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House of Commons

Friday 28 April 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Football Supporters (Identity Cards)

9.34 am

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : I beg leave to present a petition from supporters of Millwall football club and members of the Football Supporters Association which has been endorsed by 10,000 signatures, including mine. The substance of the petition is that the proposed legislation to force football supporters to carry identification cards will have little impact on the problem of football-related violence, will hinder football's attempts to attract a new generation of supporters and will lead to the eventual demise of the game as a spectator sport.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will urge the Government to bring forward proposals which have the support of genuine football supporters.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray etcetera. To lie upon the Table.

Sunday Trading

9.35 am

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : I beg leave to present a petition from Councillor Mrs. Jill Reeves and other residents in my constituency of Castle Point who are

concerned that any future legislation on Sunday trading and commercial activity should uphold the character of Sunday as a shared and special day for the enjoyment of family life, rest, community and worship.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House do safeguard the uniqueness of the whole of Sunday, both through the requirements of the law, and through the enforcement of the same. And your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, etc. To lie upon the Table.

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Orders of the Day

Hearing Aid Council (Amendment) Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 1

Duties of the Council and Secretary of State

(1) Section 1(4) of the Hearing Aid Council Act 1968 (in this Act referred to as "the principal Act") shall be omitted and the following shall be substituted :

"The Secretary of State may require the Council to submit for his written approval any standard or code drawn up under this section or any variation of any such standard or code which he may have previously approved provided that he shall first consult the Council and consider any representations made".

(2) In section 1(5) of that Act for the words "Board of Trade" there shall be substituted "Secretary of State".

(3) In section 1(6) of that Act for the words "may investigate" there shall be substituted "shall investigate".'.-- [Mr. Hunter.] Brought up, and read the First time.

9.36 am

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). At the start, may I say how much I support the Bill. It is a much-needed measure. Like many other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) on selecting this theme. When I cast my mind back over the nearly six years in which it has been my privilege to be a Member, I doubt whether three or four months have passed without a constituent getting in touch with me about the hearing aid industry or about the activities--or lack of them--of the Hearing Aid Council. It is generally agreed that the time is long overdue to turn our attention to the Hearing Aid Council. I support the Bill fully and the amendments to it have one purpose only--to make a good Bill even better.

In preparing for the debate, my attention was brought, courtesy of the House of Commons Library, to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and its current paper "Hearing Aids : the Case for Change", which was published in October 1988. One need quote only one paragraph to illustrate the need for the Bill and the new clause. It gives this startling information :

"the Disciplinary Committee of the Council has met just 11 times since 1968 and not at all since 1985 just 7 dispensers have been struck off the Register, the last in 1976."

I dare say that matters have changed since October, but that is a startling admission of the council's ineffectiveness and inadequacies.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : For the sake of accuracy, will my hon. Friend confirm that the Hearing Aid Council can institute disciplinary proceedings only if it receives complaints? No doubt my hon. Friend will let the House know how any complaints were received during the period that he mentioned ; according to my information it was relatively few.

Mr. Hunter : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right that relatively few complaints have been received, and that underlines the weakness of the whole system : the Hearing

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Aid Council's code of practice does not afford the protection that consumers--and sometimes the industry--need.

I was agreeably surprised to discover that the new clause had been selected for debate. It approximates very closely to the new clause 1 that the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n moved on 5 April in Committee and I shall deploy substantially the same arguments as he did. It is unusual for us to have a second opportunity--by means of a second new clause--to debate a matter that is undoubtedly of great importance, but more can, and should, be said in support of the general theme that the Secretary of State should be given more powers.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North) : May I reply to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter)? I understand that the disciplinary committee of the Hearing Aid Council has met just five times since 1976 and struck off one dispenser in 12 years. In the 21 years of its existence, it has met only 12 times and struck off only seven dispensers. That contrasts sharply with the 300 complaints received by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) since the introduction of the Bill was announced. There is therefore a case for saying that there is a background of complaints that have not been adequately dealt with by the present machinery of the council.

Mr. Hunter : My hon. Friend puts more clearly the point that I tried to make in response to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter)--that the system has not been working. That problem is being addressed in the Bill.

As arguments in favour of the new clause are essentially the same as those advanced in an earlier debate, it is important and beneficial to consider what was said in Committee by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n and by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs. In speaking to his new clause, the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n started with a significant point. Displaying his natural courtesy, he thanked the Minister and his officials for the assistance that he had received in preparing the Bill and, no doubt, arguments in favour of some of the clauses. It seems to me that, in so doing, the hon. Gentleman laid himself open to the charge that I level against him now without any malice, that he did not press his arguments home strongly enough. I believe that those arguments are stronger than those deployed by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in reply.

9.45 am

The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n continued by explaining that the Hearing Aid Council was set up in 1968, and that section 1 of the Hearing Aid Council Act required the council to draw up standards of competence and codes of trade practice for the industry. The significant point is that the 1968 Act gave the Secretary of State only limited powers, as was pointed out several times in Committee. The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n said :

"Even if there were an overwhelming case for change, the Secretary of State would be powerless to intervene if the council refused to act."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C, 5 April 1989, c. 3.] His new clause and this new clause represent attempts to redress that balance and correct that imperfection.

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The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n then drew attention to the grave anxiety that had been expressed over the years about the workings of the Hearing Aid Council--the very subject to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) referred. It was concluded in Committee that the case for change was overwhelming.

The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n referred to some startling instances of high- pressure sales techniques, by which vulnerable people had been persuaded to invest in hearing aid equipment costing up to £1, 000. I have not encountered such appalling abuses of sales techniques, but I remember clearly trying to help one or two of my constituents who had been pressurised into spending several hundreds of pounds on such equipment.

The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n stressed the failure of the Hearing Aid Council and pointed out that, under the existing regime, nothing could be done to change the code of practice. He anticipated the Minister's reply to his argument--the same argument that he will perhaps now deploy--that a change in the composition of the council would be sufficient to provide the safeguards that are now missing. The Minister duly replied in that vein in Committee. He acknowledged that there was a fundamental difference between the promoter of the Bill and the Department about the role of the Secretary of State. I was not present, but I can imagine my hon. Friend the Minister injecting a note of humour into his voice when he pointed out the irony that, in this case, Opposition Members were arguing for an intensification and extension of the powers of the Secretary of State, whereas they usually argue for the reverse. My hon. Friend described himself as "in principle a non-interventionist". The basis of his argument was that there was no need for the Secretary of State to have additional powers and that all would be made well by changing the composition of the council.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : Under the new clause, the Secretary of State of the day could decide whether to intervene. The key difference between this new clause and the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) in Committee is that the present one gives the Secretary of State discretionary power to intervene, whereas the new clause moved in Committee placed a compulsion upon him to intervene if things went wrong. If we had a non-interventionist Secretary of State, therefore, there would be no intervention, but if we had an interventionist Secretary of State, no doubt he would use his powers.

Mr. Hunter : My hon. Friend has made a point that I intended to make --no doubt more clearly than I could have done. The new clause is a compromise between the ideas advanced by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n in his new clause and the Minister's non-interventionist attitude ; it does not go as far as the first, but is not as reactionary as the second. The Under-Secretary of State's argument is flawed. I say that with great respect. He lays himself open to three charges, which I hope he will answer.

The first is his faith in the belief that, should the council be composed differently, all would be made well. That assumption has not yet been convincingly demonstrated. Secondly, in Committee the Minister failed to perceive the true nature of the Hearing Aid Council, even revised as he would accept it. Thirdly, he does not realise that he is

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supporting the creation of a council which still will not have acceptable and adequate powers. I shall examine those three points in detail.

The first charge is that the Minister put too much faith in the assumption that, by changing the composition of the council, all would be well. In Standing Committee he referred to the change in the composition as

"the key provision of the Bill."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C, 5 April 1989, c. 14.]

He regarded it as a panacea that would correct all the faults and failings in existing custom.

If we look carefully at what the Minister said, we find not an argument but a simple assertion of a point of view. He asserted that, when changed, the council would solve the problem. He gave no reason why he came to that conclusion. He gave almost precisely the opposite. As reported in columns 15 and 16 of Hansard, the Minister gave two reasons why he believed the composition of the council should be changed. Neither is that the Bill will give the council sufficient power and thus make the Secretary of State's intervention unnecessary.

First, he stressed that the existing composition of the council puts an unreasonable burden on the chairman. No member of the Standing Committee quarrelled with that. Secondly, he argued that the increase to the 4 : 4 : 4 composition of the council would avoid confrontation. Those are the only two reasons that my hon. Friend gave for changing the composition. He did not show why changing the composition would remove the need for, or how it could be used as an argument against, giving extra powers to the Secretary of State.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth) : I am flattered that my hon. Friend should refer at such length and with such knowledge to my modest interventions in Committee. For the benefit of the House, will he distinguish the arguments about the composition of the council and its powers? He will concede that the Bill would alter both. My argument put the two together. I said that the composition was important but that measures in other parts of the Bill with regard to the council's powers were of equal importance.

Mr. Hunter : I have studied the Official Report carefully. I must concede that, if that is the Minister's argument, I do not immediately find it reflected in the columns of Hansard. My hon. Friend must be right, and I must be wrong.

The point that I am struggling to make is that there is nothing in the columns of Hansard or in the Minister's argument to show that the change in the composition of the council excludes the need to increase the Secretary of State's power. The Minister's argument is not the only one open to that charge. Seven other hon. Members spoke in the debate in Committee. I refer to my hon. Friends the Members for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) and for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris), and to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), and the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) as well as the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n.

Not one made the point or accepted the argument that a change in composition would remove the need for the Secretary of State to have additional powers. Although, as

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the Minister suggests, there may be strong arguments against giving the Secretary of State extra powers, they were not demonstrated in Committee.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : After reading the Standing Committee report, I am still confused about what the Under- Secretary of State meant when he said that the Secretary of State should be left with existing reserve powers. It was a short speech by the Minister. I hope that he will be able to elucidate his point further. I have read his speech in Committee carefully. I do not think that he explained to the Committee--I hope that he will explain it to the House in rather more detail--what he means by reserve powers. Perhaps he will compare such reserve powers in the Bill with the other reserve powers that the Secretary of State may exercise in other responsibilities.

Mr. Hunter : I welcome that intervention. The Minister has a lot to explain. His arguments in Standing Committee were far from acceptable even to his hon. Friends.

Mr. Nicholas Baker : I sense that, as my hon. Friend proceeds, he is shooting a large number of foxes that would otherwise be run by people such as myself if I had the chance. He is making many important points. What the Under-Secretary of State really would like is a self-regulatory system, which I confess I should like, but we do not have a self-regulatory system in this hearing aid matter : we have an existing framework. The purpose of the new clause, which I support, is to improve that framework. We cannot go back. We cannot try to get the self-regulatory system that I suspect my hon. Friend the Minister would like.

Mr. Hunter : That is a valid observation. I suspect that, when the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n decided to embark on this course of action, he had to make a fundamental decision. Was he to seek to reform the existing system, improve what we have, or go back to square one and start again with an entirely different structure? Obviously, he chose the course of effectively reforming the existing system. I agree with him : the right approach was to seek to improve the position, and this Bill does that, with one or two exceptions. But some points must be tightened yet further.

Another charge which one can level against the Minister's argument in Committee is that he failed to appreciate the true nature of the Hearing Aid Council, even as freshly constituted. The Minister said :

"As a principled non-interventionist, I do not believe that Secretaries of State should have more powers than are absolutely necessary".--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C, 5 April 1989 ; c. 4.]

Those words remind me of an article that appeared in The Guardian two or three years ago. I was greatly flattered to be linked with the Minister when The Guardian described us as Right-wing libertarians. I do not like that description of myself, but I recall the Minister accepting it with some pleasure. Right-wing libertarian or not, he said that he was a principled non-interventionist. Surely a principled non-interventionist would not approve what is effectively a quango. We have a Government- appointed committee. Its composition is deliberately changed to avoid confrontation. The Minister hopes that it will conduct its affairs even with a minimum of votes. In Committee, he said that he hoped that its decision would not have to be taken by vote. I do not

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believe that that is a satisfactory state of affairs. I cannot reconcile with the Minister's right-wing libertarianism his support for such a quango. I believe that, on those grounds, we should look much more carefully at giving the Secretary of State exceptional powers to intervene.

My third reason for believing that we can quarrel with the argument put forward by the Minister is the expression :

"The Secretary of State should be left with the existing reserve powers, but they should not be enhanced."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C, 5 April 1989 ; c. 4.]

I shall refer to that when I deal with the new clause in more detail.

10 am

I propound the thesis that the Bill as it stands is inadequate in that the Secretary of State has only reactive rather than proactive powers. If we wish to repair the past damage--as, indeed, we do--surely we must do the job properly and ensure that the Secretary of State has power to act in a proactive rather than a reactive way. The new clause gives the Secretary of State proactive powers to draw up standards of competence and codes of practice for the hearing industry. At present, as many hon. Members will realise, he can only modify the standards or codes put to him by the council. The purpose of new clause 1 is the same essentially as that put to the Government by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n in Committee. It was rejected there, on the ground that changing the composition of the council to reflect more the interest of hearing aid users would ensure that change could be achieved.

I argue that the council is effectively a quango and its members are appointed by the Secretary of State. While it exists, it must protect effectively the interests of hearing aid users. The new clause would ensure that the Secretary of State could act in the event of a revised standard or code being needed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said in his intervention, the power is discretionary. It does not compel the Secretary of State to act. It provides that he must first consult the council and consider any representations. It does not, therefore, overburden the Secretary of State with executive power. The third part of the new clause would also compel the council to investigate complaints received from the public. At present, the council is under no obligation to do so. Although I support the Bill very much, I believe that it could be made a better one by the addition of the new clause. I have no hesitation in commending it to hon. Members.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) for the Bill. I was surprised, however, by the number of words used by the hon. Gentleman to describe the new clause, valuable though it is. I never dreamed that he had such a capacity for eloquence, such tremendous descriptive powers or such a great depth of knowledge. I congratulate him on his fine display. I noticed the hon. Member looking at his watch as he spoke. I could not make up my mind whether he was looking at it because he felt that he had been speaking too long or because he felt that he was not filling the time that he had allotted to himself.

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The hon. Member for Basingstoke said that the sponsor of the Bill did not stress his points strongly enough in Committee. I have never won the ballot, although I have worked closely with hon. Members who have. I have never won a raffle in my life. If the hon. Member for Basingstoke is ever lucky enough to win the ballot, he will know that one has to be diplomatic and try to work with the Government. The relationship between the sponsor and the Minister has been a good one. I believe that the sponsor was right to indulge in that give and take. He has produced an excellent Bill. If we start interfering, being dogmatic and assertive, we get nowhere. I reject that criticism of the sponsor. I reject, too, the criticisms of the Minister. It is a fine thing when a Member on the Labour Benches defends a Conservative Minister, but I shall like it to go on record that the Minister has done a good job on this Bill.

I did not think that the composition of the council come within the ambit of the new clause. I am not sure whether it would be right to deal with that on Report or on Third Reading. However, I shall comment on it briefly. I believe that the composition of 4 : 4 : 4 is crucial. I do not believe that the Minister said that all would be well if that was the position, but he said that it was a significant and important contribution to the Bill. I agree with him. The former composition whereby the hearing aid industry dominated the council was patently absurd, and the 4 : 4 : 4 composition is precisely the balance that we need.

The proposed new clause weakens the oversight of the Secretary of State and I do not believe that that will be a good thing. The relationship between the Department of Trade and Industry and the council is tenuous and it should not be weakened further. I think that, as drafted, the clause removes the current power of the Department to approve the modification of standards or codes. I like the part of the new clause that says that the council "shall" rather than "may" investigate complaints. I believe that the intent of the clause is good. However, if the Minister is not happy with the new clause--I am prepared to be guided by him--I hope that it will be withdrawn.

Mr. Nicholas Baker : I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the Bill, especially on the new clause, and to follow the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), whose contribution on the subject has been so significant. If hon. Members want to appreciate the problems of those with impaired hearing, I refer them to what I believe was one of the most memorable of speeches. I did not hear it but I have read it in detail. It was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) on 24 March. It was moving to read. It must have been even more moving for those who had the privilege of listening to it. We in the House have a particular interest in hearing because of the poor standard of the microphones, which were complained about only yesterday. I say that as someone who is suffering from a temporary hearing deficiency which may get worse. I hope that I will not be in a position to benefit under the Bill.

Mr. Colvin : I know that my hon. Friend represents part of a county where field sports predominate. As a shooting man, does my hon. Friend take the precaution of wearing

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ear plugs? A number of people are beginning to suffer from defective hearing because they overlook that important safeguard.

Mr. Baker : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. Of course, I wear ear plugs. I would recommend that many more people, especially those who listen to overloud music in discotheques, do the same, because that clearly is a cause of much damage about which we know far too little.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) has made many of the points that I would have wished to mention. There is a conflict between, on the one hand, having a form of quango or hearing aid council that has powers that will be effective and is composed in the right way, and, on the other, expecting the industry to be a self-regulatory body. I referred to that in an earlier intervention, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about it.

I have always preferred the self-regulatory approach. I have worked as a solicitor and that profession operates a closed shop. It is governed on a self-regulatory basis, which has been successful up to a point, although I do not believe that it is the most successful example of self-regulation-- perhaps the takeover panel is such an example. I believe that self- regulation is more appropriate to professions where those who transgress the rules can be prevented from practising than to those who make and dispense hearing aids. We must deal with the Hearing Aid Council as it is, and in that spirit I support the new clause.

The composition of the council is relevant to the new clause. The 12-member council--four representatives of the trade, four consumers and four medical or technical experts--will create for the first time a genuinely balanced council with the prospect of consumers having a meaningful voice.

The reason for the new clause is that it is possible that the newly composed Hearing Aid Council will omit something or fail to pick up some complaint. In those circumstances, it is possible that the Secretary of State will want to require the council to submit a code. That is provided for by the new clause.

With those reservations, I believe that the new clause would improve the Bill, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Colvin : It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), and I thank him for his support for the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and myself.

I should first state my credentials for participating in this debate. I was instrumental in pressing the Government for comments on the paper "Hearing Aids : the Case for Change", which was published by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf earlier this year. On 16 March I asked a parliamentary question about those proposals. Interestingly enough, the question was tabled to the Secretary of State for Health, not to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. When the Under-Secretary of State for Health replied, he said that the proposals made by the RNID were being carefully considered. It is obvious that another Department is closely involved with this matter, and this is why I probed the Department of Health rather than the DTI for a response.

Another reason for my participating in the debate is that on a number of occasions I have been approached by

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my constituents, particularly Mr. Ronald Scurlock of West Wellow, who has had considerable difficulty in getting hearing aids. He has faced delays of up to a year in receiving hearing aids. The Health Service should reconsider the service it provides to those who are hard of hearing.

I was also prompted to participate in this debate by a parliamentary question that I tabled on 15 March to the DTI concerning the Plessey company in my constituency. I was surprised to notice that the question immediately before mine had been tabled by the right hon. Member for Stoke- on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who is a leading authority on matters affecting the deaf. His question was :

"To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what consideration he is giving to the reform of the Hearing Aid Council."

I had no idea that that was a matter for the DTI and therefore I was interested in the Under-Secretary of State's response. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South pointed out that there were flaws in the membership of the Hearing Aid Council, which he believed favoured the industry. He suggested that the way in which it supervised the industry was absurd and that it should be changed in such a way that consumers rather than the industry which it regulated dominated the council. He also asked the Minister whether he should not take reserve powers :

"to amend any code of practice or standard put forward by that council so that he can keep a watch on future developments?"--[ Official Report, 15 March 1989 ; Vol. 149, c. 405.]

That was a logical request and it is provided for by this new clause.

When the Under-Secretary replied to the right hon. Gentleman's question--we shall hear what he has to say later today--he skated around the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. He said that he had faith in changing the composition of the council which would ensure that it was effective and representative. I have my doubts. 10.15 am

Another reason for my participating this morning is that I have been approached by Mr. J. Hague, who heads the Hythe hard of hearing club. I received a letter in this week's post from him drawing my attention to the fact that the Bill was coming back on Report today and he said :

"The Bill is so important to hearing-impaired people that I earnestly ask you to stay in the House on that day."

Well, here I am.

My other reason for participating today is that I have a profoundly deaf godson. Evan Gibbs is 12 years old--his birthday was yesterday. His mother had German measles and that is why he was born profoundly deaf. He used to wear a phonic ear, which meant that he could tune into his teacher. He has now graduated to what is known as the post-aural aid, which is a great success. His condition is annually reviewed by Wiltshire county council, which is the local education authority. What is so important, particularly for children at school, is that there is always close liaison between the local education authority and the district health authority, which operates the ear, nose and throat unit that carries out such investigations. Although we are extremely critical of the industry, I have found no evidence to suggest that there is any high-pressure selling of these extremely sophisticated appliances.

Mr. Barry Porter indicated assent.

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Mr. Colvin : I note that my hon. Friend is nodding in agreement. I know that he has an interest in this matter. Incidentally, when I spoke in the House about the licence trade during the passage of other legislation, I always made the point of declaring my pecuniary interest in that matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) intervened earlier. Perhaps he would like to clarify that matter.

Mr. Porter : I intend to speak in this debate later if I catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye. At the beginning of that speech I would declare my interest, that from time to time I advise the Hearing Aid Association--a trade association of private dispensers. I make it clear that that interest is recorded in the Register of Members' Interests, but I would have said that during my speech.

Mr. Colvin : I am obliged to my hon. Friend, and I am glad that we have cleared up that point. May I say--I am sure that this will be echoed by other hon. Members--that that association is extremely lucky to have the services of my hon. Friend.

The new clause was ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) on his selection of subject and the way in which he has steered the Bill's passage so far. One is fortunate in this place if one's Bill obtains a Second Reading on the nod. It is a great credit to the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n that his Bill took only one Committee sitting and that he gained the support of Committee members and of Members from all parties. Such progress demonstrates a remarkable degree of unanimity across the party divides which too often separate us.

I should also like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), whose debate on hearing aids on 23 March was extremely interesting to read. It has made us much more authoritative on the subject than we would otherwise have been. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South is a robust campaigner on behalf of the deaf and is the current president of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. We listen to him carefully. I shall also mention someone who is, alas, no longer in the House, Mr. Laurie Pavitt, the former Member for Brent, South. Laurie and I crossed swords in this Chamber on many occasions. I once represented a constituency with considerable tobacco interests and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will remember, because you were in the same so-called lobby, that Laurie was determined that tobacco advertising should stop. He and I spent many hours in the Chamber debating that issue. It was due to him and his efforts back in 1968 that the first hearing aid Bill was introduced in the House of Lords and the Hearing Aid Council was set up.

One problem with uncontroversial Bills is that they remain unchallenged. People consider them highly desirable and, therefore, they sail through without any real probing. That is why I was interested to see from yesterday's Order Paper, when we received the first inkling of which new clauses and amendments would be tabled, that there were no fewer than five new clauses and six amendments. It would be wholly improper for me to question the Chair's selection today, but we are debating only one new clause and one amendment. Both of those are significant and important and should improve the Bill,

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but I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will use the discretion for which you are famous to permit us to stray a little on to the subjects covered by the other amendments that have not been selected, or at least will give us some time to mention them on Third Reading. It is important that in such debates we put down markers for the other place to consider when they debate the Bill, providing it receives its Third Reading today.

In the other place, in May 1968, the Hearing Aid Council Bill began its parliamentary journey, which concluded with the setting up of the Hearing Aid Council. The council is made up of Government-appointed members, six of whom are industry representatives and five consumer representatives, and it has an independent chairperson. The general function of the council, according to section 1 of the 1968 Act, is to secure

"adequate standards of competence and conduct among persons engaged in dispensing hearing aids"

That is done by registering dispensers of hearing aids, advising on training and regulating trade practices with a code of practice. All private sector suppliers of hearing aids operate under the Hearing Aid Council and its code of practice.

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