HC Deb 26 October 1976 vol 918 cc259-62
7. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received regarding the phased withdrawal of vehicles for the disabled.

9. Mr. Luce

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received in the last two months from disabled people following his statement about the mobility allowance.

13. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received concerning the proposal to phase out the invalid tricycle.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Alfred Morris)

I refer the hon. Members to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham. Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on 11th October. I have also had meetings with representatives of several disabled peoples' organisations to hear their views. Our consideration of mobility policy is, of course, still on-going, and I am keeping very much in mind all the views expressed to me.

Mr. Allaun

I appreciate the great reforms introduced by my hon. Friend to help disabled people, but will he now assure thousands of anxious people by undertaking that he will not phase out the three-wheeled car, not even after five years, until drivers have been provided with an alternative or suitable vehicle and that he will avoid bringing to an end their social and working lives?

Mr. Morris

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. Since many disabled people have been caused unnecessary concern, I must state categorically that there is no question of any sudden withdrawal of tricycles for at least five years. We expect to carry on maintaining them, and it is our policy to replace worn-out tricycles. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State assured the House in a statement on 23rd July that we were examining the continuing need of drivers for specialised vehicles. We shall see what vehicles are available in markets at home and abroad. Our aim will be to ensure that nobody who has a tricycle will be immobilised by the decision to phase out.

Mr. Luce

Will the Minister settle the principle of cash allowances? Does he not accept that those who at present have invalid tricycles will suffer a severe disadvantage when the mobility allowance is introduced since it will not cover the cost of purchasing and running a car? What progress is he making in the discussions with the Central Council for the Disabled on the question of mobility allowance?

Mr. Morris

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has emphasised, we are seeking an increase, not only in terms of amount, but in terms of the value of the mobility allowance. The Central Council for the Disabled is studying what can be done to help disabled people to by cars on advantageous terms. I have no doubt that they will be pleased to contact the hon. Gentleman, who takes a close interest in these matters.

Mr. Hooley

What guarantee is there that any manufacturer in the United Kingdom will continue to produce a suitable vehicle for the disabled if the Government's purchasing system ceases? Will it be sufficient that there is an optional market and not a Government guarantee of purchase?

Mr. Morris

This question underlines the considerable difficulties we have had. We do not know how many disabled drivers will opt for cash in place of hardware. I cannot go any further than the reply I have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). We are aiming at giving disabled people more freedom of choice than they have at present. It is our resolve to extend the mobility of the disabled person, not to restrict it.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Does the Minister realise that the announcement made by his right hon. Friend led tens of thousands of disabled people to believe that their mobility would be restricted? Is it not now clear that a policy of equal misery for all is not at all satisfactory? [Interruption.] Will the Minister consider proposals to give the highest priority to those for whom help with mobility makes all the difference between dependence and independence?

Mr. Morris

It is my right hon. Friend's intention to have individual contact with every tricycle driver. On 23rd July, when my right hon. Friend made his statement, the right hon. Gentleman asked him whether he realised that Conservatives believed that in the great majority of cases cash rather than hardware should be the form of aid given to the disabled in terms of mobility considerations. His hon. Friends the Members for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) and for Wycombe (Sir J. Hall), among others, welcomed the statement. This Government are more than trebling expenditure on mobility for the disabled, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to look at what they said on 23rd July and to try to make it clear to disabled people that we are seeking to extend their mobility.

Mr. Ashley

Many people will welcome the fact that, despite protestations from Conservatives, the Government have increased expenditure threefold on mobility for the disabled at a time of economic crisis. We also welcome the fact that my hon. Friend is looking at an alternative vehicle, because a vehicle is vital. Is my hon. Friend aware that the mobility allowance is not being given with the humanity with which it should be given? This is instanced by the case of a thalidomide boy with legs only a few inches long who has been denied a mobility allowance. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the mobility allowance is administered compassionately?

Mr. Morris

I shall be pleased to look into the case to which my hon. Friend has referred. I am grateful to him for emphasising that we are increasing considerably expenditure on mobility for the disabled. I wonder whether hon. Members realise that asking for an increase in expenditure for the disabled in July, as I did, was like asking to go for a holiday on the Normandy beaches in June 1944.