HC Deb 18 April 1958 vol 586 cc547-67

1.45 p.m.

Mr. N. Pannell

I beg to move, in page 18, line 4, at the end to insert— (f) containing simple magnifying lenses of equal strength for reading purposes by adults only and so described. The purpose of the Amendment is to permit the continued sale in chain stores of spectacles containing magnifying lenses of equal strength for reading purposes … only. The Clause is all-exclusive and, by its wording, it would prevent the sale of any spectacles except under the direction of a qualified optician. I am in sympathy with the main object of the Clause, which I understand is designed to prevent the sale by quacks and charlatans of spectacles to unsuspecting and ignorant members of the public whose sight might be damaged thereby.

In so far as the Clause provides for that abuse to be ended, I am in favour of it, but the spectacles of which I am speaking, and of which I have a pair in my hand, come in a different category. Most hon. Members will have received a pair of these spectacles in the last few days. Their cosmetic quality might perhaps be criticised, although I think they compare favourably, price for price, with others which are very much more expensive. It is also likely that the lenses themselves were not suited to the degree of deficiency from which the individual recipients suffer.

Nevertheless, I guarantee that amongst the range of the spectacles of this kind which are sold there is a pair which would be quite suitable for any persons suffering only from lengthening of the sight, for which the technical term is presbyopia. These spectacles are manufactured, as far as I know, by one company only—a company in Birmingham, which employs 400 or 500 people engaged not only in the manufacture of these spectacles but on precision instruments of different kinds.

If the Clause were approved unamended and the sale of these spectacles were prohibited, a great many people would be thrown out of work, but it is not on those grounds that I have moved my Amendment. These spectacles are sold by a reputable chain store. There is a range of fourteen different types. They are separately numbered from eight upwards, No. 8 containing lenses of the strongest type and the highest number containing lenses of the weakest type. A card is supplied to the intending purchaser, containing various types of print, from very large print to the very smallest, and the object is that the intending purchaser shall choose from the range of spectacles before him a pair most suited to his condition. The reading card itself contains matter which indicates clearly that the spectacles are intended for adults and for reading purposes. The purchase of the spectacles is left at the entire discretion of the purchaser. No pressure is exerted and no advice is given by the assistant in the store.

I should like to refer to some remarks made on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths), which may have given rise to a misconception on this point. He said: I think that it was Lord Crook … who recorded that he presented himself at a chain store and asked for a pair of spectacles. A girl assistant provided him with a pair marked No. 10. He returned to the same store two hours later and saw another girl assistant who presented him with a pair marked No. 11. That is the alarming experience which the noble Lord underwent and it was of the greatest use to him in presiding over the Committee and agreeing with the rest of his colleagues that State registration was desirable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December. 1957: Vol. 579, c. 837.] That is a distortion of the position. The assistant has no qualifications and no right or ability to advise the customer on what type of spectacles he or she should choose. It is left entirely to the discretion of the customer, without any pressure whatever being exerted. I emphasise that in order to remove any misconception which may have arisen in the minds of hon. Members on that point.

Most hon. Members will be aware that in middle life there is a lengthening of vision, the technical name for which is presbyopia, which may come on as early as the age of 35 or be deferred until the age of 50. This defect manifests itself in an inability to read small print except in the clearest light, and as the defect develops it necessitates some remedial measure, such as magnifying spectacles which will bring the print nearer. It has been stated as a criticism of the spectacles that they contain two lenses of the same strength, but that is an essential feature of the spectacles. They are designed only for people who otherwise have perfect vision and suffer simply from this defect of the lengthening of vision in later years.

They would be quite useless for people suffering from a defect of one eye only. There are two arguments in support of that contention. If people are suffering from a defect of one eye only, they would presumably have had treatment long before the onset of this defect of lengthening vision, and therefore would not use the spectacles which form the subject of my Amendment. If such people were to try on a pair of spectacles with magnifying lenses both of the same strength they would improve the vision of one eye only by distorting that of the other. It is quite clear that they would reject the spectacles as quite unsuitable for their condition.

The criticism has also been advanced that they might be used by children. That is a very unsubstantial criticism, because children's sight is regularly tested when they are very young, and they would be fitted with glasses under the National Health Service.

Nevertheless, I want to make it quite clear that I do not recommend that all persons suffering from lengthening of vision should buy chain store spectacles. It is advisable that they should go to an optician or ophthalmologist—an experienced professional man who can advise them as to the type of spectacles they require. The point that I wish to emphasise is that the vast majority of people who use spectacles have perfect vision except for this lengthening of sight. Only a small minority have eye defects which need spectacles supplied by an optician because of the different measure of defect in each eye.

Those persons who have perfect vision except for this lengthening of sight in later years tend to mislay their spectacles. They are used only for reading, and there is a tendency to put them on one side at other times, and they often get mislaid in that manner. They might be lost, or even broken. What is a sufferer from this complaint to do if his glasses are mislaid, lost or broken? It may be that during the course of a journey that he is undertaking, or at the end of it, he finds that he has not got his spectacles with him. Today he has no alternative but to go to a chain store and purchase a temporary pair which will enable him to read and carry on until he has access to his own pair or can obtain a new pair recommended by an optician or ophthalmologist.

He would suffer a very grave handicap if that facility were not available to him. He would perhaps have to strain his eyesight in endeavouring to read, and cause damage to his eyes in consequence. He might borrow from a friend, but that would generally be agreed to be a very unfortunate thing to do because he would be wearing spectacles prescribed for another eye condition and they would certainly cause much more damage to his sight than a temporary pair purchased from a chain store.

In this connection I should like to quote a quite impartial view advanced by the Economist in its issue of 14th December, 1957, when the following appeared in reference to the Second Reading debate: It was clear from the Second Reading debate that an attempt will be made in Committee to prohibit the sale of spectacles in chain stores and the like. This must be resisted, It is right and proper that everyone should have the opportunity through the National Health Service to have his eyes tested and examined by a qualified person. The sensible person, if his eyes are troubling him, will take the opportunity, but he should not be forced to do so when it may be much more convenient for him to take a pair of spectacles that will suit his purpose off the peg. No one has attempted to ban self-medication, even though people may he harming themselves by swallowing aspirin, laxatives and cough mixtures instead of consulting a doctor first. Similarly, anyone who wants a pair of spectacles immediately and urgently should be allowed to buy them. That sums up the matter very cogently. I very much doubt whether any hon.

Member would suggest that restrictions should be placed upon the sale of medicaments generally, and that no person should be able to buy a medicament from a chemist without a medical prescription.

Mr. Burden

My hon. Friend will be aware that restrictions are placed upon all drugs which are considered to be dangerous. If it is proved that the use of these spectacles endangers the eyesight, surely my hon. Friend will agree that some restriction should be imposed upon their sale.

Mr. Pannell

I do not think that that argument is valid. I agree that dangerous drugs are subject to restrictions, but ordinary medicaments are not. A man may have a stomach ulcer which is causing him great pain, and he may obtain relief by buying a stomach powder, as a result of which he may accelerate the course of the disease and suffer very great discomfort later. There is no law to prevent him doing so, and no suggestion that there should be.

Mr. Janner

Is the hon. Member really suggesting that he approves of that kind of thing?

Mr. Pannell

I approve of the liberty of the subject and object to any infringement of that liberty.

Mr. Janner

The hon. Member is in favour of ulcers.

Mr. Pannell

I strongly recommend that anyone suffering from such a complaint should consult a medical man, but it would be quite wrong to penalise the vast majority of sensible people who buy medicaments according to their own judgment because a foolish minority might be damaging their own health by not taking medical advice. The same argument applies in the case of the spectacles that I have mentioned.

Even the Crook Report was not definite about this matter. It said: It would seem to follow, therefore, that the proper limits of legislation should be the prohibition of the use of recognised titles by unqualified people and the prevention of such people from holding themselves out as qualified practitioners. The limits of such registration should be those, with which I entirely agree, and the Bill amply provides for such registration.

2.0 p.m.

Another objection has been advanced. It has been stated—and I must say that I took very careful note of the objection—that there may be people who are suffering from a disease of the eye such as glaucoma or cataract which will also occur later in life. It is possible that they are suffering concurrently from glaucoma and from presbyopia or lengthening of vision, and that in order to improve their sight in the short term and to overcome this lengthening of vision they would have recourse to spectacles of a simple magnifying character, and that, as a result of buying such glasses from a chain store they would not have the advantage of the advice of a qualified optician.

I took that argument very much into account in my consideration of the problem and I had expected in Committee that an array of facts and figures could be put forward in substantiation of that criticism. To my surprise, however—and I was willing to be influenced by such figures and facts—there were only generalisations to the effect that medical opinion generally is in favour of banning these spectacles, and other specious arguments of that character.

Having no knowledge of the subject myself, I have examined what medical books have been available to me on the care of the eye. I have never seen in any of the books to which I have referred any criticism of the deleterious effects of spectacles sold in chain stores. I am not speaking as a medical man or as an optician, and I must defer to others on technical matters. I am merely speaking on behalf of the general public. The vast majority of people in middle and later life have recourse to glasses for the first time in their lives. Apart from lengthening vision, they have perfectly normal sight. The lengthening vision causes them to have recourse to reading glasses of exactly the type sold in the chain stores, consisting of simple magnifying lenses and lenses of equal strength. They form, as I have said, the vast majority of people who wear glasses at all. It is their rights which will be infringed by the Clause unless my Amendment is accepted.

These people will be in the extremely difficult position of being unable to read unless they are able to obtain a pair of spectacles at short notice should they mislay or break their own. If the Clause goes through unamended, many thousands of people will be put to great inconvenience and very great expense merely in order to defend a problematical and certainly a tiny minority of the public.

I quite understand that the opticians' profession would be in favour of the Clause. I do not wish to accuse members of that profession of unworthy motives, but it is quite clear that if 250,000 pairs of spectacles of this kind are at present being sold every year in general stores, and if their sale is going to be prohibited under the Bill, there will be 250,000 more pairs of spectacles sold by opticians to their profit. It is also clear that the National Health Service will bear a very heavy extra charge as a result.

The extra charge to the National Health Service might run into millions of £s, because we must consider not only the 250,000 people who purchase these spectacles annually, but must take into account the fact that if a person knows that he cannot buy a pair of spectacles at short notice, a person who is suffering only from the defect of lengthening vision, he will not risk the danger of losing his spectacles and being unable to replace them straight away. He will, therefore, be compelled to buy a number of pairs of spectacles and plant them in different places. [Laughter.] That may cause hilarity among certain hon. Members, but what is the alternative? If, for example, I travel from Liverpool to London and find on the train that I have left my glasses behind, what recourse have I except to go to a chain store to replace them? If I go to an optician I have to have my eyes tested before I can get another pair of spectacles. Even if as a Member of Parliament an exception were to be made in my favour, that would not influence me, because we are not legislating for ourselves but for the general public.

Mr. W. Griffiths

What the hon. Gentleman is saying is really not quite true. Let us take, first of all, the example which he has cited. He would not be charged at all for the examination of his eyes because that cost is borne by the National Health Service. I know from my own experience that it is common practice for opticians to provide at very short notice to a patient a pair of glasses which will enable him to carry on for a day or two until the new pair is obtained.

Mr. Pannell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for what he says. However, I am not entirely reassured, because I spoke to someone very highly placed in the profession and he said that it was not the function of opticians to supply such glasses to ordinary members of the public and that they would not be able to do so. If there were a Clause in the Bill which provided that opticians should be under an obligation to do that, my objection would almost entirely disappear.

I am urging that the Committee should not have regard only for a tiny and even problematical minority of the general public who might conceivably be benefited if the Clause remained unaltered. I ask that we should consider the advantage and benefit of the vast majority of the reading public who have passed middle age, and that we should not impose an intolerable restriction on the liberty of the subject by means of the Clause. I hope that the Committee will be influenced by what I have said, will consider the points I have raised and will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Chapman

I beg to second the Amendment.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) appreciates that I second the Amendment so as to enable a proper discussion of his views to take place, and that I must not be thought, by seconding the Amendment, to be agreeing with all he says. I think there should be discussion on what the hon. Gentleman has said for four reasons. The first is a very simple reason. It is that I think it important that those hon. Members competent to do so should he enabled to answer what the hon. Gentleman has said about the correction of sight and about the dangers that may be involved by the wrong use of simple magnifying glasses. The hon. Gentleman has said a great deal about that and I want the matter properly discussed.

I would go so far as to say that if a quarter of a million of these spectacles are being sold every year, then clearly a large section of the general public is willing to use this service. We as Members of Parliament must be very careful about telling a quarter of a million people that instead of paying 7s. for a pair of spectacles they must go to a qualified optician and pay at least 30s. a pair under the National Health Service.

Mr. W. Griffiths

But my hon. Friend was in favour of putting on charges in 1951.

Mr. Chapman

I do not know what my hon. Friend means. He says I was in favour of putting on charges in 1951, but I was not in Parliament in 1951.

Mr. Griffiths

My hon. Friend was in favour of it, all the same.

Mr. Chapman

I will deal with my hon. Friend if he cares to interrupt me properly.

At the moment, there is clearly a market, and the 250,000 people who buy these spectacles ought to be told quite distinctly by my hon. Friends and others why they think that it is medically dangerous for them to buy these spectacles.

The second reason why I think there should be discussion of this matter is that the firm which lives largely on this trade is near my constituency. It is, in fact, just over the border, and I believe some of its directors live in my constituency. I want to know, and I have asked the sponsors of the Bill this question before, when this firm is likely to go out of business. It is only fair—I see the hon. Gentleman nodding his head—that the firm, which has had a perfectly reputable business up to this moment, should be given some idea when these provisions of the Bill are likely to come into operation.

I have said before that perhaps we do not need so much the actual date of coming into operation as a negative indication that it will not come into operation, say, before 1st January, 1959. If that sort of indication could be given it would give a firm of this magnitude some opportunity of calculating how quickly it must reorganise itself or be prepared to go out of existence.

Mr. Russell

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? I am advised that it will be at least two or three years before this Clause can be brought into operation. It will have to wait until the first register has been completed, so that there is plenty of time before it can operate.

Mr. Chapman

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. That certainly does answer my second point, and the information will be of considerable assistance to these people, who have quite legitimately sunk a great deal of money in their business.

The third reason why I think we should discuss this matter is that perhaps some indication could be given by my hon. Friends and others as to the kind of lenses that will still be allowed to be sold in Woolworths and other multiple stores if this Clause is passed unamended. Clearly, there may be people who leave their spectacles behind when they make a journey, as the hon. Gentleman opposite suggested quite rightly, and I think we should be able to say that simple magnifying glasses not in spectacle frames might still be allowed for sale in the chain stores. If so, I think it should be stated. It is important to make it absolutely clear that there is at least something that can be done in order to help the sort of "hard luck" case which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, apart from the actual purchase of spectacles.

My fourth and final reason why I second the Amendment is this. The letter which we have all had from the makers of these spectacles underlines a very great deal of what I have been saying throughout the discussion on this Bill. That was that people can buy these spectacles for 7s. a pair retail. Within that price, there is, presumably, a retailer's profit and a manufacturer's profit. I am not suggesting that privately-supplied spectacles can be sold for 7s. a pair. I am suggesting that the frames are not all that bad. I know that the lenses are simple ones, not curved, and I know, and I want to make it quite clear that I accept, that a professional fee must be added in the case of privately-supplied spectacles to compensate the optician for his training and skill and for the overheads which he carries in having a consulting room. But when all that is added, I still do not see where the difference comes in between 7s. a pair for these glasses and the five guineas which is the sort of price one pays for privately purchased spectacles. That differentiation seems to me to be much too big to be justified.

Mr. W. Griffiths

Is my hon. Friend really suggesting that the mass-produced, inferior article which he holds in his hand is in any way comparable, not only with the spectacle frames sold privately, but the ones supplied under the National Health Service? Will he allow me to tell him that it is a fact that there are standards which have been laid down by the Ministry of Health as to the quality of the lenses and frames, and that in no particular does the article which he is holding in his hand or to which he has referred measure up to the National Health Service standard?

Mr. Chapman

I must not be taken as opposing my hon. Friend on this. I am only saying a simple thing, which is that 7s. is so vitally different from 5 guineas that, given all the considerations which my hon. Friend wants to bring in, and I accept them all, because before he interrupted me I was outlining them——

Mr. Griffiths rose——

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Chapman

No, I will not give way again. I must be allowed to finish one answer to my hon. Friend before he interrupts again.

Mr. Griffiths

On a point of order. Is it not the custom of this House that when an hon. Member refers to another hon. Member he should give way?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

It is the custom, but that is not a point of order.

Mr. Chapman

I agree that it is customary, but I think I ought to be allowed to give my answer to one point before my hon. Friend brings up another.

What I am saying is that there is so vast a difference between 7s. and 5 guineas, that, given all the considerations which my hon. Friend wants to bring in, I do not see the justification for so great a differential. All I am saying is that it underlines my point that the public need to know what is the worth of spectacle frames, and that, on top of that, they should be quite willing, and naturally accept, to pay for skilled work by the optician. Given all that, I am still left rather aghast when I see that these simple spectacles, and rudimentary things like them, can be sold for 7s.

Mr. Burden

On a point of order. Have we not already had, on a previous Amendment which the hon. Gentleman withdrew, all this discussion about the prices of frames and prices charged?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We seem to be having it again.

Mr. Chapman

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was trying to be relevant, and the one consideration which impels me to think that this matter should be discussed is that people can buy these things so cheaply, which is one of the main points advanced by the manufacturers in support of the Amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman.

However, the hon. Gentleman, in interrupting me, was only prolonging the proceedings, because I was bringing my remarks to an end. I said I had four reasons for seconding this Amendment in order that we might have a discussion. I have given my four reasons. I hope that we shall now have some justification from my hon. Friends who are opticians and others to correct the idea among a quarter of a million people that they are buying good spectacles when they are buying these things at 7s. a pair.

Mr. Hastings

I am neither an ophthalmologist nor an ophthalmic optician. I never have been and never hope to be one, but, for all that, I would most strongly oppose this Amendment.

We shall never be able to prevent people using spectacles without having their eyes properly tested. There will always be people who will use the spectacles of their deceased grandparents or great-aunts, and we want to prevent these people wearing spectacles without having their eyes tested, because of the great risks that they are running. Because a person past middle age is getting a little blind in one or both eyes, it does not follow that that person in suffering from presbyopia which could be put right with glasses. The trouble could be caused by a host of other things which could be detected only if the eyes were properly tested.

A dear friend and relation of mine, who had trouble with one eye, tried different types of spectacles with no avail, and eventually came to me. I took him to an ophthalmic surgeon, or an ophthalmologist, which is the term used in the Bill, and at once he recognised that my friend had a cancer on his retina. But it was far advanced. The eye was taken out at once, but unfortunately my friend died from recurrences of this cancer of the eye.

It is things like that which we want to avoid. Every ophthalmic optician has been trained, not to treat such cases but to recognise them, or at any rate to recognise that there is something wrong which is beyond his ken and send the patient to an ophthalmic surgeon. Because such dangers as that actually occur, I strongly oppose this Amendment.

Mr. W. Griffiths

I wish to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) and to mention what was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) during the Committee stage discussions. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to a recent report of Professor Sorsby who, among other things, noted that 80 per cent. of cataract cases which came to his notice had not previously been seen either by an ophthalmic optician or an ophthalmologist. It so happens that the onset of cataract is insidious and without pain. If it progresses rapidly and completely obscures the interior of the eye it is sometimes difficult for a surgeon to be satisfied that he is able to operate under the best conditions because he is unable to see what is the general condition of the interior of the eye. Nothing will happen to the vast majority of the people who buy the 250,000 pairs of spectacles sold in chain stores each year, but I am satisfied that there is a residual content which suffers the most disastrous consequences to eyesight and health.

It was the overwhelming desire of hon. Members from both sides of the House that something should be written into the Bill to prevent these sales, and during the Committee stage discussions Amendments were made prohibiting the sale of spectacles in chain stores. The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell), who spoke to the Committee as sincerely as he has spoken today, was unable during the Committee stage to get any- body to support him. I do not think hon. Members would today wish to reverse the decision of the Committee and to accept this Amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) used the example of the chain store spectacles which cost 7s. as an illustration when he returned to his theme of the enormous gap between the cost of those spectacles and some appliances which are sold to people for five guineas and so on. I interrupted him, when he allowed me, and put it to him that these articles were vastly different. I understand that my hon. Friend is in the hotel business and I imagine that there are boarding houses surrounding his hotel. There are also 4-star, 3-star and 2-star hotels of varying quality, and I have no doubt that his hotel charges are not controlled by statute. Nevertheless, there is a different quality of service in his own industry, if I may so call it, and he would regard it as outrageous to compare some types of boarding houses with a 4-star hotel.

Mr. Chapman

May I interrupt my hon. Friend in return to say that I thoroughly agree with him? But I should be staggered to find that, in the general run of hotel prices, those of one hotel were fifteen times more than those of another. That is the differential in the figures which I have been quoting. The very example quoted by my hon. Friend has undone what he said. We might compare the average hotel with the average privately-supplied spectacle frames, but if I found that there was a difference of fifteen times in the costs of ordinary and rather poor hotels I should feel I was in wonderland.

Mr. Percy Holman (Bethnal Green)

I feel that it would be disastrous to prohibit the sale of these cheap spectacles in chain stores. I agree that in cases of short-sightedness and ailments it is necessary for the sufferer at some time to appear before a proper professional person for an examination, but I consider that on occasion these cheap spectacles can perform a useful purpose. I should like to give an example which happened on election day, on Wednesday, when my wife beat her Conservative opponent by nearly twenty votes to one. The Conservative candidate admitted that their organisation had fallen to pieces and that they had received no support from anyone except the wives.

My wife lost her glasses during the day, probably while examining what was happening at the polling station or when doing something of that sort. She immediately rang up her ophthalmic consultant and the secretary said that nearly all the leading people in the profession were absent at an important conference and there was no chance of my wife having her eyes re-examined this week. My own two pairs of glasses were useless to her. She could not read the election results or anything else. At the psychological moment, a 7s. pair of spectacles turned up in my post. My wife put them on and said, "This is not a desirable pair to use continuously but compared with a magnifying glass"—that was the alternative which she had borrowed from a leading medical person—"I find it very much less of a strain to use them."

My wife had no chance to get her glasses replaced for the best part of a week. She has not been able to make an appointment before Monday and then the glasses will have to be made. Meanwhile, she has important council work to do and in the interval the 7s. glasses will serve a useful temporary purpose. I give that as an example of something which happened in the last two days which I think justifies a state of affairs in which citizens can get this sort of temporary help when permanent glasses which are safe to wear are not available.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. Hastings

May I ask my hon. Friend whether his wife had had her eyes tested previously by a competent ophthalmologist or ophthalmic optician to be quite sure that no serious defect was present?

Mr. Holman

My wife rang a professional man, who happened to be absent at a conference. He has an address in Harley Street which I should think would justify most people in assuming that he was completely competent. Having lost her glasses, my wife rang this gentleman in the first instance to see whether any modification was desired.

Mr. Burden

I hope that the House will resist the Amendment. It is clear that danger exists not for people who have had the good sense to go to a competent ophthalmologist to get their eyes tested, but for people who buy spectacles from stores instead of going for ophthalmic advice. If they are now forced to go to well-trained specialists in the optical profession they will have an opportunity of knowing whether their bad sight is something merely to be regulated by glasses or whether they need immediate medical attention.

That is the important point, and is why the Amendment should be resisted. If spectacles disappear from the chain stores many people will have to go to an ophthalmic surgery for treatment. The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) described how death can ultimately be caused when serious eye defects are neglected. With proper treatment such people might be able to enjoy their sight for many years.

Mr. Janner

I would add one or two words to what has been so well said by those who oppose the Amendment. I can quite understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) seconded the Amendment. He omitted to give as his reason for doing so, that he wishes to protract the proceedings on the Bill for as long as possible so that eventually there might be no decision on it. He did not mention that reason, but possibly it was there.

The Amendment raises an extremely important matter. We have been told that 250,000 people purchase glasses from chain stores. Many of them imagine that because the lenses they have bought enable them to see more clearly, they are suitable for their eyes, but they may have bought something which is worse than useless. That is the basis of the argument against permitting the sale of glasses in this way. The purpose of the Bill is to protect the public and not the opticians. The public should be safeguarded against people who fiddle about with one of the most precious of our senses.

A person who buys glasses in this way may risk permanent disability, because his eyes might need treatment for something which is very serious. Whatever may be the advantages, I am sure that no responsible firm of chain stores would wish to place any member of the public in that position. If the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) has considered what it might mean to some people, even if they are only few, he might reconsider his opinion and withdraw his Amendment. Is it not a fact that many of the 250,000 people who buy these spectacles continue to use them without bothering any more about the matter? It is all very well to say that to borrow glasses from a friend is objectionable and that to use glasses which are bought in a shop is better, but I cannot see the logic of that argument. This kind of person will go into a shop to buy glasses with stronger magnifiers or will adjust what he wishes to read nearer or further from the glasses until he can see properly. Out of the 250,000 people it may be that 40,000 or 50,000 ought to be medically treated and ought not to be left to judge for themselves what is good or bad for their eyes. If the mover of the Amendment had made that point his argument would have been stronger.

Chain stores sell a large number of commodities which are useful, and perhaps the prices are lower than on the ordinary market, but when they concern human sight we have to protect consumers against themselves. I therefore hope that the House will reject the Amendment.

Mr. Russell

A good many arguments were brought forward in support of the Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) but there are one or two points I should like to make. The subject was discussed very fully in Committee upon a similar Amendment.

I have not altered my opinion on the matter since the Committee stage, and nothing that my hon. Friend has now said has made me change it. The Clause which he wishes to amend was inserted to protect the public. I hope my hon. Friend will think over what has been said, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths), when he quoted the Sorsby Report to the effect that 80 per cent. of the people registered as blind by reason of cataract had had no treatment whatever. Presumably they had never consulted at any time an ophthalmic optician or an ophthalmologist.

It should be part of the object of the Bill to try to reduce the number of those cases. By passing this Clause without amendment I think we shall do that. My hon. Friend said that we suggested that these spectacles were harmful. No one suggests that in themselves they are harmful, but they give a false sense of security by making people who wear them think they are not suffering from any disease and are quite safe.

I am sorry that the wife of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Holman) lost her spectacles. It is important that if spectacles are lost or broken every assistance should be given by the optical profession to provide substitute ones, either by temporary loan or more speedy supply of a permanent pair. That point, I am sure, will be taken note of by the profession.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale said that this matter was not dealt with clearly in the Crook Report, but that Report said quite definitely in paragraph 88: …legislation, similar perhaps to Section 1 of the Dentists Act, 1921, should provide that no unregistered person shall practise or hold himself out to practise ophthalmic or dispensing optics.

Mr. N. Pannell

Would my hon. Friend claim that a chain store selling glasses of the description mentioned in my Amendment is dispensing optics?

Mr. Russell

Yes, it is dispensing optics by selling glasses which are not prescribed. I think the intention of the Crook Report is quite clear and in this Clause we were carrying out the recommendation of the Report. For those reasons, I hope the House will reject the Amendment.

Mr. N. Pannell

I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for expressing their views so clearly on this matter. I have tried to marshal and array all the arguments in favour of my Amendment that I could muster. I have to admit that I have not carried the House with me. However, I should like to reply to one or two points made by those who oppose the Amendment.

The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) mentioned a person suffering a defect in one eye. That is no argument against my Amendment because these spectacles contain lenses of equal strength, they would be quite unsuitable for such a person, who could improve his sight in one eye only by distorting the vision of the other. The hon. Member referred to the grave danger of a person buying these glasses instead of going to an optician following treatment for a disease. I tried to deal with that point. This Bill deals with opticians, ophthalmic or dispensing, but does not deal with ophthalmologists or surgeons, who alone can deal with the diseases mentioned by the hon. Member. It is in a sense irrelevant to bring in that argument because the Bill does not deal with it. If it is asserted that a person who goes to an optician—a man without any medical training—for glasses would be automatically referred to an ophthalmologist, there would be no need for the Amendment to Clause 25 which appears later on the Notice Paper, in page 20, line 37, at the end to insert: (3) The General Optical Council shall as soon as practicable after the day appointed for the coming into operation of this section make and submit to the Privy Council rules providing that where is appears to a registered optician that a person consulting him is suffering from an injury or disease of the eye, the optician shall, except in an emergency or where that person is consulting him for the purpose of being given treatment in accordance with rules under paragraph (d) of subsection (1) of this section or in such other cases as may be prescribed, being cases in which it is, owing to special circumstances, impracticable or inexpedient to do so, take the prescribed steps to refer that person to a registered medical practitioner for advice and treatment. The hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) mentioned the Sorsby Report, which said that 80 per cent. of those suffering from cataract have not had previous treatment. I do not know the date of that Report. It would be most useful if I could know the date.

Mr. W. Griffiths


2.45 p.m.

Mr. Pannell

That is a very important point, because quite clearly those people could have had recourse to the National Health Service. If the hon. Member had gone further and said that the Sorsby Report stated that those people had not had treatment because they had recourse to chain store glasses, he would have made a valid point against the Amendment, but he did not do that.

Neither has any hon. Member quoted a specific case in which the use of these glasses has caused actual damage to eyesight. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Chapman) for pointing out the great disparity in price between those glasses and glasses obtained from other sources. The cosmetic quality may not be very high but they are reasonably presentable. The lenses are spheres and are not curved, I think the additional cost for curved lenses would not be very high. I would categorically assert that glasses like these, tested for the sight of a person who suffers only from lengthening of sight, would not cost more than 15s. I think the public will suffer by having to pay high prices when they have to get a substitute pair in case of emergency.

I wish to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner). He referred to the disparity between a person who borrows a pair of glasses from a friend and a person who buys a pair from a chain store. I have no hesitation in saying that a person suffering only from lengthening of sight—that is the gravamen of my case—who chooses a pair from a chain store where they are graded according to the the needs of people of different ages and different development of the defect, would be much better served by a 7s. pair from a chain store than by borrowing a pair from a friend who may or may not have the same degree of disability.

Mr. Janner

Is the hon. Member saying that if I borrowed a pair of spectacles from another hon. Member and said "I can see through these", that is not the same as buying a pair from a chain store and saying, "I can see through these"?

Mr. Pannell

It is most unlikely that the hon. Member would be able to see through the borrowed pair of spectacles because there are fourteen different types of glasses. There is a range of fourteen available in the chain store. If he had fourteen friends and borrowed from each of them he might get as much satisfaction from one of the borrowed pairs as from a pair he could buy in a chain store.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) said there was no objection to these spectacles as such. He added that they gave a false sense of security, but no one has met the point I made about a person who might mislay his glasses and be unable to obtain a substitute pair except through a chain store. I took note of the half promise made by my hon. Friend that this matter will be considered by the Optical Council to be set up under the Bill, and that the Council will consider the position of people placed at a disadvantage through losing their glasses and arrange with opticians, dispensing or otherwise, to provide glasses for them at a small fee.

I recognise that I have not carried the House with me in my arguments. I do not propose to go through the futile exercise of dividing the House for the satisfaction of doing so and for the purpose of delaying proceedings. I still hold strongly to my main argument that this Clause would put at grave disadvantage thousands of people who would have to incur great expense and suffer inconvenience if the Clause went through unamended. I hope the points I have made will be considered in another place and that perhaps an Amendment can be introduced which will meet them. In view of the temper of the House on this question, reluctantly and without abandoning any of my principles or convictions in this matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.