Points of Order
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A month or so ago, I wrote to the Government Chief Whip asking what the Government's attitude would be to my private Member's Bill and he sent me a letter. I should be grateful for your views on the letter, which says :
"The arrangement for private Members' Bills is determined in accordance with the sessional orders and the Standing Orders of the House. It is therefore not a matter for the Chief Whip".
That is what I have always understood the position to be, but, on 19 April, a letter was sent to Conservative Members by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot), who is a Government Whip, asking them to be present to talk on the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction by Disabled Persons) Bill, the first measure on the Order Paper, and then on my Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill. The understanding of a number of Conservative Members is that the intention is to talk out my Bill, and that is what I had anticipated, not being totally naive.
What is the position of the House? As I understand it, private Members' Bills drawn in the ballot should be treated as though they are normal Bills, and not operated on as though the Government can talk them out. Have you a view on the rights of Back Benchers on this matter, Madam Speaker, in terms of protecting their right to have Bills considered in a proper and factual manner and not manoeuvred against in the way that will happen this morning?
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a well-known habit of hon. Members who want to delay or frustrate the passage of a Bill, and who are also interested in procedure, to raise a point of order. I am determined, without a letter from anybody, not only to frustrate the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), which comes up later, but to treat the first Bill on its merits.
Would it be possible to have a ruling from you, Madam Speaker? If the hon. Member for Hammersmith, who appears not to have the votes to carry his Bill even if we reach it earlier and manage to dispose of all the amendments and new clauses, continues with his points of order, he is, in effect, filibustering his own Bill. That might meet the purpose of people such as myself who, out of courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, who is well meaning, had not intended to raise points of order. However, if he continues to raise his, I hope that I may be allowed to raise mine.
Column 616on the aspersion that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has cast on Conservative Members--that we are here to filibuster his Bill. I am here as someone who has taken a close interest in the affairs of disabled people. I have had the privilege of speaking in two major debates this year on the needs of disabled persons. I assure the hon. Member for Hammersmith that we are here because we wish to explore, in some further detail, the content of the excellent Road Traffic (Driving Instruction by Disabled Persons) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), which I welcome unreservedly. I am not here in any other spirit.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Hammersmith Mr. Soley) should have started today's proceedings in this way. If the points of order are taking up time, they must affect the time that may be available to debate his important Bill. I have congratulated him on the way in which he conducted himself when he introduced the Bill and on his general good humour and manner. I was a little taken aback suddenly to find that he had tabled early-day motion 1809. I do not know whether you have had the opportunity to see that motion, Madam Speaker. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman had tabled it, and I hope that he has taken full note of the amendment to it that has been tabled.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about a member of the Government Whips Office and referred to a letter. I have never seen such a letter. I do not believe that it exists. His allegation is an unqualified slur on the integrity of hon. Members. You might wish to see, Madam Speaker, whether he has such a letter. I hope that you will ask him to withdraw those remarks.
Madam Speaker : The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) knows that in the House, all Bills are treated on their merits and it is not for the Chair to involve itself in correspondence that passes between one hon. Member and another, whether or not one of those hon. Members is a Whip, or the Leader of the House. Neither is it for me to discourage any hon. Member who wishes to take part in a debate. The points of order are frustrating our debate and I hope that the House will allow the first Bill to proceed. First, there is a petition, to be presented by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson).
Mr. Soley : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not intend to talk out the Bill. If I involved myself in tactics similar to those used by Conservative Members, I could easily talk on the amendments to talk out the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction by Disabled Persons) Bill. I do not intend to do so, but I could. My point is that we have a balloting system and private Members' Bills should be given serious consideration. These tactics could not be used with Government Bills. The Government would either timetable a Bill or provide extra time for it. If we are serious about the reform of the procedures of the House, Bills ought to be decided on their merits. That is not happening. Furthermore, if the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) wants to see the contents of the letter, I can show it to him.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I hope that you will allow me to say that if we are considering whether the making of these points of order will seriously affect the progress of the hon.
Column 617Gentleman's Bill, we ought to recognise that it has attracted distinguished opposition, including the editor of The Guardian, the National Union of Journalists, the Newspaper Publishers Association--
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman anticipates the second Bill on the Order Paper. If any hon. Member feels that the procedure is not correct, or could be improved, he or she has the opportunity to put the matter before the Procedure Committee. The House would be wise, I believe, to proceed with consideration of the first Bill. [Interruption.] We must not frustrate, though, presentation by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) of a petition.
Hadrian's Wall National Trail
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) : I have the honour to present a petition protesting against a plan by the Countryside Commission to create a Hadrian's Wall national trail. It is signed by more than 1, 600 people in my constituency, all of them either residents, farmers, landowners or those who have an educational or commercial interest in the wall and the surrounding area. They protest that the trail is planned to cater for more than 200,000 people per annum, on top of the very many who already visit the site, causing considerable problems and financial loss, particularly to farmers in the area. They further protest that the Countryside Commission's consultation paper claims that most of those consulted agree with the commission's proposals, whereas in fact they do not. Finally, they express concern at the likely impact of this vast increase in tourism on a world heritage site, valued for its remoteness and isolated beauty. Wherefore, your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will urge the Secretary of State for the Environment from proceeding with the aforementioned proposals, and your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
To lie upon the Table.
Road Traffic (Driving Instruction by Disabled Persons) Bill Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
The following section shall be inserted in the Road Traffic Act after section 125B--
"125C(1) A person who holds a current driving licence which is limited other than by virtue of a notice served under section 92(5)(b) of this Act may apply to the Registrar under the provisions of section 125 of this Act, for his name to be entered in the register for the purpose of giving instruction in the driving of motor cars of a class covered by his limited driving licence.".'.-- [Mr. Peter Bottomley.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
The mobility roadshow will be held on 11, 12 and 13 June at the Transport Research Laboratory at Crowthorne in Berkshire. Those who have any experience of the previous five mobility roadshows will be able to testify to the remarkable range of adaptations that have already been made to vehicles to allow those who need to overcome a disability to be mobile. When we consider new clause 4, which probes whether there should be a right of appeal against an adverse decision by an assessor, we ought to bear in mind that the mobility roadshow is, in effect, a showcase for the work that goes on at Crowthorne and in other mobility centres throughout the United Kingdom.
I suspect that later in the debate we shall get to know MAVIS better. MAVIS is the Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service. I think that we may hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), who has promoted his Bill with great distinction, and, perhaps, from the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who has done so much to carry forward the work to overcome mobility handicaps, that MAVIS is where some of the assessment is likely to take place. The purpose of the mobility roadshow is to give people with disabilities the chance to test drive a wide range of models of standard production cars and vans and to try out the latest range of hand controls, as well as the wheelchairs, pavement vehicles, modifications for swivel seats and a variety of mobility-related adaptations and equipment-- so important to the purpose of the Bill--which are likely to be part of the adaptations that would then qualify somebody, under the terms of the Bill, to gain employment as a driving instructor.
If the media could give advance publicity to a roadshow, the growing number of people who would benefit from going there would know about it. Perhaps I may be permitted, in the gaps between the paving stones of my speech, to say that if anyone is interested in knowing more about where to stay in the area, they can telephone 0344-770463, or 071-276-5252 for more details, which could be sent to them.
Mr. Bottomley : If I went into that matter in too much detail, I should probably trespass on the generosity of the Chair. A guide, published by the Department of Transport and the Transport Research Laboratory, is available from MAVIS and the disability unit of the Department of Transport. It details the services in the United Kingdom that offer advice, information and assessment to disabled and elderly motorists. The guide covers not just the independent centres, ranging all the way from the Northern Ireland Council for Disability in Belfast through to MAVIS in Crowthorne, but centres in Banstead, Avon, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Shropshire, Surrey, Tyne and Wear, Wales and Scotland.
That is important, for those who want to follow a career as driving instructors will want to know where they can obtain access to assessment, whether there are grounds for appeal against the assessment, and in what way that appeal should be made. The booklet does not cover just the independent sector. It also covers commercial establishments. That may be important to those who want their vehicles to be adapted for their use either as drivers or as passengers, for not everyone will be able to drive an adapted vehicle. Nevertheless, they want mobility.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), who has done so much to promote the Conservative view on disability problems, not just mobility problems, has asked a sensible question. I hope that those who have the same question in mind will apply to the disability unit for the information to which he referred. The mobility roadshow is central to my proposed new clause. People need the chance to find out whether they can drive. They need to be able to do so off public roads, in an area where there is no question of causing danger to others and where there is plenty of space so that the errors that most of us make when we learn to drive under the supervision and instruction, preferably, of a driving instructor, rather than just a friend or a member of the family, can be rectified. At the Transport Research Laboratory's test track, on its private road system, they can use, so long as they have a provisional or full driving licence, a large number of vehicles equipped with various adaptations. All drivers would be accompanied by one of the Department's driving examiners, or another experienced driver, who would be able to offer expert advice and answer queries. All cars are fitted with dual controls, so that even inexperienced or nervous drivers can have a go, in safety and with confidence.
At this point, I want to refer to the many people who give up driving too soon. They may have an exaggerated fear of their loss of ability, through old age or frailty, but particularly, for the purposes of today's debate, because they feel that some disability that has come upon them suddenly, or which has developed gradually, renders them unsafe on the roads. I recommend those drivers who have such fears to apply to MAVIS for information about where they can be assessed. That is a general point, and different from the one about those who want to become driving instructors.
Column 621The advice that I give informally--I should not want anyone to take my advice too seriously unless it is confirmed by others with more expertise--is that it is perfectly reasonable, for example, for me to continue to drive until my driving is as risky as it was when I passed my driving test at 17. I do not see why we should have a different standard for people who are maturity challenged, to describe the elderly in politically correct language, or why disabled people should abandon independent mobility when their driving is safer than those who are passing the driving test.
The House will want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter for the way in which he has promoted the Bill. It was a shame that there was no opportunity for a fuller debate on Second Reading because it came on after 1.30 pm on a Friday, which did not allow much time for debate and most hon. Members did not have an opportunity to serve on the Committee.
We clearly want a higher standard for driving instructors, and here, perhaps, my remarks are probably more appropriate to Third Reading. When I was at the Department of Transport I became aware, I think from Joe Hennessey, that some people were being disqualified from taking employment as driving instructors, even though they wanted only to instruct on automatic cars because that was all they were capable of driving. No one is suggesting that all disabilities can be overcome to enable someone to drive. No one is suggesting that all those who overcome disability, or those for whom the disability becomes irrelevant and who have licences, would want to become instructors and no one is suggesting that all are suitable. As a result of the consultations, my hon. Friend has provided conditions that, in general, are fair, but what about those who have a grievance about the assessment? My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter might say--if he did not, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who has done so much to reduce casualties and to promote the opportunity of driving, would say it--that there is no realistic appeal against the failure of a test, so why should it be different for a failure on assessment? The answer is that the assessment is a far more objective measurement that is capable of being subjected to appeal. It is rather like remarking an examination paper : it does not happen often, but it is always possible to try to re-examine what was said or done or, for someone who has failed an assessment, to be able to reproduce conditions and ask, "Is this fair and right?"
I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, North-East and for Worcester (Mr. Luff) for new clause 4, which proposes that
"a person who is aggrieved by a decision of the assessor (
(a) to refuse to grant an emergency control certificate, or (
(b) to revoke an emergency control certificate, or
(c) relating to modifications which may be specified in the emergency control certificate, or
(d) relating to the recommendation as to such period of time after which a further emergency control assessment should be undergone may by notice in writing appeal to the Secretary of State within the period of twenty-eight days beginning with the day on which notice of the decision was given in accordance with this Part of the Act." Paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) are important. I will not go on at length because the House will want to debate a
Column 622number of issues in the Bill, but the idea of an emergency control certificate is an inspired one--it offers the kind of simplicity and practical approach of which St. George, if he were still around today and whose birthday we spend only a little time celebrating these days, would have approved. It goes to the heart of the problem. When a novice driver is under the supervision of an instructor, is the instructor capable of bringing the vehicle to a halt--not taking over the driving, but, in effect, disabling the vehicle? The notion of the certificate is a good and clear one.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great benefits of the emergency control certificate is that it enables people, as their condition perhaps worsens, to have further adaptations and modifications made to their vehicle, which are reflected in the certificate and thus enable them to continue to drive? That ties in with what my hon. Friend was saying about the roadshow and what is available under MAVIS. The strength of the certificate is that it is flexible but simple.
Mr. Bottomley : My hon. Friend is right, but he is tempting me to stray wider than the new clause. If people who can drive independently and, in effect, have a full licence have a condition, new or growing, that makes it likely that they will not be able to bring the vehicle to a halt in emergency conditions, they are under an obligation to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Indeed, we are all subject to that obligation, regardless of whether we have a noticeable disability. I remind all those who are paying attention to our debate that not only driving instructors or those who wish to become instructors, but each of us, have an obligation not to drive when we are incapable of driving and, if we have a condition that is likely to be more than temporary, to notify the licensing centre of it so that, if necessary, our licence can be withdrawn and we can be referred for medical or driving assessment. That may not appear to be complicated, but it is effective as long as the message continues to get through to people.
The DVLA would decide whether an ordinary driver requires an emergency control certificate. It might want to discuss with the Department's medical advisers whether an emergency control certificate should be more widely available to people whose condition might in future fall into paragraph (d). Clearly, that paragraph could be widened. If I continue on those lines, I shall be going beyond whether qualified drivers should be able to appeal against an assessment that says that they cannot proceed to become a driving instructor.
Mr. Heald : I am sorry to trespass on my hon. Friend's good will, but, as the proposed system is so flexible and someone can take another control assessment within six months, is there any great benefit in having an appeal, the effect of which would be to add another layer of bureaucracy and to require the Secretary of State to consider such issues and to second -guess the assessor? Would not it be better if aggrieved people took a second test, as they do under the driving test?
Mr. Bottomley : That is the point before the House. My hon. Friend has a reputation as one of the radical young Turks of the Tory party who wants to strip away the red tape and I suppose that his argument needs to be balanced
Column 623against my idea of fairness. When the then Prime Minster called me in during the summer of 1990 and said that I was doing a frightfully good job in Northern Ireland "and, by the way, you are sacked", she reminded me that there is a lot of rough justice in government. If one spends a lot of time trying to enact legislation or make administrative decisions that are perfect for everybody, one does not get very far and the responsibilities of government are broader than that. When proposing legislation, we can say, "All right, there will be unfairness. Peter Bottomley can speak up for the aggrieved person, but my hon. Friend"- -
Mr. Bottomley : I tried not to identify my hon. Friend because it might embarrass him. The mood has now changed and we are all supposed to be soft, caring Tories like myself. If my hon. Friend wants to be identified with his own remarks, so be it, but I shall speak for those who feel aggrieved because they believe that they failed an assessment unfairly. My hon. Friend can say, "Just wait six months and avoid this extra layer of bureaucracy." I have never been too sure that one should regard the motion of an appeal as bureaucracy. If I were convicted unfairly or unjustly or, from the point of view of lawyers and, more important, against the law, I could appeal to a higher court two or three times. I am not sure that one should refer to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, the Court of Appeal or the High Court as "bureaucracy", but my hon. Friend is a lawyer and no doubt knows much more about it.
I must return to the decision that the House must take. Is it better for there to be no appeal against assessment, as there is no effective appeal against a test failure? I suspect that there is an appeal, but how does one recreate the necessary conditions? I am willing to be convinced, not that the new clause is wrong--it is clearly right--but that it should not be accepted on grounds of practice.
One could argue that it is unlikely that people would be wrongly failed and that the system is designed to let through as many people as possible, rather than to block as many as possible. One may argue that it will be obvious when someone has failed the test for an emergency control certificate by, for example, knocking down the cones on the test ground at Crowthorne. The situation may be similar to that involving alcohol testing for drivers.
During my service at the Department of Transport, well over 1 million people were tested for alcohol and not a single one complained to his Member of Parliament about the result. The people tested who had not taken any alcohol regarded themselves as potential victims ; those whose tests were between zero and the legal limit wiped the perspiration from their forehead and said "Thank heavens" ; and those who were above the legal limit knew that they had been caught bang to rights and had no grounds for complaint.
In this case, if the House is not minded to accept the eminently sensible new clause, I hope that, as part of the emergency control assessment, if someone has failed, the assessor will allow the candidate to try again, using the distance in which people should be able to stop a vehicle, and see whether he and the driving instructor candidate can agree why the candidate has been refused a certificate. Such a practical approach may be better than the
Column 624legislative provision, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald), in rather heavy language, called "another layer of bureaucracy".
Mr. Thurnham : Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there are sufficient provisions for the assessor to make clear the reasons why someone is failed? I am a little uncertain about whether the Bill goes far enough in that respect. If people are to fail on account of a disability, it is important that they should know that, and should perhaps be able to discuss the matter further. That is an important part of the appeals procedure because someone could be failed time and again on the six months' basis without knowing why.
Mr. Bottomley : I should be interested to hear my hon. Friend answer his own question. I think that I am falling into the trap of exaggerating the possible problems. The national vice-chairman of the Disabled Drivers Association, Mr. Hennessey, is quoted as saying : "It is many years since one of our members from Coventry was denied the opportunity to become a driving instructor and become gainfully employed, because she only had a licence to drive cars with automatic transmission. The Disabled Drivers Association' warmly welcomes this Bill which will remove the present discrimination against disabled drivers and enable those who wish to work as driving instructors to do so."
As my hon. Friend knows, those comments were backed up by Bert Massey, the distinguished director of the Royal Society for Disability and Rehabilitation, who said :
"RADAR warmly welcomes this Bill, which if passed, will enable disabled drivers to become driving instructors. The Bill will affect a small number of disabled people, but removes a barrier to them becoming economically active' and assisting other disabled people to become independently mobile'. We very much hope the House will grant it a Second Reading."
The Bill has received a Second Reading, but the two quotations remind us that, in the main, we are talking about people driving cars with automatic transmission.
We are talking about people using one foot for the accelerator and the brake, as I would if I were driving an automatic transmission car--or one hand if there were hand controls ; I am not arguing that one necessarily needs feet, but I am taking the most general example. In those circumstances, there is no difficulty about the emergency control certificate. It could be argued that, by talking about foot control or hand control, I am exaggerating the problem. Even people represented by RADAR and the Disabled Drivers Association might tell me that I do not need to pursue the issue at great length and that the assessors are perfectly happy to explain to those who will not receive the certificate why they will not receive it, a point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East. If I were to watch a demonstration, I suspect that I could find that the prospective driving instructor would accept the assessor's decision. If I get the opportunity to go to Crowthorne, an assessor might say, "This is how it happens. There is not going to be a problem." If my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter can convince me that that is so, I shall not push the new clause to a vote, but we should hear what he has to say. I suspect that other people will be worrying about whether the reassessment of the decision should have to wait for six months, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North, or should be a matter for appeal. I am making a relatively narrow point and am not suggesting reassessing the whole driving test.
Mr. Thurnham : I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on his good fortune in winning the ballot for a second time. I have entered all the ballots available but got nowhere, either for private Members' Bills or for private Members' motions. I also congratulate him on his great work for the disabled. I believe that he has been a member of the all-party parliamentary disablement group for about 20 years, which shows the length of his commitment. He has also supported other groups, including the Conservative disability group, and I look forward to visiting his constituency a little later this year to meet some of his constituents and to learn more about his work.
In my early days in the House, my hon. Friend introduced the Corneal Tissue Act 1986. I was not aware of all the shenanigans that can sometimes accompany private Members' Bills. One hon. Member approached me and asked whether I would be present on Friday. He could not be here and there was a danger that his Bill would not proceed because of another Bill. He asked me whether I would kindly shout, "Object" when the eighth Bill on the Order Paper was called. His Bill was an important one e Corneal Tissue Bill. Had I shouted "Object", I might have prevented it from, making progress. Fortunately, I became aware of the dangers into which I might have fallen. The other hon. Member, who had better remain nameless, had to remain in the queue. I forget what happened to his Bill, but I am delighted that the Corneal Tissue Act 1986 reached the statute book. If hon. Members are lucky in the ballot, it is especially important that they choose a Bill that will reach the statute book rather than a Bill that is bound to be highly contentious and has only the remotest chance of being passed. In choosing the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction by Disabled Persons) Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter has shown great wisdom in choosing a Bill which has good prospects of reaching the statute book and will be enormously helpful to many people.
I do not know how many people it is envisaged will become driving instructors under the Bill. We know that more than 100,000 people have taken advantage of the excellent motability scheme and have obtained cars through it. There may be a greater number of disabled driving instructors than has been imagined. By getting rid of a barrier here--regrettably, there are still barriers elsewhere for disabled people who seek employment- -and by opening up an avenue, more people will come through.
I am a little concerned that there seem to be two classes of people under the Bill--ordinary driving instructors and registered disabled driving instructors. It may be possible to consider that aspect further. The appeals procedure is important because people should be left in no doubt if there is a difficulty.
I was fortunate in being a member of the Committee that considered the Bill. However, the Committee clashed with the Committee considering the Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill. My ability to attend the Committee considering this Bill was limited because I was selected to be a member of both Committees. I am pleased that the Bill made such rapid progress and that we can give it further consideration today.
Column 626I have not had the opportunity to visit the Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service at Crowthorne in Berkshire, but I hope that I may have a future opportunity to do so. I am impressed by the reports about it. I hope that facilities can be made available to people with disabilities in as many parts of the country as possible so that they can take advantage of the expertise held by the Department of Transport in that sector.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) was concerned with the centre when he was a Minister at the Department of Transport and I pay tribute to his work at the Department. The encouraging figures for road accidents are a great tribute to his work and to the work of other Ministers, including my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic. Great credit is due to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham for his work on this issue and for his work on drink-driving. He showed great common sense in charting the way forward. The figures prove the wisdom of my hon. Friend's approach when he was at the Department of Transport.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : I certainly do not mind my hon. Friend continuing to speak about me in that way. It is worth remembering that I was only a paragraph in a chapter because Barbara Castle introduced the breathalyser in 1967. What worked in drink-driving was sticking to things that mattered. The same applies to disability. Tribute should be paid to those who carried forward the United Kingdom effort after the international year of disabled people. The Department of Transport set up a disability unit and consulted the Sir Peter Baldwin committee--the disabled persons transport advisory committee--on which my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter served with great distinction, together with Lewis Carter-Jones. That provided the drive and combined the expertise. All that Ministers have to do is to turn up when asked and say the things that have been put in their hands, and that Parliament and Government care about these matters.
Mr. Thurnham : My hon. Friend is being very modest about the part that he played. Even if that was the extent of what he had to do, he did it extraordinarily well. I am pleased that he and I have been able to put our names to the new clause which deals with appeals in relation to the emergency control certificate, which is a key provision.
I was in a sense fortunate when I learnt to drive because it was at the time of the Suez crisis. All the driving instructors were taken away to issue petrol coupons and we were allowed to drive on our own. That was in the days before MOT certificates so not every car was as roadworthy as they are these days. There may have been times when I would have had difficulty in achieving an emergency control certificate because of the vehicles I was driving. I have no doubt that they would all be worth a fortune now if they were still on the roads. Perhaps they were consigned to the scrap heap long ago. The MOT certificate has ensured that every car on the roads is in far better condition.
In Japan, the MOT certificate is so tough to obtain that after six years, cars have to have their whole braking system replaced. The result is that Japan exports most cars that are more than six years old to China and to other countries where people are not so worried about braking systems. The Japanese motor industry is able to achieve great output and turnover because of the MOT certificate.
Column 627My hon. Friend the Minister may like to bear that in mind, although it might not be the most popular measure with people who own older cars.
The new clause would allow people to appeal if they are turned down. We do not have enough opportunities for appeals. I do not know whether the citizens charter comes into this. Bureaucracy is sometimes able to make its decisions without making clear why those decisions have been made and without allowing any process of appeal. I can understand that if a disabled driver is turned down again and again and has to wait six months before he can apply again, he wants to be given sufficient reason. When my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter comments on the new clause, he may be able to clarify the extent to which the assessors will be responsible for telling people why they have failed. If they have no duty to make the reasons clear, there could be great frustration. There might then be a need for an appeal procedure. People with disabilities can find that their lives are frustrated if barriers and difficulties are placed in their way. The purpose and attraction of the Bill are that it removes barriers. However, there is a hurdle here over which disabled drivers must get. I should like to think that the Bill will help people to get over the hurdle and that any difficulties will be made clear to them.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) : It is proposed that the person who is appealing will have 28 days in which to do so, beginning with the day on which the notice of the decision is given. The new clause is fairly vague on this point. The person who has declined to grant the emergency control certificate or who has revoked it will simply give notice in writing to that person of his decision and will include the reasons for it.
Is there a danger that the 28 days are not enough? Someone may have written a letter advising the person of the decision. A secretary may have sat on the letter for two or three days. The date on the letter may say the 21st, but it may not have been posted until the 28th. There may then be a weekend or a public holiday. The decision can affect the entire livelihood of an individual who may find that he has less than three weeks in which to appeal. He will need to take legal advice. If, in a few years' time, the provision is not uppermost in people's minds, it may take quite a lot of digging through law books to find out what a person's rights are. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) consider that 28 days is sufficient for an appeal which may dramatically affect the life of a disabled person?
Mr. Thurnham : My hon. Friend is right to point out that there can be practical difficulties. People may be away from their home address so the 28 days could become quite tight. Not every disabled person can get the guidance and advice that he needs. That could mean, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has pointed out, that there is a danger of exceeding that period. Some period has to be stipulated, but we should perhaps consider extending it a little further. The issue may be resolved today, or it may be considered further when the Bill, as I very much hope it will, goes to the other place.
One of the best features of the upper House is that its Members come to debates on disability issues with considerable experience. No doubt some of their
Column 628Lordships will be able to bring special expertise to bear on the question of how long the time should be and whether a 28-day timetable is tighter than is justified. The period could be anything up to six months, when a new assessment could take place anyway. I hope that that point can be considered further, either today or in the other place.
I welcome the measures that the Government have taken to help disabled drivers. The motability scheme has been enormously successful, and I understand that the motability fleet is the largest of its kind in Europe. I praise those in my constituency, including Mr. Harry Bowers of Kirkby Central Motors, who have done much to help disabled people to come to terms with their disability and to open up for themselves a whole new vista of mobility. If they can then develop that into a job by becoming driving instructors, so much the better. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter will be surprised by the success that his Bill will have when it reaches the statute book and people can take advantage of its provisions to make an economic contribution to our national life as well as enhancing their own lives. That is very much to my hon. Friend's credit and I wish him well with the Bill.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : Let me preface my remarks by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) for the skilful way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House so far and congratulating him on his excellent work for the disabled, some of which I have had the pleasure to witness during a number of debates in this place.
The new clause that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) seeks to insert into the Bill is important. As my hon. Friend said, it deals with the single most ingenious concept in the Bill, which will enable its provisions to work satisfactorily. The emergency control certificate was defined precisely by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter on Second Reading :
"A disabled person who holds a valid emergency control certificate, and who has passed the necessary written and practical qualifying tests, just as non-disabled people have to qualify, will be able to have his or her name entered in the register of approved driving instructors. That would enable a disabled person to give paid driving instruction, although he or she would be restricted to cars with automatic transmission and with any other special modifications that might be specified in the emergency control certificate." Access to the emergency control certificate is therefore the essential requirement for a disabled person who wishes to become a driving instructor.
As my hon. Friend also remarked on Second Reading, that certificate is the central concept and the key safeguard relating to road safety. Safety is the principal concern that those who are not disabled may have about the possibility of disabled people being allowed to become driving instructors, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the effective way in which he has dealt with that concern.
My hon. Friend said on Second Reading :
"Although it is necessary for road safety purposes that additional requirements should be placed on disabled people, it should not act as a disincentive to disabled people who want to qualify as approved driving instructors".--[ Official Report, 11 December 1992 ; Vol. 215, c. 1162.]
It is precisely because of my concern that there should be no such obstacle placed in the way of disabled people that I have added my name to the new clause. I am somewhat concerned that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham seemed to suggest that he intended to withdraw it. I welcome the clause, because I believe that the possibility of
Column 629being unsuccessful in applying for an emergency control certificate or having an emergency control certificate revoked is rather different from failing one's driving test, for which one is given specific reasons. The possibility exists of discrimination, intentional or unintentional, against disabled people and the existence of a court of appeal in the form of the Secretary of State should commend itself to the House.
My one concern about the new clause is that perhaps it does not go far enough. I note that it imposes no duty on the Secretary of State in respect of the speed of his or her response to the appeal. Hon. Members who have the privilege of dealing with members of the Government on a variety of constituency issues know that one can wait a very long time for a reply, although I am happy to say that, in my experience, the Department of Transport replies speedily, and I congratulate those concerned. In the event of the House accepting the new clause, would it be possible for a subsequent amendment to be tabled in the other place to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to reply within a given period? I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham will address that point in due course.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : I imagine that it would be possible to ask Mr. Deputy Speaker whether he would accept a manuscript amendment, although I suspect that my hon. Friend has answered his own question. We need to know how many people are likely to be unsuccessful in obtaining an emergency control certificate. I may have been making a mountain out of a molehill, but I feel that we must look for justice on every occasion.
Mr. Luff : My hon. Friend is entirely right, and the whole Bill is about justice. It is precisely because the new clause seems to me to make the Bill still more just that I welcome it. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter plans to speak, but if he does, he may wish to address himself to my remarks.