HL Deb 13 May 1981 vol 420 cc559-61

2.58 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, in asking the Question standing in my name, I declare an interest, in that it is my affliction and I am connected with various societies for the deaf; but with your Lordships' permission, I should like to state that the motivation for the Question comes from one of the councils for the Year of the Disabled. Having said that, 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 in the International Year of Disabled People 1981 they will consider assisting deaf handicapped people by affording them concessions similar to those already enjoyed by the blind.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

No, my Lords. Her Majesty's Government believe that financial help for disabled people can be more effectively provided through the social security system.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, I cannot do other than thank the noble Baroness for that somewhat unsatisfactory Answer. Would she not consider the possible ways in which deaf people could be assisted in, say, the field of television? I refer to Ceefax, Prestel and Oracle. Could the Government bring pressure to bear on the manufacturers so that in future all television sets would carry Teletext facilities? Would she bear in mind, also, as indicated in the Question, that there are various things given to the blind which, one would like to suggest, could be applied to the deaf? Would she finally remember that if you are blind you are cut off from things, but if you are deaf you are cut off from people.

Baroness Young

My Lords, may I say that I appreciate very much the very severe handicap that deafness brings and also that I recognise that there is a very real anomaly in the provisions that are made for blind people. However, I have looked at this carefully and it is the view of the Government that it would be wrong to extend the special provisions to different categories of disabled people and better to press for there to be general provisions for all disabled people. Could I confirm in this connection that there has been over the last 10 years an enormous improvement in the standard range of national Health Service hearing aids? There is also the new worker with the new qualification of a hearing therapist who has special responsibility for helping adults who become deaf and who experience difficulty in adjusting to their impairment. The Government are giving special grants to mark the International Year of Disabled People, which includes a grant to the Royal National Institution for the Deaf.

Lord Brockway

May I declare an interest? Is the Minister aware that, as the questioner has stated, many old people now who are hard of hearing are being denied many of the amenities which others enjoy, particularly listening to television. We cannot hear it. Is this not a real burden on the lives of many old age pensioners? They have not the ability to pay for the amenities that can cover these difficulties. Will the Minister look again at her decision?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to confirm again that there is a wide range of services provided for deaf people by the National Health Service and also by local social services departments. The prime responsibility for the decisions about the development of these services for those for the deaf rests with health authorities and with local authority personal social services. I accept, as I have already indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, that this is a terrible disability. But it is encouraging that modern science is developing a number of ways in which deaf people can be helped. This is one of the most encouraging developments of our times.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that registered blind people are in receipt of a free television licence? I wonder whether she would consider some step down in the licence charged for registered deaf people on the grounds that they only receive, so to speak, half the service.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord is not quite correct about the television licence fee for blind people. The concession is £1.25p less than the full licence, for either a colour or a black and white set for blind people. I recognise, as I have already indicated, that there are various provisions for the blind which do not apply to other disabled people. In a sense, although this is very valuable, this is an anomaly. It is the view of the Government that this should not be extended.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, is the noble Baroness able to tell me whether there is a possibility that suitable equipment can be provided which plugs into a normal wireless or telephone and which acts as an additional hearing aid for the deaf? If there is such equipment, would this not qualify for some kind of subsidy from the social services?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, I understand that new equipment has been developed for the deaf which will particularly block out background noises so that they hear exclusively the television programme. These are available—not on the National Health Service—and can be purchased.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that when we were sitting in the Royal Gallery it was suggested that there should be reports of Parliament on the television with captions so that the deaf could be relieved of the condition which may exist now when they cannot listen to proceedings in Parliament on the radio?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. This is one of the many modern scientific developments which are of enormous help to deaf people. The point that I am making is that they are available, but of course they are not all currently available on the National Health Service or through the social services department.

The Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair

My Lords, is their not a fundamental mistake here? The noble Baroness and others who have exchanged question and answer with her seem to connote blindness with partial deafness. Surely if one can have an aid to hearing on the telephone, the radio and the television, this means that one is partially deaf. Is not the equivalent of the treatment given out to the blind the treatment that might be given to those who are totally deaf?

Baroness Young

My Lords, my understanding about the position of blind people is that if people are sufficiently badly sighted to qualify as registered blind persons, as determined by a local authority or the National Health Service, they are eligible both for tax reliefs and other particular benefits. We would in this connection be comparing like with like, because we are talking about people who have impaired hearing but who may not be totally deaf.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

My Lords, could the noble Baroness answer more specifically the suggestions in my supplementary question about the assistance in Ceefax, Prestel, Oracle and Teletext facilities? They are now only available—as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, pointed out—to those with a considerable amount of money. Could not some equivalent for deaf people, as given to the blind, apply to those aids for the licence as we know it today?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I shall certainly take note of the suggestion and I shall refer it to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services because I understand the feeling of the noble Lord. At this stage, it would be wrong for me to suggest that we could extend the social services in this way, although this is the kind of desirable move one would like to take were there more money available.