The Central Council for the Disabled is exploring various possibilities for helping disabled people to use the mobility allowance to best effect. I have been giving all the help and support I can, and I hope that it may be possible for the council to give further assistance to disabled people who wish to use the mobility allowance for the purchase of a car. My discussions with the council are continuing.
Is the Minister aware that the Disabled Drivers' Association, of which I am proud to be a vice-president, is very angry with him about the questionnaire he has sent out to disabled drivers of three-wheeled vehicles? Is he aware that that questionnaire which they complain about provides only one question—whether or not they will take the mobility allowance in due course? It does not ask, as it should, whether they would prefer to have a vehicle. Will the hon. Gentleman look at it again?
The hon. Gentleman, who is a successor of mine in the capacity to which he referred, will know that I have had a very close association with the DDA, whose management committee I was happy to meet recently. There is a need for a much more detailed questionnaire. It would be difficult for me at present to expand on that. What I want very much to know is what disabled people are seeking. I shall have the hon. Gentleman's point very much in mind.
Will my hon. Friend consider asking the Treasury to advance a substantial sum to enable the commutation scheme to get off the ground? Does he agree that if it gets off the ground it will then be possible to decide how many vehicles people who are disabled want to buy for themselves? We shall then know how many people need the trike. Will my hon. Friend please give attention to this matter?
I am very seized of the importance of my hon. Friend's point. As I have said, the Central Council for the Disabled has been exploring, with my active co-operation, a whole range of possibilities, which include favourable purchase terms and leasing arrangements. My hon. Friend is a considerable expert in making representations to the Treasury, and I have no doubt that it is fully aware of his feelings and that careful note will be taken of what he has said this afternoon.
Does the Minister agree that the essential thing is to make disabled people mobile and that any mobility allowance that does not do that fails in its purpose? Does he not, therefore, regret his decision to phase out the invalid trike? Whether or not he regrets it, has he any plans to have discussions with GKN-Sankey about the new car for disabled people which has featured in the Press recently?
We are giving more mobility help to assist more disabled people than has ever been given before. The hon. Gentleman may be glad to know —we have not discussed the matter recently—that I have seen two development projects in the past two weeks, and I saw the GKN-Sankey prototype a considerable time ago. The hon. Gentleman can be well assured that our commitment to tricycle drivers who will still need a specialised vehicle when we can no longer replace their tricycles after 1981 is a genuine commitment which my right hon. Friend rightly stressed in his recent letter to disabled drivers.
Will the Minister admit that there is now widespread and mounting anxiety about the future of disabled drivers? We know what they want, which is to keep their trikes. [HON. MEMBERS: "They want cars."] Should not the Minister, therefore, reverse his policy and tell them that they can keep their trikes until there is a proper alternative?
There is a wide diversity of opinion on this important matter. There are those who have for a very long time wanted the trike to be phased out. There are people who would like to keep the trike. We have given a commitment to tricycle drivers. I shall do the best I can further to improve the mobility of disabled people.
Will not the Minister now accept that, although the mobility allowance is of general and welcome benefit to those who do not drive, the eventual withdrawal of the trike will have catastrophic consequences for those who are used to this kind of mobility? Why cannot he now give an assurance that the trike will not be withdrawn until a suitable alternative is found?
My right hon. Friend has given the assurance that we shall look on home and world markets to supply those who will still need a specialised vehicle when we can no longer replace the tricycle after 1981. There are divided opinions on this matter. The hon. Gentleman may be well assured that I am looking at every aspect of the problem.
Is it not the case that, while the decision to phase out the tricycle is rather regrettable, the representations that my hon. Friend has received since he made that decision are astonishingly different from those he received before the decision was made? Will he also confirm that many of the representations opposed to his decision came from organisations which condemned it before it was made?
A number of letters take different points of view. As I have indicated, there appears to have been a change of opinion, which may, however, be more apparent than real. I am well aware that many people want to keep the invalid tricycle, but I must emphasise that we had very little option with regard to the decision to phase out.
What comfort can the right hon. Gentleman offer to the newly disabled or to youngsters who reach the age of 16 and who now find themselves totally without mobility, completely grounded and confined to the four square walls of their rooms?
My right hon. Friend stated to the House that the worries expressed were often the result of garbled and even grossly distorted versions of the facts. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Employment Service Agency scheme, for example, can be expected to increase in scope. Help over and above the mobility allowance can be made available to people who cannot use public transport and who need to go to work or higher education. I am well aware of the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, and I shall do everything possible in future to improve the mobility of disabled people.
I am afraid the answer must be that I would if I could but I cannot. I do, however, give my hon. Friend the assurance that the announcement will be made at the earliest possible date. Moreover, my hon. Friend can be assured that we shall seek to improve the allowance not only in amount but also in real value.