§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the establishment of a Hearing Aids Council to register persons engaged in the manufacture or supply of hearing aids, to advise on the training of persons engaged in such business, and to regulate trade practices; and for purposes connected therewith.This is the third time that I have sought leave to introduce this Bill, and I am hopeful that perhaps the third time will be lucky. My purpose is still to protect the hard-of-hearing from the hard-selling. I want to put service, education and information in the place of gimmicky sales promotion. Therefore, what I seek to do in the Bill is to help those suffering from a hearing disability and to protect them in the same way that we safeguard those whose eyesight is not so good and who need spectacles. No longer do people go to Woolworth's for spectacles; they have to be prescribed by a qualified person. A council for ears, just as we have the General Optical Council for eyes, can help in fulfilling this purpose.
When I tried to persuade the House to accept the Bill on Second Reading last year, I was up against the proposition that it did not fall easily into any category. Fifty-five per cent, of it concerned consumer protection and 45 per cent, concerned health. I have discovered that nothing annoys legislators more than a Bill which will not fit neatly into one department. I pay tribute to the Ministers and officials of the Board of Trade who since then have given their time and advice freely, and especially to the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), and the Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody). I am not quite sure who is the "darling".
Deaf people are vulnerable, and they are often elderly. They desperately want a miracle—something which will give back the hearing which they have lost and which will enable them to mix with their friends and relations without feeling embarrassment or foolish. The fact that friends and relations are impatient of deafness and that it is still too often the subject of a music hall joke adds to the 224 false pride that is ashamed to show it. They therefore desperately seek an invisible aid.
I hope that one of the by-products of the Bill would be social acceptance of this disability, just as we accept those unfortunate enough to have lost the use of either eyes or limbs, and that we shall get to the stage when there is no more reluctance to wear a hearing aid than there is to wear a pair of spectacles.
The council which I propose would do two things: first, regulate trade practices; and, secondly, seek to establish professional standards so that there are qualified dispensers of the aids. It would also keep a register of those so qualified.
A prosthetic device is not something like a vacuum cleaner, and it should be taken out of that kind of selling. It is something which a disabled person needs to have to bring him back into communication with the world and with which he needs to be well and truly serviced. I would commend to the House an article in a recent edition of Which? which shows that the best buy is still the National Health Service Medresco. For the majority of people, it is still a very good aid, although there are some whom it does not suit.
The article in Which? shows that the margin between the cost of production, which is £12 or £14, and a selling price which can be as much as £75 is very large. The large margin is sheer profit to the unethical salesman who does not make up the difference with the education, service and nursing of the person which are needed if he is to learn to use the aid properly. The way in which the mould is made and the person is taught to use his aid are of vital importance, and the user needs to be protected against those who do not give solid service. In my experience, it takes at least three months to learn to use an aid properly. That period of three months needs safeguarding.
The industry has sought always to establish higher standards, but so far it has not had the statutory teeth, and I am grateful that it is now seeking power, through my Bill, because the ethical firms have been at the mercy of the fly-by-night salesman.
I have almost 100 per cent, support for my Bill from leaders of the industry 225 like Montagu of Multitone, Sterling of Ardente, and Driver of the Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists. The one snag into which I have run is that of finance. In my innocence, I thought that it would be easy to get £5,000 a year out of the Treasury, in view of the fact that we spend £1 million a year on Medresco. However, I am pleased to be able to tell the House that, if leave is given me to bring in this Bill, the industry will meet the whole cost, and no charge will fall cm anyone else.
The hard of hearing want clarity, rather than volume. For this Bill, I want a volume of support from the House, a token of which is shown by the Bill's sponsors, who include a former Conservative Minister of Health and the spokesman for the Liberal Party on health matters. From us all I want compassion and understanding, with some protection for the disabled whose disability lies in their ears. The Bill can be a major factor to achieve these aims.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Laurence Pavitt, Mr. Turton, Dr. Winstanley, Mr. W. T. Williams, Dame Joan Vickers, Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie, Dr. John Dunwoody, and Mr. Tony Gardner.