HC Deb 13 February 1976 vol 905 cc418-21W
Mrs. Chalker

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement on a special allowance for the blind and the costs of such a provision.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Blind people stand to benefit on the same terms as other disabled people from the substantial increases which we have made in the rates of pensions and other benefits, and from our four new benefits: the noncontributory invalidity pension, the mobility allowance, the invalid care allowance and the housewives' noncontributory invalidity pension. In the field of chronic sickness and disablement across the whole age range, these increases and the cost of the new benefits together amount in cash terms to an additional expenditure of over £1,000 million a year. In the next year or two we shall be concentrating on the completion of the arrangements for the mobility allowance, the invalid care allowance and the housewives' benefit. Against this background of continuing advances across the board, the Government have no plans for the introduction of special allowances confined to people suffering from blindness or from any other particular form of disablement. The cost of a special allowance for blind people would depend on a variety of factors, including the level of the allowance and the number of beneficiaries. On the assumption that the rate would be £5 a week, as has been suggested by organisations representing blind people, the gross cost for some 116,000 registered blind children and adults including those above pension age, would be some £30 million a year.

Mr. Channon

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what contact her Department has had with the Royal Horticultural Society about access for blind people with guide dogs attending the flower shows arranged by the Society and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what contact her Department has had with the Royal Horticultural Society about access for blind people with guide dogs attending the Society's flower shows; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I recently met Lord Aberconway, the President of the Royal Horticultural Society. The Department and I have been in touch also with the main organisations representing blind people as well as with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) will be pleased to see the text, as follows, of a letter I have sent today to Lord Aberconway: Thank you for coming to see me the other day to discuss some of the issues arising out of recent correspondence in The Times about the admission of blind people accompanied by their guide dogs to the Chelsea Flower Show of the Royal Horticultural Society. I was very glad that you were able to reassure me as to constructive proposals for overcoming the difficulties which might otherwise have arisen for blind people who depend so much upon guide dogs for their mobility and who wish to visit this important national event. I am sure that everyone concerned would like to know the arrangements which have been made for 1976 and I will, therefore, with your agreement, arrange to convey this information to Members of Parliament. As you may know, I was able to give only an interim reply to a Parliamentary Question on 2 February. I understand that from now on, although the arrangement is subject to review in the light of experience, the RHS will publicise arrangements for the guide dog to be left and cared for at the entrance to the Chelsea Show until the blind person is ready to leave. Indeed, where the blind person wishes, the RHS will arrange for a sighted person, probably a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society, to act as guide. Other organisations and individuals have also offered to provide escorts. Clearly it will be of assistance generally for the blind person to give advance notice of intention to attend, so as to assist the Society in giving the maximum possible help, including arrangements for him or her to be accompanied, wherever possible, by a Fellow of the RHS. I am sure that these arrangements will be welcomed as much by Members of Parliament as they have been by the major organisations representing blind people. Members of the House will also be interested to note that the RHS allow guide dogs to accompany blind people at the Westminster Flower Shows. At our meeting, you put it to me that it was only considerations of safety which prompted the Society's decision about the exclusion of guide dogs from the Chelsea Show. You went on to emphasise that the Society wishes to give every possible welcome to blind and other handicapped people at their shows. I am naturally very pleased with the Society's offer of an important new facility for blind people at the Chelsea Flower Show. I believe that what has been arranged will do much to influence the provision of improved access to many other places, premises and social occasions. In this wider context, which includes food shops, restaurants, places of entertainment and holiday camps, you may like to know that I shall be seeking to encourage improved arrangements generally when my consultations with all the authorities concerned are complete.

With regard to the final paragraph of the letter, I shall be making a further announcement as soon as possible.

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