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Guide dogs take the biscuit at Labour conference

LABOUR has come up with a new weapon against dissent at its party conference - dog biscuits, writes Marie Woolf.

Free dog food and bowls will be handed out to blind delegates for their guide dogs along with the agendas and security passes next month. The move is intended to head off any repetition of last year, when blind delegates complained about their treatment from the floor.

Talking signs, which respond to movement, will be positioned around the hall and "enablers", who help disabled delegates around the conference, will take guide dogs out for walks along the Bournemouth sea front.

Around 40 to 50 blind and partially sighted people are expected at the conference this year. Labour has set up a special working group to make sure that they are properly treated.

Last year several blind delegates complained that their dogs were gasping for water, and that there were no braille conference documents available.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who brings his own guide dog, Lucy, to conference, was personally concerned that the situation should be improved this year.

Soon after last year's conference Millbank approached the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) for help in improving facilities. The party has now invested in a mobile braille transcription machine which can translate political documents.

The Labour conference will coincide with the coming into force of a new law making it illegal to discriminate against disabled people.

"At last we are seeing equality of opportunity in action," said Alan Thomas, Parliamentary Officer of the RNIB. "The innovations the Labour party are introducing should enable blind people to play a full part at the party conference."