HL Deb 12 May 1981 vol 420 cc441-4

2.50 p.m.

Lord Rugby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state the "strong health grounds" on which the Minister for Health based his decision not to initiate a review of the existing monopoly control of the sale of ordinary spectacles.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lorcs, my honourable friend the Minister for Health considers that it would be detrimental to patients to have their need for spectacles assessed and their spectacles supplied by unqualified persons. The restrictions on the testing of sight and the supply of spectacles which the Opticians Act lays down ensure that an individual's defect of sight is accurately assessed, lenses which provide the optimum correction are prescribed, and the prescription is correctly dispensed. In addition, the present arrangements ensure that patients' sight is tested by practitioners who are qualified to recognise signs of eye or other disease and refer patients for early medical advice and treatment.

Lord Rugby

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that reply. I am in fact asking about simple reading glasses, which have no connection whatsoever with eye diseases. I should like to ask the noble Lord, does he think that the great number of people today testing eyesight are qualified to diagnose eye disease? In fact, are they licer sed to diagnose eye disease, and if they fail to diagnose it, are they held responsible for their failure?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I do not know whether they are held responsible for their failure, but the people who undertake the testing: of eyesight are qualified practitioners.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many doctors believe that the kind of safeguards to which he referred are not really necessary for the narrow range of people about whom the noble Lord, Lord Rugby, is concerned? Is the noble Lord also aware that we once had another safeguard whereby patients had to trudge along to their general practitioners for a little green form, known as an OSC 1, before they could have their eyes tested? It took us 20 years to get rid of that unnecessary control. Will the noble Lord assure us that it will not take 20 years to get rid of this one?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I am rather surprised at the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, as a doctor taking that view. I should have thought that he would be more on the Government s side about the importance of the health aspect, as opposed to the consumer aspect, of this subject.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, in view of his earlier reply, can my noble friend explain why, in the USA and almost every other country, it is not necessary to go for an eye test before buying a pair of reading glasses? Will my noble friend at least make it clear to the nation as a whole that until such time as Mrs. Oppenheim, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, gets into this act, they will be well advised to ask the person who tests their eyes for a prescription, so that they can take the prescription and go anywhere that they please to buy the glasses and frames of their choice? Will not my noble friend in the meantime advise people to buy glasses overseas, where they can obtain them just as effectively, and save themselves between £20 and £50 a pair, due to the competition that exists in every other nation?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

That was a rather long supplementary question, my Lords. With regard to what is done in America, I doubt whether the noble Lord would expect me to make reply. I entirely agree with him—and he has said this before in the House—that if one wears spectacles, it is wise to have your prescription on you. It is also wise to have a spare pair of spectacles, as well.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, the noble Lord has not answered the Question in any way whatever. The Question was: What are the health grounds for not instituting a review? Is the noble Lord aware that the most prominent oculists and ocular surgeons state unequivocally that there is no harm whatever in looking or reading through glasses which have not been accurately prescribed? Is he also aware that ever since I have had that advice I have on the basis of it been using other people's glasses with the greatest satisfaction?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, the noble Lord suggested that I had not answered the original Question. But the reason for that is that I have answered it about half a dozen times in the last year or so, and most Members of your Lordships' House are becoming rather bored with it. One of the reasons for the present arrangements is that if you have your eyes properly tested by a qualified person, not only can he see whether there is something wrong with your eyesight, but he might see that you are likely to get hypertension or diabetes, quite apart from diseases such as glaucoma.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that we risk our eyesight by wearing over-magnified glasses and that we can be much better served by exercising our eyes?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I quite agree with that point and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, will make a note of it.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I should like to congratulate him and his right honourable friend on the Statement made today in answer to this Question? I know a number of medical specialists—Mr. Trevor Roper in particular bombasts me with all kinds of arguments—and in point of fact what the Government say is quite right. Secondly, is the noble Lord aware that it is of course advisable to go to an optician who will give you a prescription, but you are not bound to go to that optician in order to obtain spectacles?

With regard to the reference in the Question to the existing monopoly control of the sale of ordinary reading spectacles", is the noble Lord aware that a Sunday newspaper is advertising reading spectacles for sale at £4.50? Is he also aware that my optician actually paid £4.50 to see what they were like? I have seen them myself. They are made in Taiwan. One lens does not agree with the other, the frames are made of a cheap plastic, and one match would probably set alight the person using them? This is something which needs investigating.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord first for his support and, secondly, for all the information that he has given to the House.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the amity between the two Front Benches confirms all the suspicions of the sensible Back-Benchers in this House?

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