§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the establishment of a Hearing Aids Council to register traders engaged in the manufacture or supply of hearing aids, to advise on the training of salesmen and audio-logical technicians, and to regulate trade practicesMy proposed Bill is sponsored in all quarters of the House. I am seeking consumer protection for quite a small but, nevertheless, well-defined section of the population. It was estimated in 1964 by a learned medical practitioner, Mr. P. Gregory, that the number of people in Britain suffering from hearing disabilities totalled about 2¼ million. These people need some protection in purchasing the instruments which they use to cope with their disability.
The Bill is not aimed at the ethical and reputable firms, of which there are many and which serve the community by the provision of hearing aids. Indeed, yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting representatives of the Hearing Aid Manufacturers and Suppliers Association and the Secretary of the Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists, who, in general, gave a large measure of support to the move I am making. The Bill is welcomed by the trade because it would provide more professional status and improved standards to help it in the job it seeks to do.
My main concern is to stop some hard-selling salesmen from fleecing hard of hearing, innocent and often elderly buyers; and although only a small section of the trade is involved, the problem is formidable. Hon. Members may have seen a recent television programme in which Fyffe Robertson examined the matter in detail. They may also have read an excellent study made by the Daily Mail and published on 26th August. This examined cases where people had paid quite large sums of money, often when they could not afford to do so, for instruments which were not adequate for the purpose for which they were required.
Since I introduced a similar Measure on 1st March I have received a great many letters, particularly from elderly people, complaining about the purchase of certain instruments, complaining some- 266 times about the difficulty they had experienced in recovering their money or getting the instruments repaired. I pay tribute to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf for the way in which it has tried to deal with such complaints and for the service it has given.
A part of the doorstep campaign of selling hearing aids includes—certainly in my constituency and, I am sure, in others—the placing of handbills through front doors in an effort to persuade people to take tests at, say, the local Methodist hall. This sort of selling inevitably leads to difficulties, particularly as suppliers of hearing aids should also provide the right kind of coverage, the necessary service to the aid, and education and the rehabilitation, so to speak, that follows when one first uses a hearing aid.
The sort of "gimmick" indulged in by the salesman about whom I am speaking means that a person who is hard of hearing is fitted with an aid, and can then hear a clock tick for the first time for many years. He buys, but may well find that he will not be able to hear ordinary, intelligent conversation. One can, therefore, easily be sold an unsuitable hearing aid, remembering that education in the use of these appliances is important if one is to become accustomed to using them correctly. I use a hearing aid and estimate that it took me three months to get used to it.
The Bill would provide for the establishment of a Hearing Aids Council which would consist of not only representatives of the trade, but of consumers, otologists or doctors who specialise in E.N.T., audiologists, with an independent chairman appointed by the Government Department concerned. The purpose would be to establish a register of traders—and only registered traders would be permitted to operate in this sphere—to draw up a code of practice, in the main similar to that at present voluntarily pursued by the trade, to deal with standards of training and to have some supervision over advertisements.
The sort of advertisement which is misleading is that which states, "You are not really deaf at all; only out of focus". Or it might describe a hearing aid as, "Absolutely invisible", when no hearing aid can be absolutely invisible The Bill proposes that the Hearing Aids Council will deal with complaints and 267 that there would be disciplinary machinery to ensure that registered traders who were doing their job properly, were protected from those who failed so to do.
I should, perhaps, make it clear at this point that in the previous Bill which I sought to introduce I inserted a provision for compulsory medical examination before hearing aids could be sold. I have now withdrawn that provision. I have done so reluctantly because I consider it important that people should be medically examined. However, I have accepted assurances that we will achieve a measure of the same result by co-operation with the trade and by voluntary means, and I have, therefore, not included in the Bill a Clause which would have made prior medical examination compulsory.
The Bill could represent the start of a new deal for the deaf. There is urgent need for the protection which the Bill contains and for a greater degree of understanding of the problem. It is surprising that this disability receives less sympathy from the community than many other disabilities; that to some people hearing aids are not socially acceptable. Although a highly specialised medical sphere, this disability receives less sympathy and help than it deserves, although longevity means that an increasing number of people will suffer from it.
For the protection of those who are valiantly trying to overcome the problems of deafness, the withdrawal that it invites and the loneliness it can engender, I ask the House to afford this protection and agree to the improvements contained in the Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Pavitt, Mr. Will Owen, Mr. Turton, Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie, Mr. Robert Edwards, Dame Joan Vickers, and Lord Balniel.