HC Deb 11 December 1992 vol 215 cc1160-72

Order for Second Reading read.

1.29 pm
Sir John Hannam (Exeter)

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

I am grateful to have time to debate the Bill. This is the second time in my parliamentary career that I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity of introducing a private Member's Bill. The first time was in 1986 with the Corneal Tissue Bill, which successfully completed its stages in Parliament. I hope that I can make it a brace of successes with this Bill.

The Bill seeks to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 to enable physically disabled people to give paid instruction in the driving of motor cars in specified circumstances. It has the support of the Department of Transport and I should like to thank all the staff of its disability unit who have helped so much with it.

The Bill is welcomed by many disabled people and organisations that represent the interests of disabled people and, at this early stage, I should like to quote messages of support that I have received from two of he leading disability organisations. The first is from the national vice-chairman of the Disabled Drivers Association, John Hennessey, who says: It is many years since one of our members from Coventry was denied the opportunity to become a driving instructor and become gainfully employed, because she only had a licence to drive cars with automatic transmission. The `Disabled Drivers Association' warmly welcomes this Bill which will remove the present discrimination against disabled drivers and enable those who wish to work as driving instructors to do so. This measure is of vital importance and the need for it is overwhelming. The other message came from Bert Massey, director of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation. He writes: RADAR warmly welcomes this Bill, which if passed, will enable disabled drivers to become driving instructors. The Bill will affect a small number of disabled people, but removes a barrier to them becoming 'economically active' and assisting other disabled people to become 'independently mobile'. We very much hope the House will grant it a Second Reading. The Bill is sponsored by Members from four parties in the House, so it is truly an all-party Bill, and most of them are active in the all-party disablement group, which also supports the Bill.

Our proceedings began this morning with the presentation of a large petition calling for antidiscrimination legislation for disabled people. It is in that context that I present the Bill. We all know that disabled people face many obstacles in their daily lives in education, housing, transport, employment and many other areas. Significant progress has been made in removing the barriers in recent years, but much more remains to be done. I hope that the Bill will contribute by making provision for disabled people to become approved driving instructors, thus allowing those who qualify as such to have greater financial independence.

When we think about the range of problems facing disabled people we think of the difficulties of gaining access to buildings such as theatres and cinemas and of the problems on the educational front with grant-maintained schools and the need to ensure that proper provision is made for those with special educational needs, but they also face difficulties with transport that must be tackled, for example by using lower-access buses. Disabled people suffer from discrimination in a whole range of areas and the Bill seeks to tackle that.

The demand for the Bill is certainly well established. Over the years, the Department of Transport and the disability organisations have received representations from would-be driving instructors who are excluded from that source of employment. The Bill aims to rectify that problem and to open up new employment opportunities for disabled people as driving instructors approved by the Department of Transport.

Why is there a need to amend existing legislation? At the moment, someone who wants to become an approved driving instructor must be able to give tuition in the driving of cars with a manual gear box. That prevents disabled people, who are restricted by their driving licences to cars with automatic transmission, from becoming approved driving instructors and thereby giving paid tuition. The Bill would therefore deal with discrimination against disabled people in one aspect of employment. Until we have general anti-discrimination laws, I believe that it is the correct way to try to remove discrimination piece by piece.

In presenting the Bill, I am mindful of the need to ensure that it will not undermine road safety. A key feature of the Bill is the requirement for a disabled person who wants to become an approved driving instructor to satisfy an assessor appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport that he or she could exercise control in an emergency while giving instruction. Essentially, the assessment will be on the basis of the ability to exercise emergency control in a car fitted with automatic transmission with or without additional modifications to the vehicle, as the assessor may consider necessary.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Could my hon. Friend enlarge on that? Would he recommend that the assessor should be requested to forecast the capacity of the candidate to become a driving instructor over a prescribed interval such as one year or two years in case someone with a debilitating progressive disease might get worse in the period after the assessment has been made?

Sir John Hannam

My hon. Friend raises a crucial point with which I am about to deal in detail. It is the safety factor which will concern most people in allowing a new group of people to become driving instructors.

The Bill would require a satisfactory assessment of the ability to exercise control, which would lead to the issuing of an emergency control certificate. The certificate would detail any modifications to the vehicle that the assessor may consider necessary. The important point is that the assessor may include a recommendation that the candidate should undergo a further emergency control assessment at the end of a period specified on the certificate. In other words, the assessor may consider the candidate's type of disability and define a period after which a further assessment must be made. I believe that that answers my hon. Friend's question.

The registrar of approved driving instructors will require the production of a current emergency control certificate before a disabled person's name can be entered in the register. In practice, I suspect that disabled people who want to become approved driving instructors would obtain the emergency control certificate before spending time and money taking the qualifying theoretical examination and practical test of driving and instruction ability which must be passed before entry in the register is possible. The Bill mirrors for a group of disabled drivers the requirements laid down for non-disabled drivers.

As an added road safety measure, the Bill contains powers for an emergency control certificate to be revoked in the event of a disabled person no longer being able to meet the emergency control requirements. It would be an offence to continue to give paid instruction without a current emergency control certificate. The Bill contains a number of safeguards around the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel).

It would also be an offence if a disabled approved driving instructor or trainee instructor failed to inform the registrar of approved driving instructors of any worsening of his or her disability or failed to disclose a disability that had not been previously notified. Thus, the registrar can ensure that a person should return within a given time for further assessment and the prospective driving instructor is required to disclose any disability that had not previously been notified. He or she must notify the registrar if there is a worsening of the disability.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

May I take my hon. Friend further on that point? Given that the assessor can pre-determine the timing of a subsequent examination in certain conditions, would not it be an idea to have regular retesting? That would also avoid the need for individuals to report a worsening in their condition, which would necessarily sometimes be a subjective decision.

Sir John Hannam

The provisions of the certificate detail the time at which a further application should be made. A condition may improve rather than worsen, and a prospective disabled driving instructor who has been denied a certificate could come back for a reassessment. There is a duty on the disabled person to inform the registrar if his or her condition worsens. A disabled person can also ask for reassessment if the condition improves.

The introduction of the concept of the emergency control certificate is the key safeguard for road safety. Although it is necessary for road safety purposes that an additional requirement should be placed on disabled people, it should not act as an disincentive to disabled people who want to qualify as improved driving instructors; nor is it proposed that there should be any financial penalty for disabled people. With the agreement of my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, it is intended that no charge should be made for the issue of the emergency control assessment certificate.

A disabled person who holds a valid emergency control certificate, and who has passed the necessary written and practical qualifying tests, just as non-disabled people have to qualify, will be able to have his or her name entered in the register of approved driving instructors. That would enable a disabled person to give paid driving instruction, although he or she would be restricted to cars with automatic transmission and with any other special modifications that might be specified in the emergency control certificate.

Technology is developing so quickly that in the past 10 or 20 years, we have seen a range of adaptations and modifications to allow people with very severe disabilities to be able to drive cars. One can imagine that in the foreseeable future, technology will go even further, to a point at which one would press a few buttons and programme a computer that would drive the car and even navigate it. Such a computer would be extremely useful for my wife, as navigation is not her strongest point. I look forward very much to such developments.

I will run briefly through the main features of the seven clauses. Clause 1 sets out the conditions that must be satisfied if a disabled person is to be registered as an approved driving instructor.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

The interesting proposal for emergency control certificates is important for disabled driving instructors in terms of road safety. It also has interesting implications for non-disabled driving instructors. Does my hon. Friend think that there is a potential for widening the scope of the certificates so that all driving instructors would eventually need to have them, given the difficulty for anybody, whether disabled or not, in controlling motor cars in an emergency?

Sir John Hannam

It is certainly the case that the certificate is a prime requirement for all drivers when they are assessed for introduction to the register. The non-disabled driver has to show clearly that he or she can take control of a vehicle in an emergency. In the case of disabled drivers, whose cars have automatic transmission and other modifications, it becomes a more complex requirement. That is why the special advice centre set up by the Department of Transport will be responsible for providing an assessor who will look carefully at that requirement and at a certificate showing that a disabled driver is equally able to gain immediate control of a vehicle in an emergency. We can consider carefully in Committee whether the same degree of certification should apply to non-disabled drivers.

Clause 1 contains provisions to ensure that the disabled person can satisfy requirements that mirror those set out in part V—section 125—of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The disabled person who wanted to apply to the registrar to have his name included in the register of approved driving instructors would need to satisfy three conditions as a first step: first, he would have to suffer from a relevant disability or a prospective disability; secondly, he would have to hold a current restricted driving licence; and, thirdly, he would have to hold an emergency control certificate.

The disability or prospective disability would be a physical condition, whose relevance would depend on whether it was likely to hinder the safe and proper control of a motor car and, as such, be a source of danger to the public. In practice, potential disabled approved driving instructors will have shown their ability to drive safely—otherwise they would not possess the limited restricted licence required under the second of the three conditions. The Bill recognises, however, that some people suffer from intermittent or progressive physical disabilities—hence the inclusion of the term "prospective disability".

The possession of a limited driving licence required under the second of the three conditions refers to a licence limited to certain classes of motor car by reason of a person's disability. In practice, that generally means that the licence restricts the holder to driving cars with automatic transmission, with or without all the additional suitable modifications such as a hand-operated throttle and brakes.

The third requirement—that a disabled person possess an emergency control certificate—is a crucial element in the Bill.

Clause 1 also specifies the duty, which I have mentioned, to disclose to the registrar of approved driving instructors any worsening of the physical disability of the candidate instructor, and also the duty to disclose any disability not previously mentioned.

The clause also provides for the registrar to order a reassessment of emergency control ability and—again, mirroring the existing legislation—for the registrar to provide periodic tests of continued ability to give instruction, re-emphasising the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington).

Clause 1 also requires that, before entry to the register of approved driving instructors, a disabled person must first pass the necessary written and practical tests of ability. Clause 2 amends section 129 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to enable disabled people to hold a trainee licence and to give paid instruction if so desired. A trainee licence is not a requirement under the existing legislation, and I do not propose to change that position.

To hold a trainee licence, a disabled person would first need to have passed the first two parts of the three-part qualifying examination—the written theory test and the test of driving ability. A trainee licence would enable a potential approved driving instructor to get practical experience and to instruct for payment before taking the practical test of ability to instruct. As with the legislation governing existing trainee licence holders, the Bill provides for regulations to be made limiting the period during which a disabled person may hold a trainee licence. The existing regulations governing such licences restrict the period to six months and I would envisage the same period applying to disabled trainee licence holders. It is interesting that, under existing legislation, prospective driving instructors are given a six-month period during which they can gain experience before doing the final practical test and be paid for it.

Clause 3 provides for the assessment of a disabled person's ability to control a motor car in an emergency so that that person may be granted the necessary emergency control certificate. The clause is a vital part of the Bill.

As I have said, the assessment would be undertaken by an assessor appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport. The disabled person would need to satisfy the assessor that he or she would be able to take emergency control while giving instruction. The assessment would be made on the basic ability to exercise emergency control of a vehicle fitted with automatic transmission with arty special modifications that may be necessary.

The clause provides that the certificate will specify the class of motor car with any necessary modifications. The certificate may include a recommendation that the person should undergo further assessments at the end of such periods as may be specified. The assessor has control over the length of time before further assessments are necessary.

Mr. Jessel

Does the Bill state whether the assessor must be medically qualified or at least a medical auxiliary?

Sir John Hannam

The Bill does not define that specifically. Appointments are made by the Department of Transport centre responsible for supervising and helping to advise and develop modifications of vehicles for disabled people. The assessor appointed to deal specifically with emergency certificates will, of course, have to be fully qualified to do that. The degree of medical expertise is something which I would have to examine further. However, that is a very important point and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham.

Clause 3 provides that the emergency control certificate will specify the particular class of motor vehicle and the further assessments needed at the end of any periods specified in the certificate. With regard to further assessments, it would be open to a disabled person to apply for a reassessment to enable him or her to instruct in a class of car not covered by the existing emergency control certificate. Alternatively, the registrar may require a reassessment if he believes that there are grounds for that.

The clause also provides that a period of time should elapse before a disabled person can apply for a reassessment. That period could be six months or another specified period. That is generally the case with such provisions as attendance allowance, where a period of time is set before a reapplication can be made after an earlier decision.

Clause 4 imposes a duty whereby a disabled person who is an approved driving instructor will be required to disclose to the registrar any previously undisclosed physical disabiity or worsening of a disclosed disability.

Clause 5 makes it an offence to give paid instruction in a vehicle not covered by an emergency control certificate. It also makes it an offence to give paid instruction without a valid emergency control certificate. The registrar of approved driving instructors will have no power to suspend disabled people from the register. Therefore, several months could elapse between the revocation of an emergency control certificate and the removal of the name from the register.

In the meantime, that person could give instruction without the ability to intervene in an emergency. I recognise that that would have very serious road safety implications; hence the need to create that offence to cover someone who continues to give paid instruction without a current emergency control certificate, even if that person's name was still on the register.

Clause 6 introduces a long and detailed schedule of related and consequential amendments necessary to the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. Clause 7 provides the short title of the Act if the Bill is enacted and it also provides for commencement, which would be by order of the Secretary of State for Transport. It also excludes Northern Ireland from the extent of the legislation.

I hope that the House will share my view that the Bill offers a new opportunity for disabled people, while ensuring that road safety principles are not compromised. I believe that my Bill will ensure that, as approved driving instructors, that same group of drivers will be able to provide an effective and safe service to other would-be drivers.

1.53 pm
Ms. Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I thank the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) for introducing the Bill and for his excellent work in the all-party disablement group. I also thank the Home Office for consenting to those parts of the Bill relating to offences. I hope that that indicates the Government's general support for the Bill.

My party wholeheartedly supports the Bill, which is important for two reasons. First, it opens a sphere of employment that is currently barred to disabled people. Secondly, by providing for disabled instructors, it will make it possible for more people with disabilities to learn to drive and to gain the extra freedom that the rest of us take for granted.

Unfortunately, at the moment there is a shortage of driving instructors who are willing to teach disabled people. Clearly, that is unacceptable. The current situation also means that people with disabilities who do get taught to drive will be taught by people who may not have an adequate understanding of their needs or the particular skills required for driving some specially adapted cars.

Furthermore, it seems obvious to me that in most cases disabled people would prefer to be taught by disabled instructors. However, in supporting the Bill, we must not forget the many other transport problems that disabled people face. I have recently received complaints regarding the orange badge scheme for disabled drivers and regarding disabled access to the London underground.

Measures such as the Bill, which enable people with disabilities to extend their freedom of travel and access, should be supported, and I hope that all hon. Members will so do.

1.56 pm
Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

The whole House and the country are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) for having brought forward this excellent Bill. For many years, my hon. Friend has been renowned for his work for the disabled. He himself is far from disabled—he has captained the Lords and Commons skiers against the Swiss Parliament, and he has played tennis for the House of Commons against the French. My hon. Friend's remarkable and compassionate concern for the disabled is shown in the Bill. Only a small number of people are affected by the Bill, but a principle is involved—a matter of fairness so that people who are disabled but who would be capable of making good driving instructors can carry out that employment and derive a livelihood from it.

Of course physical capacity matters. I am glad that my hon. Friend went so carefully into what would be needed to check physical capacity. Arms and legs matter in that connection. It is important for anyone driving a car to be able to react quickly and jam on the brake with a sharp movement in an emergency. An instructor needs to be able to show a learner driver how to do that. My hon. Friend referred to the need for driving instructors to obtain quick access to the hand brake or to seize the steering wheel and turn it in an emergency. Those points matter greatly.

There is also manoeuvrability. I have noticed many drivers proceed perfectly safely along a highway and avoid accidents when driving forward but be hopelessly incompetent when it comes to backing into a confined space or carrying out a three-point turn. The three-point turn used to feature largely in driving tests and in driving instruction. Of course, it is useful for country drivers to be able to carry out a three-point turn, as they might overwise have to travel a mile or two before they find a turning space. For urban and suburban drivers, such as those in my constituency, the need is less marked. Normally, one can drive round a block and have to travel only 200 or 300 yds further. It is useful for a driver to be able to carry out three-point turns, which need some force as well as skill in the use of the steering wheel. It is important for an instructor to be able to give instructions on that function and on reversing into a confined space, which some drivers do so badly. Such drivers do not seem to have a sense of the size of their car in relation to the size of the space or how to back into it with reasonable efficiency. I should like to know that disabled drivers will be able to give instruction on those functions. I should also like to know that it will be safe for disabled instructors to drive on motorways.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, will he make it clear that within the European Community the principle of subsidiarity will apply to the legislation? I hope that there will be no question of our legislating today at the risk of having the Act overruled by the common market later.

2 pm

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) is to be congratulated on introducing the measure. It is a scandal, which has been going on for far too long, that disabled people who are perfectly entitled and, indeed, licensed to drive their cars on the streets, have not been entitled to be instructors provided that they meet the necessary criteria to enable them to teach.

The purpose of the Bill is to be greatly welcomed and, when we look back once the Bill is on the statute book, we will wonder how the original legislation on driving instructors ever excluded disabled people. An extraordinary perversion of the legislative framework meant that it ignored the rights of disabled people. If disabled people can carry out the functions necessary to be able to drive, they should be able to teach others how to drive.

As has already been said by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne), it is undoubtedly true that someone who is disabled, and is able to manage a car and understand the constraints imposed on them when safely driving and manoeuvring a car, will have a much clearer understanding of the problems faced by a disabled person who is learning to drive and who suffers similar disabilities. Disabled instructors will be able to understand the intricacies of handling cars that are adapted for disabled people.

Therefore, the Bill is not merely about the justice of a disabled person being able to say, "This is another skill that I can have to add to my existing skills", but will improve the instruction of disabled people learning to drive. That will mean that disabled people will be safer and better drivers, which will benefit us all. Therefore, the purpose of the Bill is to be greatly welcomed and I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing it.

Necessary safeguards are required. There are people whose disabilities will, at times, make it difficult for them to be able to control a car in a crisis. Undoubtedly, crises arise during driving lessons that do not arise when someone is driving alone, whether or not he is disabled.

Therefore, it is right that the Bill should include a requirement that the disabled driving instructor should have to fulfil to ensure that he can gain control of the car in an emergency.

Why, though, if a disabled driving instructor has to prove that he can regain control of a car in a crisis, do we take it for granted that someone who is not disabled always can? After all, it is not obviously true. When he qualifies, an instructor may have quick reactions and great manual dexterity and may be able to regain control of the car in which he teaches, but, as the years go by, reactions slow down and people cease to be as agile as some of us were in our youth. It is conceivable that able-bodied people might then find it difficult to regain control. To introduce a requirement of this nature for all driving instructors is perhaps beyond the scope of the Bill, but it should be considered. If the certification works for disabled drivers, as I believe that it will, perhaps the principle should be extended to all driving instructors—

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

The purpose of the emergency control certificate is to prove that those whose ability to stop a vehicle may be in doubt can do so. Surely the ability of able-bodied people to stop a vehicle is never in doubt, so there is no need to extend the certification process to them.

Mr. Carrington

I suspect that that may often be true, but the difficulty is that it may not be true of some people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) said, some people who are not disabled have great trouble reversing, doing three-point turns and backing into narrow spaces, even though the vast majority do not. The difficulty is to know who can and who cannot. Some driving instructors will be able to regain control of cars throughout their careers, but others, with less dexterity and slower reactions, will not.

This is rather like the hoary problem of whom advertising affects. Most of the money spent on it is wasted, just as I suspect most of these certificates will be wasted. The problem lies in distinguishing. In matters of road safety it is always wise to veer on the side of caution.

I hope that the Bill reaches the statute book quickly. It will right a great wrong that has lasted for too long. I congratulate my hon. Friend for Exeter and wish him godspeed for the Bill.

2.7 pm

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

We welcome this Bill, and I am pleased that the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) has introduced it to the House. It is good that he has used his luck in the draw to bring in a Bill which will benefit disabled people. I am well aware, not least because of my working relationship with Lord Ashley, of the work that the hon. Gentleman has done in the all-party parliamentary group on disabled people and through his membership of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, established under the Road Traffic (Production of Documents) Act 1985.

This is a new area of work for me and I should like to put it on the record that I look forward to a close working relationship with all who are disabled or who are working for greater access for disabled people. I know how much the Bill means to many people throughout the country. Access for the disabled is important and should be far higher on the Government's priority list. For evidence of the problem, we need look no further than access for the disabled to the Palace of Westminster. I attended a meeting last week at which evidence was given in private to a Select Committee. During that meeting mention was made of the problem of access for the disabled in the Palace. I hope that speeding the Bill on its way will lead to greater willingness by all Members to look at ways of improving access for people here, thereby setting an example, and throughout the country. I understand that the Government support the Bill. I hope that it will be a reminder that the transport and employment needs of the disabled need to be addressed urgently and that that will start in the Palace of Westminster.

The Bill takes one small but important step towards addressing issues of transport and employment. Disabled people who want to be driving instructors and are able and qualified to do the job currently face legalised discrimination. By ensuring that such people can be registered and employed as instructors, we are removing one further piece of discrimination. I welcome that.

We have heard in some detail about the technical aspects of the Bill and I do not intend to repeat those. I am confident that the Bill's proposals will work well and will not jeopardise road safety in any way. Obviously, road safety is high on my agenda. I welcome the role of the Department of Transport's mobility advice and vehicle information service, but I do not understand why that service is not referred to directly in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that in his winding-up speech. The service, which is known as MAVIS, has the full confidence of disabled people and their organisations. It is the country's top centre for assessing whether disabled people are able to drive and it has many cars fitted with different types of controls. I am aware of the Transport Research Laboratory test tracks in Berkshire. I hope that this aspect of the Department of Transport's work is safe from the Government's privatisation plans and that they have no intention of doing away with the mobility and vehicle information service.

I am entirely satisfied with the Bill's technical aspects and its built-in safeguards. The Opposition know how much pressure many disabled people have had to apply to advance the Bill. For the sake of people who wish to become driving instructors and those who have supported the Bill, I hope that its provisions will be properly enacted. People know that this form of employment is properly suitable for disabled people, and I have no doubts about that.

I appreciate that the number of disabled people who wish to become driving instructors is quite small. It is perhaps no more than about 12 a year at the moment, although that could change. There is an important point of principle involved. I welcome the fact that disabled instructors will be able to provide instruction for the disabled and the able-bodied. The Bill will help to deal with the current shortage of instructors prepared to teach disabled people to drive. There are about 500,000 disabled drivers and, increasingly, people—especially the elderly who have had strokes—wish to be re-instructed so that they can carry on driving.

The Bill will create an enormous number of opportunities and could lead the way to a wider public campaign for improved access by the disabled to all modes of transport. I hope that the Minister is listening, because I would apply that to public transport in particular. I hope that the Bill will allow for changes inside planning departments and highway authorities so that access for the disabled will know no limits and I am delighted to give this short Bill of seven clauses the Opposition's full support.

2.14 pm
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Kenneth Carlisle)

It gives me great pleasure to wind up this short debate on a useful and effective Bill. I am particularly delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) should be the person to bring in the Bill. He has a record of distinction above any in the House in the service of the disabled. On the Second Reading of this useful Bill, it is right to remind the House of the extent of that record.

When my hon. Friend became the Member for Exeter in 1974, his first move was to become secretary of the all-party disablement group. He has served that cause for more than 20 years, and is now joint chairman. He was also a member of the Snowdon working party on the integration of the disabled and of many other organisations working for the disabled.

As my hon. Friend said, in 1986 he presented another private Member's Bill. Most of us feel lucky if we manage to present one during our time in Parliament. That earlier Bill was also dedicated to people in need. My hon. Friend successfully steered through that Bill on cornea transplants. In a wider field, he is also international vice-chairman of the British committee of Rehabilitation International.

My hon. Friend provides a clear example of the way that a Member of Parliament can pursue a worthwhile issue, when something needs to be accomplished. For many years, he has been tenacious, resourceful, and very wise in his efforts to help the disabled. He has accumulated great knowledge of the subject, and has served as an example to us all of how to embrace a cause and, even more important, to endure with that cause and see it through to many successes. It could not give me more pleasure today than to pay the greatest tribute to my hon. Friend for bringing his Bill before the House and for his proven record over many years.

The Bill is worth while and will give employment opportunities to the disabled, who can fill a useful niche in the market for those who want to instruct and to help to train people in how to drive certain types of cars. In Committee, we will have a considerable opportunity to debate various aspects of concern to many, but I will address one or two of them now.

Although everyone welcomes the Bill, many have something to say about safety. It is most important that any measure does not put anyone else on the road at risk. The Bill addresses that point well. Anyone who is to obtain an emergency control certificate must pass various steps and show beyond doubt that he or she has the ability to control and to stop a car. A satisfactory assessment of the ability to exercise control will have to be made before an emergency control certificate can be issued. The certificate will give details of any modifications to the vehicle that the assessor considers necessary; it may also include a recommendation that the driver undergo a further emergency control assessment at the end of the period specified in the certificate.

The Bill also provides for the revocation of certificates if it is felt that the disabled person can no longer meet the emergency control requirements. As my hon. Friend pointed out, it would be an offence to continue to give paid instruction without holding a current certificate. It would also he an offence for an approved disabled driving instructor, or trainee instructor, to fail to inform the registrar of approved driving instructors of any worsening of his or her disability. The same applies to failure to disclose a disability of which the registrar had not been notified previously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel)—who, incidentally, is a distinguished member of the parliamentary skiing team; his style alone gives us much cause for admiration—asked about the assessor. Let me assure him that the assessor will be an approved driving instructor with particular knowledge of the needs of disabled drivers. He will also have a full understanding of the special modifications that are available to help disabled people control their vehicles while giving instruction. It will, of course, be open to the assessor to take medical advice from suitably qualified people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham also asked about instructors generally. We do not propose to require non-disabled driving instructors to hold emergency control certificates. It is important for safety reasons for disabled drivers to be able to exercise emergency control while giving instruction, and that may require special modifications to their vehicles. My hon. Friend asked about the common market: I know of no European Community legislation that would prevent the enactment of this Bill, and any such legislation could in any event be dealt with by means of a statutory instrument.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) expressed support for the Bill. We are delighted to observe that it has received all-party support; my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter has been sensible in securing such support. which generally gives a private Member's Bill an excellent chance of being passed.

We are grateful to the Opposition parties for their support. As the hon. Lady rightly said, the Bill will provide employment opportunities for disabled people, which is another welcome feature. As technology develops, the employment opportunities will grow. An increasing number of cars will have automatic transmission and we shall become more used to driving them. There are far more cars with automatic transmission in the United States, so over the next few decades the opportunities will grow for disabled people to become driving instructors and to perform a useful and worthwhile role.

The Department of Transport pays great attention to helping people with disabilities. I am glad that in 1985 the Department set up what it calls the mobility advice and vehicle information service—known to her friends as MAVIS! I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) accepts that the Department of Transport takes these matters very seriously indeed. It may help the House if I outlined some of the admirable characteristics of MAVIS.

MAVIS, which is based at the Transport Research Laboratory, has a fleet of some 25 production cars fitted with a wide range of equipment and adaptations, from the simplest low-cost steering wheel knob, to make it easier to turn the wheel, to the highly sophisticated four-way joystick which enables a very severely disabled person driving from a wheelchair to control a vehicle in complete safety. MAVIS also has expert driving advisers who can help disabled people, first, to decide whether they are likely to be able to reach driving test standard and, secondly, and very important, what type of vehicle and adaptation is most likely to suit their needs.

MAVIS is currently providing assessment to some 400 disabled people every year and is giving advice and information in writing and by telephone to many thousands. In addition, MAVIS employs a second driving adviser, supported by the regional health authorities, whose job is to work with health authorities, local authorities and voluntary groups around the country, to promote the setting up of similar centres elsewhere.

In addition to basic advice on driving and car choice, MAVIS provides a wide range of additional information on vital aspects of motoring, such as insurance, parking concessions, and so on. MAVIS is, I think we can all accept, a remarkable lady who shows that the Department of Transport cares about helping people with disabilities. I am responsible, for example, for the orange badge scheme. It is important that it should work well. We are in contact with disability groups to make it effective and practical. There is pressure to extend the orange badge scheme, but if we were to extend it, local authorities would find that there were not enough parking places. The orange badge scheme would then fall into disrepute and the truly disabled would suffer. Therefore, we have to ensure that the orange badge scheme is practical.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North supports this useful Bill. I take issue with her view that we do not do enough for disabled people. Of course we could do more, but I am proud that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter is on this side of the House, because, by his actions, he has shown that he cares for disabled people. It therefore gives me great pleasure to support the Bill and his admirable efforts.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).