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Optical Charges

Volume 974: debated on Wednesday 21 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will be taking action to exempt people with severe visual handicap from payment of optical charges; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend has no plans to take such action at present.

Is not that a shame? Surely the people who have suffered the greatest cut of all, the virtual loss of their eyesight, should receive greater consideration. Will the Minister believe me when I say that the nature of the gadgets that they use is both inordinate and costly, and that they are required regularly? If we are a caring Parliament, surely we should meet the need free of charge.

The position remains as it has been since 1951. Hon. Members in all parts of the House appreciate the disabilities caused by blindness and partial blindness. At the same time, there are many other groups that would like special treatment for their problems. If we moved in one direction, we would have to move in many others. That is the Government's position.

Do the Government have any plans to introduce in the near future a blind allowance?

Is the Under-Secretary aware that the previous Government had made provision for enabling legislation on the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey), and that if the present Government saw themselves as being able to introduce such legislation, for which there is serious need, the Opposition would help in any way possible to get that legislation through?

Under the previous Administration, the Secretary of State for Social Services, in 1975, and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, in 1978, both said that they would bring in this type of allowance but they did not do so.