§ 11.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Jagger
I beg to move, in page 4, line 11, at the end, to add:Provided that if any dispute arises as to whether or not a person is a blind person within 176 the meaning of this Section it shall be the duty of the local authority in whose area the blind person is resident to make arrangements for the person to be examined by two ophthalmic surgeons, whose decision, unless there is disagreement, shall be final, and where there is disagreement the local authority shall arrange for the person to be examined by a third ophthalmic surgeon, whose decision shall be final.We feel that the Clause as it stands does not deal with the difficulty of borderline cases. Those who had experience in connection with grants of another kind to blind persons know the large percentage of borderline cases where it is difficult to define whether a person is blind or not. We have the kind of case where a man standing close to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence would be aware that there was a faint object opposite to-him, but if the Foreign Secretary skipped past him on his way to Geneva would be quite unconscious that an opaque object had passed. We feel that in cases where it is determined by one person that the person is blind the person should have the opportunty of going before a court of two medical referees. If these two medical referees are in agreement, their decision should be final and binding and if they differ, there should be called in a third medical expert, whose decision would be final and binding. I feel that Clause 5, without this provision, would lead to very great difficulty in determining borderline cases, and I think that the addition of the words in the Amendment would remove that difficulty.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Messer
I support the Amendment. I am certain that on this Amendment we shall receive a measure of agreement from the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman has not made many concessions to-night, and I have been very disappointed in him. I set high hopes on him, and felt that we were going to do good work on this Bill, but we have not done very much. Here the right hon. Gentleman has a chance of removing a grievance, and the fact that it is a very small thing ought to impel him to give us what we want. The number of people who are likely to disagree with the examination is very small indeed. When a person has been examined and it has been determined that he has sufficient vision to perform some sort of work, it leaves him in a very unfortunate position if he finds that nobody will, in fact, employ him owing to his eyesight not 177 being good enough. I know that the degree of vision, as laid down, is in accordance with a certain definite arrangement that is understood and known; but it is a principle that not merely should one do justice, but that it should appear that one does justice; in other words, that the person should not feel aggrieved.
If anybody who felt that there was doubt in his case had an opportunity of going before two other doctors, and if, in the event of disagreement between them, a third could be called in, it would remove that doubt from his mind. At the present time, the practice in many places is that when a notification comes that a person is blind, the local authority's medical officer of health examines him. That medical officer is known by name to the individual concerned, and it may be that that individual has not very much faith in the medical officer. If he is turned down, he may feel that it is not on the merits of the case, but because of some prejudice. There is such a thing as people holding political opinions and feeling that if those opinions are not popular, they suffer the consequences. Many reasons enter into the minds of people suffering from physical disabilities of this nature. I hope the Minister will agree to the Amendment, not because I believe it would be put into operation in many cases, but because it would do some good in the case of those who feel aggrieved.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ Sir K. Wood
I think the whole Committee will agree with the general objects which the two hon. Members have in view, but there are certain practical difficulties which I am afraid render it impossible for me to accept the Amendment. I would like first to point out that in order to assist local authorities to carry out their duties in this respect in a proper and uniform manner, there was issued from my Department in 1933 a circular, the schedule to which set out the optical criteria which I and my predecessors have recommended for adoption in determining whether a person satisfied the condition of being so blind as to be unable to perform any work for which eyesight is essential. It was recommended, also, that the examination for this purpose 178 should be carried out by a medical practitioner with special experience in this kind of work. I am glad to say that the effect of this communication to the local authorities has been to reduce very substantially the number of cases in which any reasonable doubt can arise as to a person's blindness. In a number of cases local authorities also have available a referee service. There is, for instance, that provided by the Northern Counties Association but the reason why this Amendment cannot be accepted is that, obviously, it would not be practicable everywhere to establish such a service or to make the arrangements set out in the Amendment, since in some areas of the country it would be difficult and in others impossible to find the requisite number of medical practitioners with the special experience which is necessary. It would be impossible to put the provision proposed by the Amendment, as a statutory duty on local authorities. I assure the hon. Gentlemen opposite that I have every sympathy with what they have said, and that I will do my best, as I am sure anyone who occupies my position will do his best, to see that any reasonable doubts are satisfied, so that not only shall justice be done but that it shall be clear that justice is being done. The difficulty is that you could not lay down as a statutory obligation the proposal in the Amendment owing to the impossibility in every case of securing a tribunal such as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ Sir K. Wood
The hon. Gentleman possibly speaks with more knowledge of the capacity of the medical profession but that is the advice given to me. I hope the hon. Member will accept my assurance that we will do everything we can to secure the results which we all desire.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday, and to be printed. [Bill 76.]