While I am grateful for the small concession to these unfortunate people, which amounts to 5s., may I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider this? Will the Minister consult with the Minister of Health to find out exactly what liability would fall on the Government if he were to extend the facility to other people who have the misfortune to be hard of hearing? As the Government already provide Medresco hearing aids, it would amount to little more if they provided this facility especially for elderly citizens.
I can see the hon. Gentleman's point and that is why we have had a special look at the matter. On investigation I find that the difficulty is that there are people other than deaf people who find that this 'phone is an advantage, particularly in noisy surroundings, and so they order it. Therefore, one could not just deduct the cost and restrict it to those whom we feel should have it. The difficulty is that there would be a demand from all sorts of people who would find it an additional aid, but we should have no reason for using the normal revenue to allow them a specially reduced rental.
As there are great variations in the cost of providing subscribers with a telephone service according to the distance from the exchange, is there any objection in principle to providing these amplified telephone handsets in a comparatively small number of cases for the benefit of the physically handicapped and deaf to enable them to be linked to the telephone? Surely it would be in the interests of good public relations for the Post Office to assist subscribers in this way?
Yes, Sir, and this is why, upon looking at the case, I have decided that we can reduce the rental from 15s. to 10s. a quarter. This will just about enable us to break even on this service. As I said earlier, this is not a matter in which we can say that only a certain group of people will obtain the handset, because there are many people who find it an advantage but nevertheless do not require any subsidising.
Would the hon. Gentleman confirm, as he told me in a letter, that local authorities already have power to provide loudspeaking telephone No. 5 for totally disabled subscribers under the National Assistance Act, and also that this applies not only to the capital cost of installation but to the rental charge?