§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
We have received no new independent evidence on sight test demand since the publication of the independent national opinion poll report last month, which showed that the number of sight tests being undertaken is fully in line with past trends.
§ Ms. Short
I am shocked that the Secretary of State did not see the Which? report—he is not doing his job properly if he did not. That report showed that there has been a serious drop of 2.5 million in the number of eye tests. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, one in 20 people are referred for serious sight and other health problems, which means that about 125,000 seriously ill people are being missed. Will he now admit that that is a disastrous move for people's health, apologise for misleading the House and the country, and scrap the eye test charge, because people's health is too valuable for them to miss eye tests?
§ Mr. Clarke
There has been no reduction in the number of eye tests as a result of the introduction of charges. All the evidence—not only our survey of 10,000 people but the MORI survey that was carried out for the Association of Optometrists, and even the telephone ring-round by the Royal National Institute for the Blind—shows that there has been no reduction in the number of eye tests compared with the tend that was established before the charging system was changed in 1987.
The Consumers Association, in its Which? magazine, has not explained the methodology that produced its rather startling conclusion. Most of the contrary claims are based on leading questions about whether people think that charges might deter them. All sensible surveys show that there has been no evidence of deterrence. The Labour party's only spending promise to spend £90 million to go back to the previous system is based on a mistaken assessment of the facts.