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Lord Swinfen: I strongly support both amendments. It is interesting that local authorities are obliged by the National Assistance Act 1948 to keep registers of blind and partially sighted people and of those who are deaf and hard of hearing. I wonder how they gather their information. Will the Minister be kind enough to tell the House?

I have worn a hearing aid--supplied by the National Health Service, I am happy to say--since 1972. Therefore, I must by definition be at least hard of hearing. But no one from the local authority has ever approached me to make certain that I am on its register. Neither have I approached the authority. And as far as I know, the medical practice that looks after me has not done so, and neither has the hospital that supplied me with the hearing aid. How, therefore, do local authorities at present find the names of those who should be on their registers?

The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, are particularly important because life can be very difficult under certain circumstances if one is hard of

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hearing. It is also very difficult if one is partially sighted, but having a combination of the two makes life at times virtually impossible.

Lord Morris of Manchester: I have often heard people talk about whether deafness or blindness is the more severe disability. There is no common view; but what everyone must recognise is that being deaf and blind is vastly more disabling than either and especially where deafness is prelingual.

My interest in people with the dual handicap goes back to my school days when I lived, in Manchester, near to a boy of the same age who was deafblind. Even then I knew that there could be few more cruelly devastating disabilities. Thus I counted myself extremely fortunate to be able to include in my Private Member's Bill that became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 the first legislation in this or any country to address the very special needs of people with the dual handicap. But that was 30 years ago and these amendments, like the others on the Order Paper today, are about further advance for some of the most needful people in Britain. By any standard they are eminently deserving of all the help we can give them.

The provision the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act made for them is in Section 25. It imposed a duty on local education authorities to provide the Secretary of State with information,

    "at such times as he may direct",

on their provision of special educational facilities for children and young people with the dual handicap. The section also made clear that the arrangements made by a local authority for its special educational treatment of deafblind children and young people must be given in a school maintained or assisted by the authority.

The specific involvement of the Secretary of State in implementing Section 25 gave him or her a major share of the responsibility for failure in any locality to make satisfactory provision. It ensures that any shortcomings in provision are as much the responsibility of central as of local government.

In a message sent to me by Sense, the admirable charity whose unrivalled efforts to help people with the dual handicap are so widely acclaimed, the progress achieved by Section 25 is documented, and it goes on to say:

    "It is in education that we have seen some of the biggest advances for deafblind people: Section 25 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act began a sea change. Because local authorities had an obligation by law to recognise deafblind children and young people, and also to provide information on the provision they make for special educational facilities, it is much easier for our specialist workers to go in and work in partnership with them--providing special assessment as well as support for families--and it has helped parents to campaign."

Sense says, too, that there have been "huge developments" since Section 25 became law. But much remains to be done and more can be done if the purpose of the first of these amendments is met.

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It must be vitally important for local authorities to have access to reliable information on the numbers of deafblind people in their areas--as well as their location--if the planning, development and provision of services are to be well conceived. Otherwise policy-making itself is severely handicapped. Without accurate statistics, policy-makers in both local and central government are at sea without a compass.

Turning briefly to the second amendment, again I am very happy to support my noble friend Lord Ashley. In doing so, I want strongly to emphasise the importance of registration if we are to make sure that a deafblind child known to the LEA is to go on to the deafblind adults' register at 18.

Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989 requires social services departments--SSDs--to keep a register of children with disabilities, a provision which is designed to help their service planning and monitoring. And the guidance on the Act, in volume 6, emphasises many important principles in relation to disabled children's registration that might usefully be applied to deafblind adults' registration. It stresses as well the importance of updating registers regularly and says that SSDs should liaise with their education and health counterparts to secure early identification, to facilitate joint working, to encourage parents to agree to registration and to plan services for the individual child and children in general.

The guidance says also, first, that the creation of a joint register by health, education and social services authorities will greatly facilitate collaboration in identification and a co-ordinated provision of services; and, secondly, that when a child is identified, parents should be given clear and comprehensive information about the purpose and use of the register in accessible formats and be fully involved in recording the needs of their child.

These principles should inform the process of deafblind registration: indeed, they are crucially important to its success. That is the case for the second amendment. It really is essential to ensure that deafblind children go on to the deafblind adult register at 18 if they are to achieve a smooth transition from children's to adult services. At the moment, adult services have little idea how to work with young deafblind people and the second amendment can help them to do so. I know that my noble friend the Minister will want to respond to both amendments with understanding and as helpfully as he can.

1 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale: First, I apologise to the Committee and to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for being absent at Second Reading. However, as we had a synopsis of the Second Reading debate in the previous three speeches, perhaps that apology is unnecessary.

I fully agree that a register of deafblind people is required and I fully agree with Amendment No. 1. Knowing the location of such people is not good enough; you must know the numbers involved and the register must be kept up to date. However, if you must permanently inform yourself of the number and

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location of a particular group of people, by definition you must have an active register. Therefore, while I fully agree with the first of the amendments, the second seems to be totally unnecessary.

Lord Astor of Hever: I, too, support the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, clearly set out the reasons behind them. We believe that it is important to maintain a reliable register. As the noble Lord said, there is no requirement on local authorities to identify, locate or register deafblind people. Deafblind people have distinct needs for specialist services.

As the UK population grows progressively older, dual sensory impairment becomes more prevalent. Seventy-five per cent of deafblind people are over the age of 75, and 85 per cent of people over the age of 85 have combined sight and hearing difficulties. It is vitally important to contact those people and to offer deafblind link workers. The active element of the register will ensure that elderly people with, for example, sight loss and a progressive hearing loss will not slip between the geographical loopholes.

Lord Addington: I believe that both amendments would strengthen the Bill. It does not matter whether we are over-egging the pudding by making the same provision twice because the register must be accurate. In ensuring that there is good, accurate, up-to-date information, it does not matter how you do it.

Getting information across in particular to people who need help has been a theme of mine for some time. I believe that the Government should be better at it. I suggest that they should be gathering information in order to establish a more successful interchange. I suggest that the Bill would be improved if it contained one if not both amendments.

Lord Burlison: I thank my noble friends Lord Ashley of Stoke and Lord Morris of Manchester for the many helpful points which they made. I know that the commitment and sincerity with which they spoke is strongly felt. However, they will not be surprised to learn that the Government believe that the amendments to Clause 2 are unnecessary. Authorities already have a duty, under Section 1(1) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, to inform themselves of the number of persons in their area to whom Section 29 of the National Assistance Act 1948 applies. People who have a permanent and substantial disability clearly fall within the scope of Section 29 of the National Assistance Act 1948.

The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, commented on how local authorities compile the registers. Those who meet the criteria of blindness when assessed by the ophthalmologist are offered inclusion on the social services register. That is achieved by the completion of form BD8, which is sent to social services. Section 29 makes specific mention of deafblindness and, rightly, authorities have used the power to provide services not only for deafblind people, but also those with other disabilities. Those who are hard of hearing or deaf inform social services of their desire to be registered.

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Members of the Committee will appreciate that not everyone in those circumstances will want to be registered.

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