HC Deb 17 December 1984 vol 70 cc13-4
39. Mr. Wareing

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the provision of access for blind people with guide dogs to the House of Commons Public Gallery.

Mr. Biffen

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) on 2 July.

Mr. Wareing

I have not seen that reply. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the facilities for blind people with their guide dogs are equivalent to those in the other place, where I understand Black Rod has a considerable element of discretion? Will he carefully monitor the position in the House of Commons Public Gallery? Will he consider the possibility of giving the Serjeant at Arms like discretion?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that an identical number of blind persons with dogs may attend the Strangers Gallery in the House of Lords as obtains in the House of Commons. In my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter I said that two places in the Gallery had been provided for blind persons with guide dogs. Since that arrangement was made six months ago, a place has been taken by a blind person with a guide dog on only one occasion. The visitor pronounced himself well satisfied.

Mr. Hayes

Given the difficulty that the blind seem to be having in gaining access to the Public Galleries, does my right hon. Friend not feel it outrageous that convicted terrorists are gaining access to Committee Rooms?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That has nothing to do with the question.

Mr. Pavitt

The Lord Privy Seal will recall that recently, following a debate on the blindness allowance, there were at least six blind persons present with their guide dogs. Will he consider ensuring that there is flexibility on certain occasions, which will enable him to give instructions to the Serjeant at Arms to increase the number of those permitted in with guide dogs?

Mr. Biffen

Certainly. I am sure that the appropriate Committee will be happy to consider that. Since the establishment of special places in the Galleries for the blind and their guide dogs, the facility has been used to the extent that admission has always been possible.

Mr. Hayward

Is it not the position that the Department of the Serjeant at Arms operates the provisions and facilities for the blind and other disabled with a great deal of flexibility when requests are made of it? Last week I brought a disabled person into the House and received all the help that I needed from the Department.

Mr. Biffen

I am certain that that is so and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point. It enables me to say that the facilities that can be offered and supervised by the Serjeant at Arms are always that much better if lobbyists inform him in advance of their proposals.

Mr. Boyes

In considering the problems of the handicapped and the disabled, will the Leader of the House inform us whether a sign language interpreter for the deaf is permanently employed in the House? If not, will he be prepared to consider whether one should be so employed?

Mr. Biffen

I shall have that proposal investigated.

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