I welcome the £1.7 million that has been allocated to councils to implement the new regulations, but will the Minister encourage local councils to spend that money on autism training for assessors, so that they can have a better understanding of how autism can affect people’s ability to travel?
Yes I will. My hon. Friend is right: the £1.7 million of funding is to support local authorities in the administration of the scheme. Local authorities can use their share of the funding to train assessors on specific conditions such as autism. We will let local authorities make the actual decisions on how the money can be used most effectively to support the implementation of the new regulations, but I hope that local authorities will look sympathetically at the difficulties faced by people with autism.
I am sure that the whole House is keen to improve accessibility for people with all disabilities, which is why I am sure that the Minister will join me in condemning TransPennine Express and its decision to close the gate at Hull Paragon station, which is making it much more difficult for people with disabilities to access the station.
While the £1.7 million is welcome, may I ask for advice and guidance for local authorities who might come under increasing pressure from the huge number of new blue badge applications? What advice can the Minister to give to local authorities such as Cornwall?
This is a matter for local authorities and they can exercise their discretion, depending on the circumstances in their particular area. I appreciate that there is a demand for the blue badge scheme; that means that the scheme works very effectively. It assists people who have mobility issues, and that is what it is designed to do. It is right that people with non-visible disabilities are also covered by the scheme. That has been the case heretofore, but this highlights the issue and we encourage local authorities to work with the system.
I am a Scottish MP, but the blue badge scheme is UK-wide. As the Chamber knows, my wife is disabled and nothing is a bigger pain than to run my wife to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and find that all the parking spaces have been taken or, worse still, that people who do not have the badge have taken spaces. Will the Government ensure that people who abuse the system are sorted out and brought to account as quickly as possible?
Yes. First, the fraudulent use of blue badges is a criminal matter and that can be dealt with accordingly, as one would expect. As for those who park in disabled parking spaces when they are not permitted to do so, such infractions ought to be dealt with by the supervisory authority, and that can be by way of fines.
Will the Minister further outline what training must be undertaken by those responsible for parking enforcement to ensure that people entitled to a blue badge for hidden illnesses are not interrogated by traffic wardens when their blue badge is clearly on display?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We expect those who are charged with enforcing our parking regulations to be sympathetic to these issues and alive to the fact that there will be people with non-visible disabilities who are perfectly entitled to use a blue badge.