Numerous letters and petitions taking various points of view have been sent to me and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Disabled. We had the opportunity to meet disabled drivers who lobbied Parliament, on 17th May, asking for the vehicle service to be restored. We also met representatives of the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled on 26th May.
Is the Minister aware that mobility is vital to this group, and that the widespread delay in making a number of decisions on this matter is causing tremendous anxiety? Why has the scheme to commute the allowance not yet been introduced, when there has been provision for the allowance for over a year?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is so committed to the extension of the mobility allowance, because, as he knows, this will enormously increase the number of people who will get assistance as a result of their disablement who were never able to do so before.
In the debate in the House on 26th April I mentioned the proposals that had come from the Central Council for the Disabled to provide car purchase loans for disabled people in greatest need. With some support from the Government, the association hopes to be able to raise extra interest-free capital from charitable sources.
Before the end of the Session I hope to make a statement to the House on the progress made on these proposals, which could also embrace leasing cars as well as the purchase of vehicles.
That sounds as though there may be some progress. Is the Minister aware of the confusion and anxiety that exist among many disabled people over the lack of a clear policy at this stage, particularly the anxiety among young school leavers? What priority do the Government give to the disabled?
The fact that we are multiplying by three the amount of money that is being spent by this Department on mobility for the disabled shows the sense of priority that this Government have given compared with our predecessors. The hon. Gentleman can see that it is a very high priority indeed.
The hon. Gentleman referred to confusion. I am afraid it is true that there has been some confusion. I think that some of it has been wilful confusion, and this has been very disturbing to disabled people. That is why I wrote to every owner of a trike explaining exactly the commitment of the Government.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that the Central Council for the Disabled no longer exists? It is now RADAR—the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation.
Will my right hon. Friend urgently prompt the Treasury to give substantial donations to this organisation to enable it to organise a scheme whereby disabled drivers and people in receipt of mobility allowance can purchase or lease their vehicles speedily? Would that not enable us to know the extent of the residual problem with regard to vehicles?
I welcome my hon. Friend's support and absolutely share his concern about trying to achieve this objective. The discussions so far are going in an encouraging way. That is why I feel that it is likely that I shall be able to make a statement to the House before the recess.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether at any time specifications have been submitted to motor car manufacturers to produce a four-wheeled vehicle suitable for the disabled, and, if so, what progress has been made?
A good deal of work has already been done on the conversion of existing vehicles. Part of the discussion with the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation—RADAR—has in fact dealt with different types of Minis that would be available. My Department is now engaged in research jointly with the Department of Transport, and we are studying the available information. We are considering what further research is desirable in order to identify, among the many possible lines of development, those adaptations or prototype specialist vehicles which have the best prospect of meeting the specialist needs of disabled people.
Does the Secretary of State realise that many disabled drivers require a vehicle and not a mobility allowance, and that the reason why we have this lobby, and why there is such consternation in disabled driving circles, is that it is believed by the disabled that the right hon. Gentleman intends to cut off their lifeline with society? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to clarify the position now, because these people are in a dreadful state and require clarification as soon as possible.
I very much regret that the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends constantly repeat this sort of thing and create stress, disturbance and alarm among disabled people. [Interruption.] I wrote to all those concerned, seeking to reassure them. I want to make it clear in the House today that I am determined to ensure that no one who has a tricycle issued under the old scheme will be made immobile by the phasing out of the tricycle. I have already made this clear to them. I have said also that we have now made arrangements that will make it likely that the existing trike holders will be able to have trikes until 1982–83. Conservative Members ought to be able to accept these reassurances. It is a pity that these stories are constantly repeated across the floor of the House.
We are in discussion with Leyland about what can be its most effective contribution to the needs of disabled people. Leyland has made some important offers, in terms of the purchase of existing vehicles, and I am certainly prepared to discuss with the company whether it can go further in terms of adaptation.
But is it not a fact that under the new scheme about 3,000 newly-disabled persons and young school leavers who are disabled, who would previously have had transport, are now housebound and unable to go to work, to school or to university? Is this not a monstrous thing to have done to this group of people? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do about it?
It is not true that they are all housebound. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Employment Service Agency's travel-to-work scheme is willing to provide assistance to young people and to other disabled people who need extra expenses to be covered to enable them to get to work. This scheme is already available, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We are now discussing with the Department concerned whether the scheme can be revived in a way that will make it more helpful. In any case, there is the mobility allowance.
At the mass meeting held in Westminster Hall the hon. Gentleman promised an immediate and substantial increase in mobility allowance if the Opposition were returned to power at a General Election. That is what the hon. Gentleman said. I think he might now be prepared to tell us when "immediate" is meant to be and how much is "substantial".