§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Croy rose to call attention to the case for further improvement in the national schemes for the parking of vehicles used by handicapped people, in the interest of both the general public and severely disabled people; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I regard this as a subject of concern not only to those disabled people who have serious mobility problems but also to the general public and in particular to motorists and the inhabitants of towns and cities. My theme is that so far as possible parking privileges for appropriate people with physical handicaps should be uniform throughout the country; also that the system should be sensible, fair, not too difficult to administer and, above all, not open to abuse.683
§ If the badges can be used casually and fraudulently by able-bodied people, the system will fall into disrepute and lose the confidence of the public. Furthermore, if eligibility is extended to people who can clearly walk well enough, again the scheme will be discredited because the consequent congestion will justifiably annoy and disrupt the lives of those who live and work in urban areas.
§ I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for returning to this subject after four years. I initiated the last debate on 15th February 1983, when we were able to consider the 1982 regulations on orange badges which were then about to enter into force. My connection goes back much further. In the other place in 1969 I was a sponsor of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill which became the 1970 Act. Within a few weeks of enactment there was a change of government and I was a Minister. As Secretary of State for Scotland I was involved in putting into effect the parking provisions in that Act, among others.
§ In 1981 I was also the chairman for Scotland of the International Year of Disabled People. During that year there were opportunities to ventilate a number of points concerning the parking schemes. The most important of those points were included in the 1982 regulations. During the international year quite a lot of consideration was also given to parking at airports. There was a one-day conference arranged by the British Airports Authority at Gatwick which I attended. I must record that since that time there have been great improvements in parking facilities for disabled people at airports.
§ Coming nearer to the present time, the Government took a major initiative last August, which I wholeheartedly applaud in issuing a discussion document with some suggestions of their own on virtually all the remaining controversial points concerning disabled parking. I understand that the Government have already received many detailed replies from bodies concerned. The Government are still considering the subject so that everything that is said in this debate will be taken fully into account. Although the Government state in their document that they have tentatively made up their minds on some of the points, I trust that they are still open to argument on those points as well as others.
§ This debate is limited in time. I am lucky in having 15 minutes with which to start. For the benefit of all who follow, I can use some of that time to set out the present position and also some of the matters which need decision and action. I must stress that the subject which I am raising this afternoon is special parking privileges and not other matters affecting the mobility of disabled people; for example, problems at self-service petrol stations or breakdowns on motorways. They are important matters, but they are for discussions on another day. We shall need all the time today to deal adequately with the subject of parking schemes.
§ When the national schemes were started, based on the 1970 Act, directions and guidance were issued by central government, but the administration had to be carried out by local authorities. It was an ambitious scheme. Badges which were issued by one local 684 authority were valid in other local authority areas 200 or 300 miles away, except for central London. The central government consisted of two parts. Because of separate law and administration in Scotland the Scottish Office in the usual way briefed and guided local authorities in Scotland. England and Wales had another separate scheme. Northern Ireland introduced its scheme eight years later, because its disabled persons legislation was in 1978 and its first regulations were in 1979.
§ The separate systems from the early 1970s have continued and there are resulting anomalies north and south of the Border which are confusing for drivers. However, considering that this system was introduced in the early 1970s as a completely new concept for this country and was established quickly, it must be held to have been a success. It was certainly a great help to those handicapped people who have difficulty in walking.
§ Unfortunately, in those early days it was too easy to cheat or to misuse the badges. Except in Scotland the name did not have to appear on the badge. Many local authorities did not put names on the badges when the schemes first started. The badges were issued generously by local authorities; some were issued without very much checking. There was a rough rule of 50 per cent. disability, which was not always based on mobility and therefore the ability to walk. Above all, the worst error was that the badges were not removable. They remained on the windscreen because they were sticky and were intended to be stuck on to the windscreen. That meant when people other than the disabled person were using the car the badge was still on the windscreen. These points have been corrected in the 1982 regulations which we discussed in the debate in February 1983.
§ The new square badge which replaced the circular badge has to have a name on it. The badge lasts for three years. Any other badges stuck on the rear of a vehicle now carry no parking privileges whatever. The local authorities should be issuing transparent containers at the same time as the badges, so that the badges are easily removable. I believe that most of them have done this. The container is stuck to the windscreen. All this has been excellent progress.
§ However, we still need to concentrate on the two vital requirements in order to make the system work well and to eliminate abuse. First, the name must be clear and indelible on the badge; secondly, the badge must be removable. The badge should travel with the disabled person from car to car, if necessary, or to a taxi. It should be removed when the disabled person is not the driver or a passenger. Police and traffic wardens must be free to challenge the use of the badge, and should be encouraged to do so, when they suspect that a person is using a parking privilege with a badge and is not entitled so to do.
§ An example of blatant abuse was to be seen in that brilliantly scripted television series "Minder". Noble Lords who like me, may have become addicts of that series will remember that among the incidental small gems of the sayings and doings of Arthur (played by George Cole) was the slapping of an orange badge on to the windscreen of his Roller to assist its parking in one of his nefarious ploys. I am glad to say it should be much more difficult to get away with that now that the 685 name is required on every badge, and that it can and should be challenged. Giving a false name should be a serious offence. I hope that the Minister when he replies can tell noble Lords that the police and traffic wardens are equipped and in a position to check speedily and start prosecution proceedings when necessary.
The discussion document issued in August by the Government raises further points of rationalising and improving the system. I shall comment only on a few main points. The document reports that the number of badges being used has increased by 17 per cent. since 1983. One suspects that that includes a considerable proportion of people who do not medically require the badges. The wording of the criteria for discretionary judgment is:
a permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking".
Except for the word "permanent" which I shall discuss in a moment, I agree that that should still be the formula.
Where a medical certificate is required I suggest that it should not be the person's general practitioner who has to be the sole judge. It would be better to have an independent medical test arranged by the issuing local authority. The following letter from a doctor appeared in The Times on 1st March last year:
A 60-year-old lady came to see me this week. She and her husband have been patients of mine since 1963.
She has some difficulty in walking—she nowhere near fills the criteria, however, for an orange badge for disabled drivers, but she and her husband genuinely feel she does.
It would have been absolutely impossible to have refused this request which would have appeared to have been a total rejection of them, and therefore I agreed. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence and many people are driving round with orange badges who are not substantially disabled".
That is the main part of the letter. I fully support and sympathise with what that GP wrote, and he posed the problem very clearly.
§ The test should be mobility. Disablement of other kinds should not be a handicap to normal parking. In my opinion—and this matter is raised in the document—blind people should not automatically qualify. They cannot drive and have to be accompanied by an able-bodied person, who in most circumstances can deliver them and then park. Of course extenuating additional problems should be considered for each individual.
§ At present the orange badge applies to a disabled person either as a driver or as a passenger. The Government have suggested that there might be the letter "D" or "P" on the badge. Another suggestion is that those aged 65 and over should have a badge of a different colour than orange. Another suggestion is that there should be a photograph on the badge to help identification; and there is also the suggestion that there should be the registration number of the vehicle.
§ I do not think that these embellishments should be necessary if the name of the person is clear on the badge. The registration number can help to identify a person at a local authority office, but the person can use different motor cars; the badge travels with him. Surely the name on the badge should be enough. If abuse continues and we have to resort to photographs, then I would understand. However, I believe that it is 686 important to avoid adding to the administrative burden of local authorities unless it is really necessary.
§ There is also the matter of the length of time. At present all the badges are issued for three years. I believe that it should be possible to issue them for shorter periods of six months, one year or two years, provided that the expiry date is clearly on the badge. It might also be possible to issue them for longer periods of, say, six years. That would reduce the amount of administration.
§ The progress of medical science means that some people's mobility is now much better than perhaps anyone expected it to be in the past. Therefore, I believe that there should be more flexibility in the timing.
§ I have been discussing eligibility for badges. I should now like to say a few words about the privileges which they confer in normal daytime restricted parking hours. Those privileges are different in different parts of the country. I draw attention to that in the hope that there will be some rationalisation when the Government consider the changes that they will make. Otherwise it is difficult for disabled drivers to know what the rules are in different parts of the country, and they would have to carry a small volume of regulations with them.
§ For example, in Scotland a disabled person with an orange badge can park on a single or double yellow line for an unlimited time; in England and Wales they can park for only two hours with a special disc clock which is issued only in England and Wales. In different parts of the country local authorities have different rules about parking in residents' parking bays. Central London of course is different and I agree that it is necessary in London to have a stricter régime. There are about 15 million people living in or within easy motoring reach of London, and in those 15 million the number of people with orange badges who would be entitled to park in central London in order to visit shops or other attractions could completely swamp the city.
§ However, again there are anomalies. Perhaps the most glaring one is that in Westminster a disabled person (who has to be 85 per cent. or more disabled) can with his white card park in residents' parking bays in the City of Westminster even though it is not his own residents' parking area. However, he is not allowed to park on even a single yellow line. In Edinburgh he can park all day on a double yellow line without any penalty, but if he goes into a residents' parking area he will be committing an offence. This is the sort of anomaly that makes life very difficult for the disabled driver. As a small contribution, I suggest that it should be possible to park on a single yellow line but only on a double yellow line in an emergency.
§ The problems of parking can cause so much frustration and animosity that it is well worth refining these arrangements for the disabled people who need them. If they are demonstrably necessary, fair and selective, the system will be accepted by the public without inconvenience, as a part of normal daily life. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.687
§ 5.45 p.m.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject, which is of great importance to disabled people, and to congratulate him on his tenacity in pursuing this subject and the masterly overall picture that he has given us. Perhaps I may also say what a joy it is to have my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton back once more in the ranks of the mobile Bench.
This is a very well-timed debate, because not only will all orange badge holders have been reassessed under the new criteria, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has said, it gives us an opportunity to look at proposed changes and other possibilities in the Department of Transport's discussion paper. From the discussion paper it seems that some local authorities are being freer than others in their interpretation of the discretionary criterion, and it is very important to remember that 73 per cent. of orange badges are awarded in this category. I can quite understand the growing demand for orange badges by the less severely disabled, because the increasing number of parking restrictions and the growing amount of badly designed pedestrianisation schemes mean that only the very sure and fleet of foot can hope to make the distance and carry out their business in the time allowed.
Inadequate parking provision for orange badge holders can also drive them to park illegally, but it appears that abuse is mainy by non-disabled people. Therefore, the question is: how do we resolve the apparent conflict of interest between 800,000 orange badge holders—and that is one car in 20 on the roads—and the authorities concerned with traffic flow, etc.?
I believe that there are two approaches, and the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled (of which I am a member) sums them up in its response to the discussion paper. It says:The question arises: Do we want to restrict the number of people with orange badges, end all traffic congestion by reducing the concessions available to them, and allow parking restrictions to limit the number who can conduct their business; orDo we want to reduce the number of people who need orange badges to conduct their business, ensure that the conditions are adequate to allow this, and make sure that the orange badges are only issued to those who need them?We argue for the latter, many of the proposals in the discussion document support the former".I agree, and doubtless the Minister will say, "She would, wouldn't she?" I am delighted to see the Minister shaking his head. Normally the Department of Transport shows a very sound understanding of the problems of severely disabled people. Perhaps it is even more understanding than I thought from reading the discussion paper. Indeed, in paragraph 2 the discussion paper states:It has been a basis of the scheme from its inception that the issue of badges should be restricted to those most in need of the parking concessions conferred by it".Then the paper seems slightly to have lost sight of its goal, and many of the possible solutions seem to be involved with methods of restricting parking.
Lord Paget of Northampton
My Lords, if the noble Baroness will permit me, the statement that one in 20 cars has an orange badge always seems to ignore the 688 fact that in the last three years quite a few of those people will have died or ceased to be capable of driving a car at all. The figure is not very reliable without the subtractions.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his interruption, but that figure comes from the department's own document, which I believe says that there are 800,000 valid badges.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)
My Lords, I can confirm that the correct figure is 800,000 badges in circulation, one in 20.
Lord Paget of Northampton
How do we know the number of those 800,000 badges that are still operative? If the owner dies, how does one find out about it? If the person ceases to drive, how does one find out about it? Such people remain on the list.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
I think that it would have been better if I had not interjected but had waited to reply at the end of the debate.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, obviously there needs to be stricter policing. Measures must be taken to tighten the criteria and facilitate stricter policing and enforcement, but certain concessions will have to be made and existing ones maintained.
I come to measures to be taken to make enforcement easier. I think that the whole question of offences and punishment will have to be tightened up. My noble friend Lord Ingleby will deal with this.
Another move to aid enforcement would be a two-part badge. I agree with a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said about the existing badge. One part could be on the windscreen—this would be more easily removable than the existing one—with the serial number and issuing authority, etc. The other would have those details plus the photograph and name and address of the holder, who would have to keep it on him and show it to the police or traffic warden when asked. That might be more acceptable than the department's suggestion of a photograph on the windscreen badge. I hope that the Minister will agree to that.
Secondly, I come to measures to reduce the proliferation of badges. I accept that the criteria will have to be tightened. I think that the most effective way would probably be by changing the wording of the fourth discretionary criterion from,inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking",to,unable or virtually unable to walk".That would be the same as the mobility allowance, but it would also cover those too old to receive mobility allowance. I think that if possible it would be a good idea also to send a reminder on expiring.
I accept that there should be no expansion of categories to, for example, the temporarily disabled, agoraphobics and people with severe upper limb disabilities—those were suggested. I should have thought that the issue of temporary badges was 689 difficult to administer and open to abuse unless strictly policed. The scheme is, after all, intended for those with a permanent disability. While I appreciate that those with severe upper limb disabilities have very real problems as, indeed, I am sure do agoraphobics, they are not suffering from locomotor problems caused by a physical disability. If we clamp down on the discretionary criterion we can hardly extend the scheme to embrace these new categories.
Let us now see whether those most in need of the scheme can take full advantage of it. The first problem is time. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has said, the two-hour limit on parking on double yellow lines exists in England and Wales but not in Scotland. I feel that it should now be abolished in England and Wales as well. The discussion paper mentions the very alarming suggestion of limiting the parking time to less than one hour. This shows a total lack of understanding of how much longer a disabled person takes to get in and out of a car and to his destination to carry out whatever he has to do. Two hours in most cases is not even long enough to do the weekly shopping.
Another problem is access. It is very important, with pedestrianisation schemes mushrooming everywhere, that parking be provided within the mobility range of severely disabled people, or a "no go" area is created for the very people who would most benefit from shopping in a flat, kerbless environment and one in which the best shops are likely to be. In partially pedestrianised areas, orange badge owners should be allowed access to the streets at all times along with buses and taxis unless other parking can be provided within reach. If access cannot be provided, then pedestrianisation should not take place.
There remain the four enduring warts of the orange badge scheme, the City of London, the City of Westminster, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and the part of Camden south of, and including, the Euston Road. If these boroughs could be charmed into acknowledging the national scheme, this would he very valuable to severely disabled people.
It is also essential that existing concessions be maintained. In the discussion paper the department proposes separate badges for drivers and passengers. This is something which the Joint Committee on Mobility rejects emphatically. There is very real worry that this is the first step to two tiers of concessions. This is not fanciful scaremongering, because paragraph 34(g) of the discussion paper lists different concessions for drivers and passengers as something suggested by some authorities.
The proposal for two different badges stems from a lack of understanding of the practical problems of severely disabled people. Some disabled children cannot be left alone. Many elderly disabled people cannot walk without the help of their drivers. Very severely disabled people who cannot push their own chairs cannot be left alone while the driver goes back, finds a parking place—may be a quarter of an hour away—and walks back. The proposal was a definite one, and is very disturbing. The only circumstances in which the JCMD would accept these two types of orange badge are if Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 were amended to 690 ensure that the same concessions were offered to all classes of orange badge holder everywhere.
It is very important that existing parking concessions be maintained and that orange badge holders continue to be permitted to park where loading and unloading is allowed, to park on double yellow lines and to park without time limits where time limits do not now exist. I do not pick these examples out of the air. All these are concessions that local authorities have suggested might be removed, along with the introduction of the less than one hour limit and the introduction of a two-hour limit in Scotland.
I accept that there is a need to tighten the criteria for eligibility and to facilitate stricter enforcement, and I believe that this must be done. I am, however, convinced that we need to maintain and add to the existing concessions with regard to time, access and space so that those for whom this excellent scheme was designed can lead their lives to the full.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, of the nine speakers today, four are in wheelchairs. I am therefore one of the speakers who has no axe to grind. In saying that, I am quite sure that those noble Lords who are in wheelchairs are not speaking for themselves; they speak for all such people.
I admit that in listening to the speakers so far I have learnt a lot. I had no idea of the extent of orange badge holders. Therefore, what I say this evening is based on my personal observations.
Nearly three years ago I tabled a Starred Question on the misuse of the orange badge scheme. It was answered by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, in her usual helpful way. On 24th February 1984, I asked (at col. 967 of Hansard):how many prosecutions there have been for illegal use of the orange badge scheme for disabled persons from its inception on 1st December 1971 until the implementation of further regulations in 1975; and from that date until the present day".The answer I must admit shocked me. From October 1981 until the end of 1982 there were only seven prosecutions for this offence. It would be interesting to know the figures from that date until today—not that I would ask the Minister when replying to have those figures at his fingertips.
As has already been said, there is a lot of abuse. As far back as 19th December 1982 this fact was recognised by the Department of Transport, which stated in a circular referring to the orange badge scheme:Unfortunately the scheme has come in for much criticism in recent years because of widespread abuse".The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked as a supplementary question, whether the Minister was aware that a number of people who had an orange badge had their pockets stuffed full of parking tickets. On the one hand—I admit that this is some time ago—we have disabled people who require to park where they can and they are getting parking tickets, whereas people who are abusing the scheme are parking more or less where they like and getting away with it.
691 One of the things that happens is that the ordinary motorist, when he finds that he cannot park close to where he wants to go, sees cars with orange badges and thinks, "Fair enough", but the next thing he sees is some hale and hearty person running along the road, opening the car door, jumping in and driving off. These people do not do the reputation of the scheme much good.
It is probably true that some of the abuses are quite unintentional. A few years ago I was talking to a friend of mine. I do not have his exact words, but basically he said, "It makes life so much easier for me when I go shopping for my wife, who is disabled. Using her orange badge I can park, do the shopping and get home to her very much quicker than before". I said, "But don't you know that you are entitled to use that badge for parking only when the badge holder, your wife, is in the vehicle?". He was genuinely surprised at this. Perhaps his wife, when she was granted her orange badge, knew about it, but he certainly did not.
I also raised in my Question three years ago the matter of badges not being returned, but that has been covered and I do not think I shall bore your Lordships with it further. The orange badge scheme was the first positive step in helping the disabled. But, as many noble Lords know full well, it is not only abused but it has several shortcomings. I may be wrong in this from what I have just heard, but I was under the impression that certainly in London a badge issued in one borough was no good for parking in another borough. If you happened to live in a borough where there were few shops (say, Hammersmith) and you wanted to go to some decent shops and so you drove to Chelsea, then you were out of luck.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, will the noble Earl permit me to intervene? May I point out that it is only the central London boroughs which do not accept the orange badge? An orange badge issued by Hammersmith is acceptable anywhere in England or Wales and also in Scotland.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I am most obliged. I am glad that I covered myself slightly by saying that I did not know much about it. It was only a personal thought. That means that a lot of what I was going to say does not now apply.
The main question is why people who are disabled want to be mobile. If there is a restriction and a person goes to a restaurant and can park for only one or two hours, that means he has to hurry his meal to get away. The same applies if he wants to go to the theatre, or if he happens to be visiting friends or going to a wedding, a christening or even a funeral. Therefore, I should not like to see a restriction placed on the length of time—possibly it should not be all day everywhere, as in Scotland, but the system must be more flexible.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that he was basically against photographs. He thought that having the name was sufficient. If I were a traffic warden and I saw a car parked and the badge said that it was poor old Mr. J. Bloggs, how would I know who J. Bloggs was and whether he was entitled to a badge? Therefore, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). If you have a badge with a number on it 692 and you always carry with you a counterpart with the same number and your photograph, a policeman or anyone else could come up and ask, "Excuse me, is this your vehicle?". If you said yes, the policeman could then ask "May I see your counterpart?". If they did not match, you would then be guilty.
I have one final plea. It is all very well having parking facilities on public highways, but what about shopping centres and supermarkets? Nowadays most of these have spaces specifically for the disabled, and time and again if you check the cars not one of the spaces is being used for the right purpose. Disabled people have to park miles away because other people are so selfish and uncaring that they park close to the shopping centre. I feel that the law should be changed so that even on private land if you park where you should not and take up the space of someone who is disabled you can be heavily fined.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Baroness Lane-Fox
My Lords, it would be discourteous of me to contribute, however briefly, to any debate on the orange badge scheme without expressing my deep appreciation of the scheme's very existence and the privilege it is to use it. I confess to travelling by road as a disabled person since 1930, 41 years before the introduction of the scheme. Therefore, I really appreciate it.
Orange badges have transformed the situation in all areas except the London boroughs that have been named and has impelled those boroughs to make similar arrangements for their own disabled residents. This makes it possible for people like myself to wheel and deal provided that conditions do not deteriorate too far. It was in fear of this that I read the discussion paper and tried to follow the rather complicated comment on it by the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled whose careful work on the paper is almost dazzling in its fullness.
We know that many fully eligible badge holders have extreme difficulty finding somewhere to park. The paper suggests that the discretionary criteria appear to lead to unfairness; and the joint committee's answer here is clear. I wish to support the words of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. The joint committee said that the best solution would be to change the criteria to that of the mobility allowance; namely, that a person should be unable, or virtually unable, to walk. This would be applicable, too, to those whose age exempts them from receiving the allowance. I would entirely support that view.
As regards medical assessment, the Joint Committee of Mobility for the Disabled does not see a real need, as I understand it, to establish an independent source. My view is that if by having another source there is any chance of reducing the issue to unqualified badge holders, then we ought to have that separate independent medical assessment. It could help GPs to be relieved of this onerous duty. I hope that the financial implications will not be found unacceptable, and that such a plan is adopted.
The period of the validity of the badge is discussed and the joint committee does not see that an annual issue would help matters. However, there is surely a case for extending the three-year period of issue where 693 the disabled person is permanently disabled. It would cut down the paperwork and the "aggro". This could only be recommended if the local authorities could be relied upon to have a good record of retrieval. Otherwise, it could be a formula for misuse by a survivor. The JCMD does not favour the proposal on these grounds.
On an earlier occasion in this House, I recommended photographs on badges to be the safest means of identification. The Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled claims that it would be difficult and/or expensive for some severely disabled people to obtain a suitable photograph and that one displayed on a windscreen could lead to racial and sexual harassment. It was not my intention that the photograph should face outwards, but the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled said that some disabled people could see all this—even being asked to undertake to comply with a request for a photograph—as being discriminatory. I agree with one thing. There are some pretty nervous disabled people in the community. We must remember them. The joint committee asks for more identification, checking and monitoring by signature, although it says that signatures should not be in biro which quickly fades.
The main difficulty is to find parking space. There are legitimate disabled people who resent being prevented from pursuing the role or routine they have developed, often with very great difficulty. To have won the struggle and then to lose it by too many orange badge holders on the road sends blood pressure soaring. It seems that more should be done to monitor that the provisions are being met, to ensure that the orange badge is not held by, and certainly not issued to, non-holders. There is no need to repeat the many good reasons why disabled people should receive positive help, not obstruction, to mobility. This is why the discussion paper is important and why I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for his shrewdness in initiating the debate.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Ingleby
My Lords, I should also like to start by thanking most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who is visible to me if I turn round sharply. I should like to devote most of my remarks to the orange badge scheme discussion paper issued by the Department of Transport in August last year. As both the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, have said, the scheme is just too big in its present form with 800,000 holders. Even taking deaths into account, newly disabled people are continually applying for orange badges and the scheme has become unmanageable in its present form.
I agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy and Lady Lane-Fox, that the criteria must be narrowed and that the fourth discretionary category should be those people unable or virtually unable to walk, not those who have considerable difficulty in walking. This may seem hard but it is necessary if the scheme is to remain viable, and therefore to continue to be of benefit to those who most need it.
Various speakers have touched on the possibility of longer life for badges. Sitting here, I think that, in the absence of intervention by the Almighty, it is unlikely 694 that the condition of Members of the mobile Bench will change for the better. Therefore could we not have some longer life badges? As the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, said, there should be some way of retrieving them when we no longer need them.
I turn for a moment to misuse of the scheme. At present, a badge can only be withdrawn for persistent misuse. It was suggested in the discussion paper that it could be withdrawn for one serious offence. The paper went on to give examples of four such serious offences which might justify withdrawal of the badge. The first was lending an orange badge to a non-disabled driver for illegal use: I entirely agree with that. The second example was not displaying a badge or a time clock. But surely, this is too severe a penalty for one misuse: a caution might be more appropriate. The third example was using an expired badge. I must confess to your Lordships that I got into trouble not long ago because my badge had expired and I had not noticed it. I would have felt justifiably aggrieved if my badge had been taken away because I had not noticed that it had expired. I wonder whether reminders could not be sent out to avoid this happening.
The fourth suggested offence warranting withdrawal of the badge was exceeding two hours parking on yellow lines. As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, and others have said, two hours is unrealistic; for a disabled person to get in and out of the car, do their shopping and so on. Two hours pass in no time at all.
Finally, I should like to suggest the creation of a new offence in order to make the scheme more manageable. It would become an offence to display the orange badge when the vehicle is not being used by the disabled person. The badge would simply need to be taken out of its holder and turned round when not being used by the disabled person. Would this not simplify the enforcement of this very useful scheme? It might mean a slightly larger holder so that someone with an impaired hand movement could manage easily to get the badge in and out.
We are most grateful to successive governments for this scheme, and we feel that with these and other suggestions it could be restored to full health.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, I make this brief intervention to the debate tonight and I am proud to declare an interest as president of the Disabled Drivers' Motor Club. I am glad to see one of my vice-presidents, Lady Masham, here, who will be speaking after me. I hope we do not disagree too much.
There is no doubt in the minds of my members, and I am sure all Members of the House, of the enormous importance that the disabled drivers' badge has in the daily lives of disabled people. But there is increasing and growing concern, not only among members of the club, but among members of the public generally in the abuse that is going on which sadly diminishes the value and respect for the badges. That is the sad aspect. There is no doubt that stricter control is necessary and that more prosecutions would have a salutary effect. The members to whom I have spoken feel that even when their members have let the side down the withdrawal for a few months of the badge would be a good idea.
695 We all look with some dismay at the figure of 800,000 badges—a 17 per cent. increase in three years, if that goes on for the next two years. I come to the reluctant conclusion that serious consideration should be given to the issuing of annual badges. I know this would cause considerable inconvenience to some people, and obviously the permanently disabled should have a different system. But I should like to prophesy that if suddenly all the yellow badges became blue badges one year there would be a drop of about 40 per cent. in the number of badges issued. We all know that badges are not handed back when people die and there are many badges in the country which should not be on the cars on which they are displayed. After all, is it any worse to apply for a badge annually than it is to apply for a television licence or a car licence? I feel that this should be considered carefully as should the use of photographs, to which again members of the club have no strong objection.
I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, that an independent medical assessment would in the end be the most sensible situation. It is not only family doctors but traffic wardens and policemen who are obviously very reluctant to harry disabled people, even if they think that some abuse is taking place.
However, I am sure that we would all deplore any increase of bureaucracy which in turn would increase the burden on the disabled. I certainly would not want this debate to go down as a debate concerned mainly with complaining about abuses. That is not what it should be. What is at stake is much more important: the welfare, happiness and mobility of disabled people, which is so very important to them. They should be encouraged to exercise that mobility and to exercise it in the free way in which we who are not disabled can enjoy it. But, I believe a price has to paid: that price might be greater bureaucracy, and it might be stricter control. In the end, however, I believe that disabled people will he better off when their badge is respected and honoured as it should be.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I should like to start by saying how pleased I am to follow the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and how much his generosity and kindness to disabled drivers are appreciated. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for bringing this matter of the parking of vehicles used by handicapped people to the attention of your Lordships. To many disabled people throughout the country this is a vitally important matter and it is becoming more so as towns are shutting their centres and shopping streets are getting further and further away for disabled people. Handicapped people are becoming more and more disabled because of this. The chance to work is also becoming more limited.
It is with a certain amount of frustration that I talk in the debate this evening. It was in 1981 that I took the Disabled Persons Bill (now an Act) through your Lordships' House. Was that legislation merely cosmetic for the Year of the Disabled, to look as though Parliament was doing something to help disabled people? The problems of parking seem no 696 better. Section 2 of the Act deals with places reserved for the vehicles of disabled persons and it puts a £50 fine on people who are not disabled but who use those places and also on the wrongful use of the badges of disabled persons. A person guilty of an offence shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, how many able-bodied people have been convicted under the Disabled Persons Act of 1981 for abusing parking places and the use of the badge?
I hear of so many severely disabled people who are trying to pursue as normal a life as possible but who find that the stress and strain of trying to park near the place they need to go to is getting them down. In the last two days I have spoken to two doctors, one employed by the DHSS and another one at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Both said that they thought a severely disabled person could park anywhere. That is not the case. People just do not understand the difficulties that disabled people have to contend with merely in trying to get about in their normal lives.
My noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) has a major problem with her teeth, some of which were knocked out at the time of the accident which fractured several vertebrae in her neck and back, leaving her paralysed. When visiting her dentist near Sloane Street, she had a warning not to park her car there again. In no way was it obstructing anything. She now has to take a hired car from your Lordships' House for the return journey at great extra expense.
The examples I am now giving your Lordships are of people who cannot use public transport: they cannot get on a bus or a tube and they cannot walk or get into a cab. A married man who works for a wheelchair firm was delivering wheelchairs to a shop in central London. He received a parking ticket. Will he risk getting more parking tickets? Will he have to give up his job or leave London out? A young barrister who is a tetraplegic (that is, somebody paralysed from the neck down) was working in the City of London. The only way he could get to his place of work was by car. He got parking tickets and was taken to court. This young man has emigrated to Australia.
Another man I spoke to yesterday is now in hospital. He is a lecturer in engineering at Brunel University. When he has to come to central London he has so much trouble finding a place to park that it has put extra stress into his life. He might not be in hospital now if life were just a little bit easier. A headmistress from a school in York who has spina bifida has found the hassle of trying to carry shopping to a car which she has had to park far from the shops just too much extra stress and strain on her, and she has written to me in desperation. All these people enjoy their jobs; they are taxpayers and they have to a great extent overcome their disabilities, but the extra problem of trying to park is just too much.
As a country, we are behind Australia, New Zealand, Canada and most states of America in the facilities provided for disabled people. I ask this question. What is to be done if we have legislation like the 1981 Act and nobody takes any notice of it? The problem is that one has to be severely disabled to understand the problem or else to have some close friend or relative who comes with one and who knows.
697 Outside the Army and Navy stores the City of Westminster allocated a parking place for a disabled person. It put it at the end of the street where there was a very high kerb. At the other end of the street there was a ramp up the kerb; there was placed a rubbish skip. Which took priority, a disabled person or the rubbish skip? I am afraid that it was the rubbish skip. The "Mobile Bench" in your Lordships' House has been talking about these needs for a very long time. They are getting older and their limbs are getting weaker. They know the necessities even more.
One last matter of concern involves another group of people who have special parking discs. These are doctors who visit the sick and the elderly in their homes. Doctors have a doctor-on-call parking disc and they display the address being visited. This is an arrangement made by the BMA after consultation with other parties, including the police. A doctor visiting an ill patient could be involved in a matter of life or death. The BMA has told me that since wheel clamping has been handed over to a private firm several doctors have had their cars clamped. If that happens, doctors may stop visiting patients in their homes, with disastrous effects for disabled patients, as many of them cannot get to the surgeries and indeed may be unable to get out of their homes at all. Also, many doctors' surgeries are inaccessible.
I hope the Department of Transport will show itself to be responsible and caring in this matter because, if not, it will be the sick and the disabled who will suffer. As doctors are now having their cars clamped, I ask the Minister for an assurance that disabled people will not also have their cars clamped.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I believe we should all thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy,—as I think everyone has done—for giving us the opportunity to discuss once again the orange badge scheme, and particularly the discussion paper of the Department of Transport. It has obviously been a well-informed debate, because well over half of those who have taken part have first-hand experience of this subject—something which has been of great value.
I think everyone wants to make it possible for people with disabilities to share in as full a life as possible, and the orange badge scheme, with which I had a certain involvement with Alf Morris in another place some years ago, has made a great contribution to the welfare of many thousands of disabled people. I must confess that until I saw the Department of Transport's paper I did not realise just how many thousands were involved. I had no idea at all that it was such an extremely high figure.
I believe we all want to continue with the scheme, but we must recognise the problems, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, said, and if we want to improve the scheme this is one of the nettles we have to grasp. How can we maintain and increase the benefits of the scheme without imposing a great burden upon the traffic flow? Many examples and hints have been given today about the methods that could be used. I think that most badge holders—and certainly the representatives to whom I have 698 spoken—accept the need to keep traffic moving. After all, a disabled driver is a motorist when he is driving and he wants to get to his destination just as does anyone else. So for everyone's benefit the traffic must be kept moving as well as possible.
I believe—and it has been shown clearly today—that those who have orange badges and use them properly are just as concerned as the rest of us that the scheme shall not be abused. They are also very concerned about unfair use of the badges. Many anecdotes have been told about abuse of the badges, and one of the worst abuses is the way in which able-bodied people have used the badges, particularly in bays designated for badge holders.
I understand that in many cases—the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, put a question specifically to the Minister and I shall be interested in his reply—able-bodied drivers who have been using designated bays unlawfully have been prosecuted under the Road Traffic Acts as against the Disabled Persons Act. I understand that in the vast majority of cases there is merely a parking fine imposed, instead of using the Disabled Persons Act. That Act may be more clumsy and cumbersome to use from the point of view of the police, but there is also quite a difference in the level of fine.
I understand that badge holders themselves have a list of do's and don'ts—where they should or should not park—and some of the examples which were given in the discussion document, and which may have been specially selected, show that there can be abuse by badge holders. They either feel that they have a special right to do things that others cannot do or they are thoughtless. The impression given in the pictures in the discussion paper is that the whole side of a shopping street is taken up by disabled vehicles, and that is not the sort of thing that helps the public's appreciation of the use of the orange badge. I do not know how general that practice is, or whether that was a fortuitous congregation of orange badge holders. So there can be cases of bad and inconsiderate use of the badge. Anyone who has a badge is, I assume, also a competent driver and when someone is driving a car he should obey all the rules as much as anyone else who is using a car on the road.
According to the people to whom I have spoken, the most annoying abuse of the badge is when able-bodied people pretend that they are driving someone else, when they are really nipping out and using the car to do their own shopping. The important point is that one sighting like that goes round the saloon bars very quickly. It multiplies and soon everyone believes that at least half the people who have orange badges are abusing them. That may be wrong, but ultimately it becomes a fact of life.
It is one of the handed-down wisdoms that the orange badge scheme is being unfairly used. We ask a lot of people who already have difficulties, but I am afraid that orange badge holders have to be like Caesar's wife and be absolutely correct in their use of them, as must those whom they allow to drive for them. It has emerged very clearly in this debate that a vehicle should have an orange badge only when it is legally entitled to the protection of the scheme, which is when the badge holder is in the vehicle either as a passenger or as a driver.
699 I now come to the question of the changes that the department has proposed in regard to the badges. I am absolutely in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), on the question of photographs. I do not like the idea that there should be a photograph on the windscreen. Why do I not have one? That would prove that I am not stealing a car. As regards the name, what right has anyone to know whose car it is just because someone happens to be disabled? So long as there is a number on the badge which corresponds with the registration number of one of the vehicles that the badge holder owns, and there is a separate identity card with a picture on it corresponding to the number on the badge, nothing more is required.
The dangers of photographs have been mentioned by some noble Lords. There are a number of loutish people in the world and there could be a racist angle. If they saw that someone was of a race towards which they felt aggressive, they might wait for the person to come back or do damage to the vehicle. The badge holder might be a young woman of whom someone could take advantage, or someone might have facial injuries which he did not like to have exposed to the public on a badge on the windscreen. So I hope that we can get rid of this idea about the badge. All we need is the badge number coupled with the vehicle registration number and an identity card which is carried by the person who is entitled to have the badge.
We can go to other areas of government for help as regards the standard medical certificate. All your Lordships who have any experience of local government will know that people going to get houses always take a medical certificate showing how much they need a house. It is very difficult for a doctor to say to a patient whom he has known for a long time, "I can't help you in this." It is putting him in a difficult situation. Apart from that, he does not know the overall picture. He may feel that someone needs help, whereas if you have a board such as there is in many local authorities, it can look at the doctor's certificate and say "We are afraid that is not enough." It may be passing the buck, though I do not think it is. In Glasgow, Edinburgh and a number of other cities, there is a medical panel that meets every quarter or so, depending on the amount of business. It goes through the medical certificates and grades them, and I see nothing wrong in that.
I think that it is being too hard to say that only those who are totally unable to walk or who walk with very great difficulty should get a badge. I think that there could be borderline cases and I would rather have a central medical group looking at the problem in each borough and checking medical certificates every month or over whatever period might be found to be convenient in order to decide whether certificates should be granted. This would take the heat off the doctor and such a body might also have a better idea of the situation within the area and be more expert on the problems of the orange badge scheme than the average GP.
I turn now to the matter of taking badges away. I think that the question of withdrawal for use of a badge by another person should depend upon the circumstances. It is too hard merely to say that the badge should be withdrawn if another person uses it. 700 There may be circumstances of emergency and there would need to be some sort of appeal procedure. For instance, a badge holder who parked in a taxi bay, on a suspended meter or on a double yellow line should not have a badge taken away for that one occasion. I have done such things. I am almost certain that the Minister has done something heinous of that sort—perhaps not while he has been a transport Minister, but at some other time. This matter must be looked at very carefully before we go to the extent of taking a badge away from someone for one offence, particularly if there is no opportunity for an appeal.
The final point I should like to make concerns the question of whether or not there should be an effort made to have badges recognised in central London to a greater extent than they now are. When I was involved in this area, the central London authorities put up a good case, much as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, did today. That case concerned the numbers of people who might wish to come to central London. However, I think we should look a bit more closely at this problem. Perhaps we may at some stage reach the sort of situation which we find in American hotels, where a jockey takes a car and parks it. That may be going too far. However, it is the sort of thing which might happen in the future.
The best thing that can happen, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, pointed out, is for the people involved in the control of badges and the badge holders themselves to be very correct in the use of badges and for the badges to be used to supply the need of people who must have them in order to live a full life. As has been said, that may be rather harsh. However, the scheme should be used to help those who greatly need some flexibility in parking. Then we would have a right to go not only to the central London boroughs but also to the other boroughs which have time restrictions and ask them to rethink the case.
The first priority must be to get the criteria tightened and to gain more respect for the orange badge. Once there is real respect for that badge, I think we shall be entitled to ask for more concessions from the boroughs both in and outside London.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for initiating a debate on this important topic. He is well known for his interest in matters related to disabled people, as indeed is your Lordships' House. That has been amply demonstrated this afternoon. The subject is of great importance to many people and I believe it is right that your Lordships should formally consider it.
As your Lordships know, the Government issued the discussion paper in August of last year. I feel that some misunderstanding has crept into the debate as regards some of the possibilities and proposals put forward in it. The belief may have been that all of those matters emanate from the Department of Transport. That is not the case. Some of them come from the police, some from local authorities and some from other bodies. The discussion paper considers in the light of experience over the last few years what might be done to ensure that the eligibility criteria for badges are the fairest possible and how exploitation of the scheme by the able-bodied might be reduced.
701 The Department of Transport has received nearly 700 comments on the paper. These have come from a wide range of interested bodies as well as members of the public. I am grateful to all those who have responded to our paper. Their comments are being carefully considered. I have also listened with great interest to the views of noble Lords this evening. Many points have been made about what should or should not happen. These thoughts will also help shape the results of the review. The Government are most grateful to noble Lords for their contributions this evening.
It may help the House if I begin by giving a little of the history of the orange badge scheme of parking concessions for disabled people. The scheme came into operation on 1st December 1971 by means of regulations made under Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. Further regulations made in 1975 extended the scheme to blind people and improved the concessions available by permitting vehicles displaying orange badges to park on yellow lines. The scheme is intended to help people who have very considerable difficulty in walking and the blind to lead a normal life by allowing them to park close to shops and other places they may wish to visit.
The scheme allows badge holders to park free of charge and without time limit at parking meters or where others may park only for a limited time. They may also park on single or double yellow lines for up to two hours in England and Wales (provided a timeclock is displayed) or without any time limit in Scotland. Several noble Lords have mentioned the anomaly between regulations in Scotland and those in England and Wales. That is one of the matters about which we have been and will be receiving comments.
Badgeholders must not park in a bus lane; where a ban on loading or unloading is in force; or where there is a double white line in the centre of the road. The scheme does not, however, provide exemption from the parking restrictions, except that orange badge holders cannot be wheel-clamped. I should like to confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that orange badge holders cannot be wheel clamped. That is provided in Section 105 (1)(a) of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984.
Badge holders still have the same obligation as other road users to ensure that they do not park dangerously and obstructively. The scheme does not cover off-street car parks, although many local authorities provide some parking concessions for disabled people in car parks. The scheme operates throughout England, Scotland and Wales, with the exception of a small part of central London. It is administered by local authorities, which assess the eligibility of people for badges following the criteria laid down in the regulations.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, discussed whether the scheme should or should not be extended to cover those four central London authorities. Any change would require an amendment to the regulations. We cannot compel a council to adopt the national scheme. Any future improvement must be achieved by agreement. However, some progress has been recently achieved. 702 Westminster now allows all orange badge holders to use on-street disabled parking bays. This is a modest but positive step in the right direction. We shall consider what more can be done.
The Government's previous review of the scheme began in 1976. This revealed that although the scheme provided very real assistance to disabled people on overcoming their parking problems, an increasing number of complaints about abuse of the concession was causing concern to local authorities, the police and disabled people themselves. This resulted in a number of measures being introduced over the next few years to combat that abuse. These included a new offence to cover the misuse of badges by able-bodied people; new regulations which introduced tighter eligibility criteria; further guidance to local authorities about the administration of the scheme; the introduction of a standard medical certificate; and the issue of transparent adhesive-backed windscreen pockets to make it easy for the badge to be removed when the badge holder was not using the vehicle.
By 1986, the regulations governing the eligibility criteria had been in effect for three years. Since badges are valid for three years, everyone had then been re-assessed under the revised criteria. That is why the Government are now trying to assess how the new provisions have operated in practice. Unfortunately, the scheme continues to attract much criticism. The police, local highway authorities and severely disabled people themselves have been concerned about the number of people holding badges, apparent abuse of the scheme by able-bodied people and the traffic and enforcement problems that are associated with it. If the scheme is to continue to be workable, a balance must be found between the parking needs of disabled people and the traffic considerations of the community as a whole. Many noble Lords made that point.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said, there are now nearly 800,000 valid orange badges in circulation, which represents about one in 20 cars which may legally ignore some of the parking restrictions that apply to others. In an intervention the noble Lord, Lord Paget, suggested that some of those people might have died. The figures relate to the badges in issue. Relatives should of course return the badge if the badge holder dies. If they do not do so and continue to use the badge it is an offence. However, it is unlikely that there are a very large number of such badges as badges are valid for only three years. That is perhaps a reason for not extending the life of badges beyond three years, as was suggested by my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox.
The scheme is highly valued by recipients of badges, but its privileges can continue to be of value only if it retains the respect of the general public. Badges must be limited in number and issued only to those with the greatest mobility problems. With any scheme such as this it is very difficult to determine the dividing line between those who should be eligible for a badge and its associated parking concessions and those who regrettably cannot be given one.
It would be very nice to be in a position to give badges to anyone with mobility problems; but that would not be practical, not least because severely disabled people will be unable to reach the places they need to visit because the available parking spaces are 703 taken up by other people, with badges, who are better able to walk than they are. That is why the issue of badges must be restricted to those most in need of the concession.
There is also the issue of abuse by able-bodied people either using badges to which they are not entitled or parking in bays set aside for disabled people. We do not have statistics on the level of abuse and I believe that statistics would be difficult to obtain. But many noble Lords will have heard anecdotes of people "running" into shops from cars displaying orange badges or making an equally speedy return when a traffic warden is spotted near the vehicle. Other examples have been given in the debate. Such general impressions of widespread abuse, whether or not justified, are matters for concern because they lessen the respect of the public for the scheme. I shall shortly be coming to offences and prosecutions.
The department recognises that for many disabled people a car can provide the best solution for overcoming their mobility handicap. We are therefore committed to helping and encouraging them to achieve that independence which comes with car ownership. For example, the Government have set up the Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service—MAVIS—at Crowthorne in Berkshire where disabled people can go for an assessment of their ability to drive and receive expert advice on suitable car adaptations or modifications to meet their own particular needs. Furthermore, the Government will be holding the third Mobility Road Show—again at Crowthorne—on 12th to 14th June this year. The roadshow, which is held every other year, brings together all the major car and car control manufacturers and provides a unique opportunity for disabled people not only to see but also to test drive the very wide range of cars and adaptations now available.
I now respond to the points made by noble Lords during the debate. Perhaps the most common point concerned the abuse and the offences involved. Legislation already covers various types of abuse of the scheme. Under the current regulations local authorities have the power to withdraw a badge if the holder misuses it. This includes lending a badge to other people or failing to abide by the rules of the scheme. A person who uses a badge without being entitled to it commits an offence under Section 117 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The maximum fine for that offence is £400 and that applies in addition to whatever penalty may be imposed for the parking offence also committed; for example, parking on a yellow line.
It is also an offence for an able-bodied person to use a parking place reserved for a disabled badge holder, on or off-street, which has been so designated by an order made by the local authority under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The police can issue fixed penalty notices to offenders, and both the police and the local authorities have the power to prosecute. If prosecuted, able-bodied people who misuse such places again face a fine of up to £400. We are currently considering what further measures, if any, should be introduced.
As I said earlier, and particularly in answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and 704 the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, there are no central figures for prosecutions of able-bodied people or fixed penalty notices issued to badge holders or able-bodied people in connection with the scheme. The department has seen the results of a few local surveys which demonstrate that the police and traffic wardens do take action where appropriate, although they are careful to deal most sympathetically with disabled people.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether there is any way he can obtain that information so that we may know how many able-bodied people who abuse the scheme have been penalised?
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I shall certainly see whether there is any further information. As I said, there have been a few sample analyses in various local authorities and if I can obtain more information I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness.
Turning to the issue of temporary badges raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), in particular, the current regulations governing the scheme allow badges to be issued to permanently disabled people for only three years. The department receives a steady flow of inquiries about the issue of temporary badges to people who are awaiting operations, who have had sporting accidents, or who are pregnant, and so on. A number of local authorities would also like the scope to issue temporary badges under these circumstances. That suggestion has been aired in the discussion paper on the scheme and comments on that possible change are being considered.
Many noble Lords spoke about photographs. It was suggested that a photograph on the badge would aid enforcement and deter casual use of the badge by people other than the badge holder. Some organisations have opposed the concept of a photograph on the front of the badge. They would prefer a photograph on the back of the badge or on a separate identity card, as various noble Lords suggested. That is under consideration.
The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and other speakers suggested that the two-hour limit on yellow line parking should be abolished. That change has been put forward and is under consideration. The noble Baroness also spoke about the difficulty of access to badly designed pedestrianised areas which leads to problems for orange badge holders. The Government are well aware of the need for local authorities to strike the right balance in designing schemes. A discussion paper currently available from the Department of Transport with that title, Striking the Right Balance, gives suggestions, and further guidance will follow.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the misuse of reserved space in off-street car parks by non-badge holders. We agree on the importance of clear signing so that people know where to park and where not to park. It is open to private owners of car parks and local authorities to provide this and then enforce the rules. It would be difficult for the government to attempt to enforce the rules on private property—for example, in a supermarket car park.
My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu spoke about the annual renewal of badges. That idea is under 705 consideration but it could lead to a considerably increased workload for the authorities—and indeed more effort for the disabled themselves.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, particularly referred to the clamping of doctors' cars. I understand that she is in correspondence with my noble friend at the Home Office on that subject. But doctors' vehicles displaying the British Medical Association badge should not normally be wheel clamped. The noble Baroness mentioned the new privatised arrangements for clamping; but they do not alter the fact that police officers are still responsible for authorising the clamping, and of course before the new operator can move in the police must authorise it. However, as I say, it should not happen to those with a BMA badge. I have already covered the point on clamping of orange badge holders.
Various noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), suggested that local authorities should perhaps send a reminder when a badge was due to expire. Some local authorities already do so and we shall certainly consider whether we should encourage others to do likewise. We do not of course want to introduce unnecessary complications and expense at the same time.
The Government intend to put together a firm package of proposed changes and this will be the subject of further consultation with representative organisations including those representing disabled people. Any significant change to the scheme can only be made with the approval of Parliament and any changes will be well publicised, including the preparation of an updated leaflet on the scheme.
Finally, may I repeat my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject. I can assure all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate that we shall consider very carefully what has been said this evening in this most interesting and informative debate.
§ 7 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I should like to thank all the Members of your Lordships' House who have been good enough to take part in this debate. I am pleased also to have had the distinction of hearing no fewer than four speakers from what my noble friend Lord Ingleby described so felicitously as the "mobile Bench". They speak from firsthand experience, and although the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said that they were getting older, clearly they are still as fluent and persuasive as ever.
I should also like to thank the Minister, my noble friend Lord Brabazon, for replying to so many of the main points. During the period of consultation that has been taking place, many suggestions have been made from all parts of the House and it is good to know that all of them will be taken into account by the Government before any conclusions are reached. Whether in future the badges should be issued annually, whether we should move to another colour (that was a suggestion to try to eliminate some of the badges which should no longer be in use) or whether there should be a photograph are all matters that are 706 due for consideration. However, I believe that the most important point is how the schemes are to be more closely policed and more frequently challenged by the police and traffic wardens if they have the authority to do so. Although changes may be made to the badges, it is the monitoring and policing of the schemes that will be most important.
I very much appreciated the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who agreed that there was a need to tighten up the system, as I suggested at the beginning of the debate. He also recognised that there ought to be independent medical decisions because it is extremely difficult for a person's GP to take the main decision.
All those who have taken part in this debate have appreciated the help that the orange badge scheme has given to severely handicapped people. We have all welcomed the statement that my noble friend Lord Brabazon was able to make about the use by the police of fixed penalties and powers of prosecution, with the penalty of a high fine, which is even being considered for further elevation. The police have many duties, but I hope that they will be able to give more of their time to this problem of challenging and monitoring the system.
I have just one more point to make. The Minister referred to the possibility of issuing temporary badges. There has been a lot of criticism in this House in the past about the fact that a badge can only be obtained for three years, neither more nor less, even though it may only be needed for a short period. In my suggestion I was certainly not thinking of ordinary accidents, such as a broken leg or a ski-ing accident, nor of pregnancies. I was thinking more of advances that have recently been made in surgery. So many more types of hip operations are now possible that the normal course for someone who may have been completely crippled with arthritis for two or three years, is for them to have one or two hip replacements and be leaping like lambs in quite a short time. It is that kind of situation that I had in mind and which I think now requires badges of a more temporary nature.
§ Again, I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.