and grossly unfair. There is a case concerning a courageous victim of multiple sclerosis who had a Ministry vehicle until she became too disabled to drive. Like so many others, she then forfeited not only the vehicle but all claim to mobility assistance. Now she has to pay for a taxi out of her own pocket whenever she wants to go out. Her crime is that she is more severely disabled than before.466
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ For the first time I now assert the right of all severely disabled people to mobility help. Up to 100,000 disabled non-drivers will benefit from the decision we are announcing today. Although they cannot drive, they have as much right as anyone else to look beyond their own four walls. The allowance of £5 a week, or £1,300 every 5 years, is not as much as I should have liked, nor could it have been in current economic circumstances, but it is an entirely new allowance that will increase the independence of many of the most severely disabled people in Britain today. I say again that this is a major breakthrough for the disabled people of this country.
§ For those who can drive, there is now the choice of an increased cash allowance or a Ministry vehicle. Our basic decision is cash, not cars, for all disabled people, but I was strongly urged by disabled people to keep open the option of a Ministry vehicle for present users whose disabilities made it impossible for them to drive any other type of vehicle. Therefore, the choice of cash or a Ministry vehicle is retained for disabled people who can drive. Disabled people want to be able to choose how they travel, whether by car, taxi, public transport or even by air or by sea.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
Is there a correlation between the £5 allowance and the cost of running a Ministry car?
§ Mr. Morris
I shall come later to many points that will be raised in the debate. The life of a Ministry vehicle is seven years, and over seven years the mobility allowance will produce £1,820. I do not at this stage propose to go into fine detail about costs. I am presenting what I believe to be a major step forward for disabled people in speaking on the new Clause which embodies the Government's policy of mobility for the disabled.
If disabled people choose to have a car rather than cash, they should have the choice of a car that suits them. They should have the same freedom of choice as everyone else. The way to give them that freedom is to allow them to exercise the same choice that able-bodied people have to spend the money in their pockets. That is why our basic decision is cash and not cars.
467 In the 16 months since the Government came to power, the overall value of additional resources made available or pledged for benefits for disabled people amounts in cash terms to well over £1,000 million a year. That includes upratings and new cash benefits but takes no account of the provision of services. Some disabled people who only a few years ago had no benefit without a test of their means will be getting by early next year £7.90 non-contributory invalidity pension, £10.60 higher rate attendance allowance and £5 mobility allowance, and all these benefits are entirely without means test.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)
I was interested to hear that 100,000 people are likely to benefit from the mobility allowance on the basis of a test as set out in the new Clause. Is my hon. Friend able to tell the Committee, either now or later, how many people would have been eligible if the test had been a somewhat different one? I do not want to refer to an amendment which has been ruled out of order, but can my hon. Friend say how many disabled people would be eligible for the benefit if it were available to those who are unable through physical or mental disability to use public transport. I do not suppose he has the figure readily available, but if he is able to obtain it and give it to the Committee it will be of assistance.
§ Mr. Morris
I should like to help my hon. Friend, but it is difficult to give a precise figure. The 100,000 new beneficiaries under the proposal must not be taken as a definite indication of the number of people who will receive the new allowance. I emphasise that I am trying to make the money available to disabled people in the fairest possible way. I understand that my hon. Friends the Members for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) and for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) and certain Opposition Members are concerned about people whose mobility is not so severely restricted that they virtually cannot walk.
This subject is introduced into the Social Security Pensions Bill simply because the Bill is the best available suitable vehicle if we are to fulfil our promise to introduce legislation this Session so that payments to the first group of beneficiaries can start early in the new year. 468 I said earlier that my hon. Friend the Minister of State had been in touch with the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and other members of Standing Committee A to explain that the timing is the earliest we can manage as well as the latest we can risk.
There has been a great deal of consultation. I have discussed this and other questions with the all-party Disablement Group in the House and I have also had a great deal of consultation outside the House with distinguished people who are themselves disabled or who speak representatively for disabled people.
The purpose of the clause is to provide for the payment of a mobility allowance of £5 a week—£260 a year—to severely disabled people who are unable to walk, or are virtually unable to do so, and who are likely to remain so severely handicapped for at least a year. It will be available to disabled people over the age of five but under pension age. An award will not depend—as the present vehicle service depends—upon ability to drive a car. The person receiving the benefit will be able to use it in any way he chooses as being the most suitable to help with his mobility problems.
By definition of its title, the mobility allowance will not be payable to someone who is totally incapable of mobility. Here we have in mind, for example, someone who for medical reasons should not be moved or who is in a coma and has no appreciation of his surroundings. We all know that severe head injuries caused by a road accident may mean, in rare and tragic cases, that someone spends the rest of his life, such as it is, in a coma and dies without recovering consciousness. It would clearly be inappropriate to pay such a person a mobility allowance. Equally, it is not the intention that a severely disabled person who can appreciate a change of surroundings but for whom outings are infrequent—and expensive—should be disqualified. We fully accept also that quite severely mentally handicapped people can in their own way enjoy mobility which has been previously denied to them by their additional loco-motor disabilities.
The allowance will not be means-tested and it will be generally disregarded in considering entitlement to other benefits.
469 The major advantage of the mobility allowance is that it starts to give assistance to many who in the past have had no help. In the last 10 weeks a working party of the Central Council for the Disabled has talked to more than 2,000 disabled people and their organisations in many parts of the country. I pay warm tribute to George Wilson, the Director of the Central Council for the Disabled. I am most grateful to him and his colleagues for the many long hours they have spent on this task.
I know that the working party's report is not complete, but its work has done much to ascertain the wishes of disabled people. Many of those who have already received assistance—for example, disabled drivers—have expressed the wish that their equally or more handicapped colleagues should be helped before any further improvement is made in their benefits. The mobility allowance now stands at £260 per annum as compared with £208 as originally proposed.
There is the question of whether the allowance will allow a driver to buy the car of his choice if he so wishes. The allowance should help with motoring costs as with other mobility costs. I know that the Central Council for the Disabled is considering the possibility of a scheme for offering loans to disabled car purchasers. Naturally, I eagerly await its findings. I am sure that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), who raised with me the possibility of commutation, will rejoice in the work that is being done by the Central Council for the Disabled to ensure that every recipient of the new allowance receives maximum value for money in spending the allowance.
I know that the hon. Member for Exeter, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) and many of my hon. Friends are in constant rapport with the Central Council for the Disabled. I know that they will join me in congratulating the council on its remarkable job of work in consulting not only the Government but also disabled people about the use to which the allowance can be put.
As we have promised all along, the invalid three-wheeler will continue to be available as an alternative to the allowance for those who prefer it and who are considered capable of driving it. Thus 470 we are now providing by means of a new cash benefit an alternative choice for those who do not want a Ministry vehicle. Once the allowance has been introduced there will be, first, a single scheme with a single medical criterion and, secondly, a subsequent choice between a cash allowance and a vehicle.
There is also power in the clause to adjust the allowance if certain expensive aids to mobility are supplied free of charge under the National Health Service. This is a reserve power to be used if developments justify its use. We have in mind the possible future supply of occupant-controlled electrically-powered outdoor wheelchairs which might meet many of the mobility needs of some disabled people.
The legislation does not specify the timetable for introducing the allowance but allows different starting dates to be appointed in respect of different age groups. The allowance will be phased in over a three-year period. We intend to work as quickly and as flexibly as possible by bringing small age groups within the broad age bands and in the order of 15 to 50, 5 to 14 and finally 51 to pension age. We cannot be certain about numbers at this stage. As I have explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden, his question presents an even more difficult problem than the one with which we have been dealing in seeking to try to establish further how many people will have an entitlement under the arrangements as we propose them. If there are approximately 100,000 new beneficiaries the process of take-up, which we hope will start in January 1976. should be complete by March 1979.
I think it will be helpful to the Committee if I say something briefly about the limitations on what we are able to do. I shall seek to reply to detailed points that are raised during the debate. I have explained that there is much more that we want and need to do. Nevertheless, this is a significant Bill for many severely disabled people. What we are proposing will more than double—indeed, nearly treble—present expenditure on mobility for disabled people. Within that context, and recognising the present severe economic difficulties as I must, there are inevitable constraints. Even Ministers with responsibilities for the disabled are not protected from the economic winds.
471 6.15 p.m.
The scheme is limited to people of working age and to children. We have made unprecedented increases in retirement pensions and further increases have now been announced. As with the present arrangements, we are concentrating on locomotor disability—that is, inability to walk. Blindness is not covered but it may sometimes be a factor in the assessment of a person's ability to walk. Again, I must emphasise that this is an allowance for locomotor disability and not a general expenses allowance for severely disabled people.
§ Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)
Will the Minister clarify the situation of people without a distinct locomotor disability who are physically weak from other conditions, and who are without a car and are unable to go out because they might catch a disease because they are so weak? As I understand what the Minister is saying, children and adults in that situation who can walk but who have other susceptibilities to distinct infection will not benefit from the mobility allowance. Am I right?
§ Mr. Morris
I cannot be precise about any particular case. I shall be explaining that there are entirely new arrangements for appeals machinery, which I think is a major step forward for disabled people. The sole criterion will be loco-motor disability or inability to walk. I have said that some disabled people may have a combination of disabilities the total effect of which makes them virtually unable to walk. I must not try to fill the rôle of the medical assessors who will make decisions within the criterion I have mentioned.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
Is there a chance that when the regulations are drafted there will be more room for flexibility, so that cases such as the one described by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) can come within the umbrella of the mobility allowance?
§ Mr. Morris
I regret that I cannot go further than the clause now before us. There will be much further information about the allowance as we go forward. There will be disabled people who do not qualify for the allowance. Nevertheless, 472 my best estimate is that about 100,000 people will qualify. As the debate proceeds I shall try to give further information in reply to the points that are raised, but I must emphasise that this is an allowance for locomotor disability and not a general expenses allowance for severely disabled people who are not able to walk.
Mobility expenses are a significant item in the costs that severely disabled people have to meet. The new single medical criterion reflects, as we announced it would, the sort of medical criterion now in use for the vehicle service. The essential difference is that we are now replacing a discretionary scheme with a statutory scheme. There will be a statutorily defined base, independent adjudicating authorities, medical boards and medical appeal tribunals, insurance officers, local appeal tribunals and national insurance commissioners. There will be formal appeal rights and a vastly increased number of claimants. It has not been possible to retain the additional social criteria of the vehicle scheme regarding the need for transport to get to work or to run a home. These additional criteria have not worked very satisfactorily as a means of sorting out claimants even in the present entirely discretionary scheme.
I conclude by saying that overall our policies are ones that I am very happy to put forward. They make a real advance and are both fairer, more comprehensive and more generous than what has gone before.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
We welcome the proposal for a mobility allowance. It is the Government's aim to give priority to care for the disabled and handicapped as it was the aim of the Conservative Government to give priority when we introduced such measures as the tax-free attendance allowance and the long-term special invalidity benefit. Better provision for the disabled must remain the aim of any Government, whatever their composition In that spirit we welcome the new allowance and the way in which the Minister proposed it.
The provision removes a major injustice in the present system, namely, the distinction between disabled people who can drive and those often more seriously disabled people who cannot drive. As the matter stands, a seriously disabled 473 person who can drive receives either a cash allowance or an invalid vehicle. A more seriously disabled person who cannot drive receives nothing at all, not even the cash allowance. We agree that help should be based not on the consideration whether a disabled person can pass a driving test but on the degree of disability.
We welcome the general principle of the allowance, but there are a number of fundamental questions which remain to be answered. The first relates to inflation. In these debates there is sometimes a tendency on the Government benches to speak as though inflation were outside the scope of departmental interest. Nothing could be further from the truth Groups such as the disabled are the most vulnerable to inflation. The value of the mobility allowance will quickly diminish unless the Government tackle the problem.
This was the point made, in a different context, by the Child Poverty Action Group in its pamphlet "Back to the Thirties for the Poor." That group spelt out the crisis which many of the poor now face, and observed that at present inflation disguises the crisis faced by Britain's poor. We recognise the problem, but mere recognition is not enough. We must seek to guard against it. Clearly, in the long term a correction of the situation can be tackled only by a permanent reduction in the rate of inflation.
We should seek in this legislation to ensure that mobility allowance does not fall behind the rate of inflation by requiring that the allowance should be subject to regular reviews. Some hon. Members would like a six-monthly review, and indeed, that is the view of the Disablement Income Group, but the Government, far from accepting the case for a six-monthly review, have moved specifically to exclude annual reviews. I understand that that is the effect of the Government amendment to Schedule 4, and this explains why we have tabled an amendment to that amendment. I gather, Mr. Thomas, that it would be convenient to debate that amendment now, but to vote on it at a later stage.
Our case can be put shortly. We live in times of exceptional inflation. At such a time it is all the more important that 474 groups such as the disabled should be protected from the rise in prices—increases which those affected can do so little to prevent or influence. We realise that the Government have powers to increase the allowance, but we believe that they should not just have general powers. We believe that a requirement should be placed on them to review the allowance annually, as is the case with so many other benefits.
Our amendment does not go as far as the DIG or some hon. Members would like. However, I commend it to the Committee as a compromise which we can all accept. I certainly commend it to the Government because all they have to do is to move to an annual review of the mobility allowance.
The second major question concerns the reduced rate of mobility allowance to be paid, for example, to the disabled person who has the use of an invalid three-wheeler. This is an important proposal. A number of disabled drivers take the view that it is all very well to have an invalid car, but that it is expensive to run and, therefore, they would not make great use of such a vehicle. Indeed, they do not get the full benefit of the mobility intended to be extended to them. Clearly, the mobility allowance would help to pay the extra running costs, but at what level is the allowance to be paid? Will it be in addition to the tax-free petrol allowance of £10 or will it be in place of that figure?
The third point concerns the invalid three-wheeler and future Government policy. I shall try to choose my words carefully because it is all too easy to raise hopes which may not be fulfilled. I am sorry to say that the Minister was guilty of raising such hopes when, in a censure debate in 1972 against the then Conservative Government, he said that three-wheelers were unsafe, unstable and should be replaced by four-wheelers. Far worse was the speech of the Prime Minister only days before the February 1974 election when he accused the Conservative Government of meanness in their attitude to disabled drivers. He said that for a couple of years—and I quote from the Press release:… there has been strong pressure not only from disabled drivers but from road safety experts to the effect that the three-wheeled 475 vehicle which the Government still insist on issuing to disabled drivers should be replaced by a proper four-wheeled version.The implication of that speech is clear and unmistakeable—namely that a Labour Government would replace the three-wheeler. There could be no other interpretation of those remarks. But what has happened is that, rather than scrapping the three-wheeler, the Government are ordering more of them. Therefore, in view of Labour's previous statements, we are entitled to ask the Government for their current view.
I listened carefully to the Minister's reply to an Adjournment debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) on the day the House rose for the recess. However, many of the questions then asked by my hon. Friend were not answered.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that on that occasion the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and I had available to us a debating time of 30 minutes. He left me with 12 minutes in which to reply to his 8-minute speech. Obviously I was put in an impossible position in having to reply in such a short period. I have since written to the hon. Gentleman about the points on which I was unable to reply on that occasion.
§ Mr. Fowler
I accept what the Minister says. I was not seeking to attack him on that point. I hope that he will use the opportunity of this debate to come forward with the answers to questions which I should now like to ask him.
In Opposition the Minister and the Prime Minister told the country that three-wheeled vehicles were unsafe. I repeat that no other interpretation could be placed on those statements. The Minister must be aware of the concern which those statements caused. He must also be aware of Press reports, notably those by Adam Raphael in The Guardian. the views of the Disabled Drivers' Action Group pointing to the same conclusion, and also the views of Lady Sharp in a letter to The Guardian last year. I hope that the Minister will give a clear statement of the situation in regard to the safety of these vehicles. As he knows, 476 many drivers would like to retain the three-wheeler, and, of course, their wishes should be respected, irrespective of the form taken by general policy in this area.
As regards costs, the Sharp Report suggested that a four-wheeler car would be cheaper to provide. If that is so, it must dispose of a considerable part of the objection. Most of us believe that a four-wheeler vehicle would be socially preferable. If it is also cheaper, the argument and the case for a four-wheeler becomes very strong indeed. As an Opposition we clearly reserve our position until we hear the Government's reply, although the Government will know what we have said on previous occasions.
I should like to make a suggestion. In my view we have been provided over the past years with a great deal of information on the three-wheeler vehicle, but we have had nothing like as much information on the possible four-wheeler replacement for it. I suggest that it would be of value to us, and certainly to the public generally, if the Government were to commission a study to cover two points. One is to review the practice in other European countries, such as Holland and France, and to study the cars which are used in those countries and the costs involved. The second is to carry out a study in this country to ascertain the prospects of producing either a purpose-built four-wheeler or adapting a present production model taking into account the costs involved in such an exercise. Such a study would not be particularly expensive and it should not take long to complete. I urge the Minister—and I say this in a constructive spirit—to give consideration to that matter.
We are all concerned about resources. Therefore, I point out to the Minister that early in 1974 the Council of Ministers of the European Community approved a social action programme which in turn gave rise to the handicapped workers' action programme issued by the EEC Commission later that year. The programme envisages money being granted for the training, housing and transport of disabled persons under Article 4 of the Social Fund. I suggest to the Minister that he should take this matter up with the European Commission to see whether funds can be made available here. After 477 all, we are all Europeans now and we all recognise that resources are a crucial problem in this sector.
It is the aim of the Opposition to improve provisions for the disabled and it is in that spirit that we approach the debate and put forward our suggestions. We welcome the mobility allowance and we hope that the Government will accept the improvements that we have suggested.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
Like the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), I welcome the provision of the mobility allowance. He would be a fool or a callous person who did not welcome the fact that a vast number of people will now benefit from such a scheme. When we have won a battle, we should not linger with our war memories. We have won our battle, and now we must go to the next round and look at the plight of those who possibly have not been included.
If I am not ruled out of order, I can refer once again to the infamous money resolution. Two of my amendments still stand in the Paper, but before I deal with them I must point out that 100,000 people and their families will welcome the action of my hon. Friend the Minister, which must stand to his credit. No one can take it from him. If I am critical, I am sure he will understand that I speak as a long-standing friend.
I seek information about the method by which the figure of £5 has been reached. As I understand it, the three-wheeler will continue for those who want it. I have no love at all for the three-wheeler. In my view it is an extremely difficult vehicle to drive and it has some unsafe features. Nevertheless, if I go through my long list of mail—and I suppose I receive just as much mail as anybody else—I receive a tremendous amount from owners or users of three-wheelers urging the Government to continue with them.
The first figure I want from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is the cost of running a three-wheeler in relation to the £5 allowance. If the cost of running a three-wheeler is higher than the £5 allowance, there is very good reason for increasing the allowance.
Secondly, will my hon. Friend consider something which I know the Central Council for the Disabled is considering, 478 namely, tying the whole concept to a cost-of-motoring index and having a six-monthly review? That was one of the amendments which was ruled out of order, but it is now in Hansard and reflects my thinking that I should like to see a costof-motoring review every six months so that we can update the value of the allowance.
Another matter which worries me greatly is the problem of the elderly who might receive at present the private car allowance of £100. What will happen to them with the introduction of the new mobility allowance of £5? My understanding is that if they receive the £100 allowance it will continue beyond pension age. Will the mobility allowance affect them adversely in any way?
I took the view that the money resolution—not the mobility allowance—was obscene because it prevented us from mentioning cases which we felt were important. I can illustrate the theme by considering the position of a haemophiliac who can walk. By definition it will be said that such a person is mobile, but let us consider the case of a haemophiliac who walks to a bus stop, gets on a bus and gets battered in the bus. Frequently after such a journey, because of the nature of their complaint, the battering that these people receive on the bus is such that they have to pay four or five visits to hospital. Are not such people deserving cases? Should they not be considered? They are not vast in numbers but they are a group who I feel should be considered.
I keep looking at you, Mr. Thomas, because as a compatriot of yours I realise that I am getting very near the wind. Perhaps you could glance elsewhere or engage in conversation.
§ The Chairman
Order. That is always possible until my attention to drawn to the matter, when it becomes impossible. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he cannot pursue amendments that are beyond the scope of the Bill and certainly beyond the scope of the money resolution.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
That is a good point. I should have realised that as an ex-Rugby man I should not have tried to come on your blind side, Mr. Thomas.
I turn to the amendment which is acceptable for debate, that which would reduce from five years to two years the 479 starting age of entitlement. A person who suffers from agoraphobia is afraid to go out of the house and therefore lacks mobility. A child sufferer must be accompanied and looked after. I cannot for the life of me understand why we are not allowed to give the mobility allowance to children under five years of age and over two years. I have been assured that the behaviour pattern of some of these youngsters is such that a private form of transport is the only reasonable way of taking them around from the point of view of their parents, their guardians or the rest of their family.
I do not know why the age of five has been chosen. Some civil servant in his wisdom probably said that that is the age at which children go to school. What do civil servants know about what happens to children under the age of five? Are the children to be kept permanently under sedation? Very often when they have passed the age of five they can be looked after at school, but between the ages of two and five there is a major problem for the parents and families of some children. Therefore, that age group should also be included.
Not all the mentally handicapped are immobile, but some are, and at present they are excluded. Many haemophiliacs are immobile. Why are they excluded? Many agoraphobics are immobile. Why are they excluded?
Those are questions to which the Committee deserves answers. They account for my intemperate language at the beginning of the debate about the way in which the Treasury drafted the money resolution. We, not the Treasury, decide the matter. There is a large enough body of knowledge within the House of Commons, and we are fed enough information from outside to make us capable of making a major contribution.
The only other amendment which I managed to make stick on the Notice Paper and which has been selected concerns the advance of technology. I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to consider very carefully what will happen when, in the not-too-distant future, we see the development of an outdoor vehicle which is capable of being power-driven and which could possibly be used in the home. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) and I have seen such 480 developments, and I think that in the next 12 months these vehicles will become available. I should hate to think that this sort of advance will disqualify from the allowance a person who can use a technically-developed wheelchair within the home and outside.
When the regulations are being drafted, will my hon. Friend use his native guile, his good will, ingenuity, skill and compassion to make sure that there is scope for widening the provision, not for a large number of people but for a small number, whose needs are as great as those he has now covered? I end by paying him tribute for the fact that he has brought in 100,000 souls and their families, and by making a plea for a few more thousand. I say to my hon. Friend "Please use ingenuity, and defeat the prophets of doom".
§ Mrs. Chalker
Like other hon. Members I welcome the mobility allowance, which has long been sought. I hope that in this debate we can turn our attention to some of the cases covered by the amendments which have escaped the red pen, and that with the Minister's good will we can succeed.
I am concerned about the increase in the cash benefit from £4 to £5 which the Government have been able to introduce since last September. Will it be sufficient in view of the increase in costs since then? I hope that when other benefits are being reviewed the Minister's mind and voice will be to the fore, and that out of the total cake he will keep on pushing for the slice that the disabled deserve and are beginning to have.
I support the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) to reduce the age of eligibility from five to two years, for very good reasons. I sought clarification from the Minister earlier about the problem of young disabled people, who are very susceptible to infection. It is a particular problem during the fast growth years between the ages of two and five. It is also a problem thereafter, but that is not a subject of disagreement. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept that amendment.
There are a tremendous number of children who are physically able to walk but have severe management problems. 481 They are not yet at school and are being coped with at home by young mothers with other young children. They cope but they do so with great difficulty. Whether these disabled children be hyperactive, aggressive or violent—whatever their manifestation of anti-social behaviour—they are usually unable to travel by public transport. I have seen distressing examples of mothers with whole families which include one hyperactive child being turned off public transport because of the activities of that one child. That sort of thing has a tragic effect on the other children in the family.
There is a great need to keep families together. One of the difficulties is that such children alienate themselves from the other children in the family. Children are much less able to reason. Although they may be able to cope with the situation in the home, when they are transferred outside the situation does not make the same sense. The Minister could well amend the Bill to bring in this young age group.
I am also concerned to see that we encourage the integration of non-handicapped and handicapped children. We have very few specialist playgroups for severely handicapped children. The chance to take a handicapped child to a normal playgroup often exists only if the mother can get the child to the playgroup. Some of those children who are able to walk are very heavy and cumbersome to take to an activity which will give the mother and other members of the family a short respite during the day, which is something I am sure the Minister wants to do.
I fear that in his reply the Minister will tell us that those who are able to walk but who have other severe disabilities must remain to be looked after by the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust, by the Family Fund which has begun to help many disabled families. That fund, doing its best to cope with many of the problems brought to it so far, has to cover clothing, telephones, laundry, home and holidays as well as mobility. Already 30 per cent. of the £2.25 million of the fund has been spent on paying for transportation of young congenitally handicapped people. It has helped only a small number so far, and many others need that help.
482 Therefore, I ask the Minister closely to examine the definition of ability to walk. Walking is one thing, and being accepted as moving in the normal train of society is another. I should welcome from the Minister a clear interpretation of the words in the clause.
I also remind the Minister that many of the people who are excluded under the Clause because they are so badly mentally handicapped that they are unable to appreciate their surroundings are still a grave drain on the family funds in paying for transportation. It is necessary to take even the most handicapped of children to the dentist or doctor and to get special clothing. It is necessary also for a parent to expose that child to other stimuli outside the home and the near-home environment. This simply cannot be done unless the family can actually travel. Therefore, I believe that the Minister has a duty to look at this aspect. If he cannot include these children here, perhaps he will include them in an extension of the Family Fund started so well by my right hon. Friend so many years ago but needing increased funds, as ever, now.
That brings me to the question of increased funds. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) mentioned just now the possibilities of assistance from other countries through the Social Fund of the EEC. I have been privileged to see some of the things that are beginning to be done in other countries, and I am quite sure that to facilitate the reduction in age from five years to two years an application to the Social Fund of the EEC would be well worth making. I am sure that it would be listened to sympathetically.
The other aspect of international cooperation that I hope will bring about a greater possibility of locomotion is that concerned with amendment (f). We have already heard from the hon. Member for Eccles of the advances which are taking place in motorised wheelchairs for use both within and without the home. It is thought nowadays that many of the younger handicapped people who are unable to walk, or unable to walk any distance, might benefit from a much earlier age from such a vehicle, though not a car, and I hope the Minister will 483 look sympathetically at this. The prototypes which are currently being utilised are to my knowledge quite able to be controlled by a 12-year-old. This begins to develop the child so that later he or she may lead a full and probably fully-earning life. It is this investment at the early stages which I believe to be so vital.
Those two amendments are well worth the Minister's kind consideration, not only with words but, if necessary, also with his feet. In welcoming the measures that he has found it possible to bring before us today, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also find himself able to lend support to those amendments, which happily are in order for our debate.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
In all the years during which I have been speaking on disablement I have never spoken on the mobility of the disabled. The reason for that is that I have more or less left the problems of the disabled to the magnificent campaigns that were conducted for many years by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). The hon. Member conducted a single-handed campaign for the mobility of disabled people long before many of us ever dealt with the problem of disability, and as a consequence we tended to leave the matter in his hands and in the hands of those of his colleagues who specialised in it. Later my hon. Friend who is now the Under-Secretary took great interest in the subject and did a great deal concerning the problems of the mobility of the disabled. Latterly the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) has taken a very great interest in it too.
I should have been more than happy to leave matters like that, and I know that it is quite unusual for a Parliamentary Private Secretary to participate in a debate, no matter how briefly, but I want to speak briefly in this debate because certain charges have been made about the Government's policy outside the House, especially about the negligence of the Minister concerned with the disabled and the negligence of the Secretary of State. That is a very serious charge against anyone—a charge of negligence concerning the safety and mobility of disabled people.
It so happens that when the present Government came into office they were 484 faced with a clear choice, given the very difficult economic circumstances, of either helping all disabled people or, alternatively, helping those who were faced with the problem of mobility. What the Government did, in my view, was to help the immobilised people much more than they helped the other groups of disabled people. The various other categories of disabled people—the blind, the deaf, spastics, vaccine-damaged children and so on—did not get a great deal from the present Government, or indeed from any Government, in terms of direct assistance.
What the Government then did was to allocate more money to the immobilised disabled, and having done that they more or less sat back and expected some kind of reaction. But the reaction has been a hostile one. Far from being thanked by people who are disabled and immobilised, the Government are being criticised. That is fair enough. We expect this criticism from Opposition Members, and we receive it.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and to the hon. Lady the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). I do not know why the hon. Lady is not on the Front Bench, nor do I know why the hon. Member for Exeter is not there. I have listened to their criticisms and they have been interesting, but they seemed to miss the simple point—I am anxious to make no party point in this debate—that it is the present Government who have allocated far more resources to the problems of the immoblised disabled than have ever been allocated before. Hon. Members should recognise that.
We are facing a very serious economic crisis. I welcome the suggestions for extending the mobility plan to more people. Professor Townsend has put a very powerful case elsewhere. I hope that his case will be listened to very sympathetically and echoed here by hon. Members, though not perhaps with Professor Townsend's eloquence.
My point is that as a result of the mobility allowance a far larger group of people have been assisted than if we produced the three-wheeler. This is very important. A campaign has been waged by disabled drivers for a very long time, both before the present Government took office and now. Jolly good luck to them. 485 But none of them waged a campaign for the disabled passenger. One or two Opposition Members and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I campaigned for the disabled passenger, and, as a result of the mobility allowance the disabled passenger is for the first time being helped.
In our anxiety to improve the safety of the three-wheeler—we should certainly try to do that—we must not forget the priorities of trying to help, first, all the people with different disabilities and, secondly, the disabled passengers and others who will be helped by the mobility grant. In my view it is absolute nonsense to accuse my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of negligence. It is a charge that should never have been levelled. By all means let us criticise them, but they are not negligent. The mobility grant has my warmest support, and I commend it to the Committee.
I believe that the Government should be pressed to extend the mobility grant. Let us have the children. Let us have the mothers. Let us have as many people as we can. But let us agree that the mobility grant is more important than any of the suggestions put forward by the disabled drivers. I think that we should have regard to priorities, and those priorities have been laid down by the Government.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
I followed the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) with great pleasure. Although—rather unusually—he spoke as the PPS to the Minister involved in the debate, a contribution from the hon. Gentleman is welcome in any debate about disablement because of the leadership and experience that he gives to all of us who are concerned with the affairs of the disabled.
I wish to express my own general welcome to the mobility allowance. It introduces a long awaited and much wanted principle of cash help for all disabled people, whether they be drivers or passengers. It also offers a certain degree of freedom. I enables all disabled people to use the money as they wish, whether on bus or taxi journeys or to save in order to purchase vehicles of their own.
486 My main criticism is that the time involved in saving for an alternative vehicle will be too long, taking into account the cost involved and the amount of the allowance that we are discussing. I regret that even with the £1 additional allowance announced on the Friday we adjourned for the Whitsun Recess, taking account of the obvious erosion by inflation, it is a moot point whether the allowance will be of greater value in real terms than the 1972 £100 private car allowance.
Earlier, the Minister talked about those hon. Members and people outside this Chamber who have an obsession about cars for disabled people. He spoke of the need for cash rather than for cars. I do not wish to go back over the arguments I voiced in the debate we had on the Whitsun Adjournment about the three-wheeled invalid tricycles issued by the Department, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), I remind the Minister and all those concerned that he and the present Prime Minister only about 18 months ago expressed very similar views to those we are expressing now in calling for the phasing in of a four-wheeled vehicle and the gradual phasing out of the three-wheeler, together with a mobility allowance—in other words, a choice of cash and car or three-wheeler. It is for this, in effect, that we are asking.
For anyone to wish to move to a four-wheeled passenger carrying vehicle which is safer and more reliable for a disabled person is not to have an obsession. It is quite normal. It is fair to say that 90 per cent. of those concerned with disabled people do not want to see those who have three-wheelers and who wish to retain them deprived of their vehicles. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) has made the point strongly on many occasions that about 15 per cent. of all disabled drivers wish strongly to retain their existing three-wheeled vehicles. So this is not what we are calling for, and certainly not what I want to see. We all want to see a three-way choice—a mobility allowance, a three-wheeler, or an adequate four-wheeled vehicle.
The Minister referred to the work carried out by George Wilson of the Central Council for the Disabled in touring the country gathering information 487 from disabled people as to how the allowance can be best used. I am especially pleased with the information that we have been given today to the effect that consideration is being given to possible ways whereby loans might be made available for recipients of the allowance to purchase their own vehicles. This is very important and will go a long way towards satisfying the criticisms of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, south.
It had been my hope to move an amendment allowing a disabled person in receipt of this allowance to commute the amount over a five-year period so that he or she might have an initial capital sum with which to purchase a vehicle and, as a result, not have to go on using vehicles provided by the State. However, the restrictive money resolution about which we were grumbling earlier prevented my amendment from being selected.
We have made our complaints about that, and I resented the attack of the Secretary of State, who suggested that some of us were being less than adult in our approach to the money resolution. I do not need any lessons about the state of the economy. I do not need to be told that inflation is the greatest enemy of the disabled. If any measures to control inflation mean controlling Government expenditure, I support them fully, but we were trying to underline the fact that, within a total overall sum for such an allowance, ways and means could be found for using the money to the best possible advantage of the disabled. These amendments relate to the best means whereby we can apportion the total sum.
Disabled people face above average increases in costs through inflation combined with lower than average increases in any income they may have. As a result, they are hit harder by inflation than most other people. I welcome the mobility allowance, though I fear that it is not quite enough, and that the taxing of the allowance will mean that the net amount received by disabled people who are earning and trying to integrate normally into every day life will be less than one would hope. What is more, it may result in their receiving less than they may have been with the private car allowance.
488 I press the Government to look carefully at the possibility of commuting the allowance and of bringing forward a five-year amount in a lump sum so that disabled people may purchase their own vehicles. This would reduce the number of disabled drivers who are dependent on the State for their vehicles, and who are not happy with them and who, therefore, are critical of the State about the vehicles with which they are provided. There would be a saving to the Treausry in the longer term. That is why I regret the constraint placed upon us in terms of our ability to discuss all these matters in detail on specific amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield presented a forceful case for the re-examination of the relative costs of three-wheelers and four-wheeled cars. I am satisfied that an adapted Mini would cost less than the unsafe, unsocial and unreliable tricycle at present issued by the Department. If we consider the cost to our balance of payments of a vehicle which has an Austrian engine, an Italian suspension and an American transmission, we must agree that a British vehicle ought to be provided in its place.
I restate my welcome for this step forward in the provision of a car allowance for disabled people, whether they be drivers or passengers. I hope it will be followed by other major steps forward. I should like to see a more open mind about eligibility and about the provision of better cars for the disabled. It should not be a case of cash or car. We need a fuller choice of an allowance, a three-wheeler, a four-wheeled car, and the commuting of the allowance for the purchase of vehicles. We have to move away from the glorified bath-chair, which was provided originally for those people wishing to make short journeys from their homes. I hope that this step will be the first of many and that we shall move quickly, economic circumstances permitting, towards a disability allowance and the provision of decent vehicles for disabled people.
§ Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)
My contribution will be astonishingly brief. I recognise that all hon. Members have covered much of the ground about which I intended to speak. I intend to concentrate my remarks upon the first of the surviving amendments, in the name 489 of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones).
I am reluctant to appear critical of any aspect of the legislation that is being reviewed by Parliament today. The Bill is an enormous step forward. In many respects it makes previous provisions appear paltry. I am particularly pleased with the conception of the mobility allowance. The clause breaks entirely new ground; this is truly enlightened legislation.
However, together with other hon. Members, I deeply resent the restriction that is imposed upon the entitlement. I refer to the ruling that handicapped children under the age of five should not benefit from the allowance. There is nothing in the money resolution to prevent the allowance being extended to those from two years of age upwards. No global sum is mentioned. It simply refers to "people under pensionable age", as defined by the 60-year and 65-year age limits. There is no problem in that area.
We must all have witnessed the melancholy plight of youngsters of three or four years of age who are confined to trolleys or wheel-chairs in order to get about at all. We have all shared the embarrassment and, indeed, the despair of mothers who endeavour to manoeuvre disabled children on to public transport and try to get them out and about at all. It is a hideous experience even to witness at times.
We must be aware of the cumbersome nature of some of the disabilities and the distress to the child, and, indeed, to the parents, when the consequences of a disability prevent the family participating in everyday activities that the more fortunate among us take very much for granted.
To amend the clause—this would be in line only with the provisions for attendant allowance—would not impose financial burdens of formidable dimensions on the State and the community. Even if that were so, we should accept the cost as being trifling when compared to the burden carried by the young disabled person. To make this gesture would in many cases introduce a joy, an excitement and a real delight into young lives that, generally speaking, are restricted, drab and often painful. Who can place a fee on such a transformation?
490 If my plea for reconsideration is short, it is not in proportion to my deep and heart-felt feelings on the matter. I hope that this modest amendment may be accommodated by my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
I should like to comment briefly, following the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), who raised many of the points I was about to raise.
I welcome wholeheartedly the fact that we are making a greater range of mobility available to a larger number of people. This is undoubtedly a milestone in the progress of help for the disabled to which all hon. Members have contributed over the years. There are dangers in it. We may lose sight of giving enough attention to the right type of vehicle when individuals want to choose their own vehicles for their own specific use. Concentration on specific vehicles in the past has, perhaps, been too great, but now there is a danger that it will be too little.
I hope that the Minister of State will take seriously the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) about encouraging more research into suitable four-wheeled vehicles to replace the three-wheeled vehicles in the future. Perhaps the Minister of State could consider issuing a challenge to the motor industry to develop an adaptation which could be used in a great many more cases that the ordinary Mini and other suitable vehicles.
I ask the Minister to consider carrying out more research, as is the case in Europe. In some cases our partners in Europe are ahead of us. It is difficult to find out exactly what they are all doing. In the short period that has been available—because we have not had much time in the last week or so—I have been trying to find out. All the information I have received is rather out of date. The Department could help considerably now that we are wholeheartedly in Europe by finding out what other countries within the Community are doing and whether we could share some of the costs of research and development into these matters. We all face the same problems, and some countries are well ahead of us.
The Minister of State was not willing to reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) 491 about the correlation between the costs of maintaining and running a vehicle and the new allowance. It is important that the public should know. If the cost is a good deal more than the allowance, we understand the reasons for it, but we feel that the allowance has to work up so that it covers the full cost of running a vehicle. I have made that point clear and I hope the Minister will answer it.
The new allowance is taxable. I understand that, because in the main, all allowances are taxable in order to help those less well off. The general policy throughout the whole social security area is that allowances are taxable.
Will the Minister make special inquiries to find out whether the allowance for children will be aggregated with the incomes of parents? I know that this does not fall truly within the sphere of the Department of Health and Social Security, but it is important. If that is the case, there will be many instances where this allowance will mean very little help towards the mobility of children. It is, perhaps, a small point, but it is an important one and may affect a limited number of people.
I share the feelings expressed at the opening of today's proceedings against the money resolution. It has not enabled us to amend this new clause in the way in which Parliament thinks best. It has been brought before us, and we have to take it or leave it. We have not been able to amend in any way to include some of the groups which outside organisations have brought to our attention. This was brought to my attention by the Family Fund, which is administered by the Rowntree Memorial Trust. It is quite clear that there are children under the age of five and parents who would greatly benefit if a mobility allowance were extended. The cost would not be great. I cannot believe that the difference in cost between five years and two years is anything like as much as the Secretary of State implied in her opening statement on the money resolution.
With those remarks and queries, in general I think that this is a milestone. I pay tribute to the Minister with responsibility for the disabled. He has piloted the provision through. I am sorry that we have not had the proper time or 492 opportunity to discuss this matter more fully. Nevertheless, I welcome it very much.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
Speaking so late in the debate I am sorry to strike a slightly sour note. I have been present throughout the debate. I should have liked to have had the opportunity to make this point earlier. Although, like everyone else, I am delighted that 100,000 people will have their particular forms of hardship alleviated by the introduction of a mobility allowance, which is something I have been very anxious to see, I am, nevertheless, rather concerned about it because every time we introduce a new allowance, the eligibility for which is specific and closely defined, we clear some anomalies but create others.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is well aware that one can have two families both including severely disabled people and living next door to each other. One person may have sustained an injury in an industrial accident and be getting industrial disablement benefit or a special hardship allowance, or be entitled to an attendance allowance, when another person, next door, who is almost exactly as severely disabled, does not receive such benefits. We shall now have yet another anomaly—those eligible for mobility allowance and those who may not be eligible.
These differences can be cumulative. Certainly in the case of eligibility for attendance allowance and mobility allowance, one can find people with very similar disabilities, of whom some will be eligible for both allowances and others not eligible for either. But in each case the hardship for the family is almost exactly as great. My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) and the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) referred to some of the anomalies that will arise as a consequence of the very precise definition in the clause and the money resolution as to the eligibility for this mobility allowance. They have given examples of cases which are just as deserving and needy as others but in which it will not be possible, because of the restriction, for the allowance to be paid.
As I indicated when we were debating the money resolution, it would be preferable, when dealing with this allowance, 493 to widen the net, even if it were necessary because of financial restrictions imposed by the Treasury to limit the total amount we are spending on it. As to the anomalies we are creating by this restrictive definition, I can think of not only the examples given but of the blind and the epileptic. I have a constituent who is unable to travel on public transport because he is so severely incontinent that it is quite impossible for him to get any distance away from the opportunity to relieve himself. He continues to be as "locked in", despite the introduction of this allowance, as he was previously.
Apart from the question of the anomalies arising from this allowance I would urge my hon. Friend the Minister to set up a review of the entire system of the allocation of specific benefits. Every time we create a new benefit precisely defined we create anomalies. We have already the example of an alternative system—the industrial injuries benefit system. Under that system disablement is assessed overall on a percentage basis. It can take account of the inability to drive a car and all the myriad forms in which disability can present itself.
Although the forms of allowance we have at present may be desirable as they stand it is certainly also desirable that we should have some form of more flexible discretionary benefit, even if we do not take the whole step towards an overall disablement allowance for all disabilities, irrespective of the nature of their causation. If we cannot take that step in one go, we could have, as we urgently need to have, some kind of more flexible disability benefit.
Although this measure will resolve hardship for many it is liable somewhat to increase hardship for others. Every time we reduce the number discriminated against, the likelihood of their having their problems resolved is reduced. Although I am delighted for those who will be eligible for this benefit, that it is to be available, I am apprehensive that, by the creation of further anomalies, we shall be creating even more hardship for those left out.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
This has been a most valuable debate. I am glad that so many hon. Members have been able to contribute to the discussion of legislation which is profoundly important for the 494 most severely disabled people in this country.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) warmly welcomed the new allowance. He also acknowledged that we must have regard to resources. I have also said that I should very much have liked a bigger allowance. In current economic circumstances, it was highly unlikely that I would be able to get more than I have announced in this debate.
I am glad that it has been accepted that we are today removing a cruel anomaly. It is utterly wrong that under the present scheme help is based not on a person's disability but on his ability to drive. The hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field readily accepted that by excluding the disabled passenger and helping only the disabled driver the present scheme is unfair as well as anomalous. He referred to inflation and the need for reviews. As he mentioned, there is an amendment on the Order Paper, which he discussed together with the main proposition.
There is a case for putting mobility allowance in the same category as maintenance benefits and attendance allowance and for guaranteeing that it is increased at least annually in line with earnings. Mobility costs will rise if costs in general rise, and mobility expectations may to some extent rise if earnings increases outpace price increases. Indeed, it can be argued that where mobility is related to ability to maintain oneself, because some severely disabled person will use the allowance to help meet his travel-to-work costs, any distinction between maintenance and mobility is a little artificial.
However, the case for automatic up-ratings is not stronger than the case for widening the scope of the allowance, which has also been very strongly urged upon me. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) is disquieted at the fact that we are not able to make the allowance more widely available. He accepts that to include 100,000 new beneficiaries is a major step forward. Yet he is prepared to contemplate an allowance of a lower value to more people. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield is concerned about preserving the value of the allowance and, as I read his mind, about increasing as 495 rapidly as we can its real value. There are these two conflicting views in the Committee.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
The only reason why I am willing to accept that it should be of a lower value is that we have a money resolution which precludes us from discussing whether it should be maintaining its value.
§ Mr. Morris
I well appreciate my hon. Friend's difficulty. He will know that I am not without difficulty. We have finite resources, as he has noted. He says that, given the quantum, he would be prepared to accept an allowance of lower value.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield wishes at the same time to preserve the value of the allowance and to increase its value. We are not in a situation where we can take action which would be regarded as good by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler
I appreciate the point made by the hon. Gentleman. However, he and I are not debating Government plans. The Opposition point is that the increased allowance should retain its value given the present rate of inflation. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the effect of Amendment No. 7 is to exclude the mobility allowance from the annual review procedure?
§ Mr. Morris
The Government are not guaranteeing annual uprating in their proposals. As Minister with responsibility for the disabled, my list of subjects on which urgent action is required is long. There will be pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones, my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden and many others to extend the entitlement to the allowance. I shall move as quickly as I can to implement the proposals now before the Committee. Today I cannot go further than the proposals.
We shall look at the need for upratings. In doing so, we shall take account of all the relevant factors. I am sure that we would not wish to allow long periods to go by without any changes in the mobility allowance if costs rise steeply. The price to be paid for achieving anything in the 496 present situation is the acceptance of changes which are less than perfect. That does not seem to me to be consistent with the strong exhortations to make massive cuts in public expenditure, or to make every possible improvement in these arrangements.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. The Opposition urge that the proposed allowance, which we support, should retain the value it has when it is introduced. I should have thought that that proposal would have found support on both sides of the Committee. I should not have thought that that was remarkably controversial. I urge the hon. Gentleman to think again.
§ Mr. Morris
There is, clearly, strong support for the proposition that we should seek to preserve the value of the allowance that we now propose.
I have said that we shall look at the need for upratings. In doing so, we shall take account of all the relevant factors. I am sorry that I cannot go further. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I accept the force of what he said and the support for what he said which was expressed in speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
A further important point was raised by the hon. Gentleman. He referred to the reduction of the mobility allowance in certain circumstances under subsection (5), where the disabled person enjoys other provisions—for instance, the provision of appliances—under the National Health Service. Regulations will be made in due course. The point raised by the hon. Gentleman remains to be considered. I said that we had in mind the occupant-controlled, powered out-of-door wheel-chair. I cannot anticipate technical progress, although perhaps an extremely expensive new machine may become available to help those who cannot manage a three-wheeler or four-wheeler. We must await the regulations. I shall bear in mind the points made by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and others.
Reference was made to comparative costs of three-wheelers and four-wheelers. 497 That question depends on the specification, whether there is automatic transmission and what hand control adaptations there are. It is not easy for me to give precise details of comparative costs. However, I am advised that it would cost the Government more to provide a three-wheeler than to pay the mobility allowance. The running costs of three-wheelers are borne partly by the Government. Insurance, maintenance and repairs must be taken into account. There is also the £10 petrol allowance. That allowance was discontinued by the previous Government in 1972, but was retained as a preserved right for people who were then receiving the allowance. Nevertheless we have restored the allowance. We doubled it from £5 to £10.
I was asked about the safety of three-wheelers.
§ Mr. Boscawen
Will the Minister say what will happen to the quarterly maintenance allowance available to those who use their own cars? Will that be eliminated now that there is to be a mobility allowance?
§ Mr. Morris
If a person who is entitled to the mobility allowance is now receiving the private car allowance he will take the mobility allowance as his total entitlement to mobility help. Many disabled passengers have made the point to me that our increase in the petrol allowance was decidedly unfair to them. I hope that disabled passengers will regard this as their day in that we are seeking to bring them into the Government scheme, after what many of them will regard as a long delay.
I was asked about the safety of the three-wheelers. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) said in a recent Adjournment debate, as did the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield today, that 18 months ago I spoke in the same sense as hon. Gentlemen who are now speaking from the Opposition benches. A great deal has happened in the past 18 months. While in Opposition I pressed strongly for the publication of the Sharp Report. I was informed that that report had been made available to the Department of Health and Social Security early in October 1973. I pressed for the publication of the Sharp Report. After the Labour Government took office and I 498 became Minister with responsibility for the disabled, one of my first actions was to publish the report of Baroness Sharp.
I exerted a great deal of pressure in Opposition for the publication of the inquiry by the Motor Industry Research Association into the vehicle. Some independent reports had given the impression that the vehicle was extremely unsafe and unstable. I said that we had heard from the Cranfield Institute that the vehicle was unsafe and unstable. There were other pointers in that direction. Many hon. Members will remember that I pressed again and again for publication of the MIRA reports. After I became Minister for the disabled the MIRA reports were published. They are important documents and have been placed in the Library of the House of Commons. We have taken action on the MIRA reports.
Some have said that the synopsis of the wind gust tests did not give the whole story about what happened when the vehicle was tested by MIRA. The full report showed, as I informed the hon. Member for Exeter, that the synopsis was in no way misleading. No essential information was hidden in the synopsis of the report placed in the Library.
Over the past 18 months there has been a great deal of consultation with organisations representing disabled people. I spend much of my time with disabled people. The Central Council for the Disabled has recently discussed the mobility allowance and mobility problems of disabled people with 2,000 severely handicapped people and the organisations representing them. The information from those we consulted after publication of the Sharp Report was extremely instructive. I heard far more about the need for a high-profile vehicle with light steering after becoming Minister for the disabled than I heard before.
Some months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles asked me to see a deputation in his constituency. I was visiting the Swinton Children's Hospital, which cares for abandoned children. Some of them are in hospital on custodial, not medical, grounds. I saw the deputation. My hon. Friend's constituents said that they were very angry about the London-based criticism of the three-wheeler. One man, who is representative 499 of disabled people and runs an organisation for disabled drivers, said "If you take my three-wheeler away, you immobilise me".
In the last 18 months we have published the Sharp Report and the MIRA reports. More than that, we have had wide-ranging and detailed consultations with disabled people and their representatives.
It is eminently clear that many disabled people want to keep the three-wheeler. My preference was to go for cash against vehicles of any kind. Many able-bodied people make a simple error when they talk about disabled people. They think that the disabled are standard people. If one argues for a standard vehicle, the assumption is that the disabled are standard people. About 12 months ago an hon. Lady from the other side of the Committee told me that one of her constituents was so tall, wide and disabled that he could not fit into either a three-wheeler or a four-wheeler.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles, after I became a member of the Government, put forward what some might regard as the rather eclectic proposition that a milk-float was the only vehicle that some disabled people could possibly drive.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
I should like to make this point clear. It sounds like a joke, but it is absolutely true. There is a disabled person in Horsham, and the best vehicle for him is a milk-float. Hon. Members may smile, but it is a fact. He is the horizontal man, Paul Bates, and, with the aid of some advanced technology, he drives a milk-float. There is no standard vehicle. I could not agree more with my hon. Friend on that point.
§ Mr. Morris
I am arguing strongly that the disabled are not standard people. Therefore, the more freedom of choice that we can give the disabled, the better it will be for them and for society, because large numbers of disabled people will be able to take a much greater part in our social life.
I was extremely concerned when, in the context of the test on the invalid vehicle carried out by MIRA, the hon. Member for Exeter, in a recent Adjourn- 500 ment debate, referred to the number of three-wheeled tricycles which overturned. In reply to a number of questions, including some posed by the hon. Gentleman himself, I have given an account of one overturning incident which was reported to me and was entirely unrelated to the test. If the hon. Gentleman has any information leading him to suppose that there was another such incident, I shall of course look into it immediately.
Regarding the specific request that I should give permission for MIRA employees to discuss the incident, which was entirely unrelated to the test, I should point out that that is a matter for MIRA. That body, which is completely independent, was carrying out the test on the three-wheeler for my Department on a contract basis.
I know that the hon. Member for Exeter, as secretary of the all-party disablement group, is deeply concerned to maximise the safety of disabled people and, with me, to give them the greatest possible freedom of choice. I, too, am concerned to maximise the safety of disabled people.
There has been a great deal of publicity about the safety of the three-wheeler. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) referred to articles in the Press about the safety of the three-wheeler. An article in the Press last Monday stated that there were 1,412 accidents—this was all accidents, including parking scrapes—in the half year to 31st March 1975 compared with 2,502 accidents for the whole of the year before. These figures related to the Model 70 three-wheeler. What the article did not point out, although it was clear from the information that I gave the House at the time, was that the later figures related to a larger number of vehicles and that the accident rate per vehicle showed a slight fall.
Nevertheless, I am anything but complacent about the safety of the three-wheeler or the safety of disabled people in other vehicles. Bearing in mind that the number of three-wheelers on the roads is, and has been throughout the five years up to September 1974, about double the number of four-wheeled vehicles, the accident figures are not adverse to the three-wheeler, although they may suggest that the dangers of driving for disabled people, whatever vehicle they may drive, 501 are somewhat greater than for other drivers. That is another reason why the introduction of cash as the main benefit is right.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
My hon. Friend knows that we have been arguing about the three-wheeler or the four-wheeler for many years, in Opposition and in Government. I accept that he has gone to great trouble to be satisfied about the safety of the vehicle, but I would draw his attention to the safety and health of the disabled driver. Does he realise that the single driver may, if he has a breakdown in the middle of the night, have to sit there until people go to work at 5.30? Would he bear in mind that grave danger of the three-wheeler?
§ Mr. Morris
I can say more than that I shall bear it in mind. It is that consideration and many others which have made me opt for cash against cars. For the future we are seeking to get away from the three-wheeler as the main benefit. For any disabled person who can drive a car and wants to do so there will now be the mobility allowance. We know that it is not by itself enough to buy and run a car, but by raising it to £5 for everybody we have gone as far as is humanly possible. It would be unfair to single out for extra benefit people who can drive a car. We are moving, as no previous Government have done, towards helping disabled people to choose for themselves, rather than forcing any machine on them.
As I have said, I have learned a great deal since I became the Minister for the disabled about the wishes of large numbers of the disabled themselves. I am satisfied that the main decision that we have made is the one that the vast majority of disabled people would have wanted us to make.
I was asked about the Netherlands. As I have explained, schemes abroad may reflect different national priorities and may benefit one group rather than another. I recognise that the Dutch scheme has advantages for some disabled drivers, but I would not accept that the Dutch have found a complete solution which we have only to adopt. I understand that it is a requirement of their scheme for the provision of cars that the disabled person should be able to move 502 his arms freely. People with limited arm movement who cannot manage an adapted car are, therefore, better off under our scheme because often one or other of the special steering arrangements available on the three-wheeler will suit them. It is their own decision whether to apply for or drive a three-wheeler. Our scheme makes it available, and in future they will have the option of the mobility allowance.
I shall be looking into the extremely important point raised about the EEC Social Fund. I have not ignored this matter, and I hope to have helpful information to give at an early date.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles referred to the possibility of a "cost of motoring index". He mentioned elderly beneficiaries under the existing scheme and was anxious to know their position when they retired. Existing beneficiaries under the present arrangements will have preserved rights to retain their benefit or revert to it as long as they continue to meet the conditions under which it was awarded. So people over pensionable age with a private car allowance keep it. They are unaffected by the fact that the mobility allowance is not payable beyond pension age.
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) stressed the need to ensure that handicapped children should have every possible assistance to integrate them with other children who are not disabled. She referred to the Rowntree Family Fund. We have recently doubled the amount of the fund, and I announced on 4th December last year that it is now available to all severely handicapped children and not just those who are severely congenitally handicapped.
The hon. Lady said that the fund was helping the families of severely disabled children not only with mobility but with telephones and other forms of assistance. Her right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), when Secretary of State for Social Services, made it clear that the fund would not be asked to provide help which was provided for under legislation. He had in mind the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, Section 2 of which provides for all forms of help for the greater safety, comfort and convenience of disabled people—a wide-ranging provision. The 503 right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State in the previous Government was right to emphasise the availability of forms of help which can be given under existing legislation.
The hon. Lady clearly wanted to reduce the age of entitlement below five. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) she was concerned that the allowance would not start to be paid until that age. It is our intention that the allowance will be payable to the parents of the disabled child. The view which has been taken is that the problems of mobility with younger children are less acute and that it is right to start at school age. However, strong pressure on behalf of children under five—
§ Mr. Morris
There are children born severely handicapped who are not recognised as such in the first few months of their lives. There are forms of handicap which do not even make themselves plain to the parent. I am saying that very young children are given mobility help whether able-bodied or disabled. I am not arguing that we would gladly exclude children under five.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
My hon. Friend gave as an example those who clearly have difficult problems of transport. In what way are they "less acute" than those to which the Minister is referring?
§ Mr. Morris
In the example given, the disability was extremely acute. Considering, however, the general problem of mobility of handicapped children, it can be argued that one should begin at school age. Children go to pre-school classes. I am not arguing that there is no case for children under five. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley and the hon. Member for Wallasey made a very strong case for the under-fives, but we are trying to spread the finite resources as equally and as well as we can.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
On the specific question of the limitation of resources, we all realise the difficulties that face my hon. Friend. Will he say how much it would cost to extend this 504 benefit to children between the ages of two and five as the amendment suggests?
§ Mr. Morris
I do not have the precise figure for that, just as I was unable to give a definitive reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden. I shall be in touch with my hon. Friends about the costing. Even the figure of 100,000 is not definite, which is why I referred in approximate terms to there being 100,000 beneficiaries from the scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South spoke with great authority on the problems of the severely disabled. I shall bear his point very much in mind. He knows we have been extremely concerned to use the new resources available to us as equitably as possible. I am sure he agrees that this is a historic day for the majority of the disabled who are incapable of mobility. They are the people, including large numbers of disabled children, who cannot drive a car.
The hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) referred to comparative costs, and I said something about that in reply to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield.
I have not dealt with all the points which have been raised. This is a most complicated matter. The announcement which we have made is a major breakthrough for the most severely disabled people. Money buys mobility for the disabled as much as for the able-bodied, and £1,300 every five years will buy a lot of mobility. The new allowance will enable many people to become a part of society instead of being treated as apart from society. The main purpose of the allowance is to let the individual decide how and when he will be mobile as well as bringing an end to the cruel discrimination against those who are so severely disabled that they cannot drive.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 62, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.