HC Deb 30 November 1937 vol 329 cc1893-5
Mr. Allan Chapman

I beg to move, That leave he given to bring in a Bill to enable local authorities in Scotland to make arrangements for the prevention and treatment of blindness. This is a short Bill of four Clauses giving permissive powers to local authorities in this matter. The expenses incurred will be met in the same way as the expenses incurred under the Public Health Act of Scotland. It is a Bill of a non-contentious nature. I think that when we deal with the dreadful affliction of blindness all party differences fade into the background. On 1st April of this year there were 8,738 blind persons of all ages in Scotland, and it is my belief that some of that blindness would have been averted had preventive measures been taken in time. One of the purposes of this little Bill is to make sure that local authorities in Scotland shall have power to take those preventive measures. That very authoritative body, the Standing Committee on the Prevention of Blindness, to whom I am indebted for much help and information, began their 1936 report with these words: There is at the present day a great deal of blindness which might have been prevented if suitable precautions had been taken in time. I suggest that that statement places a very great responsibility upon this House in respect of blind persons, and those threatened with blindness. I am glad that we now have the W. H. Ross Foundation for the Study of Blindness in Scotland. The object of the Bill is to enable local authorities to take such precautions as they think necessary in the matter of diseases and injuries to the eyes. In England and Wales the local authorities have power under Section 176 of the Public Health Act of 1936 to make schemes of arrangements and to take these preventive measures. This Bill aims to give the same powers to our local authorities in Scotland. It will enable them, without qualification or restriction, to make schemes of arrangements for diseases of the eyes or injuries to the eyes. We have perhaps been a trifle illogical in that in Scotland we have placed upon the local authorities the task of caring for the blind without giving them powers to attack the conditions that lead to blindness. Prevention is very much better than cure or attempted cure. Economically there is nothing more disabling than blindness, for of the 8,738 blind persons in Scotland no fewer than 6,799 are described as unemployably blind. Quite apart from the education of the blind, something like £300,000 per annum is spent by charitable institutions on the care of the blind in Scotland. This Bill will close the gaps that exist in the powers of the local authorities in Scotland. They have powers under certain Acts like the Maternity Act to deal with certain types of blindness, but there are gaps in their powers, and this Bill is therefore designed so that we can safely say that no one threatened with blindness in Scotland need be neglected.

The Ministry of Health for England and Wales, under Section 176 of the Public Health Act, drew up a model scheme of arrangement by which notification by medical practitioners was allowed for in the case of people threatened with blindness; systematic visiting of those threatened with blindness was arranged also, and treatment could be given at clinics or operations performed in hospitals, and glasses supplied in the case of persons in need. One English authority which has been operating this scheme was good enough to let me know that in one year's working it received 21 notifications of persons threatened with blindness, and it is quite propable that a number of those cases would not have received treatment or have been brought to official notice had this notification scheme not been in being.

This is a permissive Measure. Perhaps one day when finance permits we can turn the word "may" into "shall." In the meantime I would conclude with another quotation from the report to which I have referred, which states: The adoption of preventive measures has already produced a marked improvement and conditions are very different to-day from what they were 60 years ago. That is my justification for taking up the time of the House. I would add that right hon. and hon. Members opposite in the Labour party, the Liberal Opposition and the Independent Labour party, as well as right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House, have been good enough to assure me of their support and I would like now to express my gratitude to them. I would add that I believe the Bill will have the sympathy of the Scottish Office. I beg to ask leave to introduce this Bill.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Chapman, Miss Horsbrugh, Mr. Johnston, Sir Archibald Sinclair, Mr. Welsh, Lord William Scott, Sir Douglas Thomson, Mr. Erskine Hill, and Major Neven-Spence.