HC Deb 11 January 1977 vol 923 cc1233-5
3. Mr. Newton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a further statement on mobility for the disabled and, in particular, on progress towards safeguarding the position of those currently possessing the tricycle.

The Secretary of State for Social Ser-Vices (Mr. David Ennals)

I have written individually to all holders of tricycles and private car allowances issued under the old vehicle scheme to tell them what is being done to safeguard their position. For at least five years, and possibly for longer, we expect to be able to replace tricycles and to provide spares for drivers supplied under the old scheme. Disabled people are to be given the option of a no-age-limit mobility allowance. Furthermore, we shall be continuing to look on home and world markets for specialised vehicles for those who will still need them when tricycles can no longer be replaced.

Mr. Newton

Does the Secretary of State accept that despite a long series of either clarificatory or allegedly reassuring statements there remains a high degree of anxiety? Will he give a clear-cut undertaking that those who are currently enjoying mobility via the trike will not be allowed to lose that mobility either because they cannot afford it or because there will not be a suitable vehicle available? An undertaking of that kind will be required to reassure people who are now worried.

Mr. Ennals

Let me say first that the response that I have already had to the letter that I sent out proves that many people had been misled by propaganda and misleading statements. I received one letter this morning stating: What a relief to have your communication. Thank you very much. How one was misled through the media. I am afraid that is true. I accept that whatever the Government may be able to do to increase the mobility allowance further, some of the existing tricycle drivers will still need a specialised vehicle when their tricycles can no longer be replaced. We shall be looking at what is available on home and world markets to help such people. Our aim will be to do all we can to ensure that no one who has a tricycle issued under the old scheme is made immobile by the phasing out of the tricycle.

Mr. Frank Allaun

I appreciate the great reforms for the disabled that this Government have introduced, but will my right hon. Friend nevertheless repeat his last statement, to the effect that there is anxiety on the part of those who fear that, at the end of five years, they will be deprived of their vehicles? Why cannot the Government say that they will ensure that at the end of five years those who need a vehicle will be able to continue either with a tricycle or with a four-wheeled vehicle suitably adapted?

Mr. Ennals

Perhaps I may quote from the letter which I sent to every tricycle holder. I said: What we shall be trying to do, of course, is to make sure that no one who is now mobile is made immobile by the phasing out of the tricycle except where increasing disability makes that unavoidable. I do not see how I can go much further.

Dr. Vaughan

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is confusing for disabled people that funds for mobility should be available both from his Department and from the Department of Employment? Has he considered proposals for commuting the sums available to enable the payment of a lump sum for someone to buy his own vehicle?

Mr. Ennals

Commuting is a subject that is being discussed by the Central Council for the Disabled. It may be that the council will have proposals to put forward, although there are financial difficulties. The responsibility of the Employment Service Agency, under the Department of Employment, is particularly relevant to those who need assistance in getting to and from work. I am in touch with my colleagues in the Department of Employment to see whether there are ways in which we can make it simpler. As for general mobility, it is very much more satisfactory for disabled people that so many more of them now can have assistance than was ever possible before. We are now in the course of trebling the amount that this Government are spending on disabled people.

Mr. Thompson

Apart from looking at the world market and the home market for specialised four-wheeled vehicles, have the Government commissioned research into such vehicles? Would not it be a good idea, in this International Rheumatism Year, for the Government to undertake this sort of research?

Mr. Ennals

We have not commissioned new research, but we are following developments that are going on. Interesting work is going on in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, and I have seen other work in other parts of the country. This is a matter that we are following very closely.