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Disabled Ex-Service Men (Motor Cars)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

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8 and 9.

asked the Minister of Pensions (1) to how many disabled ex-Service men he sent a circular letter, reference MZ/272389, offering to provide the recipient with a motor car; and how many of these letters were sent to persons for whom he has now decided not to provide a motor car;

(2) how many motor cars have been provided by his Department for disabled ex-Service men; how many motor cars he now holds; how many are on order; and how many more he intends to order.

In July, 1948, I undertook to supply over a period of two years not more than 1,500 motor cars, in lieu of the tricycles they now have, to pensioners in three strictly defined categories. The whole of the 1,500 have been ordered and are being regularly delivered according to promise. Up to date 414 have been handed over to pensioners in one or other of the three categories. In view of the pressing needs of the export trade, the Government are not prepared to order more at the present time. I have, however, ordered 2,000 single-seater three-wheeled all-weather motor vehicles which I described to the House on Tuesday last. These will eventually replace the present open tricycle and be available to severely disabled pensioners, not supplied with a car, but who satisfy the criteria I also described on Tuesday.

In order to ascertain the numbers who would wish to have cars 1,714 letters were sent out. Among these, 102 were sent in error to men who were not in the three categories. I deeply regret and I have already apologised for these errors, which arose from failure to recognise the exact degree of disablement of each pensioner. I estimate that if I were to supply motor cars to all pensioners of a degree of disablement equivalent to that of those who received these letters, I would require 600 motor cars in addition to those already promised. For the reasons I have given, I cannot supply these pensioners with cars within the two years. They will, however, qualify for the covered three-wheeled vehicles, which are not required for export.

In view of the fact that the number of people who were promised these cars and are now being refused them is as small as 102, is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that the needs of the export trade would be seriously prejudiced if he ordered the extra 102 cars so as to enable him to implement the promise he made?

No, Sir. I am saying that it would be unfair to supply the 102 cars to people who were fortunate or unfortunate enought to receive a mistaken letter, when there are 600, at least, in the same category of disablement. I could not fairly supply the 102 unless I proceeded to supply the 600 and, within the two years, the needs of the export trade, especially at the present day, are so important that I feel I cannot do it.

Could my right hon. Friend say how many such cars were provided before 1945?

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the safety of the three-wheeled vehicles? His predecessor does not seem to have been completely satisfied on that point?

My predecessor could not have known, because the prototype has only recently been thoroughly tried out. I explained this to the House a week ago, when I said that this vehicle has been exhaustively tested by disabled men and has been found to be satisfactory.

Does the Minister accept responsibility for the maintenance of cars even in suitable cases of those pensioners who already have them?

A pensioner who is in one of the three categories eligible to receive a car, and who has a car of his own, may, on application, receive a grant for the maintenance of that car.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the paraplegic home at Macclesfield there are ex-Service men who are paralysed from the waist downwards and who have been promised these cars? Does this mean that they are not going to get them?

Certainly not. It means they are going to get them. Four hundred and fourteen have already been delivered, and rapid calculation will show that we are acting strictly in accordance with the promise to give 1,500 in two years. They will get them before the two years are over, without doubt.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether a man who has had a motor-tricycle for 15 years, who is 100 per cent. disabled and whose tricycle is now worn out, will be given preference in either having that machine repaired or in receiving a new one?

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the position of the 102 to whom he has referred is quite different from that of men of a similar degree of disability, inasmuch as they were entitled to rely upon the promise made by his Department? Is it not a question not merely of providing a motor car but of preserving the reputation and good faith of his Department?

I quite agree that these men have a grievance. I regret that, and I have apologised for it in the fullest possible manner.