§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Ross of Marnock.)
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Lord AMHERST of HACKNEY in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Travel concessions for handicapped persons]:
Lord FERRIER moved the amendment:
Page 1, line 19, at end insert—
(" (4) Nothing in this Act shall prevent a local authority from adopting some system
whereby a handicapped person whose place of residence is not served by any public transport may, within well-defined limits, obtain concessionary motor fuel.").
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name, and to say that in doing so I have no desire to delay the passage of the Bill. It is simply that in my view the Bill does not go far enough, and my amendment would have the effect of extending its scope. My point is that whereas the Bill provides for concessionary fares on public transport, there is no provision for concessionary assistance to handicapped people who have no access to public transport. It follows that the provisions of this Bill chiefly benefit people with ready access to public transport, and quite rightly, too. But, in places where there is no public transport within reach, such concessions are of no effect.
As emerged from the Second Reading debate of this Bill, I have in mind to suggest that a system could be devised whereby persons recognised by local authorities as being handicapped would be able to obtain assistance in terms of motor fuel so that they could make private arrangements to be transported on necessary journeys. This need might, of course, be met by the mobility allowance. But not every disabled person is in receipt of this allowance, particularly among those over the age of 65; because unless the allowance was awarded before the disabled person reached 65 years of age, he or she is not eligible. As one of the authorities I have consulted writes:
You will note that unless the person satisfies strict medical criteria, they are not eligible for financial help from the Government, so that any concession local authorities can make for travel would, indeed, be most welcome to the majority of disabled people".
§ To contemplate the use of the ambulance service to meet this sort of problem would be an extravagance, and the postal bus service arrangements can hardly apply. However, having read the proceedings in another place—and I congratulate the honourable Member who introduced the Private Bill and got it through the other place—and having studied the statutes mentioned in Clause 1 (1) and (2), it is clear that the sort of travel concession I have in mind can hardly come within the four corners of this Bill.202
§ At the same time I have salved my conscience by using this opportunity to suggest a service which would be worth while. I hope that what we have been saying here will find its way into the considerations of the Scottish Office and the consumer councils. Perhaps the Government spokesman can reassure me on this point. I beg to move.
§ Lord ROSS of MARNOCK
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for raising this particular point and for the fact that he gave me notice of it. He is a very persistent noble Lord because he raised it on Second Reading and said that he would pursue it. So he need not think that he has done anything other than carry out his duty, and his conscience should be clear.
I am sorry indeed that it will not be possible wthin this Bill to proceed along the lines he has suggested. The Bill has a very limited purpose indeed. It rectifies an anomaly in the legislation covering concessionary fares that presently exists between Scotland and England. Of course, from the Title of the Bill and from Clause 1, one sees that it is limited entirely to travel concessions for handicapped persons travelling on public service vehicles. Unless they travel on public service vehicles, there is no possibility of a concession. As the noble Lord rightly said, not only in Scotland but in Wales and England there are great areas where no public services are available at all. It may well be that the related previous discussions we have had today hold out some hope, but again not on public service vehicles. Therefore, that limits the purposes of the Bill. I can well understand the noble Lord's feelings about that. I share them. However, he did try to limit this within his amendment to handicapped persons who are covered by this particular Bill.
It is only fair to point out that there is considerable help for handicapped persons within the provisions of other legislation. I can remember when I entered the House just after the war that we eventually got a Minister of Pensions—in those days the Ministry of Pensions applied only to war pensioners—who was of course a Scotsman, George Buchanan, and he introduced the tricycle car for war pensioners. He became the first head of the National 203 Assistance Board. It was said that they got rid of him because if he had stayed any longer as Minister of Pensions he would have bankrupted the Government. His idea was that you did not turn down any pension cases; you only corrected your civil servants when they were prepared to do that.
There has been considerable development, and both sides of the House have something to their credit in this respect, because that was eventually brought in for other disabled people. There was then of course the 1975 development of the mobility allowance. There was the phasing out of the old tricycle form of car and the provision of four-wheeled cars. Then there was the option given in 1979, following a committee headed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—I knew her better as Dame Evelyn Sharp—in relation to cash support for anyone running a car; and remember that it is not just the person who is handicapped, but it was extended, to enable the handicapped person to get out, to provide for somebody else to drive the car. There were considerable advances.
I am aware of the difficulties here. It is not available for the first time to people over 65. It may well be that that is the way forward in respect of the aim that the noble Lord has in mind, and the present limitations there could be attended to. That would have the benefit too of not being just applicable to Scotland. It would be applicable to the whole country. In rectifying one anomaly we do not want to create another one, or give the impression of creating another one, by putting something like this into this particular Bill.
I am grateful for the support that the noble Lord has given to the principle purposes of the Bill and for the speech that he has made tonight pointing a way forward, and showing that there is still a gap in social provision. I think he will appreciate that I cannot see my way to recommending his amendment to the Committee.
§ Lord FERRIER
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. I appreciate what he has said, and ask forgiveness of noble Lords for raising a matter which is a bit outside the scope of 204 the Bill as it stands, but I have been at it for years over various things. The last time was trying to get concessionary installation charges for telephones for old people who were far away, and so on, but we need not go into that tonight. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clauses 2 to 4 agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.
§ [The sitting was suspended from 7.46 to 8 p.m.]