No contract has been placed for imported aids and tenders from potential suppliers are still under consideration. While the rest of the tender exercise remains to be completed, I would prefer, as indicated in the reply my right hon. Friend gave to the right hon. Gentleman on 4th December, not to disclose the number of aids we have so far contracted to purchase.—[Vol. 865, c. 321–2.]
Is my hon. Friend aware that the welcome announcement of the new policy last July aroused the expectations of about I million partially deaf people in the country and that the mystery surrounding the implementation of this policy is causing a great deal of disappointment? Is he aware, further, of the suspicion that this mystery is connected with his disregard of tenders from home manufacturers and his overlooking the services of 1,000 trained dispensers in the private sector of the industry?
When announcing the new provisions my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear, first, that the programme would have to be phased—and therefore I think that many people understood that they would be dealt with later rather than earlier—and, secondly, that the necessity to conduct the programme through the hospital service made it difficult to employ private dispensers.
Irrespective of whether hearing aids are imported or supplied by means of local tenders, will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that it will be just as cheap to have three or four different qualities of hearing aids giving different outputs of clarity, and therefore that he should not stick to one common denominator but should take a variation, whatever his source of supply may be?
At a time when new tenders may be coming in it is not reasonable to indicate what has been selected already from the successful contractor. If my hon. Friend feels very strongly that we should give further information about this, I will consider whether it can be reasonably done within the normal commercial arrangements for considering tenders.