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Mobility Allowance

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 10 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has any proposals to commute the mobility allowance.

I am hopeful that a scheme may be worked out that will enable some disabled people to use their enhanced mobility allowance for the purchase of their own vehicle. I and my officials are assisting in every way we can to get such a scheme ready for implementation. The British Association for Disability and Rehabilitation—BADAR—recognises that such a scheme will have to be selective and cannot depend entirely on Government funds.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make every effort to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to relieve the commuted mobility allowance of taxation? In view of the 3,500 disabled people who, since his announcement last year, are no longer eligible for vehicles, will he reverse his decision to withdraw the invalid vehicle service?

We debated this matter at some length about 10 days ago. In answer to the second half of the hon. Gentleman's question, I cannot possibly reverse the decision. I gave the reasons then for not doing so. Certainly if I were to do so many disabled people who know the dangers of the trikes, particularly for new drivers, would be very angry indeed. The hon. Gentleman will remember the very strong campaign that was run in order that we should phase out the trikes. I think that the most important thing of all is that we should be able to achieve a scheme—I am determined to add my efforts to those of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—that will enable the maximum number of disabled people to purchase a vehicle suitable to their needs.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea when this scheme will be implemented? What is the extent of the experiments that will be initiated at these early stages?

We are working as quickly as we can. There has been a series of meetings with what used to be the CCD and is now the BADAR in its combined form. I cannot give a date by which we shall be able to make an announcement. However, it is encouraging that other organisations are coming forward ready to help. Chrysler's scheme to enable disabled people to buy cars at a substantial discount is already in operation. British Leyland and Vauxhall will begin their schemes on 1st June. There are now negotiations with Ford, among others, and they, too, are well advanced. Therefore, from a variety of sources—and I believe that we shall find cash from voluntary sources—a great deal is now being done.

What progress is being made with the design and possible production of a vehicle specially designed to replace the trike?

May I put it to the Secretary of State that he fudged the issue when replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) when he spoke about the 3,500 disabled people who would have received three-wheelers under the old rules but will not now receive them under the new rules? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the frustration and let-down felt by those people when they hear of increased expenditure on the disabled?

I say again that this question of urging that there should be increased expenditure is a little too much. The argument has been put forward that it is of great concern to people who cannot immediately now claim a trike, which they could do previously, and who have now seen the announcement that there is an increase in the mobility allowance. The mobility allowance will help precisely those who cause the hon. Lady concern, as well as many other seriously disabled people who have no possibility of driving at all. It is quite unreasonable for the Opposition constantly to press that we should put into reverse a policy that they themselves supported when it was first announced in the House.

When my right hon. Friend is looking for money for this very desirable purpose, will he take a leaf out of the Foreign Office's book, because it has transpired over the last few days that the Foreign Office has been providing for its staff interest-free car purchase loans for 28 years, completely without parliamentary authority and without Parliament being told? If the Foreign Office can be caught with its hand in the till in that way, why cannot the Secretary of State get his hands on some of the money?