HC Deb 01 March 1973 vol 851 cc1698-700
Q2. Mr. Redmond

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the coordination between the Departments of Health and Social Security and Education and Science in respect of screening, referral, monitoring and education of deaf children.

Mr. R. Carr

I have been asked to reply.

Yes, Sir. A special inter-departmental examination is being made at the present time of the total pattern of services for the deaf.

Mr. Redmond

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but is he satisfied that the screening of young children is taking place at a sufficiently early stage to discover deafness and impairment of hearing in advance? Is he satisfied that all health visitors are carrying out the test properly? Is he also satisfied that deaf children are going to the best possible schools? Could not the inquiry cover all these points and look into the matter thoroughly?

Mr. Carr

In general principle I am satisfied, because one of the regular functions of health visitors is to screen children from the age of six months. Health visitors are given specific instructions in this matter. The same is true in schools. I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is aware of any general shortage of places, bearing in mind that wherever possible these children should not be separated in special schools because such hearing as they have ought to be encouraged by contact with ordinary children. Nevertheless, I believe that over many years this country has failed to appreciate the tremendous handicap of deafness, as compared with some other disabilities. That is why this review of total facilities and needs is going on.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Will the right hon. Gentleman pay particular attention to the needs of deaf children in rural areas? I have in mind particularly the problem, for example, in rural Wales. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people sometimes have to travel up to 100 miles to a screening centre? Will he look carefully into the position to ensure that facilities for screening, education and training are provided much nearer the locality which they are intended to serve?

Mr. Carr

Rural areas with dispersed populations always provide difficulties, and not only in this connection. I shall certainly see that the hon. Gentleman's point about rural Wales is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Burden

Will my right hon. Friend extend the review of co-ordination to mentally handicapped children, many of whom are still not being properly schooled and who are just as much in need as deaf children? Is he aware that this is a very serious problem, since these children were brought into the educational service only in 1971? There ought to be co-ordination throughout.

Mr. Carr

I shall certainly take account of my hon. Friend's point. Hon. Members on both sides of the House, and certainly all of those cognisant of these problems, must accept that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has an outstanding record in this respect.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on this subject we are about five years behind the times in co-ordination between the Health and Education Departments? Does he realise that as a result of technological breakthrough it is now possible for testing to be carried out at the age of three months, but that the proper machinery is not available here? Is he further aware that the whole question of the way in which the service should be given to deaf children has lagged behind for the last 10 years? Will he get a little bit of expedition into this matter?

Mr. Carr

I have made clear before that I believe that this country has lagged behind in the attention paid to deafness. I first became personally aware of this when I became a junior Minister at the Ministry of Labour and realised how much more difficult it was to find jobs for deaf people as compared with blind persons.