HL Deb 26 May 1982 vol 430 cc1177-90

Debate resumed.

4.17 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, we now return to the perhaps slightly mundane debate that we are having following my noble friend's report this afternoon. However, we are in the middle of the debate and it is my turn to continue with thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for initiating the debate on what I think is an excellent report produced by the Department of Transport. I should also like to congratulate them very much on the work that they have done. It has not been my pleasure many times before to congratulate them, but certainly it is so this afternoon, despite the fact that unfortunately I was unable to go to the conference that has been referred to previously.

We are discussing people who perhaps are classed as one category, but that category can be broken down into the deaf, the blind, those who walk with difficulty and those who are in wheelchairs. I should personally have also liked to include some of our senior citizens, because they have just as many problems travelling on this country's transport as those of us who are disabled.

As regards the blind, I was very interested to see the way in which Nottingham in particular is helping those who are blind by taking them to the bus shelters and giving them a potted version of how to cope on the buses. However, it seemed to me, from reading the list, that those north of Potters Bar—it is usually north of Potters Bar—are catered for and those south of Potters Bar perhaps are not catered for.

I have tried on many occasions to travel on British Rail. If we need a wheelchair we are asked to make a request for it 48 hours in advance, which we try to do if, by any chance, we can get through on the telephone, which is very often so busy that we cannot organise it. If we are lucky we turn up in a car, and if we are very lucky and find somewhere to park it which will not lead to our car being towed away, we then ask for a wheelchair. However, it is always in use, it is "the one that is in use" which makes it so difficult. Perhaps one might ask British Rail to have one more chair at each station and perhaps even that chair might not quite so obviously have come out of the ark. Once one has got onto a train and if one has any incapacity of any sort, then of course it is impossible to move. The lavatories one cannot get at; the food one cannot get at, because it is quite impossible to move oneself on a moving train.

For my part, I suppose that all journeys could be possible if I was prepared to face a nightmare. But I am not, and so I do not use the trains. Wheelchairs have been referred to this afternoon. I should like to suggest that a moveable ramp should be kept in the guard's van similar to those which, in certain parts of your Lordships' House, have proved very effective for those Members in wheelchairs. So much for British Rail.

I turn to buses. The height of steps has made it impossible certainly for me in the last 30 years to use buses, much as I should like to. Then there is the acceleration of drivers. We all know how good bus drivers are, but perhaps it would be possible for the conductor to make the driver aware that someone who has a problem in keeping his or her balance is trying to board the bus, and for him to wait until that person is sitting down. The conductor could perhaps be asked not to start the bus until any handicapped person is firmly seated.

I turn to taxis. I am delighted that the new taxis will accommodate wheelchairs. I should like to suggest that every taxi driver has a folding ramp with self-locking hinges; it should be easily portable and easily put down. For those who cannot devise such an article, I am sure that our noble friend Lord Snowdon would easily find it possible to engineer such a folding ramp.

Therefore, as I travel round the country a great deal I have to use a car, and, as the noble Baroness said, very expensive it is too. I should also like to support what she said, in that it is quite unsafe for anyone in a wheelchair to get out on a motorway. If a wheelchair driver breaks down, I do not suggest that a pennant—and I have no idea how they work—should be used, but I suggest that a brightly coloured sign which has suction pads on it should be supplied to disabled drivers. Without opening the car door the disabled driver could put the suction padded sign onto his roof, onto the bonnet or, indeed, on to the driver's door. If it was large enough and brightly coloured enough and if the public were well educated as regards these signs, I think that would help disabled wheelchair drivers very much indeed.

I come to the Orange Badge Scheme and I want to ask my noble friend the Minister when this will be introduced. Those of us who have problems in filling our cars at petrol stations—which certainly affects me—will perhaps have trouble in trying to attract the attention of the petrol station staff to the fact that we cannot operate a pump ourselves and desire some help. At the moment I use the yellow card, which I think is to be withdrawn. If we have only a small disc on the side of our windscreen, we might still have difficulty in attracting the attention of the garage attendant. If one encounters problems, then one is very much delayed.

I have very little more to say, but, as I started with congratulations, I should like to finish by paying a tribute which is very heartfelt. As the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said, it is a tribute to those people whose imagination and engineering skills have made driving possible for those of us who are disabled. I have driven cars all over the Continent during the last 30 years though I have lost the use of one leg. I am now informed that those young people who suffered from the thalidomide problem many years ago and who have very grave disabilities are now aged 17 plus, and therefore able to drive. Some of them, with just little fingers outside their shoulders and no arms at all, are now able to drive. It is a most wonderful piece of engineering and imaginative skill on the part of those whose attention was drawn to the fact that these people want to be as independent as we are. I wanted to take this opportunity to pay my tribute to those people this afternoon.

4.26 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I, too, should like to add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for giving us the opportunity today to discuss the Department of Transport's report, Transport without Handicap. I was one of the people who attended the conference in March 1981 and I should like to say that the Department of Transport made the conference and reception into a very enjoyable and useful exercise. This debate, the conference and report, because of the shortage of time, only allows a very few points to be skimmed over.

My first point is to query the title, Transport without Handicap. As every severely disabled person knows only too well, if every means of transport was perfect for their disability, even this would not remove many other factors of disability. There is far more to disability than just getting from A to B. But the report has got it right when it says that it is there for people to use as a basis for taking up points with the department, operators, manufacturers, authorities and users. It is fulfilling this country's commitment to the aims of IYDP—integration and participation. Without suitable means of getting about many disabled people would be prisoners. The department is calling a meeting next month for further discussion by interested bodies on this subject, and this is most welcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, had put his name down to speak in this important debate. He desperately wanted to speak in it. Unfortunately, the noble Lord is at present in the Westminster Hospital undergoing investigations. Last week the noble Lord had to go to an out-patients appointment at the Westminster Hospital. He was not there for long, but had to park his car, which had a disabled sticker on it, near the hospital. When he came out he had a parking ticket. If health districts and local authorities do not provide parking places for disabled patients near to hospitals, they are putting patients under extra stress and making their condition worse.

The year 1982 started for me as the most difficult period I have ever experienced with transportation since I became disabled. First, I was snowed-in at home in Yorkshire. Travelling to your Lordships' House for our consideration of the Mental Health Bill became a nightmare because of the unpredictable train strikes, which meant that I had to spend all week in London. The motorway crashes on the M.1 made driving unwise. I became marooned in London in a blizzard and could get no hire car or taxi to venture to Kings Cross station. In the end, a 17-year-old Spanish waiter from the hotel where I stayed took me in his car. This shows the extra handicap a disabled person has to put up with when weather conditions are bad, when he or she cannot use the tube. We are very restricted at times and need the goodwill and kindness of such people as the young Spanish boy. When I arrived in York I found the city under water. It is not easy to leave one's car in a hurry when paralysed.

Many of us who use the orange badges are very disappointed that the Government have not acted more decisively. I feel there should be more individual identification. Only yesterday one of your Lordships told me that he saw three young men get out of a car with an orange badge and leave it on a yellow line on London Bridge and go into a pub. If I come to London with my car now, I cannot park it near where I stay. I used to be able to do so. It is impossible to compete for parking meters with a nearby casino, the kerbs are too high and the road is too dangerous to cross. I have to leave my car at your Lordships' House and take a taxi. The best solution is not to become frustrated as this might cause hypertension, leading to a stroke and more disablement.

The 125 trains are a great improvement, but even with improved trains and portable ramps, which are excellent, helpful, reliable porters are essential. I have found the majority of porters to be splendid, and I thank those at King's Cross. York and Darlington, who give me such excellent help on and off the trains. Travelling to Edinburgh I found that this service did not seem to be so well organised in Scotland as it is in England, and it illustrated to me the importance of reliable manpower and a reliable system, otherwise getting on and off a train is impossible.

Two seats of the 125 trains in the first-class coach now lift out, and with a rail card one can travel for the same as a second-class ticket. Could this service be extended to overseas visitors should they be disabled and have to travel by train using a wheelchair? I think it would be a very good advertisement, and a little goodwill towards other nations is always well worth spending on.

At many stations there are now suitable lavatories, but all stations should have them, as has already been stressed in this debate. King's Cross has a good example of a well thought out suitable lavatory. One of the advisers to British Rail who is himself a disabled person and using a wheelchair was discussing this need at Waterloo Station when he found that there was no such facility. At that very moment a young disabled man passed by in a hurry looking for a lavatory. The adviser had been told that one would be built in a year's time. "I don't think it should wait that long", he said. So a suitable Porta-loo is now serving this need at Waterloo. This shows how important it is to have some disabled advisers on various committees.

I have seen a great improvement in the facilities at airports for disabled people. It is important that they should be able to stay in their own wheelchairs for as long as possible before boarding, as the chairs are fitted for them and only the users of wheelchairs really understand how important this is. I have found that the staff of private airlines seeem to be more helpful and considerate to the needs of individuals than BA. This seems a pity. One becomes very aware of attitudes, and these make all the difference.

Section 3 of the Report, Disabled Motorists and Pedestrians, should have included electric wheelchairs. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, I think is a most understanding Minister, and I hope we can make some real progress in clearing some uncertainties and make available further mobility for some very disabled people. The more severe the disability the more mechanisation is needed, and the more difficult it is to transfer from wheelchairs.

I have been in contact with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Some of their members, like high tetraplegics (neck injuries), need electric wheelchairs for indoor and outdoor use. If the disability is such that an electric chair is the only way to achieve independence and mobility, then they should have one. At the moment some people get them and some people do not. The law says that an electric chair can go on the pavement if it does not exceed 4 mph. This seems reasonable. But some people, especially those who live in the country, need a chair to go along the road and across farmland. This should be stronger and faster. I have yet to find an electric chair which is better than the Stanley Model 44, which may have been built at the time of the First World War. It is a splendid vehicle, though it may look old-fashioned. I do not think it is now being manufactured.

I hope that the Minister will look into the whole field of electric wheelchairs. There is an excellent outdoor wheelchair insurance policy, which costs £10, available from Young and Company Limited of Harrow, I am told. Perhaps it would be possible for the recipient of an outdoor wheelchair from the DHSS to pay their own insurance premium, and to make it a condition of having the chair.

I have just received a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport, David Howell, in answer to one of mine about electrical invalid carriages on the highway. I still do not think that firms that sell invalid carriages, or the people who use them, are clear on these points. I quote from a sentence of the letter: However, there are some controls over their use. They must have an efficient braking system and if they use the road at night, other than to cross a carriageway in the quickest manner practicable, they must display a white light at the front and a red light and red reflectors at the rear". Do not accidents happen in a flash of a second? I think we must clarify this matter, and hopefully find a safe and satisfactory solution for all concerned.

I have been one of the people who has been helping with the dispensing of the money to the disabled organisations from the Royal Wedding Jubilee Trust under the excellent chairmanship of Lady Marre. The overwhelming requests seem to come from disabled groups trying to raise money for transportation of disabled people by adapted mini-buses, but also there were requests from people who would like a wider choice of adapted cars on the motability scheme. There are some people who find transfer from a wheelchair impossible but can still drive if they remain in a wheelchair. I hope motability will be flexible to the needs of disabled people, and extend their choice to vehicles which are now coming on the market.

I had a few days ago a letter about the worry of the increasing number of turnstiles and revolving doors, which are not suitable for disabled people in wheelchairs, people walking on crutches, people who are frail, or pregnant mothers. These are still being built at bus stations and railway stations. The needs of disabled people are many and varied. It is most encouraging that the Department of Transport is proving to be so helpful. I hope they will encourage the new taxi which carries a ramp, which we saw demonstrated at the conference. Progress must be maintained. The question to ask is, "Can disabled people go where you go?"

4.39 p.m.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, it is with pleasure that I rise to support Lady Stedman's Motion regarding the Department of Transport report, Transport Without Handicap. This report is most encouraging, and the conference that the department ran was a thoroughly good one. The point behind this conference subject matter can be put in this way: care for the disabled is to help them to independence as far as the disability allows, rather than care that relies on the disabled being completely dependent on the able. This is the heartening fact that arises from the Department of Transport's report. The mind and conscience have been stirred to think positively about seeing how we can help the disabled move about more positively and with greater ease. That is necessary if they are to contribute to life as they would wish, for they have abilities to give to enrich life.

Further study must be given to providing a means for adequate signs for giving information and announcements. Staff should be given training to help the disabled, such as the deaf or hard of hearing. There should be a more widespread use of ramps, and people should avoid the unnecessary placing of obstructions in the way of blind people, even vehicles parked on pavements. At any kind of terminal, consideration should be given to the disabled. Some bus companies now follow the practice of giving blind people a conducted tour of buses so that they may have a sense of their construction and structure. That should become more widespread because the step structure of buses, or any vehicle, needs study. The needs of the disabled in shopping precincts are a sphere for fuller investigation, as are public buildings such as libraries.

We give all support to the Motability Scheme, as reported in The Times on 28th December 1981 and the Sunday Telegraph on 1st November 1981, the former article being headed: The road to help 10,000 disabled drivers". The latter article was headed: A new dimension for disabled drivers", and said: Motability will pay maintenance and service costs and the whole of the first-year insurance premium … on Minis, and £80 out of £148 on the others". I quote from a Ministry of Health press release, reference 81/269: Ministers welcome Motability's new scheme. Department of Health and Social Security Ministers today gave an enthusiastic welcome to a new Motability scheme announced this afternoon at the Motorfair at Earl's Court in London to enable disabled people to use their mobility allowance to acquire good used cars on hire purchase". The uprating of the mobility allownace is good, as announced in the statement prepared pursuant to Section 37A(4) of the Social Security Act 1975, as amended by Section 3(2) of the Social Security Act 1979. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, said following a reply from my noble friend Lord Cullen to a Question of hers about the mobility allowance: Is my noble friend the Minister aware that this really is a most welcome increase, and that freeing the allowance from tax will benefit very many disabled people who go out to work and have other taxable income? Is he further aware that in this previously deprived area, the rise means that by November, the mobility allowance will have been increased by over 80 per cent. by the present Government, though, sadly, deprivation remains for those debarred the scheme on grounds of age?"—[Official Report, 5/4/82; col. 7.] The proposed improvements to the Orange Badge Scheme are a necessity, as has been pointed out in debates and in Questions. A Department of Transport press notice headed, "Orange badge scheme—proposed improvements", of July 1981, reference No. 224, stated: The Orange Badge Scheme is an extremely valuable aid to mobility for the disabled, which allows certain exemptions from parking regulations for vehicles carrying disabled and blind people who would otherwise have great difficulty in making important visits by car. However, the Government has been concerned by evidence of growing abuse of the scheme and misuse of the badges by able-bodied people. This leads to unnecessary proliferation of the badges and traffic congestion for other motorists. Misuse also tends to bring the whole scheme into disrepute. This puts at risk the sympathetic treatment and the benefits which disabled people should expect from it". It is a good thing that several countries are taking part in reciprocal arrangements in connection with the scheme. We remember what my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes said when asking her Question on the Orange Badge Scheme. Her Question was: 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". In that debate she said: 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". We also remember the speech of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy in that same debate, when he said: 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… 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… Thirdly, the badge must be removable when the disabled person is not using the vehicle ".—[Official Report, 21/1/82; cols. 728–9, 736.] As others have said, it should be a removable badge. British Railcards for the disabled, and BR's efforts to help the disabled to travel, are good. The Department of Transport's pamphlet Door to Door is also good. We hope that the drive in the subject will continue to advance from the sure base that has been laid. It is therefore with pleasure that I support the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Somers

My Lords, I apologise for not having put my name on the list of speakers, but I promise not to delay the House for long. I wish simply to comment on the old three-wheeler car with which we are all familiar. I hope the Ministry of Transport will see that that vehicle is gradually phased out and is replaced by a four-wheeler. There is no mechanical reason why the car should not be completely similar, except that it has two wheels in front instead of one. There is no doubt that, on a slippery surface, one wheel, particularly when it is the steering wheel, is not very safe.

There is another reason. It is a little demoralising for a disabled person to be driving a car which looks entirely different from others and is recognisable at once as an invalid car. I think that it would do much for the morale of a disabled person—and here I am speaking, of course, without experience—if the car that he was driving looked like other cars, at any rate from the exterior even though inside the controls might be entirely different. I hope that that will be a possibility.

4.50 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in expressing gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for raising this subject this afternoon and for the thorough and helpful way in which she introduced it. I shall of course convey her thanks to Sir Peter Baldwin and others for what the department is doing. I also very much welcome the contributions from other speakers to what has been a well-informed and wide-ranging debate. We have this afternoon heard many ideas and suggestions, all of which will continue to stimulate the department. I shall comment on as many of them as I can in the short time available, but I assure the House that the Government will carefully consider everything that has been said. I should like to extend my good wishes to my noble friend Lord Crawshaw and I hope that we shall soon see him again in the Chamber.

While listening to some of the remarks during the debate, I wondered whether perhaps I am not slightly "unable" myself, since I, too, find railway "loos" almost impossible to get into. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, I used to live fairly near a casino in London and I, too, could not park anywhere near it. I feel that a number of us suffer from these kind of problems.

Two main themes have emerged this afternoon. The first is that in recent years a great deal of progress has been made in easing the transport problems of disabled people; and, secondly, there is still much to be done if the concept of "transport without handicap" is to become a reality. That was a point made by my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox.

The Action Programme drawn up last year by the Department of Transport gives an idea of just how much there is to do. The programme sets out the most significant points which emerged from the conference. The conference was one of the major contributions by the Department of Transport to the International Year of Disabled People. We felt that last year was the time to stimulate greater awareness of the problems which disabled people face, as well as to focus attention on the need and the scope for improvement.

In addition to the conference, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman mentioned, the department also organised a national rally for disabled drivers, which was held at Silverstone, and with the help of the National Bus Company a touring exhibition on transport for disabled people was mounted in six buses which toured the whole of the United Kingdom last summer. We believe that it was visited by over a quarter of a million people.

If last year was the time to stimulate awareness, then this year is the time to build on that foundation of awareness with solid and practical efforts at improvement and innovation. Much progress has been made. The items set out in the Action Programme are illustrative of the major areas of concern for disabled people in the transport field and of the way in which developments are moving.

Noble Lords will know that many of the suggestions listed are matters which Government themselves cannot directly undertake. The final responsibility for making public transport more accessible to disabled people must rest with the transport operators themselves. But that is not to say that there is no role for the Government. Here, perhaps I can answer to a degree one of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The Transport without Handicap Conference, and the Action Programme, showed just how much can be achieved simply by bringing together those who provide transport and those who use it, or would like to use it.

As we have heard this afternoon, both British Rail and the National Bus Company have consultants specifically to advise them on meeting the needs of disabled travellers, as well as active and high-level advisory groups on disability. A number of noble Lords paid tribute to British Rail this afternoon. I took note of what the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said about the mentally disabled and will again underline the point to British Rail. The British Airports Authority is one of a number of organisations which has established close links with representatives of blind and deaf people, and wheelchair users. Steps like these have helped to ensure that disabled people are given proper consideration as an important section of the travelling public.

As well as these national groups, closer contacts between operators and disabled people have also led to many useful initiatives. Some of the National Bus Company's subsidiaries, for example, have worked closely with local groups to convert buses and coaches to carry wheelchairs, while others have arranged for groups of blind people to visit their local bus depot to get to know the layout of the different types of vehicle. British Rail, with their disabled person's rail card, have now opened up the possibility of rail travel to many more disabled people. A number of practical steps are being taken to make both air and sea travel easier for disabled people. London Transport has held a series of seminars with disabled people to listen to views about improving the bus and underground system. Nor are these kind of advances confined to the biggest operators. Local Passenger Transport Executives and municipal operators in many parts of the country are taking a greater interest in making their services accessible to the whole community, and not just to those members of it who happen to be able bodied.

I have mentioned briefly the contribution that public transport operators are making to easing the transport problems of disabled people. Perhaps I may now turn to talk about sonic of the schemes in which the Department of Transport is most directly involved.

One of the most important and fundamental points which emerged from the conference is that disabled people have to be able, literally, to get from door to door. It is no use telling a disabled person, for example, that he or she can ride in his or her wheelchair on a train—and on many Inter-City trains that can now be done—if he or she cannot get from home to the railway station, or vice versa. This point is highlighted in London, for instance, where the main problem for a person confined to a wheelchair can be in getting from one main line station to another.

A number of speakers mentioned the new taxi. The Department of Transport has tackled this problem by working with Carbodies Ltd. which produces the famous black taxi. Carbodies has designed a replacement for the existing model and, by working closely with the firm from the outset and providing financial assistance, the department has been able to ensure that the new vehicle, as a standard feature, has the capacity to carry a passenger in a wheelchair. That means that, as the existing taxi fleet is gradually replaced, more and more taxis in London and other major cities will be able to give wheelchair users greater freedom to travel. In order to make sure that the new design is right for disabled people before Carbodies start production, the department has bought the first two prototypes and is putting them into experimental service, where they will be tested by a wide range of people with different disabilities. I understand that the new Carbodies taxi will be provided with a ramp to make it easier for wheelchair passengers to board.

Another way of helping to make it possible for disabled people to get from door to door is to make it easier to find out exactly what transport facilities are available. One of the points made in the Action Programme is that there is a need for such information to be made available to elderly and disabled people.

The Department of Transport has published its answer, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned. It is a booklet called, Door to Door. I am sorry that the two noble Baronesses had not seen a copy; but they have now been reading my copy, and I shall ensure that a copy is available to each of them. The booklet is a national guide to transport for elderly and disabled people. The guide is intended as a handbook for anyone who finds it difficult to get about or who simply does not know what is available. It covers a wide range of topics from basic information about aids and benefits, to details about help and facilities available to disabled people on all forms of public transport. The department is distributing the guide—1million copies—free of charge. There is a big demand for it. I understand that some of the large stores in the country are handing it out free to shoppers. I hope that it will make travel easier for a great many people. It may even encourage some of those who think of themselves as housebound to venture out. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked a specific point about local guides. I understand that about 20 local guides are in preparation, or are being considered, and we hope that the publicity given to the national guide will prompt more guides.

I now turn to the measures which the Government are taking to try to help those disabled people who prefer the independence of their own cars. As with public transport, the Government's efforts on behalf of disabled motorists—and those who would like to drive—are intended to sustain and build upon the momentum which was generated by the International Year of Disabled People; and here again, much of the department's work stems from what was learnt at the Transport Without Handicap Conference. Incidentally—and I think the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, mentioned this—it is a fact that every one of the suggestions in the Action Programme relating to disabled motorists has been or is being acted upon.

My Lords, great progress has been made in recent years in making it possible for disabled people to drive the same sort of cars as the rest of us. The old invalid three-wheelers which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, mentioned are no longer produced. Instead we have the motability scheme which allows disabled people to put their weekly mobility allowance towards the cost of leasing a suitably adapted car or buying one on hire purchase. My noble friend Lord Milverton mentioned this too.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made some interesting points and I would like to say that we will of course take them into account. I will read with care what the noble Lord has said. I understand that all the interested parties are still talking on this particular subject, and obviously will continue to do so. There is now a wide range of ingenious adaptations which make it possible for even severely disabled people to drive standard production cars—and to drive them skilfully and safely.

However, one of the problems for disabled motorists which was brought out at the conference is the difficulty in finding out which of the many cars and adaptations on the market would suit them best. The Department of Transport is tackling this problem by trying to help establish at the Road Research Laboratory at Crowthorne in Berkshire a facility where disabled people who want to drive can go to be assessed and to try out, away from the public road, a range of different vehicles and types of equipment. This is an ambitious project and one in which the disabled motoring organisations are very closely involved with the department. It may take some time to achieve, but a start has been made.

Perhaps I could move on to the disabled person who has bought his own car. One of the greatest problems he faces, as we have heard today, is when his car breaks down. This could be a bad enough experience for any driver, but for a disabled person who is unable to leave his vehicle to call for help, the problem can be far more serious. To try to make life easier for the disabled motorist who has the misfortune to break down, the Department of Transport has helped to design and publicise a small flag, a new "Help" pennant, which a disabled driver can attach to his car window to attract attention. I understand that this "Help" pennant is visible both from the front and the rear. "Help" pennants have been available for some time but none has been fully effective, particularly after dark, and their significance does not seem to have been widely recognised by other drivers.

The department has tackled both these problems, first by working with the Cleveland Spastics Works Centre to produce a more effective design and, second, with the help of the motoring organisations, by publicising the pennant and asking the motoring public to respond and offer help if they see one. The new pennant should be of particular help to disabled drivers on motorways where the problem of calling for help can be most acute. I am well aware from what the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilion, said that she would much prefer her yellow badge in the back but I hope the noble Baroness will give this new pennant a chance.

My Lords, with all the heavy traffic noise motorways can also present problems to drivers who are hard of hearing and who need to use the emergency telephones. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, stole most of my speech in her opening remarks, and stole this point as well. Following a suggestion at the Transport Without Handicap Conference, the department, with the help of the British Association of the Hard of Hearing, carried out some experiments with inductive couplers. These are devices which are fitted into telephones to enable people who wear hearing aids to tune in direct to the telephone signal and cut out background noise. As a result of these trials, the department is installing inductive couplers in all 3,000 motorway emergency telephones in England, which should be of real benefit to the many drivers who use hearing aids and fear to use the motorways. These should be in position by the end of the year.

If I may now turn to one other aspect of motoring which can cause a particular problem for disabled people, which has been much mentioned this afternoon—parking. The Action Programme refers to the need to tighten up on the Orange Badge Scheme which, unfortunately, has been abused very considerably in recent years and our package to cope with this problem we believe will be effective. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, will give it a good chance. The package of measures is designed to concentrate the provision on those with the greatest need and to eliminate the scope for abuse. This package was announced by the Government last July.

One of the most important measures which came into force last October is the creation of a separate offence carrying a maximum penalty of £200 for the use an orange badge by anyone not entitled to hold it. The Government intend to introduce the other new regulations soon. We are also having talks with the central London authorities who have schemes of their own with the aim of trying to convince them to join the Orange Badge Scheme. I mentioned once before when speaking at this Box that this scheme is now being broadened to 12 other countries and the moves in this direction are going well at the same time.

The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, asked about wheel clamps. These have only just been promoted in the Transport Bill and have yet to be discussed in this House. I am sure the noble Lady will raise the point again there. My understanding at the moment is that cars with orange badges will not be exempt from the proposals, but the police will be asked to exercise their discretion. But it is early days yet.

Mention was made of the Disabled Persons Act 1981 and the increase in penalties for the able-bodied people. The Department of Transport is encouraging local authorities to provide reserved parking places for disabled people. The decision is clearly for the authorities themselves in the light of local circumstances. A circular will shortly be issued to local authorities which, inter alia, will ask local authorities to introduce transport adhesive containers so that badges can easily be removed from the windscreen when the car is not in use by a disabled person.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about Dial-a-ride. We are monitoring, as I think he knows, a Dial-a-ride scheme in Reading to see if it offers an effective service for disabled and other people, and following that we will promote it if the tests are good. On the subject of self-service filling stations, the Department of Transport is looking at this problem with the help of the disabled drivers, the motoring trade and the oil industry.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, raised the question of electric wheelchairs. This subject obviously needs close consideration. As I understand the position, they do not have to have lights provided that they do not go more than four miles per hour. I was just wondering if any noble Lords had ever tested the speed of the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, when going down these corridors to make sure she was within this restriction! My immediate reaction is to wonder how effective front and rear lights would be when a wheelchair is crossing the road at right angles to oncoming traffic, but I will write to the noble Baroness after we have done some research. Both motability and the allowance are flexible and will be of great help to people in the purchase of their cars. One of the most important measures which came into force last October was the fine and that I have already spoken to. While we regard every effort to make transport easier for disabled people as a high priority, we must remember that transport is itself all too often the cause of disabling accidents. I hope and believe that the Government measures to introduce the compulsory wearing of seat belts later this year will play a significant part in reducing the number of tragic disabling accidents.

My Lords, I have tried to illustrate this afternoon something of the scope and variety of initiatives which have sprung, either directly or indirectly, from the Transport Without Handicap Conference. But more important than any one single development is the fact that an awareness and a recognition of the needs of disabled people is becoming part of the everyday thinking and planning of all those who are concerned with transport. In launching the Action Programme last November my right honourable friend the Secretary of State pledged his department's support for the aims of the International Year of Disabled People, not just for 1981, but as an integral part of transport policy. My Lords, the Government intend to honour that pledge.

Baroness Steadman

My Lords, I should like to express my thanks to those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate this afternoon. I am sorry that some of my colleagues have not got the booklet Door to Door. Perhaps the Minister can make arrangements, not only for the two noble Baronesses to have them but perhaps for a supply to be made available in our Printed Paper Office, in the hope that other people might also want to make use of them. I make no apologies for having some of the same thoughts and ideas as the Minister. If they are good ones, it does not hurt to say them twice. We can then, perhaps, get them over, whereas we might not if they are said only once. I hope that this debate has helped to keep alive the spirit of the International Year of Disabled People. I hope, too, that we in this House will not let it be just a one-off thing.

I should like to conclude the debate with a quotation from the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport at that conference, when Sir Peter Baldwin said: … this Conference is an attempt to step out from what we would normally be doing to consider very carefully who we are doing it for. We are, of course, doing it for fifty million people, including, with absolute equality, those who happen to be disabled, and therefore it matters very much to have this kind of interchange … When we try to take up this matter of service one might say that the fuel is the heart, and that intelligence provides the engine. But all our opportunities provide a vehicle, and the destination that we want is the richest happiness of a community free and able to associate together in all the variety of life". My Lords, if we have done something today to help achieve that aim, then I am satisfied. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.