asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many people now receive Government help towards the purchase of spectacles; and what was the number receiving assistance in 1978.
During the financial year 1981–82, 825,000 adult patients in England—17 per cent. of the total—received help with optical charges. This compares with 737,000—16 per cent. of the total—in 1978–79. In addition, 402,000 pairs of spectacles were supplied free to children in 1981–82, compared with 335,000 pairs in 1978–79.
Does the Minister agree that that is because the price of spectacles has rocketed under the present Government? Will he give the percentages of people who have applied for a free test and answer the question in those terms?
With this amount of notice I cannot do that. If the hon. Gentleman ever became a Minister, he would know that.
Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there is sufficient publicity in opticians' premises for National Health Service frames? Is he satisfied that there is sufficient price competition for private frames?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Office of Fair Trading expects to publish its report on competition in the optical service before the end of the year. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health is discussing with the frame manufacturers ways of introducing a variety of new frames into the NHS.
Is the Minister aware that when the charges were first introduced many years ago they were a temporary measure? How long have they been a temporary measure, and when will they be removed?
I recall the party of which the hon. Gentleman is a member frequently saying that it would remove those charges, but when it became the Government it reneged on that promise, as it has on so many other things.