HL Deb 21 January 1982 vol 426 cc728-46

5.33 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to revise the orange badge scheme for disabled drivers as provided for in the Disabled Persons Act 1981.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. As we all know, 1981 was the Year of the Disabled, and during that year there was a greatly increased public awareness of the needs of disabled people. The year may be over, but I believe that the genuine public interest and concern for disabled people continues.

The Government made a very firm commitment in the Disabled Persons Act 1981 to on-going help for disabled people, and in particular it was announced that the orange badge scheme would be revised, and that is the aspect on which I wish to speak tonight; not because I am a disabled person, but because I have been on the other side of this matter for some time in terms of traffic control and the issuing of badges. I think that it is of value at this stage, when the Government are considering the final form that this badge will take, for us to put forward practical points for consideration.

There is no doubt that the present orange badge has been completely discredited. Everyone ignores an orange badge when they see it because they feel that so few people with them on their cars are actually disabled. I think that this is a great pity and it has been a great disbenefit to the genuinely disabled people who have had such badges. But in some areas the issue of such badges was almost on demand and, of course, this devalued them. It is essential that when it is issued the new badge should have a real value. I, personally, would like to see different colours for disabled drivers or passengers because I think that the situations and needs of positioning a car are somewhat different according to your degree of disability and whether you are driving yourself. Someone else driving you can perhaps go a little further afield. But whatever the arrangements made in that respect, I think it is important, as I have stressed before, that the badge should have a genuine significance.

I would commend to the Government the type of scheme which is now in operation by Westminster City Council, on which I served for 10 years. They have operated their own white badge scheme since 1958, and it works rather well for the residents of the City of Westminster and for those people who have a need to come regularly into the city. This badge has always been much more selectively issued and only for a limited period of time. The time varies greatly. It can be for as little as two or three weeks, but the maximum is three years. Patients who have needed to attend for some special treatment for just three weeks have been issued with a badge for that period. Another case is that of a young student who wanted to take examinations and he required a special white badge for a disabled person for just two weeks, and he got it.

Of course, many people need a place where they can park near their work, and unless they could park they would not he able to keep that job. Again, Westminster believes that it is of much greater value for the person with the disabled badge to have the right to park on any meter or in any residents' parking bay rather than in just a disabled persons' bay, because frequently the disabled persons' bays are not where the people wish to be. Surveys have shown that there are certain areas of the city where there is a much greater concentration of white badges than in other areas. A typical case in point is north of Oxford Street, where a great number of people are either attending disabled institutions or are involved in the rag trade there. They have special disabled areas and parking bays in Duke Street, Orchard Street, Marylebone Lane, Vere Street and Leicester Square, but these are fairly limited in number and do not serve the same purpose; they are intended for people wishing to shop in the Oxford Street area.

However, the assessment before issue of a badge in Westminster is what I think is very important; the criteria are laid down in the Disabled Persons' Motor Vehicles' Regulations 1975. Westminster, to a large extent, follows those criteria. There are some criteria which, if the applicant meets them, do not involve him or her in any questions or examination; the badge is simply issued. Those in particular cover people who already have a special vehicle provided by the DHSS, those who are in receipt of a mobility allowance or the registered blind, although, of course, quite obviously in those cases the permit is for a passenger, not for a disabled driver.

But other categories may be required to be medically examined. In some cases the evidence is so clear-cut that there is no need for a medical examination and the doctor attached to the council waives the examination. But in other cases the applicant is seen and the badge determined after the patient has been seen. I well remember a patient of my own who suffered a severe virus infection and who was partially paralysed down one side. On paper, in fact, he would not have been granted a badge because it was an unusual virus and the technical terms were not recognised as being a case where there was a need. But when he was examined by the doctor he was immediately given a badge as his disability was great.

However, the real criterion is not your degree of disability; it is your degree of mobility. You could have lost an arm or have a completely useless arm, and that would not qualify you, in Westminster terms, for a disabled passenger's or driver's badge. The essence of it is whether or not you are well able to walk a considerable distance from your vehicle. The assessment is made on the understanding that anyone who cannot walk 100 yards unaided is considered to be 85 per cent. disabled in terms of mobility, and if that person cannot walk that distance and he or she is either 85 per cent. or even more seriously disabled, then of course he or she gets a badge.

But there are all sort of cases of people who have had an injury, perhaps a broken leg, who might well need a disabled driver's or passenger's permit for a period of time, but it is not an irreversible condition. After a certain amount of time that person is quite able and mobile, and able to go back to an ordinary driving situation. With the existing orange badge scheme, in other parts of the country, once that orange badge is obtained it just goes on for ever and it remains permanently attached to the rear windscreen of the car, and in fact if the person's children or grandchildren use the car the badge is still there. Sot think the other scheme is a very good one.

When the review comes up after the three-year maximum, or the shorter period according to the condition of the applicant, then, depending upon the circumstances of the case, it is either an automatic and immediate renewal—such as for someone who had a high degree of irreversible disability—or for someone whose previous medical report had said that it was hoped that within six months, or three years if the permit was given for that time, the person would be fit and well again, there would be a further examination to assess that person's condition at that time.

Although this seems perhaps a hard and onerous course to adopt, I do not consider that it is. I think that it is a much more fair system than the indiscriminate handing out of badges, which means that those who receive them really can have little use from them and attach little significance to them because of the fact that they are so readily available. If the badge is issued and everyone knows that that person has met certain criteria of disablement, then there is no doubt that it would be much more widely respected.

But another problem exists. Even if you have your badge and it is the most perfect badge issued under the best possible conditions, what use is it to you if you cannot possibly get anywhere to park? As a member of the Greater London Council, as I presently am, I am very concerned with the complete chaos in London parking at the present time. I do not lay this at the door of the present administration. This has been increasing under all administrations for some time, but it has reached an almost dangerous point at present.

A survey taken last summer showed that of the cars parked in central London—it was just a one-week survey—over 50 per cent. were illegally parked. Now until the time comes when there is adequate enforcement to stop this illegal parking, it is quite hopeless for anyone to find a proper parking space. In central London, returning briefly to Westminster, 2,600 white badges have been issued to Westminster residents, or people regularly visiting Westminster, and they have always had priorities in parking terms. First, road safety; visibility; dangerous intersections. Road safety has always been first. Secondly, loading and off-loading. It has always been felt necessary to have provision for the business life of the city to continue because that is, after all, what is supporting the whole population. Then, thirdly, the meters, short-term and long-term; and finally, the residents' parking.

Parking is a major problem throughout the country, and the larger the city the greater the difficulty. There are 10,000 meters in the city of Westminster, and there are over 16,000 resident parking places. If you appreciate that there are 2,600 disablement permits and over 22,000 residents' parking permits, you can see what a fine balance there is already between the number of permits that are issued and the number of places available. So although, when I first started to research this matter, I had hoped to persuade the central London boroughs to accept the use of a national scheme for a disabled badge, I appreciate that the pressure on kerb space in the centre of London makes this particularly difficult. There is of course plenty of off-street parking, but that is of little value to disabled drivers.

The traffic survey showing that 50 per cent. of people were offending all the time was quite revealing. The GLC estimate that every day in London there are 350,000 vehicles committing an offence in terms of parking. We know that shortage of wardens is one of the factors involved. There is at the moment provision for 1,800 wardens, but actually in post there are only 1,310 wardens. The police estimate that for full enforcement of the present system throughout London 4,000 wardens are needed. But putting aside that 4,000 and coming back to the 1,800 and considering that situation, why are there in terms of traffic wardens 500 good jobs going begging today? There must be something wrong when we read so regularly about the hundreds of thousands of unemployed people only to find out there are 500 immediately available jobs as traffic wardens and no one wants them.

Of course the chances of getting a parking ticket if you are in London are not great. It is estimated that only 5 per cent. of people now actually pay a penalty. "You might as well risk it" is the word that has got around, "because not many people are likely to catch up with you". Think about the cost if they do catch up with you. Six pounds may seem like a lot of money to someone in a rural area, it might be a deterrent; but £10, as it is going to be in London, does not really mean very much when you realise that the two new leaders of our famous alliance had a recent simple lunch, as it was described, and the cost was nearer £40 than £30. This really means that £10 for your parking facility is not so disproportionate.

Instead of meeting for lunch, perhaps to do important business, as we hope, let us look at some other people who instead are spending their day in a Mayfair gambling club. Well, if you are going to gamble all day, £10 at risk for your meter is not too great. And you gamble a bit further because you believe that if you can outwit the fixed penalty officer for six months and one day, you have got away with it and you are not paying anything.

We must ask the Government to introduce rapidly the wheel clamp in central London. I am convinced that that would be effective as a means of enforcement. When I was vice-chairman of planning for part of London in recent years I tried then to have this wheel clamp review. Now I understand, from parliamentary answers that have been given on this matter, that it is reaching a much closer examination. I would urge the Government to introduce an experimental use of wheel clamp in central London as soon as possible. Because as the word has got around that it is a nuisance for you to park but you can do it and get away with it and risk it, so the word will get around that it is a much greater nuisance if you go back to get in your car and you cannot move it because it has been immobilised with a wheel clamp attached to the wheel. I find it interesting that what was originally called the "Denver shoe" because it was American, is now being Anglicised and called a "Bulldog;" but it is the same thing, the wheel clamp that goes on your car.

Towing away is generally effective. As a magistrate I have seen this clearly very often. But no one is too worried about the fine. They just send in a written plea of guilty and pay it, or just pay it at the cheaper rate earlier. But if someone's car has been towed away it is an extreme inconvenience and nuisance to them and they really think twice about placing their car somewhere where it will happen again. I believe that the same thing would happen with the wheel clamp. It would be effective.

On the other side of the coin, there are far too many quite unnecessary parking restrictions throughout the whole of London. If I have seen them throughout London, then I am sure other people who know different areas see them just as clearly there. About two years ago the GLC asked all the London boroughs to review the existing parking restrictions and to inform them where they would like to apply for a change in traffic order to remove unnecessary restrictions. Only about six boroughs responded, but in the area in which I live Saturday restrictions have been removed completely. That has been great for the people living there. Whereas in the past everybody had to pop out early in the morning to put money in a meter or move the car to another spot, now anybody who is not working on Saturday can enjoy their weekend time at home, and it has had the great merit of freeing the wardens from that area so that they can work in other areas where they are really needed because of traffic conjestion. It has taken an unnecessary restriction off residents using local streets at weekends and has transferred the wardens' commitment elsewhere.

In my constituency we have a particular problem because we are at the very end of the Piccadilly line. It means that many commuters coming from outside London leave their cars in the local streets all day as well as in the local shopping centres. Any disabled person living near Cockfosters Tube Station has no way of getting to the local shops because of so many cars being parked there all day. A scheme is gradually evolving—the first part be implemented soon, after which I hope it will be extended to the Cockfosters area—by which, to avoid all-day parking, there will be introduced a one-hour restriction during the day. That restriction will not be a nuisance to local people or those who wish to come and go, but it will prevent indiscriminate, all-day commuter parking. That will be a valuable scheme for people and it will certainly help my disabled constituents.

To sum up, ask the Government to introduce a disabled badge which will be honoured and supported by the public and will mean something to other drivers; one that will mean something to those who have the badge, in that it will be of real significance because it will be of value and will enable them to park. I ask the Government to encourage the traffic authorities to urge all who can to reduce unnecessary parking restrictions which have grown out of all proportion and to enforce existing necessary parking restrictions. Finally, I urge them to bring in rapidly the experimental use of the wheel clamp.

5.53 p.m.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I wish at the outset to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, for asking this important Question tonight, and wish briefly to support her in pressing it on the Government. We listened with interest to her description of the Westminster scheme, and we know that she has considerable experience and knowledge in this sphere. The orange badge scheme is valuable but, as the noble Baroness said, there is no doubt that, owing to abuse of it, public confidence in it has declined.

Those of us who want to see the scheme preserved and the abuses eliminated welcomed the inclusion in the Disabled Persons Act 1981 of the separate offence of misuse of an orange badge by a non-entitled person. We also welcomed the Government's intention to introduce regulations revising the conditions of the scheme. In the consultations which preceded the production of the draft regulations, the Government were ready to go some way to meet the views on a number of points of the All-Party Disablement Group and other organisations representing the disabled. For example, eligibility is not now to be restricted to those receiving mobility allowance, as was thought would be the case originally; the rear badge is to be abolished; and the form of the badge is to be modified so that it can easily be removed when no disabled person is travelling in the car.

Nevertheless, the All-Party Disablement Group are still concerned about certain aspects of the regulations. The group want slightly broader criteria for eligibility; there is concern that the interpretation of the phrase, "Very considerable difficulty in walking" will be too strictly limited. This will depend, suppose, to a considerable extent on the nature of the advice which is given by the Department of Health and Social Security to local authority social services departments.

The group also want a standard system of progressive warnings for the misuse of the badge. This, the Government fear, would be too complicated, but the object of the group is to see that persistent offenders are penalised. The group also feel that the two-hour time limit for parking is unreasonable, particularly as in Scotland there is no such time limit and the system seems to work there effectively. The group have called for effective motitoring of the revised scheme, and the Government have promised that it will be monitored in that way, and it will certainly need such monitoring.

To me, the main omission from the Government's proposals is the question of differentiating between passengers and drivers, a matter to which the noble Baroness referred. It could be done in different ways, but we must bear in mind that often abuse arises because non-disabled drivers benefit from possession of the badge for parking purposes when the are not carrying disabled passengers. The ways in which this distinction might be achieved are, as the noble Baroness suggested, by having different colours for the badge, or possibly it could be done by overstamping badges with "D" for driver or "P" for passenger, or perhaps the addition of a coloured flash on the basic badge might be the way to differentiate. I am convinced that some provision of that kind would tackle directly what is probably the most widespread form of abuse.

A further suggestion that has been made is that photograph of the badge-holder might be attached to the badge, which would make clear to whom the disability related. This is already common practice with concessionary fares for disabled persons and might therefore be acceptable. It would however be more controversial than the previous suggestion of distinction between driver and passenger, and I think the latter suggestion, that there should be some differentiation in the badges, might make the photograph proposal superfluous.

We on these Benches are anxious to see the orange badge scheme preserved and widely accepted, and we should like to know from the Government how near they are to the production of the regulations in their final form. I hope that in answering the Question the Minister will be able to tell us that, because the sooner the regulations can be implemented the better.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, we should all be grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner for having asked this Question of the Government today. It is timely to seek information from Ministers about the progress being made in revising the present schemes. Lady Gardner spoke, as a magistrate and councillor, from her experience. I hope to make a contribution on the Question regarding the effects on disabled people. I think your Lordships know of my interest and involvement, as a Minister over several years, in this subject. My noble friend mentioned the recent international year, and have been the chairman for Scotland of that year and the only chairman of the four in Parliament. I suppose must also declare an interest, being in the category of 80 per cent. war disabled, both legs having been affected by a bullet through my middle.

I would start by saying that the ability for a severely disabled person to live a normal life can be greatly assisted by motor transport. I speak here of the kind of person who can walk only a short distance or not walk at all. In the last four years there has been great progress in helping such people, and I refer to the introduction of the mobility allowance and the Motability scheme, which have both come into force in the last five years. I shall not go into those matters in any detail but I think that the House would like to know that over 11,000 cars are now on the road in this country as a result of the Motability arrangements in only the last four years. That is excellent news.

But the benefit to severely disabled people who cannot walk, or who can walk only a few paces, is much reduced if they are unable to park at, or very close to, their destinations. The 1970 Act, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, was the legislation which enabled local authorities to introduce the orange badge schemes, and as noble Lords will know, the badge has the wheelchair symbol on it.

It has been said that there are two acute anxieties which oppress western civilisation. The first is the threat of nuclear war arising from Soviet imperialism, and the second is the parking problem. This afflicts both the able bodied and the disabled. Therefore, it is of concern to the whole community that any scheme which operates for the benefit of severely disabled people should not be open to abuse. As has already been said by my noble friend, unfortunately, through nobody's particular fault, the orange badge schemes have fallen into some disrepute, because they are open to widespread abuse. They must be improved.

What happened was that local authorities who had the power to issue the badges started by issuing them very generously. They were too kind; and one must remember that the badge is valid not only in the area of the local authority, but all over the country, with the exception of central London, which I shall come to later. Therefore, some local authorities might have felt that they could be kind in their own areas, which perhaps were very rural and did not have parking problems. But this must be tightened up in the future.

I would remind the House that the intention of the orange badge scheme is to relieve those severely disabled people who qualified for it from the payment of parking charges. That is basically what it is supposed to do, but in practice it also confers considerable privileges. Although, as has been stated, there is no limit in Scotland, the position varies in other areas. Certainly there is a limit of two hours in parts of England. But in practice wardens have allowed cars with orange badges to be parked more or less continuously at a meter or in places reserved for residents, though the orange badge holder probably is not a resident of the area. Wardens have even been known to exercise discretion to allow cars with organge badges to be parked on a continuous yellow line, though that is not part of the privilege for which the scheme was designed.

The system has fallen into disrepute because it has been too difficult for able-bodied people using a car after a disabled person has used it to bother to take off the badge. I believe that most of the abuse has arisen unintentionally in that way—though there may have been some intentional abuse as well—and this has meant that a car might have been parked in a privileged position with an orgage badge in place when on the day in question it was not in fact assisting the severely disabled person for whom the badge was intended.

I would suggest that in any new general scheme guidelines should include the following points, which I believe are of great importance. First, a higher degree of disablement should be laid down as the minimum for eligibility for a badge. The main consideration should be that the person is not able to walk more than a short distance. This consideration need not be related to the use of the legs. There can be severely disabled people with respiratory diseases who can walk only a very short distance. I should like to give an example here. There can be severely disabled people who are deaf or deaf and dumb, and they are handicapped in many ways, but they do not need a parking badge. So local authorities should not issue them simply to everybody who is more than 50 per cent. disabled, which has been the case in some areas.

The second point is that the name of the disabled person must appear on the badge and the defined period of validity of the badge. This has been done by many local authorities and so I should not wish to appear to be criticising them all. Certainly some local authorities in Scotland have done this from the very beginning of the scheme in the early 'seventies. But it has been left to each local authority to do more or less what it wished in this respect.

Thirdly, the badge must be removable when the disabled person is not using the vehicle. Of course this is made easier if a special holder which adheres to the windscreen is issued at the same time as the badge, and that, too, is being done by a number of local authorities. Then I should also mention the square badge consisting of a sticker which, once put on the vehicle at the back, cannot be removed. I am glad to hear—no doubt my noble friend on the Front Bench can confirm this later this evening—that the Government have already decided that in the guidelines that type of badge will be abolished, since it does not add anything so far as parking is concerned and it has been thoroughly misleading to the general public.

My fourth point is that once the new system is in operation police and wardens should be encouraged to do more checking as to who is using the car if it is parked in a privileged place with a badge on the windscreen. There should be a better system of checking and taking action if it is found that the badge is being abused. The badge should be in place only when nominated disabled people are using the vehicles in question. It is in the interests of disabled people that the system should be tightened up. It is only when the public as a whole have the greatest confidence in the system that it will be of the most use to disabled people. It will be a real help to the severely disabled if it is accepted by the rest of the public as operating strictly and fairly.

I should like to add one comment about the square sticker on the back of the car. When this matter was mentioned by me in the House in the Summer, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, pointed out that once, when driving alone on a motorway, she had had to stop, and being unable to get out of her car on her own, she had no way of indicating distress. Her car had broken down. A lorry driver had stopped because he noticed the square sticker on the back. So I would add the point that there might be a case for some kind of separate sticker on a vehicle, indicating that a car is being used by a disabled person who is unable to get in or out of it without assistance. But if there were to be such a sticker, it should be an entirely different colour, since it would have nothing to do with parking. I would add that this might have some additional benefits. If, for instance, more self-service petrol stations are opened where there are no attendants there to help, it can be very difficult for a driver who is normally confined to a wheelchair and unable to get out of a car and serve petrol to herself or himself.

I now come to the question of central London. As my noble friend Lady Gardner said, at least three authorities in central London do not accept the orange badge scheme. They are the Cities of London and Westminster, the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and part of Camden. A number of disabled people have criticised this, and may feel that those councils are being beastly. I would take this opportunity to say that I disagree entirely with that. I recognise that the centre of a capital city, which is a catchment area for many millions of people, cannot, with the orange badges being issued so freely as they have been, allow a situation in which any number can come in and park in the centre. I accept that, and I think this has to be considered as part of changes in the schemes.

May I give an example? Two or three weeks before Christmas people would drive a hundred miles to London to do their Christmas shopping if they felt they could park somewhere in the middle of London, next door to a shop, with an orange badge. If, then, for that reason or for people coming up to London for other reasons besides shopping, the centre of London's available parking space was more or less all filled by orange badges, that would bring even more disrepute upon the scheme. So I myself recognise that there is a problem where the centre of a city is concerned. The system would become extremely unpopular if it were to give encouragement in that direction.

These central London councils have their own, stricter schemes. My noble friend Lady Gardner described the Westminster one; the other ones are similar. The Westminster white card system is based on 85 per cent. disability or medical examination, to put it very briefly. I thought my noble friend Lady Gardner was suggesting that those standards should be adopted for the whole country in any new scheme, the guidelines for which the Government are expected to issue. I am not myself sure whether that can in fact be possible. I think that if it were possible to have one set of standards for the whole country that would certainly make life easier for disabled people, and probably for the public. But for the reason have just given it may always be necessary to have some tighter scheme in the centre of big cities, and particularly in the centre of London. Otherwise the standards might be too restrictive for other parts of the country.

I look forward to the reply from my noble friend at the end of this debate. I hope he will be able to tell us how far the Government have proceeded in the reforms that we are expecting. A comprehensive scheme for the whole country administered by local authorities is of great importance in assisting severely disabled people. The present schemes are causing irritation and frustration, whether the abuse of them is arising intentionally or unintentionally. It is clear that improvements can be made. The Government must give the guidance and directions which are needed; and a new system should be introduced soon.

6.13 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, as a disabled driver for 22 years I should like to thank Lady Gardner of Parkes for this opportunity to discuss Her Majesty's Government's plans to revise the orange badge scheme. There are some rumours being circulated which cause alarm among some disabled drivers and other road-users, and this has been confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, tonight. The abuse by able-bodied people of the orange badge has been a reflection of selfishness by some members of our society, but this is the sorry state of the present-day situation. Therefore, as said at the time that the Disabled Persons Bill 1981 passed through your Lordships' House, it was a very necessary move to tighten up on the allocation of the badge and to penalise people for the wrongful use of the badge and for parking in a place reserved for a disabled person.

My Lords, I am very often a disabled driver, but am also sometimes a disabled passenger. The problems are different. If I stay in an hotel overnight by myself, it is often impossible to park the car in a garage and then cross a dangerous road, to be met by an impossibly high kerb. I have to leave the car near where I am staying. If, however, I am with, perhaps, my noble kinsman, he can drop me and go and park the car. He as a helper needs some indentification. Once he had gone into the hotel where we had been staying to fetch our suitcases in the morning, and I was waiting inside. When he came out there was a policeman ready to pounce.

Many towns now have streets which are closed to private cars, and only taxis and buses are allowed down them; for example, Oxford Street in London. A disabled person might have to go down such a street. Would the Government look into this situation and see what can be done for a disabled person and their helper, should they have one?

What really concerns me is the rumour that badges should be displayed only on the front of cars—and this has also been discussed tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I would totally agree with him that the disabled driver should have some sign and the disabled passenger should not. As a disabled driver who often drives alone, I think such an idea is ridiculous. On two occasions over the years I have broken down, once on the A1, when a lead came off the inside of my engine, and once when I had a puncture on the M1 motorway. After about half an hour of trying to attract someone's attention on the A1, when I could not get out of the car as there is no hard shoulder on the A1, a lorry driver stopped to help me. He said, "I saw from behind that you were disabled and alone. That is the only reason I stopped to help you". He in fact had to stop another lorry to help him.

Another reason I feel so strongly about a clear sign which can be seen from behind is because if there is a pile-up, which there so often is on the motorway —in fact, there was a massive one today—and the disabled driver happens to be in one of the cars, someone may come and help more quickly if they can see a disabled sign. In a state of fire this could be a really terrible situation, and the disabled person could be left there to burn to death.

My Lords, the train strike and the appalling weather conditions have made me even more aware of this need. Without warning there is now to be no train on which to return to Yorkshire tomorrow morning. I have to go home by road. It may be that on Monday I shall have to drive down through floods, ice, fog or snow. If I did not have my car well signed from behind, there would be no way of telling I am disabled should I need help. Another reason why I think cars should be signed from behind is that it may be that those people who drive very close behind the car in front will allow a wider space if they see the badge. Disabled people's hand controls can be very sensitive. Far too many cars drive on each other's tails, causing more accidents. I am not saying that disabled people do not drive as well as anyone else, but they would not be disabled if they did not have something amiss.

My Lords, my last reason for the need for a clear sign from behind is that when a disabled person has parked the car, if other able-bodied people see the car parked in a convenient place they will go and park there, too. People tend to be like sheep. They will then say, "I did not know that car belonged to a disabled person". Very often people do not look at both ends. If some people do not want to have a sign on the back, then let them choose.

I have discussed this matter with taxi drivers, people who do the work on the hand controls of cars, police and the general public. They feel the same as I do. Clear identification of the users and the vehicles is, in my view, a necessity; also a humane approach from people in authority to those people who need their help, the severely disabled members of our society. It must not be forgotten that there are some people who sometimes have a short-term disablement and who need help. This could be a fractured femur or the result of a stroke or a respiratory or heart problem. Perhaps the Government could consider a different coloured badge to run for six months and a badge that can identify their cars. I think that people should carry a rail card for the long-term disabled. I carry a rail card, a House of Lords card and a prison card. One more card would make no difference. If the scheme is to work, it should be done properly. I have severely disabled friends from Ireland, France, Italy and Austria. Their needs are the same. Is it not time, now that we have a United Europe, that we should have a European disabled parking badge?

6.21 p.m.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I congratulate humbly my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes for putting down this Unstarred Question. Those of us who hold orange badges have responsibilities. We should be aware of our privileges and not try to obstruct others and to be sensible about it. But I find it bothering for those of us who are holders of that badge that it still can remain on a car without suitable identification of the holder. The badge should be related to the disabled person concerned. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Banks, I feel that a photograph as used in your Lordships' House is the best answer. It may be that any such scheme will cause more trouble for those of us who are entitled to have our badges because we shall have it challenged for proof of eligibility; but in order to retain the credibility of the orange badge scheme, it is so worth while.

We must get rid of the abuses of the scheme. It not only brings the law into disrepute but it reduces the strength of our case. Everybody appears to be climbing on to our bandwagon. It is said to be possible to remove the orange badge when one is not using the car. I can assure your Lordships that this calls for very agile arms and hands and for strong fingernails and lots of time. The ability to park a car for those of us who are immobile is very important. It is not only important for those of us who are passengers but also for our drivers and helpers who are good enough to hump us about. I can assure your Lordships that I am conscious of the fact that my life course is littered with the slipped discs and hernias of people who are good enough to help me. I consider that the helpers of disabled people deserve all the help that they can get about car parking. To make watertight the rules on eligibility is essential for the protection of this parking law. I humbly suggest that the clearest method of identification should be used and I, personally, cannot think of a clearer method than by photograph.

6.24 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner for her persuasive manner in introducing this matter and to the other speakers for their comments on the orange badge scheme. The Government welcome the opportunity to tell the House about the steps that are being taken to improve the operation of the scheme and to eliminate abuse. I do not think there can be any doubt about the value of the scheme in helping severely disabled people to live more active lives and do many things which most of us take for granted. The Government are determined to ensure that these people should continue to benefit to the fullest possible extent.

As the House knows, the scheme operates under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and under Regulations made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The scheme is administered by local authorities, usually the social services departments, who issue badges to people who satisfy the criteria laid down in the regulations. The House may be interested to know that at the last census of badgeholders in 1976, some 220,000 badges had been issued. All the indications are that the present figure is much higher, probably in the region of half a million.

Unfortunately, as we have heard tonight there have been many complaints in recent years about abuse of the scheme; particularly about the number of able-bodied people taking advantage of the concessions. This abuse stems partly from the fact that issuing authorities in some areas have taken a very liberal view of the eligibility criteria and partly in cases where able-bodied friends and relatives of badge holders use badges for their own purposes. Whatever the origin of the abuse, severely disabled people are understandably annoyed when they see people without apparent disability using badges to occupy the parking spaces they need. This widespread abuse also tends to bring the scheme into disrepute in the eyes of ordinary motorists and puts at risk the sympathetic treatment which disabled people should expect from it.

In the light of criticism, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's Department reviewed the scheme and proposed a number of changes designed to ensure that badges are issued only to those who really need them and to eliminate abuse, particularly by people not entitled to the concessions. Following extensive consultation with interested bodies, including organisations representing the disabled, a package of measures to improve the scheme has emerged. The changes were announced in the other place by my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport on 30th July. The measures include, first a new offence for misuse of badges by able-bodied people, and this was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and, secondly, new regulations which will define more clearly the categories of people entitled to badges, strengthen the powers of local authorities to refuse to issue new badges and enable them to recall existing ones where the holder persistently abuses the scheme. Thirdly, local authorities will be provided with further guidance about the issue of badges and about the administration of the scheme generally. They will be asked to discontinue the issue of "non-statutory" rear badges which have been a source of complaint, and will be encouraged to provide transparent adhesive containers to permit badges to be removed more easily from the windscreen when not in use. Finally, applicants for badges will also be issued with a new explanatory leaflet emphasising their obligations as well as their privileges.

The first step in the implementation of the proposed changes has been the inclusion of a provision in the Disabled Persons Act 1981, which came into force last October, to make misuse of badges by non-entitled people a separate offence with a maximum penalty of £200. The offence is not subject to the fixed-penalty system so people who engage in this selfish practice will appear before magistrates.

So far as the new regulations are concerned, interested bodies have already been consulted on the draft proposals and their responses are now being considered by my right honourable friend. Under the proposals, entitlement to a badge will in future be confined to recipients of mobility allowance, the blind, those using vehicles supplied by Government departments or receiving grants towards their own vehicles, and to other people with a permanent and substantial disability which causes very considerable difficulty in walking. This should simplify the task of issuing authorities because, apart from the last category, where we would expect medical advice to be sought in the more difficult cases, entitlement would be virtually automatic.

It is intended that the regulations will also provide for the introduction of a new design of badge with the date of expiry made much more prominent. The new design should make it much easier for disabled people to use the adhesive containers which we are asking local authorities to supply; and for the police and traffic wardens to spot badges that have expired.

As I said earlier, the regulations will also strengthen the powers of local authorities to refuse to renew a badge and to require the return of an existing badge where the holder has persistently abused the concessions. The vast majority of badge holders recognise that, apart from the privileges involved, the orange badge also carries an obligation to obey the rules, and it is only right that those people who persistently abuse the concessions or allow able-bodied people to use their badges should be penalised. We appreciate, however, that loss of a badge may be a very serious blow to some disabled people. Authorities will therefore be advised to exercise their powers with restraint and in all cases to warn the individual concerned about the likely consequences of his actions.

In addition to these changes, it is also proposed to increase the discretionary fee which local authorities may charge for issuing a badge from £1 to £2. The present fee, which is intended to recoup some of the cost of administering the scheme, has remained at £1 since 1975 and, given that the badge remains valid for three years, we consider that the proposed increase is not unreasonable. As I have said, responses to the consultation on the draft regulations are being considered by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and I cannot, of course, anticipate his decision on the details. I can, however, assure the House that all the points made here today will be carefully considered before any final decisions are made.

Here, I must say how opportune it is that my noble friend should have proposed the debate this evening as it is the intention to make the regulations fairly soon. Even after they are made of course it will take a few months for them to come into operation. This is to give local authorities the opportunity to adjust to the changes and to acquire supplies of new badges and adhesive containers.

If I may now turn to one or two specific proposals that have been made during the course of the debate, my noble friend Baroness Gardner, the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton all suggested that there should be separate and distinctive badges for drivers and passengers. This is a suggestion that has been made on previous occasions in response to consultation on the orange badge scheme and it is fair to say it has some measure of support.

There are arguments either way. In favour of the suggestion it has been said that separate badges would deter able bodied drivers from taking advantage of the concessions when they are not using the car on behalf of a disabled passenger and that it would be easier for the police and traffic wardens to identify offenders.

Against this, it is not uncommon for some disabled drivers to travel as passengers in other people's cars. They would qualify for both badges thus increasing the number of badges in circulation and perhaps even the scope for abuse. Moreover, there are doubts about whether the proposal would really aid enforcement as in many cases the police would still have to wait by an empty vehicle until the driver returned in order to establish identity. It should then be fairly easy under the present system to check whether the driver is the person named on the badge.

I understand that the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled have expressed strong opposition to the proposal, partly because they see the introduction of a two-tier system as the first step on the road towards reduced concessions for passengers. On balance, at the moment the department consider that the present arrangements provide a useful flexibility and we have not felt justified in including the proposal for separate badges in our package.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, mentioned the Westminster white badge scheme. This is a success story and the method has been considered. I was also very interested in her informed remarks on central London parking. However, as we are getting more international—which I shall come to later—I am not at all sure whether central London parking should not be considering to become a little more national itself.

The gradation of badges with different colours was also mentioned. This was one of the points of the noble Lord, Lord Banks. We doubt whether it is necessary to distinguish between different categories of severely disabled people. Under the present rules, badges should only be issued to the blind and to people with a permanent and substantial disability which causes considerable difficulty in walking. We believe that all those people are in need of the full benefits of the parking concessions provided by the scheme. It is important that all badge holders should be seen as people who need assistance and that their needs should be respected by other road users.

Some remarks were made about the problems faced by issuing authorities. We appreciate that authorities have a difficult task in identifying those who are entitled to badges, particularly where the disability of applicants is not immediately apparent. We also recognise that the authorities have to cope with traffic problems that may be caused by large numbers of cars displaying orange badges and parking on yellow lines in particular areas. The Department believe that the changes we have in mind should greatly ease these problems.

The new eligibility criteria should make it easier for authorities to ensure that badges go only to those who really need them and the measures to tackle misuse of badges should deter able-bodied people from taking advantage of the concessions. This should reduced the amount of yellow line parking and thus assist other road users. Additionally, we shall be giving authorities comprehensive advice on how the rules should be administered, and we believe that this will ensure a more uniform approach throughout the country.

So far as parking is concerned, particularly in central London—and this was again raised by my noble friend Lady Gardner—we recognise that there is far too much illegal parking in London. It hampers access and contributes to congestion. The House has an opportunity to debate this issue next Wednesday, so I do not propose to say very much tonight. I can assure the noble Baroness that considerable efforts are being made by the Metropolitan Police to recruit more wardens, and numbers are gradually increasing. Until full establishment is reached, it is rather academic to discuss the ideal number of wardens, but establishment will be kept under review in the light of operating experience as numbers grow. It is essential to the enforcement process that fixed penalty notices are effectively followed up, and legislation to improve the fixed penalty system will be brought forward this Session which will substantially strengthen the disincentives to illegal and irresponsible parking.

A word, too, on wheel clamps. As I believe the noble Baroness is aware, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is at present consulting interested organisations on the possible use of wheel clamps to immobilise illegally parked vehicles. The consultation period ended—again very aptly—yesterday, and responses from representatives of disabled people are among those being considered. I rather presume that if they are going to be rejected they will be called Denver clamps. If they are going to be accepted they will probably be called Bulldog clips, but I do not know.

So far as temporary badges are concerned, I should say that the orange badge system was from the outset designed to cater only for people with permanent disabilities. The All-Party Disablement Group would, I know, like eligibility to be extended to other groups such as those who have had an arm amputation, those who have difficulty in carrying, or perhaps the mentally-handicapped. The scheme is, however, under considerable pressure and any extension would, I believe, lead to claims from other groups such as epileptics and agoraphobics.

Any considerable extension of a scheme with about half a million of people already in receipt of badges could well make it less workable. We did consider a system of progressive warnings. But, as I said earlier, we believe that it is better to ask local authorities to have the final say on withdrawal rather than make any system of progressive warning law.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, I should say that the design of a badge and the information to be included is prescribed by regulations and is not linked to the discretion of local councils.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am afraid I was trying to give a very brief account of what had happened since the Act of 1970. What is happening now is much better than what was happening in the 1970s. The earlier regulations in various parts of the country did not originally require this or the local authorities were not carrying it out.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I am sure that he will find that, when the new regulations are in force, the system will be even more improved. Before the regulations do come into force, local authorities will be given comprehensive guidelines. I have noted Lord Campbell of Croy's five points. I will ensure that they are taken into consideration. They will be asked to exercise restraint in issuing badges and to ensure that badges go only to people who genuinely come within the prescribed criteria. They will also be asked to discontinue the issue of rear badges which have given rise to a good deal of complaint.

Here perhaps I could say a word to my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton. The point is that the rear window badge will mean "invalid" so far as parking attendants are concerned. Having listened to her plea tonight, I cannot really see why there should not still be some sign in a rear window which would not of course have any validity when it comes to parking or in law. I will bring her remarks to the attention of the department.

As the House will appreciate, there are conflicting interests in this field and we recognise that the proposals may not please everyone. The problem has been to strike a fair balance between the needs of disabled people and other road users. We believe that the measures proposed go a fair way towards doing this and that they will achieve a wide measure of support, particularly among disabled people.

Finally, it may assist the House to know of the measures recently announced by my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, designed to help orange badge-holders with their parking problems when they take their cars to other European countries. In future, holders of orange badges who visit countries which provide parking concessions for their own disabled citizens will be able to take advantage of the concessions provided by the host country by displaying their orange badge. The concessions vary from one country to another but they usually allow for an extension of the time limit where waiting is restricted and an entitlement to use special parking places reserved for disabled people. This international recognition of the orange badge follows a recommendation of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport that member countries operating national schemes of parking concessions, should make reciprocal arrangements for disabled people. Some 12 countries are taking part in the exercise, which should be of considerable benefit to orange badge-holders who travel abroad on business or pleasure. The arrangements have also been extended to Northern Ireland so that the separate orange badge scheme operating there is now open to badge-holders from Great Britain. Full details of the concessions in the participating countries have been made available to disabled and motoring organisations.

The international co-operation which has enabled these arrangements to be achieved shows a widespread willingness to cater for the needs of disabled people throughout Europe. The awareness of the problems they face transcends national boundaries and the measures mark the continuing efforts to help the disabled which the International Year of Disabled People fostered. I hope that this international spirit will continue to flourish and that our efforts to improve the orange badge scheme at home will lead to a fair and balanced scheme which other countries will wish to emulate.

May I reiterate before closing that all the comments and suggestions made in this debate are in time for consideration with regard to the regulations and guidelines, and will indeed be carefully processed. The orange badge scheme represents an ongoing commitment to the disabled and I hope that what I have said tonight will underline the Government's continuing interest.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down—I know he has given a very detailed reply to the various points already—is he able to comment on the point which has been raised regarding the two hours restriction on parking? This would appear to to be most unreasonable and must present problems, particularly when attending places of entertainment.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I have not actually replied to it because, as I said before, I am not quite sure what the regulations do contain; but what has been said tonight will be taken into account and if it is not in and if it could be in, then it will be in.