§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD CRAWSHAW
My Lords, I would join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, on his magnificent maiden speech. He certainly drew great emphasis to the whole of this problem and I recognised many of his points from real life. I also wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for introducing the debate, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her Report—it is a very good advertisement for the advantages of having a committee of one. I welcome greatly the attempt to co-ordinate all aspects of the problem; there are so many sides to it, so many Government Departments responsible.
I also welcome the new Minister for the disabled, and I hope he can do something to piece this jig-saw together. His 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was a great milestone and has frequent reflections in the Sharp Report. I agree with the conclusion that housing is really the first priority. After all, a roof over one's head is a matter of the most immediate concern to everybody, and for the disabled person it can determine whether he or she lives at home or is sent to an institution. I agree that it is not a matter of specially designed housing; it is largely a matter of educating architects of houses and public buildings, and also a matter of the design of wheelchairs for manoeuvring in these houses and buildings.
Again, the Report accurately portrays the link between public and personal transport. Obviously, the more accessible and useful taxis, buses, trains, et cetera can be, the less reliance will have to be placed on cars or three-wheelers. The circular, mentioned in paragraph 117 of the Report, was the result of a bargain with the Government during the passage of the 1970 Bill through this House. I 1256 am glad it seems to be having some effect; at least it has a mention in the Report. All these mobility problems are interrelated, and it seems logical to me that they should all be, so far as possible, the concern of the local authorities, who already have a large number of obligations under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act; and this should ultimately, as the Report suggests, include the vehicle service. On the question of the vehicle service, which forms Part II and 70 paragraphs of the Report, I have always realised that this was a complex problem, after attempts to amend the 1970 Act, which I have mentioned, and repeated attempts to secure the same treatment for the disabled passenger as for the disabled driver. I am glad the Report comes down very firmly on this point, because it has been a scandal up till now.
I was most interested to see that a three-wheeler now costs £20 to £25 per annum more to run than a small car. If we could have established this point four years ago I am sure that the three-wheeler would now he seen only in museums. Its dangers and limitations have already been very well dealt with by Lady Phillips and Lord Snowdon. I should like to illustrate a point, perhaps from the other way round, of my own personal experience. I drive about 15,000 or 16,000 miles a year, mostly on my own—and I do not think that that is a reflection on my driving. But one meets most of the problems other drivers meet. Although it might be tempting fate too far if I were to claim, in Wordsworth's words,The moving accident is not my trade; To freeze the blood I have no ready arts";nevertheless, I think I may claim a reasonable record, until I recently ran into trouble, having contracted influenza, I regret to say I think in your Lordships' House. After a few days in bed I unwisely went out topped up with drugs and had what one might call an enjoyable meal, and drove home afterwards. I duly went to sleep when approaching a corner and left the road at about 25 m.p.h. I cleared a ditch, removed 15 yards of hedge, and landed three or four feet down in a field. This was fairly late at night and I was on my own. In fact, the car stayed on all four wheels. I was completely unhurt. I suppose there is nothing particularly 1257 unusual about this; it is the kind of scrape motorists get into. But I am firmly convinced that, if I had been in a three-wheeler, I should have spent, at the best, all night upside down in the ditch and, at the worst, perhaps would not be here to-day at all. That is approaching the problem from the other side.
However, to return to the Report, I was most interested in the proposal to allocate vehicles or grants on grounds of social need, rather than on physical incapacity. The Report recommends a system based on discretion. Obviously, great tact will be essential here. I hope that is a feasible system. One reservation, I think already expressed, is my belief that more than 60 per cent. (which is the figure mentioned in paragraph 77 of the Report) of those eligible at the moment for a vehicle or grant will put up a good case to retain their position; and I should not like to be the person to deprive them. The great problem remains what these vehicles should be, and whether vehicles as such, or mobility grants in lieu, should be offered. For reasons already expressed, I believe that the three-wheeler should be phased out; that is, those in the pipeline should be completed, but the keel, so to speak, should not be laid for any more. I believe—and I am supported in this belief by Mr. Graham Hill, who is in fact here this afternoon—that a production car can be adapted to suit the needs of any disabled driver. Mr. Hill reminded me this morning of the case of a gentleman called Paul Bates who can drive a car with the use only of his fingers, helped by micro-switches, and another gentleman, Mr. Neil Harvey, who can steer with his feet. One personal problem which I encounter is how to drag a wheelchair into a car. At present the three-wheeler is more convenient for this manoeuvre but I do not believe this problem is insoluble for a production car.
Again personally I am happy with the present system of people buying their I believe the system should be extended and everyone who qualifies, regardless of means and simply as a claim on national insurance, should continue to receive the £100. This will cover the conversion to hand controls and all sorts of running repairs at present done by the able-bodied own cars and receiving the £100 per annum grant in lieu of the three-wheeler.
1258 themselves. After that, additional grants should be allocated according to means. Personally I am not put off by the question of a means test; so much is done on that basis nowadays, including the Housing Finance Act, and other measures.
Whether this system, or one of allocating cars as such is adopted, it is widely recognised that the cost of the service will increase. The Report allows for an increase of £3 million per annum. This seems to be modest, particularly when I believe the additional cost can be partially regarded as an investment. In fields such as education, on which we spend so much, these do not yield immediate returns in the purely economic sense. I hope it is not naive to suggest that increased expenditure in this field will create much hope and opportunity and prevent people becoming a burden on the State, and from this we shall all benefit. My final thought is that in wartime we "mobilise" the people. That is the word we use. Let us now, at this precarious moment in the country's fortunes, mobilise a largely untapped source of energy and of national manpower.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, with the leave of the House I have to announce that the time limit for this debate, taking account of the ten minutes spent on the Statement on mortgages, expires at ten minutes past six.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I am glad to hear that we are allowed "injury time". We have heard two excellent and practical speeches in succession from noble Lords who understand this problem better than the rest of us. I should like to join in the chorus of welcome for the recommendation to replace three-wheelers by ordinary four-wheeled cars. It has seemed to me for some time, when I have thought of these frail three-wheelers with their disabled occupants launching themselves out into the busy traffic, among the juggernauts, that the Department was playing the role of the Witch of the North in Kipling's verse, which runs:The kind took off with the sunset—The fog came up with the tide,When the Witch of the North took an Egg-shellWith a little Blue Devil inside.'Sink,' she said, 'or swim,' she said.'It's all you will get from me.And that is the finish of him!' she said,And the Egg-shell went to sea.1259 I welcome, secondly, the recommendation in the Report that when the time comes for a car to be withdrawn the disabled person shall have an opportunity to purchase it on advantageous terms. I cannot think of many things more haunting to a man than the thought that when his time of employment ends—or whatever it may be—his eligibility for a car, which has been his lifeblood, will cease and he will be stranded without it.
Thirdly, I welcome the recommendation to extend eligibility to non-drivers as well as to the disabled who are able to drive. The Report appears to recommend three possible courses of action in relation to the new class of non-drivers. First, they can have the car itself, provided that a person living with them, or in occasional circumstances a neighbour, can be nominated as the driver. In the alternative it is recommended that they might have a fixed allowance, which is recommended as being £125, towards the cost of running their own car. Thirdly, the Report touches upon car hire and taxis for disabled non-drivers, but I suppose this third course would be about the most expensive way of meeting their needs.
My Lords, the Report is so comprehensive, and seems to have dealt with practically every aspect of the subject which one can think of, that it surprises me to reflect that there is surely quite a large class of disabled non-drivers whose need is not met by any of the three courses of action proposed. It seems to me that many a disabled non-driver must have not one but several friends who from time to time drive him in their own car, and I imagine that the limiting factor is always the reluctance of the disabled person to impose himself upon the generosity of his friends. Why not give this person a mileage allowance, tailored to his own individual needs? If that were done he would be able to go to his friends and not be ashamed to ask for generosity, because it would not be entirely generosity. It would be known that he was in receipt of a mileage allowance and he would be able to make repayment to his friends for the service they had rendered to him. I do not believe that an individual mileage allowance such as this would be difficult to calculate—though I suppose there is an 1260 insurance problem. I suppose that these drivers would be driving people for reward, which might be contrary to their insurance policies. Nevertheless, I imagine that in consultation with the insurance industry this difficulty could be overcome.
With regard to assessing each mileage allowance I suppose one starts with journeys to work, which it is quite easy to calculate. There is no difficulty about that. I suppose there would then be a weekly mileage allowance for leisure purposes, and it could be a fixed mileage allowance applying to each person. Presumably there would also be an annual holiday allowance, which would be a fixed allowance for each person; and, finally, a compassionate allowance for people needing to visit close relatives who perhaps are unable to visit them. I imagine that those four headings would about cover it. Then it would be necessary to decide the range of the mileage allowance, and I suppose it could be in some sort of relationship to the mileage allowance which your Lordships receive, which I think is not exactly munificent. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, tabling a Question, asking what proportion of the cost of running a car was supposed to be covered by the mileage allowance.
I merely put this suggestion forward as a possible course of action which I believe would be better than providing some disabled non-drivers with a car, and which might better fulfill the needs of a great many of them.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for this great solo effort which has taken her a long time and which we are now debating, because this is one of the most important social problems before us to-day. But while the noble Baroness has made a detailed examination, I feel that her terms of reference were restricted. May I remind your Lordships again punt what the terms of reference were:To re-examine the limitations imposed upon persons whose mobility is reduced by severe physical disablement, not occasioned by old age …In my opinion, this restriction makes the title of the Report Mobility of Physically Disabled People, less than accurate, 1261 because it excludes a large number of people, mentally alert, and who will stay mentally alert for many years but whose mobility is impaired. I believe that the record of the number of disabled people under Section 1 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 will only be an effective guide to our discussions in the future if the degree of disablement which it describes is associated with all diseases at all ages. I am quite sure that what is known as the "mobile Bench" will know that I have the most profound sympathy with them, and will not criticise me for what I am going to say. In fact, I know them so well that I think they will echo in their hearts what I am going to say.
My Lords, while I have sympathy with those who suffer from paraplegia, with those who suffer from loss of a limb, from poliomyelitis and other major disabilities, nevertheless we must not forget that osteo-arthritis is responsible for a vast amount of suffering and immobility in the population. Yet it seems to me that the housebound arthritic can be outside the terms of reference of this Report. for it is argued that the condition is occasioned by old age. At this stage of our discussions, it is very important that we should ask for a definition of old age in this context, particularly in these days when the expectation of life is growing and where a person who, in the past, would have been regarded really as aged and of little further use to society is now active, alert and playing an important part in our affairs.
I must ask the House to forgive me for putting this medical aspect of this problem, which is closely concerned with medicine, but some degree of osteoarthritis, particularly in large joints, is present in practically 100 per cent. of persons over the age of 50, although fortunately, of course, it does not always cause disability. Arthritis is not uncommon in women at the menopause. In view of the fact that the average expectation of life for a woman is 75 and that she can find her walking ability seriously impaired between the ages of 50 and 60, is she to be excluded from any help with transport on the grounds that osteoarthritis is generally occasioned by old age? That is what I read into these terms of reference, and if this is so, we must readjust our thinking. Similarly 1262 with a man, who develops arthritis in the hip more frequently than does a woman. This frequently occurs in men following a manual occupation, or even doing sedentary work. Is he not to be entitled to help on the grounds that osteoarthritis is associated with age? If osteoarthritis in late middle age can entitle a man or woman to a car, then there will be a great deal of ill-feeling engendered in those denied one in early old age.
My Lords, I am taking an entirely different approach from those who have already spoken on this subject in this debate. It is recommended that a change to a four-wheeled car will enable a disabled person who is unable or who does not want to drive to choose an appropriate person to be the driver. Of course, in consequence it has also been said that the demand for cars will be greatly increased. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, therefore recommends that a test based on physical handicap and on the need to get to a job, to get to a place of further education and to keep the family together, should entitle an individual to a car. Undoubtedly the change from a high-powered, three-wheeled, dangerous vehicle (as we have already heard) to a family car will attract the attention of the public to this new social service. I ask your Lordships to envisage a housebound person who is not entitled to a car under this criterion sitting at his window and seeing a disabled neighbour driven by a son, a daughter or a friend while the onlooker, the sad housebound individual who has been described here in such graphic terms by many speakers, cannot command the same service. Can we really support such a policy? Although apart from the principle on the grounds of expediency, Ministers should recognise that this will cause a great deal of trouble.
I believe, therefore, that if we intend to deal more generously with the physically disabled, we must be guided by one principle and one principle alone; namely, to treat them alike whatever their disabilities or age. I believe the only equitable answer is to give a disablement income as of right. Let the disabled use that income for whatever kind of vehicle or transport they want. I am fortified in my opinion by the decision of the E.E.C. countries who have been debating this matter. A number 1263 of them have agreed that this is the right approach. I was delighted to see that on Friday of last week the British Medical Journal, which looks at these things from a medical point of view, also advises this policy.
My Lords, I would like to add a few words in conclusion on the subject of transport. I feel that the housebound individual is never far removed from transport if that person lives in a town. The roads in our urban areas have now become garages, and given the resources such as I suggest, the housebound individual could pay a neighbour to use his car occasionally, could pay a garage and could have a car just when it is thought necessary. Indeed, this might be the beginning of a most humane transport service. It could become a part of a new service for the aged with which the public could be encouraged to co-operate, because with the vast number of cars that we have at present, which are used little during most of their life, these could supplement the transport of the aged housebound.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, perhaps I may start by generalising for a moment or two on the Report, and in particular refer to the opening comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, when speaking of the scope of the Report. Although the Report is supposed to deal with the mobility of the physically disabled, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, says in paragraphs 7 and 8 that she considers mobility in and about the house is perhaps more important, she devotes certainly more than half of the Report to mobility by motor vehicles. Indeed, I think I have heard every speech made in your Lordships' House this afternoon, and with the exception of the last moment or two of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, everybody has spoken about motor vehicles and their use. This, of course, illustrates not only the emotive feelings motor cars normally evoke in speeches, but the absolute and vital necessity of this kind of personalised transportation, not only to our economic wellbeing but also to our social wellbeing. So if I do not discuss eligibility for motor vehicles, I am sure that your Lordships will excuse me.
1264 Coming to paragraph 33, which deals with costs, I find it sad that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was not able to make proper comparisons. I find it odd, to say the least, that reliable figures of the cost of a piece of merchandise which is going to be supplied by Government at the taxpayers' expense cannot be made available. I can understand that the usual answer is that it is not the custom. My own researches indicate to me that a specialist motor car, the Invacar, currently provided, is considerably more expensive than a conventional motor car. While the Report discusses the relative annual running and operating costs to the Government at £155 for a conventional small car, I should have liked to see that backed up with a little more fact, because I would find it very difficult, notwithstanding bulk purchase ability, to buy, allow for depreciation, operate and insure a small motor car for £155 per annum.
My last general point on the report concerns paragraphs 58 and 62, which deal largely with "cash or car"—whether the Department should provide cash or car. I think in the present climate—that is that we do not have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, suggested, disability payment—of provision of certain items to assist mobility, I would come down very much in favour of the provision of a motor vehicle. When I say that, I do not know that I particularly go along with what is inherent in the Report, the provision of a necessarily small motor car, nor indeed the continual reference to a mini-motor car, because there are very many other English-made motor cars which can be equally suitable.
I turn for a moment to paragraph 65, which says:The Departments should continue to meet the cost of insurance while the cars remain their property. But the disabled person should be responsible for maintenance which, given an ordinary car, could be carried out at the garage of his choice".I quarrel with that. In my view, it is far more desirable that the Department maintain some control over the maintenance of the vehicle. If one looks at Appendix F, dealing with mileages, one sees that on balance the bulk of motor cars used now cover a very low mileage per annum. It is an unhappy fact that many motorists think that because they do not go very 1265 far the motor car does not need maintenance. I fear that, unless one prescribes regular maintenance checks and maintenance repairs to a schedule, a cash allowance to undertake maintenance would not effect what we are seeking to achieve. If maintenance is not carried out properly, it may mean that at the end of the period the car is quite worthless. And it can, of course, become increasingly unsafe as time marches on, let alone mileage.
My last special point deals with paragraphs 34 and 35. It has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Aberdare that there are many people currently using the three-wheeler who would be quite incapable of using the conventional motor car. I do not believe this to be so. My engineering and motoring experience suggests to me that, given sufficient money, there is no conventional car currently available in the United Kingdom, made perhaps by our European partners, or it may be by British manufacturers, that cannot be successfully adapted for use by the very large majority of disabled persons. This is why I said that I was a little disappointed at the use of the description "small car". One may get a very large man who cannot easily fit into a mini. Nevertheless, adaptations of roofs and doorways can be made to a variety of motor cars so that access can be made quite easy for the largest and some of the most infirm people. Micro-switches, servo-assisted hydraulics can be brought into play, so that there is no question of the people concerned having to lift heavy panels.
It may well be that certain preferences, because of usage, for the three-wheeler may have to be swept away. It may well be that a number of disabled people would, in the fullness of time, if the three-wheeler were removed from service, be deprived of their motor car. While I understand exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, had to say about this, I think the large majority of people would accept that if more disabled people were given mobility in adapted conventional motor cars, and were able to enjoy greater benefits, perhaps those very few who were denied all would forgive them.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ BARONESS SHARP
My Lords, I do not intend to say very much in this debate, because I have had my say in the Report. It is not at all a final say; nor did I dream that it could be such a thing. What I hoped when producing the Report was that it would enable decisions to be taken, not necessarily exactly the things I had suggested, but decisions after debates in both Houses of Parliament and discussions with the disabled. The one thing I was quite clear about, as I went on with my inquiry, was that changes are needed, not only changes in the vehicle service, and, as I was quite clear, the replacement of the three-wheeler by the ordinary car, but changes in the whole treatment of the disabled.
The noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, whose maiden speech I listened to with very great pleasure and admiration, reminded us that there are 1¼ million people who are sufficiently seriously disabled to be very much restricted in their activity. This is a huge problem, and it is no wonder to me that Ministers, particularly the Minister for the Disabled, feel that they would like to be able to review the whole problem before they take any decisions. The amount of money they will be able to use for the disabled is limited, and clearly they want to make sure that they are using it to the best advantage. The physically disabled whose mobility is severely reduced—the people I was particularly dealing with—number at least half a million, and even for them the vehicle service can help only a few. Whatever is done with the vehicle service it is going to touch only a small part of this number of people, and perhaps all of them need some kind of help. Many of them get some kind of help through wheelchairs and other arrangements, but most of them need a good deal more help than they are getting, particularly with this problem of mobility. So I can sympathise with Ministers who say that they must have a look round the whole business of cash benefits before they can take their decisions on this. Nevertheless, I feel—and here I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips—that there is an urgency about some decisions to be taken on the vehicle service. That suggests to my mind that 1267 they should be taken in advance of the total review of the cash benefits, and I think that they could be taken.
When I come to the particular problem of the vehicle service, there is one thing that I should like to say first—and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, reminded me of this outside the Chamber; and I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, has said much the same to her—that is that there is an impression among disabled people (I know that they have had letters, and I too have received letters since the Report was published) that there is a possibility that almost any day now some people may be deprived of their three-wheeler cars. Of course there is absolutely no such suggestion in my Report and, I am quite certain, no such idea in the minds of any Minister or any responsible person. It would be a great benefit to the disabled who drive the three-wheelers if the Press and the media could make it clear, perhaps following this debate, that it is not suggested by anybody that anyone is going to lose his three-wheeler, or car, or cash allowance in lieu, in the near future. The question of what may happen in the years to come is something else again—and I hope to say something about that in a moment; but nobody is threatened in the near future.
It seems to me that there are some decisions that could be taken right away. Obviously the first is that in so far as the Government are going to continue in the long run to provide personal transport, or provide the means to purchase personal transport, to physically disabled people, it should be by the car. There has been some reference in to-day's debate to the question of whether there are some disabled people who cannot drive a car. I am quite certain that there are some. There are some who can drive the trike but who cannot drive the car. Once it is a car, however, you have the benefit that you should be able to get somebody to drive it for you. There are a few who will feel deprived if, in the long run, the three-wheeler disappears, but they are very few. We have to remember that out of nearly 10,000 war pensioners who have the choice of car or trike I think that I am right in saying that less than 300 take the trike. It is alleged that some of them say that they take it because they like to 1268 be alone and that they do not want to take their wives around, but I think that that may be rare. I hope so. This is the first decision that could be taken; that cars begin to be provided. But then of course there is the very difficult question—for whom. I have come in for a lot of criticism for suggesting that the condition of eligibility for the car has to be different from that for the trike. It is not only because of the enormously increased cost—increased demand and therefore increased cost—that we should be involved in, if we say let the conditions of eligibility be the same as they are now. That is to say, that it essentially depends on the degree of disability, the virtual inability to walk, which is what entitles anyone to a trike or, being rather less disabled, nevertheless the need of personal transport to do a job. If you extend that eligibility to everybody who can get a car driven for them as well as to all those who now drive the trikes, my calculation—and I am pretty certain it was an underestimate, but it was the best I was able to do with the advice given to me—was that you will have at least three times as many people demanding the car, and probably a good deal more.
This is of course what has held up the Ministry of Health and Social Security all these years. They have known for a long time past that the car ought to replace the trike for a lot of reasons; not only the danger, but the passenger carrying capacity, and the demand of the disabled for the article which was already, a year or two ago, somewhat cheaper than the trike. But they have been completely baffled how to grapple with the size of the demand knowing, as they do—and we come back here to the first point that was made—the huge needs of disabled people of all kinds. And of course it is not only the disabled, but all the people with whom the Ministry of Health and Social Security have to deal. This is undoubtedly a very difficult problem.
One thing I should like to say is that there have been several references in this debate to-day to the unacceptability of withdrawing at any point from anybody the transport which they have had. The awkwardness of the whole affair is that I do not believe myself—but I could be wrong—that you can continue providing the specialised vehicle for the disabled person if you are also giving everybody 1269 the choice of a car, so that you have a very small demand indeed for the invalid vehicle. Nevertheless, if one introduces the car it is my guess that it will be six, seven, or eight years before the three-wheeler finally disappears, always provided that it is not driven off the road by arguments about danger, and what should be done, than perhaps need not be settled now,
I am not going to argue about danger with the very much greater experts on this subject in the House. However, I must say that I think the argument about danger has been exaggerated. I am not saying that the three-wheeler, as it is tested, is not in many ways very dangerous. I am not saying that in some ways it is not dangerous on the road. It is obviously susceptible to side winds. What I am saying is that in all the researches I made I was unable to find that it was very more dangerous in use. It was rather more dangerous in use. There has been some confusion caused by the statistics of accidents. You have to remember that the three-wheeler is repaired without charge by the Departments. Therefore, if the three-wheeler driver has a bump or a scratch and in due course gets this repaired it is reported as an accident, and it is the sort of accident for which most of us ordinary drivers would pay ourselves and is not reported.
I tried to compare serious accidents. There are no statistics. The only statistics that I could get were for fatal accidents, and the number of three-wheelers on the road was rather too small for this to be at all significant. They did show a slightly higher rate of fatal accidents. I was having to try to compare it per mile, because of course accidents per mile is what really matters, and the figures for that were not at all satisfactory. But, on the whole, I did not find that the three-wheeler was significantly more dangerous in use, though I admit that to a considerable extent this is due to the care with which the disabled drove it. The plea I am making here—and, goodness knows! it is no plea to keep the three-wheeler, which I want to see go for a whole lot of reasons—is that, while not claiming to be an expert on safety, I believe that we should not so press the danger argument that the Government feel forced to close down the three-wheeler earlier than would otherwise be necessary. 1270 I really do not believe that that would be in the interests of the disabled, unless we were satisfied that it is too dangerous to keep on the roads even with such modifications as may be under consideration. Therefore, I hope that the Government will first decide that cars should be substituted for three-wheelers.
They will then have the problem of whom to provide them for. I can see that that will be a really difficult problem, and it was the real teaser throughout the whole inquiry. I believe that those whose personal circumstances, as well as the extent of their disability, meant that they have an exceptional need for transport should come first, and I should have thought it was possible for the Government to say, "We will start with the ones who are clear, whether they can drive or not. We should start with drivers and disabled passengers alike, the ones who need transport to do a job or the housewife who needs transport to manage her household and keep it going." A new category which I am extremely anxious to introduce, and which I should like to see included at once, is the student or the person who needs further training, who is not eligible at the moment for any personal transport at all. I met a few cases of this kind and was deeply distressed to think that for them, for whom time is of the essence, the opportunity for getting further education and training is going by. Whether they have a three-wheeler or a car is not very material, so long as they are admitted at once for transport.
There are other cases in regard to which the present rules are plainly too narrow; for example, if you need a car to get to work you can have one if you are able to walk only a certain distance. I forget exactly how many yards it is, but the medical officers of the Department judge whether you can walk that distance which may be about 250 yards. What matters to you is not whether you can walk 250 yards, but whether having walked it you will be able to catch a bus. So I want to suggest that the present rules should be expanded at once to allow regard to be had to the availability of public transport; in other words, to one's need of a car in one's circumstances given the need to get to work. In other respects I thought that the present rules were plainly too narrow and too rigid and could, and should, be widened at 1271 once. So that the plea which I would make to the Department is, "Make a start".
One of my difficulties about estimating how many people would be eligible under different headings was that I was largely having to guess. I had a great deal of help from the Department and from others in the Government service, but at the end of the day it is still largely guesswork to estimate how many people are disabled to a certain degree. Then, of course, it is complete guesswork if you go on to ask, "For what do they need a car? What are their family circumstances? What are their circumstances in relation to the availability of public transport?" If the Department could at least make a start on getting cars and making them available to the clearest, most easily defined categories, they would be getting a certain amount of much-needed information about the size of the problem.
That is really all I want to say now, except that I should like to go back to what I said at the beginning of my speech. Despite all the limelight that has concentrated on the vehicle service, the real problem of the physically disabled, with whom I was particularly concerned, is a much bigger one than can be solved by providing personal transport, however it is done and however widely one goes. One of the main conclusions that I reached in my Report was that the great difficulty of the disabled, at the time I was writing it, was the diffusion of responsibility among a whole variety of agencies for certain aspects of this mobility problem. I believe I said that one point which clearly emerged from my inquiry was that the mobility of the disabled needs the concentrated attention of somebody, somewhere, which at the time I was writing it simply did not get, because responsibility was scattered around a whole lot of agencies. For that reason I should like to add my voice to those of others in your Lordships' House, who have said how much they welcome the appointment of a Minister for the Disabled.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I am sure the whole House would wish me to say how much this 1272 afternoon's short debate has been enhanced by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Also, in declaring my interest as President of the Disabled Drivers' Motor Club, I should like to welcome the noble Baroness's Report as an important contribution towards a better understanding of the total mobility problems of disabled people. She is certainly to be congratulated on the lucid way in which she has presented her case and the closely reasoned arguments in support of her proposals, and I am sure that the Club and all those other disabled people regard her Report as a sure foundation on which we can build a better mobility service for the disabled in the future.
However, many people have been deeply concerned that it would appear that some 40 per cent. of the existing recipients of mobility help would have this help withdrawn if the proposed new criteria of eligibility were accepted. I am particularly reminded of the deep distress felt by many disabled drivers when on a previous occasion it was announced that certain disabled drivers would have their vehicles withdrawn when they gave up work. While I appreciate the administrative problems of preventing abuses, I believe that an alternative and more acceptable arrangement could have been made to close loopholes without distressing those who had established long-term bona fide claims to their vehicles.
I would remind the House that we are dealing with a deeply human problem which cannot be resolved by the sole application of reason and cold logic. The sudden removal of vehicles from those whose lives have become shaped by their use would be an unacceptable deprivation and a lowering of their standard of living. So in this context I am sure that we would particularly welcome the assurance given by the Secretary of State, and also by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that that is not really intended and is unacceptable to the Government, and that further discussions will take place with the organisations for the disabled.
Naturally, the recommendation that invalid tricycles should be replaced by small cars is one which most people would heartily welcome. It is a long overdue recommendation and is something which should have been implemented years ago. However, the recommendation 1273 lacks the urgency which it certainly merits in the light of other available evidence concerning the safety of invalid tricycles. It is a national disgrace that a vehicle specially designed for physically disabled people should have been continually built—"developed" is certainly not the right word—with such scant regard for drivers' safety, and with such little recognition of pending legislation and the universal trend towards higher standards of automobile safety; indeed, the growing compulsion on both manufacturers and drivers in various directions. After all, disabled drivers are, by definition, suffering from some limitations—perhaps of dexterity, balance, feel or even reflex action.
In the light of this, is there not a moral, if not a legal, duty on all of us to see that special care is taken to ensure drivers' safety, aspects of which are certainly shown to be absent in the design of invalid tricycles? Their continued provision now costs more, not only in financial terms, but in fear, human misery and suffering such as is experienced by so many users of these vehicles. The noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, referred to the Motor Industry Research Association test reports on the invalid tricycle when it was shown that the steering system failed to meet the required standard. Additionally, the requirement of draft regulations on tire risk were not met. Extensive modifications had to be made to the tricycle before it met the required standards, but none of these modifications have yet been incorporated in the production models. Therefore how much longer have we to go on subjecting disabled drivers to risks which are legally unacceptable in a modern production car?
I am most happy to see here this afternoon many members of disabled organisations, and Graham Hill who has done so much to present the case, but so far as I am aware no manufacturers are present, which is sad. Certainly further evidence confirms the widely reported experiences of disabled drivers about tricycles behaving badly in windy weather. However, there is no relevance to the argument that other vehicles, as well as tricycles, display similar characteristics. The ordinary car buyer has a choice and he can refer to the motoring Press for comment and opinion. He can therefore avoid buying a car whose performance 1274 and road holding is unacceptable. By contrast, the invalid tricycle driver has no such opportunities. It is little wonder that Lady Sharp reports that probably only 50 per cent. of people eligible actually take up vehicles under the present arrangements. Surely the only relevant question seems to be whether or not there is a car at comparable cost that is better than an invalid tricycle, and if so, that should be the minimum standard to be improved upon for disabled drivers.
I must confess that the wind gust tests filled me with horror and I feel that it is only apt to describe them as "mobile accidents looking for somewhere to happen." Faced with this situation a commercial manufacturer of an ordinary vehicle would be obliged to withdraw them for modification, or alternatively to compensate their customers. Therefore, I feel that it would be only right and propel for the Government to make available sufficient resources to offer all users of invalid tricycles the immediate option of a lump sum payment to buy a car in lieu of an invalid tricycle if they so wish. The problem of supply, touched upon by Lady Sharp, is obviously a major drawback if the Government are to accept responsibility for a quick changeover to a car.
I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Aberdare about the question of priorities. We have a Government which gives millions of pounds in subsidies for milk and bread when I feel that the disabled have a much better claim to subsidies right across the board. I suggest that we cannot wait for four or five years, which has been suggested as a reasonable transition period. To-day disabled drivers are at risk. The responsibility for us all is to ensure that this situation is no longer tolerated by any Government alive to its social and moral duties. The situation has become desperate and the remedy requires extraordinary measures. The disabled cannot, and I do not think that we must, wait any longer. I am sorry that we cannot yet say farewell to the three-wheeler; maybe Lady Sharp's Report was its death sentence, but I am sorry that to-day is not its funeral. Road conditions have changed so much and three-wheelers were a tremendous advance in their day but they are now totally unable to keep up with modern traffic and modern mobility.
1275 I feel that it is absolutely essential that, in any changeover to cars, a distinction must be made between the disabled user of a vehicle who is unemployed and a user who works. For the former it is absolutely essential that the Department of Health and Social Security should continue its practice of providing full maintenance, while, on the other hand, it might be reasonable to expect that the latter should be able to bear the full cost of all maintenance. There will obviously have to be some administrative safeguards against abuses, but this aspect should be examined. While we look at the cost of the vehicle service and compare it with other expenditure on social security provisions, it is really a very small part of the total Government support for the disabled, sick and elderly. The average cost of providing a car under present arrangements works out at about £3 a week and I welcome the Government's intentions to look at vehicle service in the context of their plans for a disability income.
I feel very strongly that a completely satisfactory answer to mobility help for disabled people can be found only if there is a mobility element in total disability income. I suggest that this amount should be the equivalent of current Government expenditure at about £3 per week. There is also the problem of licensing which I think at the moment is the question of a refund. This again should be raised as a question of exemption because the exemption tax disc is extremely useful for identifying vehicles of disabled people at places like toll bridges and for tunnel concessions.
In a question earlier this year I raised a point about special car parks in shopping centres. In her Report Lady Sharp makes it quite clear that she has a great deal of sympathy for the scheme of mobility grants and I accept that there is good sense in this. But the setting up of the machinery is obviously going to be complicated. A major difficulty of the car scheme is that people normally have to accept the car that the Department is contracted to buy, with all the attendant risks that this entails. A grant for purchasing spreads this among many manufacturers and it also gives the disabled person a certain amount of choice. Finally may I say how pleased I am that Lady 1276 Sharp has established a principle that mobility help should be given to disabled drivers as well as disabled passengers. I am sure that everyone will accept this as a welcome idea and certainly there can be no disagreement about it.
§ 5.27 p.m.
THE COUNTESS OF LOUDOUN
My Lords, now that the local government reorganisation has come into effect the overall responsibility for the health and welfare of the disabled, as well as others, rests with five Government Departments—the National Health Service, the Social Service Authority, the Housing Authority, the Department of Health and the Department of Employment. However, the main executive responsibility lies with local authorities under Section 29 of the National Assistance Act 1948 and extended by the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. Under Section 1 of the latter Act local authorities have a duty to compile a register of disabled persons in their area. The rate of progress in this varies from one authority to another and I should like to ask the Government when the complete returns will be available. To me this knowledge seems to be a basic requirement to enable authorities to make definite plans. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act is a landmark in the concept of caring for the disabled. It has made a real impact, but the pressure must be kept up. If money were unlimited the problem would be much easier to solve, but in our present economic situation care must be taken to ensure that one group among the disabled does not compete with another for inadequate funds.
I agree with the Report that every disabled person should have a home in which he or she can be as independent as possible. But too much attention has been focussed on the provision of specially designed housing. Yes, provision for the disabled should be included in every new housing scheme, but also, bearing in mind the economic situation, much more could be done to adapt available housing. Simple matters like doors being widened to take a wheelchair and ramps being put over steps would not be so costly and would be of enormous benefit.
I have just three points about the vehicle service. First, outdoor mobility should be provided for those too disabled 1277 to drive, that is disabled passengers, equivalent to the help now offered to disabled drivers. The existing discrimination against the more severely disabled is unjust and must be ended.
Secondly, please do not abolish the invalid tricycle altogether, because for many it is a useful and welcome means of outdoor mobility. Some people cannot drive adapted cars and others do not wish to try. Young disabled people can drive invalid tricycles at the age of 16 years, but they are not allowed to drive a car until they are 17. This is an important year in a young person's life, particularly in respect of education and employment. It is also a time when they are anxious to break free and become independent of adults. Mobility outdoors is an essential part of the process of rehabilitation, and equally essential in the socialisation process of young disabled people. Confine them within four walls and you stifle their development and preclude their ever being fully rehabilitated. It is often the stimulus of getting out and about in society that makes disabled people realise what the world has to offer, what they should aim for and what they can achieve. It is a stimulus that makes them want to exploit their abilities and become independent and self-supporting.
Thirdly, motoring is not a luxury for people who cannot walk and cannot use public transport. Action must be taken to ensure that currently disabled passengers and disabled drivers remain mobile in the face of very severe increases in the cost of motoring. Immediate action is also required to remove the requirement for exemption from vehicle excise duty for disabled passengers who have a conspicuously and permanently adapted vehicle. I understand that this would require the amendment of Section 7 of the Finance Act 1971, as amended by Section 128(2) of the Finance Act 1972. People who cannot walk and cannot use public transport should not be subjected to motoring taxes. Such taxes for these people constitute a tax on mobility.
Co-ordination of all the Departments concerned must be achieved to get the best possible results in the matter of mobility for the disabled. There are far too many fragments at present. With a little more thought and money the disabled 1278 would be enabled to live fuller, altogether happier, lives. Even quite a little mobility can make all the difference between independence and dependence.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT INGLEBY
My Lords, in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, on his maiden speech I should like to join with him in the concern which he showed that the attitude of society—indeed our own attitude, indeed my own attitude—towards disabled people needs changing. As an example of that, on occasions I have to visit No. 10 Belgrave Square which as your Lordships may know is the headquarters of the Institute of Directors. I do not visit there very often, but there are two very large steps outside. My normal way of tackling this is to get out of my wheelchair and swing my legs up the steps. But they are fairly large ones, they are marble and they are a bit slippery, so I wrote to the Director and said, "Can a simple iron handrail be put up here?" This is the answer I received from him.I am terribly sorry but the Grosvenor Estate is extremely sticky on this sort of thing. They demand that every house and every porch in the Square should look exactly the same and they do not allow us to make even minor additions such as the one you suggest.May I suggest to the owners of the Grosvenor Estate that they should consider the spirit of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.
The noble Countess, Countess Loudoun, mentioned a moment or two ago the importance of outdoor mobility for disabled people and the stimulus that they get from being able to go out and attend meetings. I should only like to place on record the stimulus I get and am very fortunate to get from attending meetings and debates in your Lordships' House. I should like to say a word in favour of a cash grant rather than the supplying of cars, because people's needs vary and if you gave them a cash grant you would enable them to choose the particular vehicle that was most suited to their needs.
For some people it may be that they need only limited outdoor mobility and a powered outdoor wheelchair might be what they really need. I myself have a rather splendid vehicle which is called a "Gnat" which your Lordships may not have seen before but which has three 1279 wheels and although it is a three-wheeler I feel sure that the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, would feel absolutely happy in it. It has very large squashy tyres, one in the front and two behind, and it will go almost anywhere. I take it into the woods and I plant trees and cut down trees in it. This is the sort of physical exercise that disabled people particularly need. I feel sure that there will be many other people in the same sort of situation and it might be that a vehicle of this kind might suit them even better than a car. I realise that there are considerable difficulties, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has mentioned in her Report, in the way of giving cash grants instead of providing a car, but I do not feel that these are insuperable and, as I say, it would enable the particular need of the particular person—and all our needs vary—to be met.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Phillips for introducing this debate to-day. I should be less than frank if I did not say to her and to your Lordships that I thought some hours ago that this debate would have served a better purpose in two or three months' time when the Government had had an opportunity of looking at all the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. But having listened to the debate to-day, it is quite clear that my noble friend Lady Phillips did quite the right thing because I believe that we have collected a great deal of information to-day which will be of value to Her Majesty's Government.
I assure all speakers that a careful note has been taken of all the points raised. If I do not now deal with each one of them separately, I assure your Lordships that they will be brought to the attention, not only of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, but also my honourable friend the Minister for the Disabled, with whom I have had a number of discussions quite recently. I say that because if I appear not to give very definite answers to your Lordships on a number of matters that have been raised, it is not due to lack of sympathy on my part.
Perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I tell you that for a long period 1280 I myself was totally paralysed. I have spent a good deal of time in a wheelchair. When I came to your Lordships' House both my legs were in calipers and I was using two sticks. It is an indication of what your Lordships have done for me over the years that I have been able to get rid of my sticks and my calipers. I have certain disabilities which are not apparent—perhaps it gives me an opportunity, having said that, to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for being out of the Chamber for the first two or three minutes of his speech.
May I say, as a number of other noble Lords have said, how pleased we have been to have with us and to have listened to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon. It is with some diffidence that I draw attention to the fact that it has taken him thirteen years, I think, to make his maiden speech. Having heard it and knowing of his competence in this field, we hope that he will come here and make speeches regularly in less than thirteen years, because this is a matter which is of concern to everyone in your Lordships' House. My honourable friend the Minister for the Disabled has had discussions recently not only with the noble Earl but I believe with Mr. Graham Hill, who is present to-day, and I know how much he has valued the discussions he has had with them.
The noble Earl described the three-wheeler as a lethal machine. I do not think it is necessary for me to remind him that every car on the road is a lethal machine. He referred to the appalling accident rate. The accident rate in the case of three-wheelers is not so bad, I think, as a good many people make out. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, dealt with this aspect perhaps rather more effectively than I can myself, but serious injuries are very few. I am informed there were only thirty-six serious injuries in the last year, and that is serious injuries extending beyond cuts and bruises. There were only five fires in three-wheelers last year, most of which were due to small wiring fires. Then, just over 1 per cent. of three-wheelers—and I do not say this with any pride, because it is a high figure—turned over; but I think this compares reasonably with our own cars, those which we use for war pensioners and for restricted National Health categories.
1281 May I also refer to three specific questions which the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked me; and perhaps the House ought to know that, with his characteristic kindness, he gave me advance notice of them. The first was: what are the Government's views with regard to the means test, to which reference has been made? Obviously, the noble Lord and those who sit with him on that side of the House will know that the term "means test" is rather anathema to people on this side of the House; but having said that perhaps I may say that, if I have understood the Report correctly. I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, supports this in principle but tentatively concludes that it may be impracticable to apply it to the provision of cars.
It is possible that difficulties also arise in applying a means test to a lump sum grant. In either case the Department would be in the position (I would have thought in the invidious position) of having to recover periodical payments, probably monthly, from a substantial number of disabled people. On the other hand, a means test at an effective level would clearly go some way towards limiting the extra costs. But I think we have to face the fact that there is a question of manpower involved here; and, if I may repeat what I have already said, there may also he involved, as far as this side of the House is concerned, a matter of principle.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, also asked whether it would be possible to provide 40,000 cars and, if so, how quickly. I think I must be perfectly frank with him and say that there are discussions going on with motor manufacturers. I think this question is not going to be resolved very quickly. There are a number of matters, as he knows probably better than anyone in your Lordships' House, which have to be taken into account, and I can only say that those negotiations will proceed in order to achieve the best possible arrangement. The noble Lord also asked me what progress has been made in the discussions on the future of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and remedial gymnasts. I can only say—and it is not a very satisfactory reply, I acknowledge—that these discussions are proceeding, and we hope that something tangible will come out of them. As the noble Lord will know, there is a 1282 great deal of competition on the part of local authorities, who are attracting, I think, an abnormal number of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and others, and I think the general field of medical as well as social work is feeling the effect of that.
The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, and my noble friend Lady Summerskill have raised a number of matters which, if they will forgive me, I do not propose to deal with this afternoon. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, raised quite an interesting point, and my noble friend Lady Summerskill raised quite a number. I think we must look at them all in some depth. If the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, does not think it impertinent on my part, I should like to say that we in the Government wish to congratulate her warmly on carrying out a very thorough survey on a subject which is recognised by everyone who knows about it to be a particularly difficult and daunting one. But she has produced a really first-class Report, and while we may not agree with everything the noble Baroness has said, I think we must accept the fact that the clarity of her thought and the precision and style of her writing is an example to most of us in your Lordships' House.
The Report raises a number of complex issues. It deals with many aspects of the mobility of disabled people. The noble Baroness acknowledges that suitable housing, coupled with the means to be mobile inside the house, is a No. 1 priority. On this, my right honourable friend's Department and the Department of the Environment are collaborating on the advice which should be given to housing authorities. The suggestion of the noble Baroness on mobility housing is very constructive, and is one aspect which both Departments are at this present moment considering. It was problems concerning the vehicle service for disabled people, however, which prompted the inquiry, and in consequence the noble Baroness devotes the main part of her Report to that subject. She concluded that the existing three-wheeled invalid vehicles which are issued to disabled people should be replaced by a suitably adapted small car, this conclusion being based mainly on the grounds that the car now represents better value for money and that it would be more acceptable to 1283 disabled people as it would enable them to take their husband or wife and their family with them.
The noble Baroness makes it clear in her Report that her terms of reference required her to have regard to the help in cash or kind which the available resources permit, or could permit, and she consequently recommended a change in the criteria for eligibility so that in effect only those who need a car—and I emphasise that she uses the word "need"—for the support of themselves or their families would qualify. Again, the noble Baroness makes clear the fact that the greater attraction of the car means that to make it available even to her restricted categories of eligible disabled people would substantially increase the potential number of beneficiaries, and that, of course, the cost would be considerably more. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, when he mentioned something in the region of £22 million being an increase of £12 million on the money spent at the present moment, was not very far wrong; and, whatever a Government may want to do, with the best will in the world one has to take that factor into account.
At the same time, this fact has to be seen against the background of rendering ineligible for a car nearly 14,000 of those who already have a three-wheeler, not to mention future generations of disabled people who, while eligible under the present criteria, would never become eligible under the criteria of the noble Baroness. As my right honourable friend indicated in her Statement on March 25 in another place, the Government consider that any proposal to withdraw a vehicle from those now having the use of one, even with the transitional safeguards proposed, would be quite wrong.
In arriving at this conclusion the Government have in mind the great importance of mobility to relieve the social isolation of disabled people. The Report also raises other complex problems including those of administration, of cost and of supply. For example, the question of determining social need is one of great complexity, as I am sure the noble Baroness herself recognises, and there would need to be much discussion before this could be clarified to the satisfaction of everyone concerned. Even then it is 1284 doubtful whether the clarification would meet with everybody's approval.
Another matter which raises difficult problems is the question of retaining the three-wheeler for those disabled people who wish to retain it. We heard a good deal this afternoon about the, shall I say, ineffectiveness of the three-wheeler and its dangers. It may come as a surprise to noble Lords to learn that there are quite a number in this category, most commonly because they could not comfortably drive a car and for whom the provision of a car would not be the answer because they are physically unable to drive it. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, would think otherwise, but this is the information we have as a result of investigation. It is impossible to forecast what effect a change-over to either cash or cars would have on three-wheeler production. This is another matter which we shall have to consider against the background of the overall review.
It is because of these questions that my right honourable friend has initiated a process of consultation with interested individuals and organisations especially those representing the disabled people themselves and professional bodies. Her Department has already written to a large number of people and organisations inviting views on a variety of questions. Above all my right honourable friend is determined that the process of consultation shall be truly meaningful. Similarly my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales will also be carrying out their own consultations.
Noble Lords have referred to the question of safety of the three-wheeler at present issued. Despite statements that have been made in this House and elsewhere about the safety of the invalid three-wheelers, I am most concerned that I should be able to reassure those severely disabled people who rely on these vehicles. Allegations continue to be made that they are intrinsically dangerous and that they should be withdrawn from the roads. I do not think this is really borne out by serious investigations. I cannot do better than reaffirm the statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on March 25 when she introduced the 1285 Report by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that there are no reasons for thinking that this is so. I sincerely hope that the alarm that may well have been created in the minds of those who continue to use these vehicles by the statements that have been made, some of which have been reported in a rather irresponsible and unbalanced manner, will accordingly be dispelled.
I am aware that the investigations made by the Cranfield Institute of Technology last year and the conclusions that have been drawn from their reported results continue to attract a good deal of attention. I think it is important to recognise that they were carried out in a somewhat artificial environment by people who were not necessarily conversant with the special controls and design of the invalid three-wheeler. The experience on the roads of many thousands of users, which is really of more practical significance, over a period of nearly a quarter of a century has certainly not confirmed these opinions. Experience therefore suggests that if these three-wheelers are driven sensibly within the limits of performance that can reasonably be expected of a vehicle of this kind then, except perhaps in appalling weather conditions, they are quite safe. There has been much theoretical philosophising, but no real evidence has been produced to contradict this view. Indeed, quite a considerable number of disabled people have taken the trouble to write to Ministers categorically dissociating themselves from the criticisms which have been published in the Press.
The invalid three-wheeler is, and always will be, a functional vehicle. Indeed, many of the features which have been incorporated specifically to cater for the needs of the most severely disabled are those which have given rise to criticisms by drivers accustomed to more conventional vehicles. It is accepted that it is not perfect and endeavours to improve it will continue to be made. But your Lordships will not lose sight of the fact that for well over 20 years model after model, each an improvement on its predecessor, has given severely disabled people a new dimension in life and I believe a new outlook. Model 70, even before modification, did not in fact behave as badly as certain reports had suggested it might. Indeed, it seems to have done 1286 quite well. The first test was quite reassuring, but it is my right honourable friend's intention during the next few months to withdraw Model 70 three-wheelers from the fleet with a view to altering the mounting of the petrol tank in the way that was done for the third Model 70 test by the Motor Industry Research Association. Future vehicles will of course incorporate this modification.
The view held by the Government about the side wind tests is that, although the Model 70's behaviour was somewhat worse than that of some other comparable vehicles, one must bear in mind that some commercial four-wheeled vehicles also failed to meet the experimental safety criteria in the side wind tests. The short answer is that liberties cannot be taken in driving it which would be permissible with a vehicle having different characteristics. It might also be reassuring to the House to know that although no formal Motor Industry Research Association report was commissioned on the subject, tests of the Model 70 on their pave track have shown that the structure of the vehicle is such that in general it withstands the stress of road use at least as well as the generality of other road vehicles.
I have felt it right to deal at some length with the question of safety of three-wheelers if only in the interests of those who are using them. But having said that, I must add that the Government fully appreciate the force of the comparisons between the three-wheeler and the car which the noble Baroness makes in her Report. She points out that the car is better value for money, that it is less noisy and, more important, that most disabled people prefer it. Regarding the payment of cash grants instead of cars to disabled people with which they could buy cars for themselves rather than the Government providing them, I am aware that this course of action is favoured by some of the organisations representing disabled people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, considered this matter and concluded that the Government should issue cars and not cash, on the grounds that it would not be right to provide grants without ensuring that at least the amount of the grant was spent on a car, while at the same time it would be unattractive to have to follow up every case in order 1287 to find out what in fact had been spent. Moreover, it seems not impossible that payments could have considerable repercussions over the whole field of cash benefits. One has to take into account the whole question of social insurance disablement benefits, which extend not only over a very large area of benefits but involve a large number of people.
Noble Lords will, I am sure, also be aware of the positive advantage in the supply of cars rather than cash grants, in that the Government, by taking advantage of bulk buying, can buy more cheaply than the individual and can also ensure that the disabled person is provided with a vehicle in good condition and one to which proper adaptations have been made. By insuring the car in the name of the disabled driver or anyone else who is nominated to drive, the Government can help to ensure that the car is driven only by the disabled person or for his benefit. I do not wish to prejudge this issue by suggesting that the Government have formed a view on the rightness or otherwise in issuing cars instead of cash, because I am fully aware (as are the Government) of the various arguments both for and against. I would only repeat that this is one of the many matters which the Government and the Ministers concerned will have to go into.
There are a number of other things which I should like to say and which I came here prepared to say, but in view of the time and the fact that my noble friend Lady Phillips will no doubt wish to say a few words at the conclusion of the debate, I should again like to say that if I have not answered, either superficially or in detail, the matters which have been raised this afternoon, they will be recorded in Hansard and I will see that my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State, and my honourable friend the Minister for the Disabled, are made aware of every word that has been spoken in your Lordships' House this afternoon.
Finally, on behalf of the Government, I should like to thank those who have taken part in the debate, because a number of very interesting matters have been brought forward and I think your Lordships will realise that we are faced with a very complicated situation. My final word of thanks is again addressed to the 1288 noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, not only for the very obvious ability reflected in the Report but also for the time and energy which she has devoted to it.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, this has been a very remarkable debate: it has been very well disciplined, with everyone keeping to time. I was going to say that the Minister was the exception here, but I suppose that my noble friend has certain privileges in such matters. Some noble Lords were moved to poetry, which was quite splendid. I should also like to mention the very moving maiden speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, in which he emphasised something that I think we all feel—that in this society of ours we waste not only material, but also people; and any means by which a person who is housebound or immobile can be brought back into the mainstream of society ought to be instantly investigated.
I am sorry that my noble friend the Minister has chosen to read a brief which must, I think, have been prepared for the last Government. I would hardly call that an example of open-mindedness. It seems to me that the Government have prejudged the issues. This I find very disturbing. My brother last week introduced me to somebody as "My sister, the trouble-shooter". I would only say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that I shall be sitting very near to him and I shall return to this subject on many occasions because I feel that it will be necessary.
I should like to say a word on safety. When the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, finally compiled her Report she herself said that she had not seen the motor industry's research reports because they were not then completed. I would say to my noble friend the Minister, and to all your Lordships, that if those pressure groups who are concerned because the drivers are disabled, feel this matter is sufficiently serious for them, through someone in another place, to take it to the Parliamentary Commissioner—and if they really feel strongly about that—I would suggest there is an element which should be investigated. I wonder whether the Minister would at some stage publish the accident figures in this connection. I have been unable 1289 to find these figures. Indeed a very curious aspect of the matter is the great gap which seems to exist in the information available—in other words, the fact that we have no record concerning disabled people. This is curious to me because, as the noble Baroness mentioned, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act actually came into effect four years ago. The noble Baroness said that she had no idea of the size of the problem. I would ask the Minister to accept my word for the fact that, just as he can produce statistics, so can many of us. The vehicle is unsafe. It may not always give rise to accidents, but to say that the accidents which occur are the fault of the driver is less than fair. I am sorry that that suggestion was again voiced.
One thing has come out very loud and clear from the speeches of many of your Lordships, and that is that the three-wheeler should be phased out. Two noble Lords, speaking with expertise from different angles, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, pointed out that the car can be adapted to suit any driver. Also, I think a case for the non-driver has been strongly made. The practical suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale were, as always, very valuable. This is a problem which must not be allowed to be shelved. I know only too well from my own small experience in Government that anything a Government wish to do they can do, and anything they do not wish to do they can delay by calling in aid committees, Royal Commissions and consultations of various kinds.
Finally, I would say that there are areas on which the last word on consultation has been spoken and we now ask for action.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, if your Lordships would allow me just to say this, I should like to point out to my noble friend Lady Phillips that I was not dealing with a brief that was prepared for the last Government. I should also like her to know that part of that brief was of my own creation, because I happen to be very interested in this subject. The original brief, in case anyone is interested, has been altered in various places and I should not like your Lordships 1290 to feel that we were working on information that had been collected some months ago.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I am of course delighted to hear that. If I were to use a colloquial expression, I would have said, "You could have fooled me"; but, naturally, I would not use such an expression in your Lordships' House. There is one point I should have dealt with earlier, but I do not wish to be deluged and therefore I beg leave to withdrawn my Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.