HC Deb 08 July 1991 vol 194 cc676-82

Lords amendment: No. 8, to insert the following new clause—Disabled persons' badges

  1. (".—(1) Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 (badges for display on motor vehicles used by disabled persons) shall be amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (5) below.
  2. (2) For subsections (2) and (3) there shall be substituted—

(2) A badge may be issued to a disabled person of any prescribed description resident in the area of the issuing authority for one or more vehicles driven by him or used by him as a passenger.

  1. (3) In subsection (4), the words "and any badge" onwards shall be omitted.
  2. (4) After subsection (4) there shall be inserted—
    1. "(4A) A badge issued under this section may be displayed only in such circumstances and in such manner as may be prescribed.
    2. (4B) A person who drives a motor vehicle on a road (within the meaning of the Road Traffic Act 1988) at a time when a badge of a form prescribed under this section is displayed on the vehicle is guilty of an offence unless the badge is issued under this section and displayed in accordance with regulations made under it.
    3. (4C) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (4B) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale."
  3. (5) In subsection (5), the words "and in the case" onwards shall be omitted.
  4. (6) In section 117 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (wrongful use of disabled person's badge) for subsections (1) and (2) there shall be substituted—
    1. "(1) A person who at any time acts in contravention of, or fails to comply with, any provision of an order under this Act relating to the parking of motor vehicles is also guilty of an offence under this section if at that time—
      1. (a) there was displayed on the motor vehicle in question a badge of a form prescribed under section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, and
      2. (b) he was using the vehicle in circumstances where a disabled person's concession would be available to a disabled person's vehicle,
    but he shall not be guilty of an offence under this section if the badge was issued under that section and displayed in accordance with regulations made under it.".")

Mr. Chope

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will also be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 51 to 53, 92, 130 and 137.

Mr. Chope

The amendment responds to concerns expressed in this place and in Committee in another place about the misuse of the orange badge scheme, particularly by able-bodied people. There is a problem in enforcing the existing offence, because section 117 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 depends upon the fraudulent use of a disabled person's parking concession. The amendment is intended to supplement the existing offence to enhance the deterrent effect.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The orange badge scheme derives from clause 21 of my private Member's Bill which became law as the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. The scheme now benefits more than 1 million disabled people. For many of them the scheme has meant all the difference between seeing only their own four walls, day by day, and independent living worthy of the name.

That there would be abuse of the scheme was argued when I first proposed it in 1970. My view then, as now, was that the scale of any abuse depends, to no small extent, on the severity of penalties for abusing the scheme and the effectiveness or otherwise of their enforcement.

This important Lords amendment should lead to more effective enforcement of the penalties available for dealing with abuse. It should lead to fewer allegations of abuse and to an environment in which the benefits conferred by the scheme can be developed and improved. The amendment is therefore one of very considerable importance and will be widely welcomed here as it was in another place.

I pay tribute today to the Joint Committee on Mobility for Disabled People on its work to secure the amendment, and also to the Disabled Drivers Motor Club, the Disabled Drivers Association and the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation for their extremely well-informed briefing on the working of the scheme.

Can the Minister tell the House when we shall be given an implementation date for the Government's proposed more extensive changes to the orange badge scheme, including the introduction of a passport-style badge? Is he aware of the very deep concern that has been caused by the growing practice of towing away disabled people's vehicles, even where no hazard is involved? Clamping of their vehicles is not allowed, but should the Minister not be acting urgently to stop the towing away of vehicles in cases where the disabled person can be left totally immobile on the street?

In another place, an amendment was moved to end any linkage between the pay of traffic wardens and the number of tickets they issue. That amendment did not succeed, and it is now widely felt that, in consequence, linkage between pay and the number of tickets issued by a traffic warden has been given some legitimacy. What are the Minister's comments on this issue, which, as he will know, is of considerable importance to disabled people as to other drivers?

Will the Minister also make it clear that the aim of public policy in regard to the scheme must not be to reduce the number of beneficiaries, but to ensure that there are sufficient penalties for abuse and the power to enforce them? Again, I welcome the action taken in the Lords, and pay tribute to all who have been concerned in framing the amendment.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on his part in introducing the orange badge scheme in the first place. As well as the committees that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, I am sure that the House would also want to recognise the work of the Department of Transport statutory advisory committee to the Secretary of State, and the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, its chairman Sir Peter Baldwin and committee members.

About six years ago, I had the pleasure of travelling around the Netherlands with a civil servant, Neville Rees, who has done a great deal of work on the orange-badge scheme. I am sure that the House would wish him comfort in his present state of discomfort.

The House would welcome a word from my hon. Friend the Minister about whether we can expect further action outside the legislation. We would also welcome his comments on the points raised on the new clause.

As well as the problem of abuse, there is the problem that many people do not understand how vital it is that the orange badge should be issued to those who need it most. I hope that issuing authorities will not feel that they are doing anyone a favour by loosening the criteria for which an orange badge is designed. It is critical for those who cannot move more than about 50 m without it, and is not designed for those people for whom it will simply make shopping more convenient. If we reach the stage of degradation when 5, 10 or 15 per cent. of the population can have a badge, its use to those who are virtually immobile, or who need a wheelchair to become mobile, becomes diminished.

When the scheme was introduced, the problem of how to stop it becoming too slack or being abused was discussed. Without wishing to appear unsympathetic to those with other kinds of handicap, the orange badge means most to those who need to be driven as passengers or to drive themselves, to be as close as possible to their place of work or their shops or to visit people in other services or businesses.

I hope that my remarks will be conveyed through my hon. Friend the Minister to the disabled transport unit of the Department and to those in the private and voluntary sectors who came together to make the Mobility road show at Crowthorne such a glorious success. The Department's response to the International Year of the Disabled and the way in which Ann Frye and her team have done so much are a tribute to the partnerships between the statutory and the voluntary, and the extra-statutory and the committed in the private sector. I also welcome the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), whose work for the disabled has done a great deal to put the Conservative party on a par with the individual efforts of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, who did so much when he was a Minister.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

I had the pleasure of moving several amendments for disabled organisations at the Committee stage, when I asked many questions about the rights of disabled badge owners on red routes. Will all disabled badge holders have the right to stop and park on existing red routes and those that will be introduced in the future? There is only one red route at present but I understand that more will be introduced. Will the orange badge become universal throughout the country? Some London boroughs, such as Westminster and Kensington, do not observe the scheme.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I should like to add to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) about the importance of orange badges for disabled people who could not otherwise get out of their homes and carry on their work or participate in other activities in the community.

The scheme's problems are caused by its success. There are now more than a million orange badge holders, and in my borough there are now 8,000. That represents 4 per cent. of the adult population, which is rather more than the figure of approximately 3 per cent. for the whole country, so the scheme seems to be more successful in Bolton than elsewhere. However, that brings its problems, and the people of Bolton are concerned about those who abuse the scheme and use the badges when they should not do so. In the past week, there has been a front page story in the newspaper about the concern felt in my area.

I thoroughly agree that local authorities need to crack down much harder on that abuse. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make it clear to local authorities that they should act strongly, and give them more powers if necessary.

At a recent Motability scheme meeting, I was shocked to hear that junk shops in Blackpool have been selling bogus orange badges. That shows the extent to which the abuse is growing. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will look into any abuse on that scale. It seems to be a sick joke that anyone should attempt to sell the badges in that way. One also hears of second-hand cars being sold for a higher price if there is an orange badge in the car.

The best way to crack down on such abuse is to have a photograph in the orange badge. I was pleased to see a specimen of a new type of orange badge, which I understand that my hon. Friend intends to introduce. It will have a photograph inside it, which will stop people using it when it does not belong to them. Everyone to whom I have spoken about the new-style badge has said that it is very good, and I look forward to its introduction. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has any reason for delaying its introduction further. If so, I hope that he can overcome any problems and introduce it as soon as possible.

5.15 pm

The restriction of the issue of orange badges presents many problems. It would be wrong simply to restrict them to those who receive a mobility allowance. It would reduce the numbers, because only 670,000 people now receive mobility allowance, but that number will increase with the new disability living allowance, under which there are two categories of mobility allowance. We must be careful how we restrict the number of badges issued.

It is proposed that the present wording, which says that the badge should be issued to those who experience very considerable difficulty in walking", should be changed to those who experience "extreme difficulty in walking". I presume that that still leaves a great deal of discretion to general practitioners in interpreting it. We must be careful not to restrict the badge in such a way that those who have a reasonable degree of movement will be prevented from going out and playing an active role in society.

It is no use our saying that people can go out, if they are not in a fit state to go out anyway. Rather, those who can go out and make good use of their mobility should be encouraged to do so. Therefore, I do not support any draconian measure to limit orange badges to a small number of people. A year ago, there was an outcry when it was suggested that thalidomide victims should be denied orange badges. That shows that we must be careful how we interpret the measure.

I received a note from a constituent who suggested that the issuing of orange badges should be linked to a computer index run by the registrar of deaths, so that, when people died, they would automatically have the orange badge removed. Otherwise, the deceased person's family may be tempted to continue to use it, or his or her car may be innocently sold with the orange badge still in it.

Equally, people who have successful operations—for example, on their hips—may become fully mobile again but be reluctant to give up their badge. Although, in the first few months, they may feel unsure of the success of their operation, once it is clear that they are fully mobile, they should give up their orange badge and not be tempted to continue to use it.

I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister pressing ahead with his proposals. I particularly look forward to his new-style orange badge coming into effect, and hope that the scheme's success will continue to grow, but with some limit on the numbers.

Mr. Chope

I am grateful to all those who have participated in this short debate for supporting the amendment. It is obvious that, if we are to have such a scheme, it must be properly enforced and those who try to avoid the regulations must be subject to deterrent penalties. That is the great virtue of the amendment.

I share the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) about the need to ensure that the scheme is not unduly restricted. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not wish to reduce its scope. When he first introduced the scheme, he predicted that some 30,000 people would benefit, I understand that, at the end of last year, no fewer than 1,160,000 people were benefiting from it. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman and everyone else must be delighted with that.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you may remember that, in 1969–70, we were very uninformed about the numbers and needs of diabled people. I was arguing the case of the organisations of and for disabled people who wanted a national orange badge scheme. We appreciated that it would have to be phased in to ensure proper administration. I had no doubt that more than 30,000 people would ultimately benefit from what all the organisations of and for disabled people now regard as an important aid to independent living.

Mr. Chope

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for explaining that. I am not sure whether he was predicting that more than 1 million people would benefit from the scheme, but that is certainly the position today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) referred to a distinguished member of the Department of Transport, Neville Rees. I saw Neville last week; he is as well as can be expected in the circumstances and is enjoying reading the latest best seller, "Gridlock", an appropriate title for someone working in the Department of Transport to read.

The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) referred to red routes, as he did several times in Committee. There are no concessions involving the red lines themselves, but, as a result of the red routes, we shall be able to provide more loading bays where, with appropriate signing, disabled people will be able to park. One benefit of the pilot scheme is that it will now be possible for people visiting Moorfields eye hospital to park outside it, which they were unable to do under the old regime.

The debate has, understandably, ranged wider than the amendment, but I hope that I shall be able to introduce regulations to deal with the passport-style badge in the not-too-distant future. While the Government are absolutely committed to the introduction of a passport-style badge, they want to try to ensure the maximum consensus on the other amendments to the scheme.

Some people are worried that, as expressed at present, the proposals could result in a number of people with orange badges finding that they were unable to renew them when necessary. I am sure that, due to the scheme's popularity and the extra mobility it affords, if we were to adopt such proposals, we should do so only when we fully understood the implications of doing so. I am reconsidering that issue at present, and next week I have a meeting with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, when it will be on the agenda.

Mr. Fearn

The Minister will recollect that I asked about the authorities that do not observe the orange badge scheme. Has he any proposals for them?

Mr. Chope

That must follow on from the review of the scheme. In the other place, Lord Boyd-Carpenter explained, in a form that was well understood by their Lordships, the difficulties faced by a borough in the centre of London when administering a scheme where, prima facie, more than 1 million people with orange badges would be able to park on the streets. Some central London boroughs have experienced that difficulty—Kensington, Chelsea, Westminster and parts of Camden. I know that we are in discussion with those councils, but I cannot promise that those discussions have reached a final and successful conclusion—much will depend on the final form. I assure the House that our commitment to introduce a passport-style badge is absolute.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

My hon. Friend will be aware of the efforts of the parliamentary committee, which is chaired by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and the secretary of which is my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam). In his further considerations, will my hon. Friend the Minister give serious thought to cases where there is a dispute between those who are most severely handicapped in mobility terms and those who are somewhat handicapped? Will he ensure that the needs of the most severely handicapped are always taken into account, and, if it comes to a choice between the two levels of need, where necessary, priority is given to those who need help most?

Mr. Chope

I think that what my hon. Friend is saying is that the person making the decision should have the wisdom of Solomon. I hope that that will be so.

Question put and agreed to.