HC Deb 06 December 1977 vol 940 cc1124-39
The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about mobility for the disabled.

The House will be aware that the mobility allowance for the disabled went up substantially last month, from £5 to £7 a week—an increase of 40 per cent.

The Government are convinced that a cash benefit is generally the most appropriate way of helping severely disabled people with their mobility. First, cash provides flexibility. It allows disabled people to make their own decisions in ways that fit their individual needs. Secondly, a cash allowance does not discriminate unfairly against those who are too severely disabled to drive. The mobility allowance is paid to drivers and non-drivers alike. It has already brought mobility help to about 60,000 people who would have received no assistance whatever under the old scheme.

I am pleased to be able to inform the House today that, with effect from July 1978, the rate will be £10 per week, and will thus have doubled in less than a year. I know that this major boost in help for the disabled will be warmly welcomed, not only on both sides of the House but also by the roughly 100,000 people expected to receive the allowance when fully phased in.

The Government have also decided that the new and higher level of mobility allowance should, in future, be protected against inflation. There will, therefore, be an annual uprating starting in November 1979. The allowance will of course continue to be taxable, which ensures that it gives the most help to those in greatest need.

No Government can be expected to meet all the mobility needs of the disabled. It is reasonable for the disabled, like other people, to contribute to the cost of their own mobility. Any help which can be given to assist disabled people to make the best use of their resources is clearly very much to be welcomed.

The House will recall that with this in mind I and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the disabled have been engaged in discussions with a number of organisations and individuals over recent months. I am pleased to say that these discussions have now borne fruit.

At our suggestion, a group of prominent people drawn from the professions, from finance and industry, from voluntary bodies and from the trade unions, and chaired by Lord Goodman, has now set up a voluntary organisation for the United Kingdom, working in collaboration with the Government, to ensure that disabled people, both drivers and passengers, who want to use their mobility allowance to obtain a vehicle will get maximum value for their money in doing so.

This new charitable body, to be known as Motability, is announcing today its composition and aims, and a copy of Lord Goodman's statement is being placed in the Library of the House.

Motability will be an independent organisation. Under a council the organisation will have an executive committee headed by Mr. Jeffrey Sterling, Motability's vice-chairman.

The organisation will work in conjunction with the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation and the corresponding organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It will decide itself how to fulfil its aims, and what its priorities should be, with the advice of the disabled and their spokesmen.

Motability will have a number of objectives. It will give guidance and advice to disabled people on vehicles and adaptations and will negotiate discounts and other special arrangements for disabled people. Motability also aims to enable disabled people to have the personal use of a car by means of a leasing scheme. Detailed discussions about such a scheme are well advanced. It is expected that the clearing banks will make substantial loan funds available, and that the scheme will get under way by next summer.

In addition, Motability plans to raise funds. These could be used, for example, to assist in certain cases with the cost of adaptations or, exceptionally, the running costs of a vehicle.

While Motability has already opened an office, the organisation is not yet ready to receive detailed inquiries or applications for help, and disabled people should therefore await a further announcement.

Mr. English

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot remember an occasion when a member of the Front Bench has advertised a private organisation in this way.

Mr. Ennals

I am referring to a charitable organisation.

The large increases in mobility allowance last month and next July, together with the formation of the new Motability organisation, mark a major advance in the provision of mobility for the disabled, drivers and non-drivers alike. This is a field in which both the voluntary sector and the Government have a rôle. The Government will continue to fulfil their responsibility. I am sure the House will wish to join me in welcoming the initiative of Lord Goodman and his colleagues and in wishing their venture every success.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition are indeed grateful to have been kept informed of these negotiations with Lord Goodman and his colleagues? Is he aware that we warmly welcome both the increase in the mobility allowance and the formation of Motability? Is he aware that the House will applaud the public-spirited initiative of the banks and other private sector companies in making this generous new contribution to mobility for the disabled?

May I put three questions to the Secretary of State? Although he described Motability as an independent organisation, is it not the case that his Department will provide administrative support? If that is so, how far will he, as Secretary of State, be accountable to the House for the actions and decisions of the organisation?

Secondly, can he confirm that we are talking about very big money indeed, because Lord Goodman's statement speaks of sums of up to £100 million being made available by the clearing banks on very favourable terms? Will the scheme help disabled people who may not qualify for mobility allowance—for instance, because of age—but who nevertheless need help to provide a vehicle?

Thirdly, when does the right hon. Gentleman expect the new scheme to become operative? He will be aware of the great anxiety of disabled people following his statement of July 1976—particularly the young and newly disabled—who have not been able to have a vehicle provided for them. How much longer will they have to wait, and will legislation be necessary to allow for the assignment of mobility allowance to Motability as part of the proposed leasing arrangements?

May I end by wishing Lord Goodman, Mr. Jeffrey Sterling and their colleagues well and say that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I are looking forward to becoming patrons of Motability.

Mr. Ennals

I think it is right that an initiative on behalf of disabled people in all parts of the country should be supported without regard to politics. It is right in these circumstances, with the very significant help given by the Government and announced by me today, that there should be a partnership between Government and voluntary sector in doing everything we can to meet the needs of disabled people, and I therefore very much appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's introductory welcome.

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question, Motability is an independent and non-Government organisation. The right hon. Gentleman is right in thinking that the Government will give assistance under Section 64 of the Health Service and Public Health Act 1968. That will be a grant towards administration costs. The only accountability to the Government will be for the expenditure that we make under Section 64, otherwise it will be responsible only to the general public.

In answer to the second question, it is true that we are dealing with large sums. The clearing banks have agreed to make available a sum of up to £100 million on terms that are appreciably more favourable than could be procured by any individual disabled person. This should enable Motability to work out a scheme for leasing cars at minimum cost and in certain circumstances to enable a disabled person to purchase a car.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether it would help people who are beyond retirement age. I cannot answer for Motability, but I am quite certain that in its initial phases it will want to concentrate on certain priority groups. My own hope and expectation is that one of the first groups to which it would give attention includes those young people who in other circumstances might have been able to obtain a three-wheeled vehicle but who now would like simply to have a vehicle of some sort. But it is for Motability to decide.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked when the arrangement would come into operation. I said in my statement that it would come into operation by the summer. I have no doubt that early next year Motability will make a further announcement. It may be that it will be able to take applications earlier than seems likely. I know that there is an early meeting of its executive committee, and I have little doubt that it will make known to the country the arrangements that it will be able to offer to disabled people.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I appeal to the House for brevity in questions and replies as far as possible because, although I hope to call a reasonable number of hon. and right hon. Members, we shall be taking the time that is covered by a timetable motion later today.

Mr. Molloy

Would my right hon. Friend consider getting in touch with the leaders of the various organisations for the disabled to ask them how best he can help them to inform their members of the two elements which he has described to the House today so that their members, who will be the ultimate recipients, are given as much information as quickly as possible?

Mr. Ennals

May I say, first, that representatives of several of the organisations representing disabled people are on the Council of Motability. May I also add that my hon. Friend is holding a meeting early this afternoon bringing together many of the organisations to acquaint them precisely with the details.

Mr. Peter Walker

May I ask the Secretary of State whether his increase in mobility allowances and Motability will apply equally to those who are unable to walk as a result of mental handicaps but who would obtain benefit from mobility, as well as those physically handicapped? Secondly, in those rare cases where he decides to object to the decision of a medical tribunal that has granted a mobility allowance, will legal aid be provided for handicapped persons who fight and appeal?

Mr. Ennals

The increased figure will of course apply to all those who are entitled to mobility allowance whatever their age—provided, of course, that they are of an age that has already been phased in. I am already in correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman about the last part of his question and, as he knows, he has an Adjournment debate tomorrow evening.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Whilst thanking my right hon. Friend, may I ask him to convey our congratulations to the Minister with responsibility for the disabled for the work he has done in this field and all those outside who have given assistance in getting this scheme off the ground?

In the light of the problems Members of Parliament face, will my right hon. Friend please make sure on this occasion of this also? A new scheme is bound to have snags. There will be hardship and there will be anomalies. May we please ask him this time for speedy and sympathetic treatment of the anomalies and hardships?

Mr. Ennals

I certainly want to pay the warmest tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the disabled, who has been battling constantly on behalf of disabled people and who has played a very important part in bringing about the announcement that I have been able to make today. He is frequently in touch with the organisations of disabled people, which have been especially helpful. I pay my tribute to RADAR, with which we have been in discussion over many months. But I also add those organisations that have been involved, particularly in recent weeks, in the finalisation of the establishment of Motability. Certainly I will do my best, if there are particular problems, to deal with them quickly. Those, of course are the problems which I am very ready to discuss with Motability when it gets under way.

Mr. Penhaligon

Obviously we welcome the statement and recognise that this will undo some of the difficulties that were created by the abolition of the trike. But would the Minister agree that what is required is a specially designed four-wheeled vehicle for this category? If he agrees with that, could be let us know what progress has been made towards this objective?

Mr. Ennals

I certainly cannot say that everyone needs to have a specialised vehicle. But it is likely that some will have that need. My Department and the Department of Transport have prepared a research study of the needs of disabled people and passengers, and the extent to which it is practicable for those needs to be met by the adaptation of production cars and the requirement for a specialised vehicle. Discussions about the project with the Motor Industry's Research Association are already at an advanced stage.

Mr. Wigley

I welcome the additional resources being given to the disabled, but is the Secretary of State aware of the considerable dismay of those aged 63 and above who can see the mobility allowance fading before their eyes, in that it will not come in until they are over 65? Does he not think that, in those circumstances, any additional resources should be used to speed up the bringing of these people into any such scheme?

Mr. Ennals

It is important to get the mobility allowance at its new level properly under way. I have given an assurance that all the categories up to retirement age will have been phased in by the end of 1979. The latest groups to be phased in were those aged 53 and 54. The problem of pensioners will have to follow. We shall see how, with all the demands on resources, we can build on the substantial scheme that I have announced today.

Mrs. Castle

Is my right hon Friend aware that we on this side of the House warmly congratulate him and the Minister who has responsibility for the disabled on this important new development in mobility for the disabled? But is he also aware that the Government's welcome decision to index the mobility allowance means that the only important social security benefit remaining unindexed and not uprated annually is child benefit?

Mr. Ennals

The issue raised by my right hon. Friend at the tail end of her very warm and congratulatory supplementary question is now under consideration.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Is the Minister aware that his welcome statement this afternoon leaves one gap? It concerns those who will be receiving the mobility allowance but who are unable to collect it themselves. Will he make sure that those who continue to receive cash will have it posted to them in the way that other benefits are sent?

Mr. Ennals

That is a question that my hon. Friend already has under review. No doubt he will give an answer to this issue when a Question is asked. I have been asked whether the mobility allowance had to be paid directly, or whether it could be assigned, and I did not answer that question. My Department pays benefit to approved agents appointed by beneficiaries and it will pay the allowance to the leasing organisation as long as the beneficiary wishes us to do so.

Mrs. Bain

May I add the congratulations of the Scottish National Party for the work done by the Secretary of State and the Minister with responsibility for the disabled and welcome this new up-rating? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, however, how he intends to define the priorities within this system? Does it mean that those who already have vehicles will come down the list, as indicated in Lord Goodman's report?

Mr. Ennals

The question of priorities, not only under the leasing scheme, but under funds raised by Motability, is entirely for Motability to decide for itself. I should add that I agree with the hon. Lady: this is a great step forward, particularly the decision that there can be a leasing scheme. Many disabled people cannot afford to buy a car. They cannot afford to put down the money for a deposit for a car. The leasing scheme will deal with that problem, and the mobility allowance will be used to pay back the loan over several years.

Mr. Ashley

I welcome this important advance, and I congratulate the Government in general, the Minister with responsibility for the disabled in particular, and the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), who was fighting this cause many years before it became popular to do so. May I ask my right hon. Friend how many cars he expects to be leased when the whole scheme becomes fully operational?

Mr. Ennals

It is difficult to answer that. I, too, should like to add my tribute to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). I think that Members on both sides of the House, through the All-party Disablement Group, have made a great contribution to ensuring not only that the House is constantly aware of these problems but that the Government are pushed from all sides to do the best they can—and that is what we have done today.

It is difficult to make a reliable estimate of the number of cars. "Guestimates" suggest that about 40,000 people upwards will take advantage of these new opportunities and obtain vehicles which they can either drive themselves or which can be available for them.

Mr. Hannam

I welcome this announcement, but may I ask the Secretary of State to pay particular attention to the point raised about the old-age pensioner, or the pensioner who finds himself suddenly deprived of the mobility allowance? Will he exert maximum pressure upon this new organisation to try to ensure that these people are eligible for this commutation scheme?

Mr. Ennals

I have no doubt that Motability itself will keep the hon. Gentleman's views in mind. But if we were to say that the whole scheme could apply to all those who have retired, we would add roughly £260 million to the scheme on the £10 basis, because it would apply to so many elderly people, and the more elderly they get the more disabled they are. It would be a monumental burden to bring in them all. Any Government must weigh this up with other priorities. Child benefit is one, although there are many others that the House would want to bring forward.

Dr. M. S. Miller

In order that there shall be no dubiety, will my right hon. Friend confirm that this scheme will apply to Scotland as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom? Will he also indicate what help the Government intend to give this new organisation that is to be set up?

Mr. Ennals

I can confirm that the scheme applies to Scotland and Wales. It is a United Kingdom project. With regard to assistance, we shall be making a grant to Motability for its administration costs, although not for the costs of its leasing scheme, which Motability itself must bear. We have also put at the disposal of the organisation at least one officer from my Department and have made it clear that, as far as we can, we shall assist with advice and in any other way possible to enable the new organisation to get off to a good start.

Mr. Boscawen

I welcome the considerable advance which has been announced today and which all sides of the House have been wanting for a long time. But in view of the increasing demand for the car and decreasing demand for the trike, will the right hon. Gentleman say what will be the future of the production of the trike? It is a matter which will be of great concern to many people who cannot use any other type of vehicle.

Mr. Ennals

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has asked about that. Last July I assured trike drivers that I fully expected to be able to go on maintaining trikes until 1981. I can now tell the House that it looks as though we shall be able to keep them going until 1982 or 1983. Apart from that, I have said that no one who has a trike issued under the old scheme will be made immobile by the phasing out of trikes. I want to confirm that that pledge still stands.

Mr. Crawshaw

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he has discussed with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether anything given for conversions will be subject to VAT, as at present? This has caused a great sense of grievance.

Mr. Ennals

We must recognise that in making this great step forward, with the additional public expenditure involved at a time when public expenditure is tight, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already made a substantial contribution to this project. Therefore, I have not discussed with him whether he can make any further concessions at this time.

Mr. Costain

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that he did not answer properly the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen)? Will he make quite clear the position about people who have tricycles now, particularly when they are nearing retirement? It is dreadful to have to tell a person who is about to retire and who has become immobile that he is stuck in his own home. What is the position?

Mr. Ennals

We do not take away the trike after the age of retirement. It is not suddenly removed by the bailiff when a person's retirement date is reached. If any hon. Member has any particular cases that are worrying him, I should be most grateful if he would get in touch with me or my hon. Friend.

Mr. Ioan Evans

I thank my right hon. Friend and the Minister for bringing forward these proposals, which I am sure will be greatly appreciated by the majority of organisations for the disabled. But what action will the Government take to give the maximum publicity to the mobility allowance, because there are some people today who are not claiming althought they are entitled to it? I hope, therefore, that the maximum publicity will be given.

With regard to Motability, what discussions will be held with the British motor industry to ensure that it can provide the type of vehicle that will be required, because this will also provide jobs in the car industry in this country?

Mr. Ennals

On the last question, my hon. Friend has been very closely in touch with the motor car industry. I know that Motability will be negotiating with the manufacturers as well as with insurance interests and others to ensure that we can make the best use of the facilities that they are able to offer. As for production. I gave some indication of the research being undertaken, and conversion is a matter very central to Motability. On the first part of the question, on publicity, now that this decision has been announced and Motability has come into operation with the support of the organisations for the disabled, we shall do everything possible to maximise the publicity in order that no one who is entitled to this allowance does not make claim.

Mr. Ovenden

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the parents of disabled children have benefited from the mobility scheme to an enormous extent, even though they received very little from the old vehicle supply scheme? Will he confirm that Motability, set up for the leasing of cars, will apply to the parents of disabled children?

Mr. Ennals

Yes. It will apply to all. I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the great factors about mobility allowance is not just that it has gone to adult people who are so disabled that they cannot drive but that it has helped the families with disabled children, who have been under very great hardship until this time. The new level of the allowance will make a great deal of difference to the enjoyment of life, both for the families and for the children.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I propose to call three more hon. Members from each side.

Mr. Marten

May I thank the Minister for his kind remarks, which in fact are due to the Minister with responsibility for the disabled? Will he say something about the insurance of these vehicles?

Mr. Ennals

I understand that Motability, from the discussions that I have had, will be negotiating not only with the motor manufacturers but with the insurance interests. We must await any announcement that Motability can make.

It is quite proper—I am thinking of the observation by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English)—that these matters, which involve negotiating with finance houses, banks, manufacturers and insurance interests, should be carried out by a non-Government organisation. That is much more appropriate than for the Government to do it.

Mr. Clemitson

What efforts are being made to speed the phasing-in of the mobility allowance?

Mr. Ennals

This is partly a matter of medical manpower and administration. It is a major operation to phase it in. Mobility allowance also, in its early days, involved a large public expenditure and it was difficult to bring in everything all at once. But if it is possible before the end of 1979 to phase in all those who are entitled under the Act, I shall certainly do so.

Sir George Young

Further to the question posed by my hon. Friends the Members for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) and Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), why cannot the three-wheeled Invacar continue to be made available through the Motability scheme?

Mr. Ennals

In looking at the question of vehicles, it may be decided at some stage that a specialised vehicle would be appropriate. Under leasing arrangements, there may be a demand for a very large number of vehicles, as I hinted to the House earlier. I do not think that Motability necessarily excludes the possibility of a leasing scheme being linked to a specialised vehicle. Whether we are talking about the existing vehicle or about another vehicle is another matter. I should have thought that it would not be the existing one, for the precise safety reason which explained why my hon. Friend and I felt it was quite proper to phase out the vehicle.

Mr. Edward Lyons

While congratulating the Minister on his splendid announcement, may I ask him to tell us whether the new organisation will be able to assist disabled persons with the cost of major motor overhauls, if they are already using most of their allowance to lease vehicles from the new organisation? Secondly, am I right in thinking that no one will have a new vehicle leased to him until the rate has gone up to £10 weekly?

Mr. Ennals

I am sure that the officers and committee members of the new organisation will listen to what my hon. Friend has said and to what has been said from both sides of the House. I think it would be very unwise of me to seek to commit, or to hint at commitments for, an organisation which is just coming into existence. It will have very heavy demands made upon it, and I think that it must get moving at a steady rate and not be expected to do everything all at once. I am certain that it will take note of the points made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Michael Marshall

While joining in the general welcome, may I ask the Secretary of State to come back to this question of pensions that concerns many of us on both sides of the House? In the figure of £260 million that he quoted, does he not seem to lump together all pensioners? Will he try to see whether there are ways of highlighting the particular needs of the pensioner who lives alone and is virtually a prisoner in his own home? Will he encourage Motability to look at the possibility of pooled transport or some local arrangement that will give relief to many who are, literally, prisoners in their own homes?

Mr. Ennals

I do not think that I should go beyond what I have already said. We are under a commitment to bring into mobility allowance all those under pensionable age. I have made clear to the House on previous occasions, and today, that, if resources permit, when we have done this phasing in, or it may be before, we shall see what we can do. We are talking about large sums of public money and recognising that here and now we are putting more public money into mobility than ever before, and it would be most unfair to hold out optimistic hopes to people.

Mr. Roderick

I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for the work they have done in bringing about the extension of the allowances, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern expressed by disabled people about the phasing-out of the trike in that beginners would like a simpler machine, similar to the trike? The young disabled are most concerned about their future. Is my right hon. Friend aware also that many worthy applicants fail to met the harsh criteria for mobility allowance? Has he any views on extending the mobility allowance in this way?

Mr. Ennals

I do not think that I should make any suggestion of extending the mobility allowance beyond the level to which it already has been extended. One question which might arise is that of the category 3 cases. Several people have written to me, and there have been Questions in the House, about whether category 3 cases—those under the old scheme—were being left out of mobility allowance. My hon. Friend and I have gone into this very carefully and we now believe that the fear that they would be excluded was quite unfounded. We have been unable to find anyone who would be entitled to category 3 who has not already qualified for the mobility allowance.

Certainly I know about the problem raised by my hon. Friend from some of the disabled organisations, but I cannot offer to go beyond the announcement I made today.

Mr. Rooker

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This afternoon the House has had removed from it an important function—that of the ability, in future, to ask Questions and make a Minister responsible at that Dispatch Box for this mobility aspect of the disabled, simply because the NHS has had hived off from it a function which was normally a Government function. That point had not been raised and, although not wishing to delay the House by cheating and asking a further question, I thought someone should put that fact on the record.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has done it.

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