HC Deb 19 April 2000 vol 348 cc983-5 3.35 pm
Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require local authorities to extend concessionary parking arrangements available to disabled people to health and social services professionals on duty. The Bill would also include carers when they are on duty.

Carers provide disadvantaged members of society, whether they are elderly, infirm or disabled, with the dignity of living at home. They also fill the gap left by cash-strapped social services departments, which have such strict criteria that ill, handicapped or frail people needing less than seven days care a week are rarely given any help. That is where organisations such as Pramacare in my constituency come in. That charity gives help and care to more than 500 clients a week, allowing them to stay independent in their own homes.

Those involved in the care sector have received precious little help and support from the present Government, who in the last Session failed to back a private Member's Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) which would have given community bus schemes a rebate on the fuel that they use. That would have drastically cut costs for those who operate bus services for elderly and disabled people, providing them with a means of getting out of the house.

The problem of parking, on which I shall focus, has been highlighted by the Royal College of Nursing, which has said: Community nurses, health visitors and midwives find parking a particularly vexing issue. One of our members (who is a midwife) recently reported that when she was attending an unanticipated and sudden home delivery, she received a parking ticket which the council refused to retract despite her explanation. She was not alone in her complaints about this problem. This is where my Bill comes in. It would require local authorities to extend the concessionary parking arrangements available to disabled people to include registered health and social service professionals and carers when on duty. That would aid all carers, but especially those dealing with people living on busy roads or with little parking provision. The problem is extremely widespread: the RCN has given me numerous examples of the parking difficulties experienced by its members and others.

Under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, a badge may be issued to a disabled person in the area of the issuing authority for any vehicle that he or she drives. Displaying the badge allows that person to park in areas that are usually restricted—for example, on double yellow lines. Under the Act, a badge may also be issued to an institution concerned with care of the disabled for any motor vehicle used by or on behalf of the institution to carry disabled persons of any prescribed description.

The problem arises when a carer or a health professional, such as a health visitor, district nurse or midwife, is called out and has to find and pay for a valid parking space, thus wasting valuable time. A spokesman for the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association said: I can't tell you how strongly our members feel about this. Some are having to park illegally or a long way away from their home visit. She continued: there are three problems: having to search for a space can reduce client contact time; there may also be health and safety issues with nurses staggering around with heavy bags…it's very common for community nurses to have to fork out for parking, which often isn't reimbursed.

My Bill would allow members of accredited agencies while on duty to park directly outside the house or block of flats in which their patients live, whether or not there are parking restrictions such as double yellow lines or residents permit requirements. In my constituency, Poole councillor Mrs. Ann Stribley has persuaded the borough's social services of the merits of the scheme, and Pramacare's helpers are now permitted to park on yellow lines when visiting the homes of people in their care if no other suitable slot is available.

As Pramacare' s appeals chairman, a position that I duly registered when I was elected to the House and that is unremunerated—I do the job voluntarily—I know how well the scheme has worked. Its merits should be available in every other constituency.

Of course, I do not expect local authorities to issue individual permits to each and every carer operating within their boundary. My Bill proposes that concessionary parking disks be issued to accredited agencies, with a local authority overseeing the process. The number of disks and the precise conditions attached to their use should be for those authorities to decide in the light of local needs and circumstances. I make it clear at this early stage that any sustained abuse of the concession by an individual or organisation could lead to permits being withdrawn.

As an advocate of legislation to address delays caused by street works, the last thing that I want is to cause more congestion because vehicles have been thoughtlessly parked, or left on yellow lines for an unnecessarily prolonged period. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a genuine need to help community-based health visitors and carers to do their jobs without the pressure of seeking somewhere to leave their cars. The scheme must be seen to benefit those who are doing their jobs in the community and whose time is too precious to be wasted.

May I briefly mention the technicalities of the Bill? Local authorities are already obliged under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act to maintain a register showing the holders of badges issued. Grouping carers' permits under the umbrella of the organisation for which they work, will ensure that the administrative cost of extending the register to those included within the Bill will be nominal.

That approach will address the fact that neither a local authority nor the umbrella organisation may be able to plan for specific numbers of employees in advance. We need to build in some flexibility of approach so that the scheme does not become tedious or costly to administer, or create problems for those whom its seeks to help. The good cause must be seen in the light of the cost that the Government were willing to impose for replacing the orange badge with a new European model blue badge, which came into effect on 1 April.

As I have said, use of the badges must be properly restricted to those who genuinely qualify under my proposals and they must be allowed to use them only for their intended purpose. The permits would remain the property of the local authority so that they could be withdrawn if used improperly.

I hope that Members who are present and the Government will agree that the Bill is vital to a sector of the community on whose dedication and care we may all one day have cause to call. I urge the House to support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Christopher Fraser, Mr. John Bercow, Miss Julie Kirkbride, Dr. Julian Lewis, Mr. David Prior, Mr. Andrew Robathan, Mr. Anthony Steen, Mr. Desmond Swayne, Mr. Ian Taylor and Mr. Andrew Tyrie.