HC Deb 19 May 1986 vol 98 cc60-75


`(1) In paragraph (a) of section 37A(2) of the Social Security Act 1975 (duration of inability or virtual inability to walk for the purposes of entitlement to mobility allowance) for the words "time when a claim for the allowance is received by the Secretary of State" there shall be substituted the words "relevant date".

(2) The following subsections shall be inserted after that subsection—

"(2A) Subject to subsection (2B) below, in subsection (2)(a) above "the relevant date" means the date on which the claimant's inability or virtual inability to walk commenced or the date on which his claim was received or treated as received by the Secretary of State, whichever is the later.

(2B) Where—

  1. (a) a claimant is awarded an allowance for a period; and
  2. (b) he subsequently claims an allowance for a further period;
the relevant date is the first date not earlier than the end of the period for which the allowance was awarded on which the claimant was unable or virtually unable to walk.

(2C) Regulations may make provision

  1. (a) for permitting an award on a claim for a mobility allowance to be made either as from the date on which the claim is received by the Secretary of State for a period beginning after that date subject to the condition that the person in respect 61 of whom the claim is made satisfies the prescribed requirements for entitlement when benefit becomes payable under the award;
  2. (b) for the review of any such award if those requirements are found not to have satisfied.'.

(3) Section 37A(7) (under which, except so far as may be provided by regulations, the question of a person's entitlement to a mobility allowance falls to be determined as at the time when a claim for the allowance is received by the Secretary of State) shall cease to have effect.

(4) Where—

  1. (a) it has been determined that a person was entitled to mobility allowance; and
  2. (b) the claim should have been determined as at the date when it was received by the Secretary of State, but was determined as at a later date.
the fact that the claim was determined as at that date shall not invalidate the determination.'—[Mr. Newton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Newton

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 5—Removal of Age Barrier to Mobility Allowance`() From and after this Act, no application for Mobility Allowance shall be treated as ineligible solely on the ground that the applicant had not established a claim prior to the age of 66 years.'. New clause 23—Mobility allowance'At the end of section 37A(1) of the Social Security Act 1975 there shall he inserted the words "or unable to make progress on foot in an intended direction, unaided by another person, without risk or substantial danger to oneself or others".'. New clause 24 — Mobility allowance: ability to walk`()After section 37A(2) of the Social Security Act 1975 there shall be inserted (2A) In determining whether a person is unable, or virtually unable, to walk, account shall be taken of

  1. (a) the distance, speed, time and manner in which he can make progress on foot without severe discomfort;
  2. (b) the need for guidance or assistance;
  3. (c) the ability to conceive and achieve a desired destination.".'.
New clause 25 — Mobility allowance: mental handicap() After section 37A(2) of the Social Security Act 1975 there shall be inserted: (2A) An applicant shall be entitled to consideration for mobility allowance, notwithstanding an ability to undertake the physical movements of walking, if, because of mental or physical disorder, he cannot control the destination to which he moves without the guidance or assistance of another person.".'. Government amendments Nos. 187, 188 and 186.

Mr. Newton

I hope that I will be in order if I spend a few moments explaining the reasons behind the new clause and then describe its provisions briefly.

The existing legislation for mobility allowance ties consideration of a person's entitlement to the allowance to the date that his claim is received. If the conditions are not satisfied on that date, they cannot be considered on any other date and the claim fails.

There has been some uncertainty about the matter, and last year a tribunal of social security commissioners held that medical appeal tribunals, the highest of the independent adjudicating appeal authorities, could consider whether a claimant satisfied the medical conditions for the allowance from a date later than the date of his claim. If he did, the allowance could be awarded from that later date. Following that decision, a number of claimants were awarded the allowance in that way. That was then followed by an event in the Court of Appeal earlier this year, when the court overruled the commissioners' decision and held that entitlement could be considered only as at the date of claim.

We are introducing this legislation in order to re-establish the commissioners' view against the finding of the Court of Appeal. We do not in any way criticise the Court of Appeal, but it found that the law was something that we did not wish it to be. I am sure that the House shares our view. The new clause is intended to put the matter back to where the commissioners left it

The new clause restores the power of medical appeal tribunals to decide medical conditions from a later date, extends that power of later-date determination to the other independent adjudicating authorities dealing with mobility allowance claims, and enables regulations to be made permitting the allowance to be awarded from the first date, the date of claim or a later date, on which the conditions for entitlement are satisfied. That means that claimants who are not found unable or virtually unable to walk as at the date of claim, but whose ability to walk is deteriorating, can be found to satisfy this condition at a later date and can be awarded the allowance from that date.

In that way, the need for such claimants—most hon. Members will have come across this problem—to make repeated claims in the hope that one will be received on the day that they are unable or virtually unable to walk will be removed. The new clause will also enable more claims to be dealt with successfully and speedily by the lower tiers of the independent adjudication system. I hope that the House realises that that will be of benefit to mobility allowance claimants generally.

I shall give a brief outline of the new clause. Subsection (1) changes the time from which, as a condition of entitlement to mobility allowance, the period of 12 months or more over which inability or virtual inability to walk is likely to persist, has to be reckoned. That is to bring this entitlement condition into line with the other changes proposed.

Subsection (2) inserts three new subsections in section 57A of the Social Security Act 1975. New subsections (2A) and (2B) define the "relevant date" of the start of the 12-month period in relation to first claims and renewal claims. New subsection (2C) enables the introduction of regulations to allow mobility allowance to be awarded from a date later than the date of claim.

Subsection (3) repeals section 37(A)(7) of the Social Security Act 1975, which at present limits consideration of a person's entitlement to the date when his claim is received.

Subsection (4) validates retrospectively awards of mobility allowance made from a date later than the date of claim following the decision of the social security commissioners.

Government amendments Nos. 187, 188 and 186 are all consequential on the introduction of the new clause. The new clause is a modest proposal which falls a good deal short of some of the other new clauses that Opposition Members have tabled. However, I hope that it will at least be seen as an unqualified goody, and that, for once, I shall get a modest pat on the back for introducing the measure.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

New clause 23 is necessary because of the continued controversy about eligibility for mobility allowance. The Department, its commissioners, the House of Lords and many lawyers are in endless dispute over the existing law and regulations and what they mean. Costly time is being wasted and, more importantly, this terrible confusion and uncertainty is resulting in many severely disabled people being deprived of mobility allowance when they should be receiving it.

The fundamental controversy is about what is meant by the phrase unable or virtually unable to walk. It has been held that there is a distinction between cannot walk and will not walk. One gives eligibility and the other does not.

The mother of the 12-year-old severely mentally handicapped boy who featured in the "Link" television programme on the subject would find legal mumbo-jumbo laughable but tragic. Her child is so strong that he has pulled her to the ground. He has the ability to walk, but his frequent random refusal to do so makes it more difficult to cope with him. He is a strong, powerful young man, and it is much more difficult to cope with him than with a child whose disability weakens or confines him to a wheelchair. But that boy and his mother are refused the mobility allowance.

A social security commissioner, with the subsequent approval of the House of Lords, held that if the legislation intended to include the inability to direct one's walking, it would have done so. The new clause responds to that. It clarifies the situation and makes it clear that the mobility allowance is about the social loss of being unable to walk in an intended direction rather than the physical loss of being unable to put one leg in front of the other.

The mobility allowance grew out of the three-wheeler car provision, which shows that its intended, if unspecified, aim was to enable people to go from A to B. Being unable or virtually unable to walk should have been a convenient means of identifying those requiring help to get from A to B. It has proved to be a net with a larger holes through which deserving cases easily fall.

Many mentally handicapped people—those who are autistic, hyperactive or blind or who have other handicaps such as deafness or mental handicap—are quite unable to move in any intended direction without personal care and attention which is sometimes extremely demanding. Yet they often do not receive mobility allowance, and if they have received it they are at risk of losing it.

The new clause provides for the mobility allowance to go to those who are unable to make progress on foot in an intended direction without risk of substantial danger to themselves or to others. It will clarify the eligibility provisions for mobility allowance and ensure that those who desperately need the allowance will receive it.

6.15 pm
Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security on his concession in the Government new clause. I support the three new clauses which seek to amend an unsatisfactory arrangement. Most hon. Members will have received representations from constituents who have been refused mobility allowance on the judgment that they are able to walk satisfactorily and therefore do not require it.

It is easy for hon. Members to judge, by looking at and talking to constituents, that they are able to walk and are therefore ineligible for the allowance. We usually advise such people to come back after six months if their conditions worsen. However, we have received representations from those who suffer from severe sensory or mental handicaps which make it impossible for them to walk properly without assistance. When such people are refused mobility allowance, we must conclude that something is drastically wrong with the qualifying conditions in the regulations.

The problem lies in the interpretation of the words "to walk". Our new clauses seek to remove the anomalies which surround the literal interpretation of those words. They are designed to extend the meaning to cover what was originally intended by the mobility allowance regulations to help disabled and handicapped people who are unable to make progress on foot … without risk or substantial danger to oneself or others.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Does my hon. Friend agree that this affects not only the award of mobility allowance? I am taking up a case against an ambulance authority which refuses to provide an ambulance for people who are capable of putting one foot before the other but have little ability to determine in which direction they should go.

Mr. Hannam

That highlights the anomaly in the interpretation of the legislation.

The numbers involved are not large, but we should try to help the sensory or mentally impaired. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Ashley) referred to the difficulty and the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), in his new clause refers to the mentally handicapped. No one has greater knowledge of their problems than he. However, other small groups are desperately in need of our help, particularly the deaf and blind, the blind and mentally handicapped and autistic children.

In recent years some deaf and blind persons have properly been granted the mobility allowance in some areas. In other areas people with the same handicaps have been refused mobility allowance. That discrimination is unacceptable.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most difficult examples is of someone who has been granted the mobility allowance and then loses it? People are unable to understand why the allowance is taken away, because the medical evidence has not changed.

Mr. Hannam

I was about to discuss that. Organisations such as SENSE, which represent the deaf-blind, tell me that officials say that no decision can be made until test cases have proceeded through the courts. The recent House of Lords test case has resulted in further confusion. People who have been granted mobility allowance are being turned down when they try to renew it.

The present regulations are based on an unstable, unsure and unacceptable basis. A rejigging of the regulations must be worked out so that it is clearly shown that the inability of a person to achieve reasonable mobility without help must be the criterion for the granting of mobility allowance. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has done so much for the disabled, will heed the call of all organisations representing disabled people and do something to sort out this serious anomaly in the system.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I support and lend weight to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) for the Minister for Social Security to continue along the lines on which he introduced the debate, to respond to problems with the working of the mobility allowance and to look at the specific points that have been raised. I will not talk about the problem of people between the ages of 65 and 75 and of those above 75 years, which new clause 5 deals with, other than to mention, as a benchmark, that there is reason for dissatisfaction. I will not talk—as the hon. Member for Exeter did—about the real problems of blind people and blind people with other disabilities.

Some people who need assistance have not received it. I refer to those who suffer from mental handicap, to which new clauses 24 and 25 relate. I have concentrated on that area because there has been a tremendous amount of uncertainty and people have lost out. There appears to have been a move backwards. On 11 June last year, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), wrote to me, saying: there have been difficulties in recent times over the interpretation of the qualifying conditions for the allowance. The case-law has been in an unsatisfactory state because there have been doubts about the extent to which the need for assistance from another person whilst walking could be taken into account. The problem goes back at least to the case from Worcester, of which the Minister will be aware, R(M)2/78. That led to the amendment of regulations in 1979 to clarify the qualifying conditions. That is when factors such as distance, speed, length of time and manner were introduced, and they are featured in my new clause. In other words, I am trying to get back to what we thought we had established in 1979.

Unfortunately, the Lees case came forward and raised the question of the ability to perform the physical act of walking, rather than the ability to make purposeful use of walking. That is the differentiation to which reference has been made. In a letter dated 11 November, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), said: The application of the judgment in cases where there are behavioural limitations on a claimant's walking ability has evidently raised a point of law of special difficulty. He continued: When the Commissioners have given their decision, we will then decide whether there is anything further we need to do to clarify the situation. The tribunal of commissioners gave its decision in CM/173/85. It appears that only those whose behavioural difficulties cause frequent interruptions to the physical act of walking will qualify. That was a move backwards. The Under-Secretary's letter continued: I hope that the background which I have described shows that the intention of the allowance, and the basic qualifying conditions, remain as they have always been. That is not so. The qualifying conditions are not the same as they have always been. When my two boys were alive, they received a mobility allowance, not because they could not undertake the physical act of walking but because they could not go in a meaningful direction. If they were alive and were to apply for a mobility allowance now—I see similar cases to theirs—they would not receive it. Some people who were eligible a few years ago are not eligible now. The law has become an utter tangle. I hope that at the very least, the Minister will undertake to bring forward a remedy to ensure that the people who deserve and need mobility allowance will receive it.

Mr. Thurnham

The matter goes back some time. In an Adjournment debate on 13 November 1984, the Minister for Social Security promised to review the guidelines pending the Lees case, which had riot at that stage been announced. I put a question to him and he was kind enough to answer it on 10 April this year. He said that recent decisions had clarified the law and should help adjudicating authorities. However, it does not seem to me that matters have been clarified. In fact, in a telephone call to a local DHSS office on 8 April, two days before the answer was given, I was told that the Department did not know how to interpret the Lees decision, and things seemed to be completely up in the air. I ask the Minister to consider the matter further and perhaps undertake to bring in further amendments when the Bill goes to another place. There is great confusion. I draw the Minister's attention to early-day motions 656 and 847 which I tabled and which have been supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that the Minister will offer some help in this area.

I should declare a personal and a constituency interest in the matter. The constituency interest arises in the case of Daniel Heaton, aged 9½ years, who was granted mobility allowance in a decision made on 12 December 1984. The medical appeal tribunal granted the allowance for two years only, on the basis that within the next year or two years he would be admitted to a residential home on a permanent basis, whereupon the benefit to be derived from an allowance would be uncertain. When I corresponded about the case with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), he said that the possibility of admission to a residential home should not have been a relevant factor as it would not have affected entitlement to the allowance. The Heatons are now confused, because the allowance has not been continued, despite the fact that further medical examinations have shown that Daniel Heaton's position medically is the same as it was.

Daniel was re-examined by a general practitioner on 25 November last year. The adjudicating officer referred him to the medical board. The medical board examined him on 12 January 1986, but again the adjudicating officer decided to refer the case to the medical appeal tribunal. In March this year, the Heatons were told by the tribunal that no date could be set for a hearing until the Lees decision had been clarified by a tribunal of commissioners. The tribunal of commissioners made a decision the day before the letter was sent. Presumably, that would have helped to clarify the position.

My constituent, Daniel's mother, is in a state of complete confusion. She wrote to me saying: they are making us go through all the hearings we went through last year. It is impossible for my constituent to see the need for that when the medical evidence is the same as it was earlier. Obviously, the costs incurred by the Heatons in looking after Daniel are based on the fact that they would receive the allowance. The Minister will he aware of the costs incurred if a child such as Daniel were to go into a residential home. The fact that it was mentioned earlier should be borne in mind in asking for further guidance to be given in such cases.

The confusion is confirmed by the number of people who have written stating that it is a difficult and contentious area. I received a letter from the Spastics Society dated 16 May, which stated: it is particularly unfair that those who have physical disabilities in their legs should qualify for the allowance, whilst others who though in theory are able to 'walk' cannot do so because of a mental handicap or a combination of disabilities cannot qualify. The Spastics Society went on to say that the Lees case seems to have added to the confusion. I think that the society helped to word some of the amendments which are on the Amendment Paper.

I draw the Minister's attention to a letter which was sent to him by the Disability Alliance and refer him to the number of people who have signed the letter. The letter from the Disability Alliance was signed by the Campaign for People with Mental Handicaps, the Child Poverty Action Group, Down's Children's Association, the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults, the National Association for Mental Health, the National Autistic Society, the National Federation for the Blind, the National League of the Blind and Disabled, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the National Deaf-Blind and Rubella Association. If all those organisations are as concerned as they say they are about the need for better guidance. I earnestly request my hon. Friend the Minister to see whether he can provide further clarification outside the Bill or as part of it through an amendment introduced in another place.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I support new clauses 23, 24 and 25 and the removal from section 37 of the Social Security Act 1975 of the anomalies regarding mobility allowance.

The evidence has been presented well today. I am sorry that the Minister chose to help only in a small way and in another respect, and did not clear up the anomaly. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will know of people who have been refused mobility allowance because they suffer non-physical handicaps. They might have gone to a medical officer and been refused mobility allowance because they have normal gait.

I had such a case, which ended up at the regional medical appeal tribunal. I represented the people concerned and we won. We argued that the family, with an eight-year-old daughter, as she was then, ought to have mobility allowance to help her and the whole family. The father and the mother were unemployed and they had two other children. Although we won the case, there was initially an objection by the Minister to the appeal going in their favour. Next year, or the year after, however, when the matter comes up again, we do not know whether the family will be able to receive the help.

The Minister is presenting major changes in the law, but he has missed a golden opportunity to amend the 1975 Act fairly and properly so that people with other than physical handicaps are no longer discriminated against.

6.30 pm
Mr. Galley

When moving the motion, That the new clause 31 be read a Second time, my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security suggested several minor, technical, but helpful and useful changes to mobility allowance, and it is singularly graceless of the Opposition not to have referred to those improvements.

There are, nevertheless, serious worries about mobility allowance, and I should like to emphasise some of the arguments that have already been made so that my hon. friend the Minister is fully aware of the breadth of concern about the elegibility criteria for the allowance.

There will always be some definition problems and borderline cases, however the legislation is written, but it is clear that the current criteria about being unable, or virtually unable, to walk are not adequate to determine whether somebody should be eligible for mobility allowance.

We all have constituents whom any layman would say are unable to walk. We all have constituents who obviously need some assistance with mobility but who, because of the interpretation of definitions, are not entitled to mobility allowance. It is important that my hon. Friend the Minister should give us an assurance that he will reconsider the matter. I understand that he may not be able to accept new clauses 23, 24 and 25 now, but they embrace important considerations which I hope he will examine to see whether we can improve the wording of the eligibility criteria.

None of the new clauses will open the floodgates to people who would, by reasonable criteria, be ineligible. The numbers will be small and it would be a sensitive response to a small problem for my hon. Friend to give us an assurance that he will re-examine the definitional problems.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) spoke to new clause 5. There is an important principle here and, as we are having a rare debate on mobility allowance, we should not skate over the fact that somebody who has passed his or her 66th birthday is not entitled to claim mobility allowance although his or her need for it may be as significant as that of somebody who was recently 65—or more so.

A number—I do not wish to exaggerate—of elderly people have considerable difficulty with mobility and are beleaguered in their homes. There is little help for people aged over 66 who are immobile. The elderly have growing expectations in terms of mobility, activity and the richness of life, so we must consider such groups who are significantly disadvantaged because of lack of mobility.

Such a change obviously has resource implications, and I can understand my right hon. and hon. Friends being anxious about ramifications to the tune of some £300 million for the social security budget arising from significant changes in eligibility for mobility allowance for people aged over 66. I am not asking my hon. Friend to accept the principle and go ahead straight away; merely that he should give greater thought to the mobility needs of elderly people when no other source of help is available.

There might come a time when we have the resources to allow a wider interpretation of the mobility allowance for elderly people.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

We shall need a change of Government before that happens.

Mr. Galley

The hon. Lady often interrupts me in the Social Services Select Committee, and she is doing it again now. That comment was unworthy of her and inaccurate.

New clause 5 has significant resource implications, but improvements in social security have come one by one. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) is fond of telling us that he is in favour of what he calls the salami approach of improvements for the disabled. He argues that improvements come slice by slice. I hope my hon. Friend will consider that extending the mobility allowance to the over-65s should be the next improving slice.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I should like to speak in support of new clause 5. I do not have to say too much about the generality, as the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Galley) has just urged the Minister for Social Security to take account of the needs of the elderly.

I should like to spotlight another anomaly. Is there any reason why people who have not applied for mobility allowance should not be eligible between the ages of 65 and 75, when people who have received it before the age of 66 are able to have it, provided that the medical criteria are satisfied, until they are 75? I cannot understand why that should happen.

I should like to give the example of an injustice which was brought to my attention. Someone consulted his general practitioner about four years ago when he was still under 65. The general practitioner failed to diagnose a medical condition and, by the time it was diagnosed and a specialist had confirmed it, the gentleman had lost his claim to mobility allowance, He applied, went to the tribunal and got a lot of sympathy. However, he did not get any money at the end of the day. The people concerned feel very strongly about this injustice.

A letter from the consultant physician said that he suffered from chronic bronchitis and emphysema and was significantly disabled to the point where he was breathless after walking a short distance on level ground. The letter said: His illness represents one which has progresed slowly over a period of years. He is markedly disabled now but was significantly disabled several years ago before he reached the age of 65. I can most strongly support his claim for Mobility Allowance on Medical grounds. That is what the consultant physician said, and the tribunal agreed. However, he did not succeed in his claim, simply because he was over 65. I do not see how the Minister can justify this dreadful situation anyway. I hope that he will do something this evening to give some hope to the elderly who are disabled and immobile.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

There is no doubt that mobility allowance is one of the most useful, best understood and widely used of all the benefits that have been introduced in recent years. I hope that it will not put anybody's back up on Conservative Benches if I say that and pay tribute to those elsewhere who took the time and trouble to introduce it. However, I confess to a sense of disappointment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not yet managed to make major progress on the entitlement to mobility allowance of mentally handicapped people.

My right hon. Friend will recall debating with me late one night, I think it was in 1984, the case of Shelley and Russell Tulloch, who are my constituents in Melbourne near Derby. They are mentally handicapped adults suffering from a congenital disease which was not discovered until after the younger one was born. The disease means that they have progressively become more mentally handicapped and increasingly difficult to manage. They are cared for by devoted parents who have applied for mobility allowance and who raised the question with me. After several attempts they were eventually granted the mobility allowance and the DHSS then appealed against the decision and took the case to higher authorities, at which point they were refused mobility allowance.

The family receives a great deal of help and assistance. The two young people receive non-contributory invalidity pension, the family has the assistance of Derbyshire social services and they have access to a day centre and training centre. There is no doubt that the fact that the young people are mentally handicapped and quite severely restricted in what they can do is known and noted and is very much a part of all the assessments that have been done of the family. When I debated the case with my right hon. Friend, the family were sufficiently devoted to come down to listen to what was being said and advise me.

Therefore, I take a close interest in the subject and I hope that the day may come when both sides of the House can welcome the opportunity for mobility allowance to be paid not only to people who cannot walk, but to those with other problems.

If Shelley and Russell were here now they could walk through this Chamber as readily as anybody—that is, if they could understand what the Chamber was and what was being asked of them. They could manage to put one foot in front of the other. There is no doubt about that, although their ability so to do is becoming increasingly restricted. They would need to be on somebody's arm. They would need to be assisted and aided, not by a walking stick, a frame or a zimmer, but by a caring person, especially a relative or someone they could trust in order to make progress of any kind, even of a few yards. It is impossible for them to travel or use public transport unaided or to use the minibus without an escort. Therefore, it follows that they need help with transport.

Some years ago when I was involved in social services in Birmingham we were able to make use of a different piece of legislation to aid such people. We were able to grant bus passes to such people under the transport legislation of 1976. That gave us greater leeway. Apart from anything else, it gave more power to local councillors and, provided we kept within the broad letter of the legislation, we were able to decide whether we felt that someone would benefit from a bus pass. There were occasions when we watched somebody walk into the office to see whether we thought he needed a bus pass. We always watched them from the window as they walked out again because we were well aware that some people would abuse the system.

We were able to use this facility to grant assistance to families with mentally handicapped members. We were quite sure that the wording of that legislation enabled us to use our power to pay the transport authority for a free bus pass so that a mentally handicapped person could use it and be assisted in that way. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will explore the ways in which local authorities can use their powers and see whether they could be extended in some way to mentally handicapped people.

6.45 pm

Various additional criteria for deciding whether someone should claim mobility allowance are proposed in the new clauses, especially that of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) with which I have a great deal of sympathy. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would agree that the current criteria are restrictive and increasingly seem old-fashioned. A disabled person is now recognised not just as someone who cannot walk very well. These days we regard as disabled those who cannot make as full use of facilities as the rest of us can, and somebody who is mentally handicapped, not just physically handicapped.

Although the legislation was not written all that long ago, in the days when it was written, when mental handicap was beginning to be recognised as a problem for which the whole community should be responsible, a very large proportion of the mentally handicapped people, such as Shelley and Russell Tulloch, would have been in institutions. Therefore, there would have been no need for them to have mobility allowance or to try to find ways of living in society. They no longer go into institutions, and the whole thrust of our policy is to get them out of them and into the community. Therefore, it behoves us, in so far as we can, to ensure that they have the same rights as everybody else in the community and that their disability enables and entitles them to the same sort of help.

A full review of disability is currently under way. I have asked and pleaded in this House before that we should include the mentally handicapped in the general word disability. I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends have taken careful note of that. I hope that the day will come when they will feel able to add criteria to the granting of mobility allowance which will recognise that walking unaided does not just mean walking without a stick. It may also mean needing to walk with an escort. Travelling unaided may mean not just being able to get on the bus by oneself but perhaps requiring some assistance and guidance and an escort at all times in order to be able to do that. Therefore, I hope that in the current review the question of mobility allowance is being looked at seriously and that at some point we may look forward to proposals by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench in order to allow the payment of this important and valuable benefit to those who are mentally handicapped and could make use of it.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Time is at a premium and I shall be studiedly brief. My main concern is with new clause 23 and the others so ably explained by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam). There is now widespread and increasing concern about current restrictions on entitlement to mobility allowance. It has been put to the House strongly again today by the Spastics Society. The Society's concern is shared by many other organisations. What seems particularly unfair to the organisations is that those who have physical disabilities in their legs qualify for the allowance while others, who in theory are able to walk but cannot do so because of a mental handicap or a combination of disabilities, do not. That rankles also with the families of many disabled children.

There has been reference to the legal confusion which surrounds entitlement to the allowance. To some extent that confusion stems from various interpretations of the verb "to walk". It is argued that the needs of many disabled people could be met if "to walk" was defined in the regulations as meaning: to make progress on foot in an intended direction, unaided by another person, without risk or substantial danger to oneself or others". Those are the words of new clause 23.

This would be a simple amendment to introduce, and would clarify the current confusion. It would also remove an anomaly that causes considerable distress to severely disabled people and those who care for them.

The mobility allowance is a child of which many people have claimed paternity, such has been its success. Having legislated for the allowance, and having then moved regulations that extended it to some people with mental handicaps, I very much hope that our plea will be accepted. Certainly, if everyone who has claimed paternity were now to vote for the redefinition that we are seeking, there could be no doubt whatever that it would be approved.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

I should like to add a few words, as someone who has listened to the debate and who was not privileged to be on the Committee. Therefore, I hope that my words will carry a slightly different emphasis from the words of those who served many long hours in Committee and with whose views Ministers are familiar.

I ask why we should risk giving any impression that we are not willing and prepared to give the maximum help to those in society who most need it. I favour concentrating that help and the resources that are available most on those who are least able to help themselves. That category is headed by the disabled. In using the word "disabled", I agree with all my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who have given the widest possible definition of "disablement" in this context, because I believe that if we allow the law and regulations to continue, as they have in the past, to be drawn in the most narrow way and therefore to seek to exclude people from the category of those who need help, we are open and vulnerable to criticism—and rightly so.

I say that the more so because I believe that it is that category of people in society who, in many ways, are the most easily enumerated and quantified. We should be able to identify them very well, with regard to the age limit and physical disabilities; we should be able to quantify them and therefore make estimates and allowances of the resources required to give them the help that they need and deserve.

I agree with the point that was made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) about the age limit. In that category more than any other we are well able to identify those who would qualify were we to change the ridiculous regulations, and therefore build into our estimates of the resources coming under this heading what was required to give those people the help that they need. That is an easy case. A more difficult case is one that requires a definition of mobility or immobility, or the ability to walk. Again, I agree with many Opposition Members and my hon. Friends. Surely in that case we should be able to make the definition more generous rather than narrower. Even if we did that, we should still be able to quantify with reasonable accuracy the number of people who might qualify for the benefits, assistance and help.

On these occasions, I am always the first to say to people who want more resources for any aspect of social security services: where would the money come from? I am prepared, in a rare act of generosity, to offer my hon. Friends some advice and guidance. I am referring to the next new clause that we shall discuss, which is about child benefit.

I give a small trailer to my speech by telling Ministers that we could start to find the resources required by not giving child benefit to those who do not need it. In other words, why should we give child benefit to the relatively well off when there are disabled people and people in genuine need of help and resources, people who deserve the resources of the social services much more than do wealthy people with children? My positive and helpful suggestion to my hon. Friend the Minister is along these lines. I believe that we could legitimately transfer to where they are needed a large quantity of resources presently going to where they are not. I support what all Opposition Members and my hon. Friends have said on this important subject.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)

I welcome new clause 31, which seems to introduce common sense into an area where the Court of Appeal has intervened and threatened an over-legalistic approach. I am sympathetic towards the common sense expressed in new clauses 23 to 25. It seems to me that one can or cannot walk. One could ask someone in the street whether he realised that the following person is not eligible for mobility allowance—someone who is unable to make progress on foot in an intended direction, unaided by another person. without risk or substantial danger to oneself or others". I think that the man in the street would be extremely surprised at that.

I am also sympathetic to the concept in new clause 5. If someone reaches the age of 68 and is unable to get around by himself, it is odd that his entitlement to mobility allowance depends on whether he was able to get around by himself at the age of 65. That is another anomaly that the Government should examine.

Mr. Newton

This has been an important debate. However, there has been very little discussion of the proposition with which we started — the relatively modest but generally welcome new clause that I moved. The debate has ranged across many broader issues, as I expected, following the court decisions to which reference had been made.

Before I comment on what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, I should like to say a word about the Heaton case which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham). He will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to attempt to discuss the details of an individual case at length on the Floor of the House, certainly not in present circumstances. I should make it clear that on the initial claim, as my hon. Friend knows, the independent adjudicating authorities decided to make an award for two years only. They do not have to give reasons for that. The fact that the claimant was going into residential accommodation should not have been a factor, as payment of the allowance is not affected by that. My understanding is that there has been no final decision on the case to which my hon. Friend referred. It is still before a medical appeal tribunal.

The major issue that has been raised by hon. Members is related to new clause 23 and the two other new clauses of similar character, including the one tabled by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). There is also the slightly different issue raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) in his new clause 5.

The House will be aware that since mobility allowance was introduced in 1976 by the then Labour Government — indeed, by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)—the basic qualification has been the inability or virtual inability to walk. New clause 23—as well as new clauses 24 and 25—is directed to the meaning of the phrase "virtual inability to walk" as interpreted by the House of Lords in the Lees case, and by the social security commissioners in the Hilton case.

In the case of Christine Lees, as the House will be aware, the judgment of the House of Lords was that the ability to walk referred to locomotion, not to the ability to direct one's steps to a desired destination. In the case of Mark Hilton, the decision of the tribunal of social security commissioners showed that mentally handicapped people, despite their physical ability to walk, can be entitled to mobility allowance if they are affected by what the commissioners describe as temporary paralysis as far as walking is concerned", which has a physical cause.

I acknowledge that the views expressed by a number of organisations outside the House and by some hon. Members tonight—

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you advise me whether it is in order, when the guillotine motion falls at 7 o'clock, for the Opposition to move new clause 1 formally, to secure a vote on the clause? It is clear that there has been a filibuster by the Government on the new clause to prevent a clear humiliation by a vote on this important issue, which will now not be debated.

Mr. Speaker

I have no authority to do as the hon. Gentleman wishes. If the Minister were to resume his seat before 7 o'clock and there was time to move the new clause, that would be a different matter.

Mr. Newton

I recognise the difficulty, but I stress that I spoke for only a short time in moving the new clause less than one hour ago. The issues that have been raised are extremely important and complicated, and there is much anxiety outside the House—

It being Seven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order [15 April] and the Resolution this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Mr. Meacher

Further to my earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order now for the Opposition to move new clause 1 formally to allow a vote on the matter? There has already been a great deal of discussion on this matter. We believe that it is proper that the House should have the opportunity to declare a view on this crucial issue. Can there now be a vote on new clause 1?

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I am bound by the rules of the House and I have no authority to go beyond the guillotine motion that has been agreed by the House.

Mr. Barron

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have just had a debate on new clause 31, which totalled 57 minutes. Forty-three minutes were used by the Government Benches for speeches to filibuster and stop us getting to new clause 1. This is a disgraceful state of affairs. The Minister spoke for 11 minutes. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) spoke about child benefit, knowing that we would not get to new clause 1 because he was filibustering.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot recognise a filibuster. Hon. Members who have spoken have done so very briefly.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I add my words to those of Opposition Members who are disgusted at the way in which the discussion on child benefits in new clause 1 has been avoided.

Mr. Speaker

There is always the chance of such sadness when a guillotine motion is in force.

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