HC Deb 26 October 1982 vol 29 cc966-8


Lords amendment: No. 87, after clause 57 insert— .—(1) The Secretary of State may make payments out of money provided by Parliament in respect of the examination of applicants falling within any class mentioned in subsection (2) below, being applicants for medical certificates required as a condition of any exception prescribed by regulations under section 33A or 33B of the 1972 Act (wearing of seat belts).

(2)The classes referred to in subsection (1) above are

  1. (a) those in receipt of—
  2. (i) attendance allowance under section 35 of the Social Security Act 1975;
  3. (ii) mobility allowance under section 37A of that Act;
  4. (iii) disablement pension under section 57 of that Act at a weekly rate increased by virtue of section 61(1) of that Act (constant attendance needed); or
  5. (iv) an allowance under article 14 of the Naval, Military and Air Forces etc. (Disablement and Death) Service Pensions Order 1978 (constant attendance allowance);

  1. (b)) those in receipt of—
  2. () i
  3. (i) family income supplement; or
  4. () ii
  5. (ii) any benefit under the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976; and their dependants;

(c) those provided with invalid carriages or other vehicles under subsection (1) of section 46 of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 or in receipt of grants under subsection (3) of that section in respect of invalid carriages or other vehicles which belong to them; and

>(d)those whose names are in the register of disabled persons maintained under section 6 of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944.

(3) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (2) above (whether as originally enacted or as previously amended under this subsection) so as to omit any of the classes mentioned in that subsection or add to or substitute for any of those classes other classes of any description."

Mrs. Chalker

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it is convenient to take Lords amendment No. 88. I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that the amendments involve privilege.

Mrs. Chalker

The regulations bringing in compulsory seat belt wearing were approved by Parliament just before the Summer Recess, and will come into effect on 31 January 1983. There are few categories of exemption, but the most important of those is the one for medical reasons. For people to be so exempt they must hold a valid certificate signed by a medical practitioner to the effect that it is inadvisable on medical grounds for them to wear a seat belt. The Government decided that because of the decision by the BMA we must provide free examinations for those who were most in need—the disabled and other categories of people on low incomes. Since that would be a continuing service, it would not be proper for the expenditure implications to be covered by the Appropriation Acts. The Secretary of State is therefore taking the necessary powers in this clause. Lords amendment 88 enables an Order in Council to be made for Northern Ireland, subject to negative resolution, containing similar provisions.

Mr. Booth

This clause is a piece of elegant language designed to cover up an extremely flabby legal provision.

The clause does not correspond to the Minister's statement. It does not say that certain categories of people must have free examinations. It says that the Secretary of State may make payments out of moneys provided by Parliament for the categories listed in subsection (2) of the clause. Subsection (3) of the clause provides that the Secretary of State can amend subsection (2). He can therefore alter the categories of persons eligible.

I shall use layman's language to describe a legal proposition. The clause empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations for just about anything he likes for the purpose of making payments to applicants for medical examination for exemption from wearing seat belts.

In speaking on the money resolution the Minister said that the Government had calculated costs. Were the calculations made on the basis that everyone would have his full medical fees paid? Is it assumed that the fee will always be that recommended by the BMA or that the doctor may charge more or less than the recommended fee? One person may go to Harley Street and another to the local surgery.

Mrs. Chalker

We are talking of the money that will be expended through the DHSS medical service for the free examination of everyone within the categories listed in the money resolution and in the Bill. We are talking not of a person who visits a doctor of his own accord but of someone covered by the DHSS medical service. It is that examination for which the House has voted money.

Mr. Booth

Is that a way to ensure that only certain people in the DHSS medical service will test a person in the categories if he wishes to be exempt from payment for the certificate? How are the payments made within the service?

It has been assumed that any doctor could be asked to certify that a person can have a medical exemption, and, if that doctor turned him down, the person could go to another. Could recompense then be claimed from the DHSS for that expenditure?

Mrs. Chalker

The amendments deal only with people eligible for free medical examination by members of the DHSS medical service. They do not cover reimbursement for people who go to a doctor of their choice and who do not fall within the exempted categories covered by the money resolution.

The regulations are to provide a new service for people who need a vehicle to get to work because they are disabled, who might have a limited income and who could not easily use their own doctor. They could have a free examination through the DHSS medical service, which already carries out medical examinations for many other DHSS benefits. The regulations do not cover payments to private doctors who undertake a medical examination perhaps leading to exemption from wearing seat belts. The £300,000 for England, and pro rata amounts for Scotland and Wales, is only to reimburse the DHSS for its free medical examinations of those who are entitled to them.

Mr. Booth

I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation.

To make that calculation the Minister must have decided which categories will be entitled to use the service. That is not what the clause says. It appears that there are no such categories at present and that there will not be until the Secretary of State decides how to use his powers under subsection (3).

Mrs. Chalker

My previous remarks were correct. No regulations need be made. The classes in section 2 stand unless and until an order is made under section 3. That order would be subject to parliamentary control under clause 73(4). The categories of people entitled to free medical exemption are spelt out in the money resolution passed in the House some time ago. I hope that that answers the right hon. Gentleman's questions.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 88 agreed to. [Special entry.'

Forward to