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Visually Impaired Peers: Facilities

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 17 February 1999

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

2.53 p.m.

What special help, in relation to their parliamentary work, is available to Lords with severe visual impairments; and what consideration is being given to providing more help.

My Lords, there are various facilities for Members with visual impairments. Twenty-one lifts have been adapted, and incorporate either Braille or raised numerals. They also have handrails, tactile floor covering, and can announce floor levels. Handrails have been installed on some staircases and ramps. And a guide dog exercise area has been provided.

Noble Lords with visual impairments may receive an audio recording of the proceedings of the House, in addition to Hansard. Since July 1983 Members with visual impairments, like other disabled Members, can recover extra expenses of attending this House on account of their disablement.

I am always happy to consider ways in which facilities can be improved.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Could he consider applying the Royal National Institute for the Blind's clear print standards to documents commonly used by Peers? Is he aware that this could benefit all Peers, not just those with visual impairments? Could he also explore with the RNIB the possibility of providing dedicated support for visually impaired Peers who require information in formats other than print—for example, on tape or disk—either now or in the future?

My Lords, on the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, something has already been done in that direction. To an extent, I have indicated some of the steps that have been taken in my original Answer. We shall certainly keep a watch on that matter to see whether any additional help can be provided. I am always very happy to receive any representations from the Royal National Institute for the Blind.

On the point about the RNIB's clear print standards, something has been done in that direction as well. I know, for instance, that italic printing can be confusing and that bold print or roman print can be very much more helpful, and not just to those who are visually impaired. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, may be interested to know—if he is not already aware of it—that a few years ago, when our Order Paper was re-designed, italic lettering was removed almost entirely and, in particular, that Ministers' names, which used to be in italic print, are now in roman print.

I could not help noticing that italic print leans to the right. I am assured that there is no political significance in what has been done in that direction.

I hesitate to trespass on the time of the House but, on behalf of the House, perhaps I could take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on having been invited by Rehabilitation International—the body that co-ordinates disabled organisations throughout the world—to chair its world planning group. The group will draft its charter for the millennium which will be presented to heads of government throughout the world later this year.

My Lords, I rise with a double bias, one in favour of my noble friend Lord Morris. I am delighted that he is to receive this great honour. As far as I am aware, he has done more for the disabled this century than anyone else.

Speaking as a partially-sighted person, I wonder whether more could be done. I am lucky because I am able to get a few kindly people to help me, but there are Peers who cannot get anybody to help them. Can we not do more for them?

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am only too eager to do everything that I can to provide further assistance. Perhaps I may mention that great strides were made following the Wycliffe Noble Report of 1993. As they are experts in matters concerning all disabled people, they were commissioned to produce a report on behalf of both Houses and nearly all the recommendations of that report, which included provisions to help visually impaired Members, have been implemented. That has been quite an extensive operation. However, we are always on the look-out for other improvements that we can make.

My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will welcome the comprehensive response from my noble friend. Perhaps I can widen the Question slightly because there are Members who have different disabilities from visual impairment, such as mobility problems, deafness or being hard of hearing. Would the Minister consider how all such disabilities can be assisted if noble Lords so wish? Is the Minister further aware that the help that I have received from the House, Black Rod and his officials in relation to the Palantype machine has been absolutely marvellous? That is a fine precedent and an augury for helping all disabled noble Lords in future.

My Lords, I am sure that we are all very pleased about the immense progress which the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, has made and that he has endeavoured to pass on to others the benefits of the improvements which have been of such assistance to him. I have to be rather careful given that, with others among your Lordships, I am the guardian of procedure in this House, so I hesitate to follow the noble Lord in widening the scope of the Question. However, he has raised some valid points which will certainly be borne in mind.

My Lords, as a visually impaired Peer, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, who I understand has full vision, has asked for the bottom step from the Chamber Floor up to the Back Benches to be made a little more shallow and less steep. Could some action be taken on that for the benefit of the visually impaired? I hope that that will be ad infinitum and will benefit the hereditary Peers also as opposed to only the life Peers.

My Lords, I hesitate to say this, but the question has thrown me completely as I was not aware of that problem. However, now that, like the rest of your Lordships, I am aware of it, I shall certainly look into it to see what can be done.