HL Deb 27 March 2002 vol 633 cc223-5
Baroness Trumpington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will consider replacing local disabled parking badges with a universal nationwide scheme.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, a national scheme was introduced in 1971 under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. That scheme—now the blue badge scheme —is still in operation. Local schemes are introduced by local authorities under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 at their discretion. We will look at the issue during the current review of the blue badge scheme. In the meantime, we continue to discourage local authorities from introducing measures that restrict the mobility of disabled people.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that there would have been no need for me to ask this Oral Question had I received a helpful reply to my Written Question? Is he aware how difficult it is for a genuine applicant who lives in one part of London yet works in another to get two parking badges? Would it not be easier to have one universal badge, at least for London?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am sorry about the problem in relation to the Written Answer. I hope that we did not give an unhelpful Answer, but if we did I apologise.

A review was announced towards the end of 1999 to consider a national disablement scheme. A national scheme to which everybody had easy and ready access would plainly be of real assistance. We know that local authorities introduce their own schemes and different rules apply to different schemes. We also recognise that in some places it is very difficult for people to get access to a scheme outside the area in which they live. The review will look at that.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, most disabled organisations support the request made by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. Far too many local schemes are restrictive and they also cause confusion. My noble and learned friend mentioned discouraging local authorities. I do not believe that that will do a blind bit of good, because they will press on with their own pet schemes regardless. We need forceful government action to prevent the proliferation of damaging local schemes. What forceful action do the Government propose?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, we instigated a review, we produced a consultation paper on 14th December 2001, the consultation period ended on 15th March 2002 and we hope to make announcements in relation to it during the summer. The points that my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, made have already arisen in the course of that consultation and they will be taken into account.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, does the Minister agree that abuse of the blue badge system is a serious issue? Life is difficult enough for people who have genuine disablement without having problems of trying to park when someone is in their spot. What do the Government propose to do, apart from completing the review, to make life easier and to discourage those who abuse the blue badge system?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am not sure that I know the extent to which the blue badge scheme is being abused. Plainly, a balance has to be struck between combating abuse and making it readily possible for disabled drivers to find parking spaces. The review will need to try to strike that sensible balance.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I declare an interest as a disabled driver who holds a European blue badge. I assume that I can use my European badge in Europe, but I cannot use it in London. What is the reason for that discrepancy? If we can get agreement at European level, surely we can do so at national level.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the blue badge scheme is a domestic scheme, as was implicit in the noble Baroness' question. We do not have anything like the European blue badge scheme in Britain at the moment. That is one of the issues that we need to look at when we consider the responses to the consultation document in the course of the review.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, since the orange badge scheme—now the blue badge scheme—was introduced in 1971, administered by local authorities, have there been complaints that councils are using different criteria and standards, leading to postcode results?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, there have been complaints about the individual schemes introduced by local authorities under the 1984 Act. The noble Lord has also raised a separate issue about the extent to which local authorities, using their powers, enforce the blue badge scheme. There is a sense that it is enforced differently in different places. In order to be effective, it must be enforced in uniform way throughout the country.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, may I put the other side of the argument? I was on Westminster City Council when these decisions were first considered. There is a significant problem in central London, particularly in Westminster, where parking for residents is divided into different zones, though drivers with a Westminster disabled badge can use it anywhere in Westminster. Does the Minister accept that allowing all national disabled badge holders to park in central London might be self-defeating, because the result would be overwhelming for the parking system, which is very restricted? Even those who live in central London would have no hope of finding a disabled place.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as the noble Baroness correctly points out, four central London boroughs—Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, a part of Camden, and the City of London—are exempt from the national scheme; as she indicated, they became exempt right at the beginning, in the early 1970s. I think that all of those issues need to be reexamined in the course of the review because arguments that might have been strong then may not seem so strong now.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, will the review consider the possibility of including those who are autistic in the scheme? Many autistic children, and their parents, do not qualify for a badge because, although they are learning disabled, they are able to walk. Is that not incredibly discriminatory? Is it also not the case that, far from acting fraudulently, many of those eligible to claim a badge do not do so?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I think that I have addressed the abuse issue in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. As for the extent to which the review covers the autistic and their carers, I do not know the precise limits of the review. I shall therefore, if I may, write to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the mere mention of Kensington and Chelsea will bring me, like Pavlov's dog, straight to my feet? I declare an interest. Like my noble friend Lady Gardner, I bring to the Minister's attention the fact that one of the local system's advantages is that it enables disabled local residents to have a place outside their house marked specifically for them. Does the Minister agree that, if there were to be a different scheme, that type of regulation should continue?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes the very important point about disabled people's need to have a disabled parking space right outside their own front door. That applies not only in Kensington and Chelsea but right across the country and it needs to be considered in the review. I should add, if I may, that Pavlovian dog and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, are not two groups of words that I would associate.

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