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Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I am delighted to welcome the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire), and to add my thanks to the disability campaign organisations on the long list that she read out, to the Disability Rights Commission, the Talking Newspaper Association and others, and to the many authors who have been outraged by the fact that visually impaired people have been prevented from accessing books and printed material by the operation of copyright law. May I add to that list the name of Fran Hibbert, who is the manager of the Merton Voluntary Association for the Blind and the Guardian
The Guardian centre was founded in 1965 by a visionary visually impaired man, Eric Walford MBE, and is funded by the local education authority and through donations. It has also received a £115,000 lottery grant to provide services to the many hundreds of visually impaired people in Merton. More than 800 people in Merton receive the Merton Talking Newspaper every week from the Guardian centre, which provides many other services. With such support from lottery money, the local education authority and charitable donations, it is absurd that the operation of copyright law should thwart the centre in providing the service on which so many people depend.
We spoke to Ms Hibbert this morning, and she feels angry that organisations such as the Merton Voluntary Association for the Blind and the Guardian centre are put in an invidious position when people ask them for help with photocopying any document or printed material to put it in larger print, or with translating it into Braille or Moon. It receives many such requests, but it cannot respond to them without breaking the law. By assisting visually impaired people in that way, it would infringe copyright law.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West on using the opportunity of her private Member's Bill to bring the law in this area into line with common sense. I do not think that any reasonable person would believe that the operation of copyright law should come between organisations such as the Guardian centre and the visually impaired people whom it was set up to serve and who depend on its services.
It is important that the Bill should not undermine the work done by many businesses that publish material in Braille and in Moon. We want that industry to expand. I am delighted that I shall be able to go back to my constituency and perhaps report on the Bill's excellent progress in the Merton Talking Newspaper, and to tell the Guardian centre and the many people who depend on its services that it will soon be able to fulfil its mission to assist visually impaired people without the operation of copyright law getting in the way.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): This is a small, complex, technical but important Bill, and I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) on it. It is an excellent Bill, because it begins to provide a workable relationship between royalties, copyright and accessible copy. "It is timely," I said to myself and then realised that we have had the written word and books for centuries. It is outrageous that in the 21st century we should be considering such a large part of our community for the first time in a real way. The Bill will benefit millions. I am absolutely delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West has kept the Government on side. She has worked extremely hard and I compliment her.
The Bill establishes a workable legislative framework. It has achieved widespread recognition throughout our communities. It has got many authors, agents and publishers, whether they be involved in dramatic, music or artistic work, to agree that accessible copies for people with impaired vision are an absolute necessity and a requirement. In fact, many have been shocked that their books have not been available to date.
I cannot imagine what it is like not to be able to pick up a book and read, or to go along a shelf and choose. It is totally inconceivable. Reading is one of the finest pleasures in my life. It is time out and, goodness me, we all need time out. The fact that we have excluded so many people from that is wrong.
Reading is not just time out. As many hon. Members have said, there are the benefits of higher education, or education per se. Reading opens doors, thereby ensuring that people with aspirations can develop their intellectual potential. The Bill gives educational establishments the opportunity to support visually impaired people.
In a complex and technical world, my hon. Friend has achieved a clear and concise Bill that I believe will be successful. I am delightful[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am sorry, I take that back. I am delighted with the whole idea of one for one. It seems so logical, if someone owns a book, needs to make a copy of it and to change it so that they can access it, to allow them to do soit seems so jolly obvious. I am delighted with the whole idea of educational establishments having that right if they are not run for profit. That should ensure that there is an open door. I am mortified that the Churches are struggling to ensure that they have copies for all theirI cannot think of the word
Ms Taylor: What a good word. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and I are great singers. We would want copies to be available. We hope that the Churches get that together speedily.
I have so little time and I know that another colleague wants to speak. I am an enthusiast of the Bill. I have spoken to members of the Teesside and District Society for the Blind about it; they are enthusiasts. The chairman of that organisation is completely blind. He is a local radio producer, and he is delighted that the Bill has been introduced.
Many blind people and people who are visually impaired believe that they are Cinderellas. They are unconfident. They think that we do not care about them. They will begin to see today that they are not a forgotten group, that there are many champions and that the Bill truly begins that process for all of them. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West on what is a very good Bill. It opens doors for many people, many of whom we will, I hope, get to know in the near future.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): It is a great pleasure to be here to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire). I have been tracking the progress of the Bill on the Royal National Institute for the Blind website. It described it as a fundamental question of social inclusion, which other hon. Members with their enthusiasm obviously appreciate.
I come to the Third Reading debate to support my hon. Friend, having been present on 10 May and on Second Reading on 15 March, although I did not have the benefit of serving on the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Bill. I have had the benefit of listening to my hon. Friend's report on that. I also took the opportunity yesterday evening to read the Hansard record of that stage of the Bill. It records the care with which she and others have refined and improved the Bill. I am impressed with that care and with the range of expertise that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have brought to itthere was the usual legal and technical experience that one hopes to have availableincluding the chair of the all-party group on eye health, which I had not realised existed until I read the Hansard of the Standing Committee.
The Bill and its consideration have drawn on a range of expertise to which my hon. Friend and others have referred. The care taken has resulted in a measure that meets the high expectations expressed in the policy statement on the RNIB website, which states:
a) asserts visually impaired people's rights to equitable access to all published information;
b) enshrines rights, and does not merely create vehicles for permission;
c) is not tied to particular formats of particular technologies;
d) is future proof;
e) focuses on the individual end-user, not the format".
The Bill consolidates previous voluntary agreements with sound and comprehensive provisions; the principles that it lays down will become increasingly necessary as technology brings even more diversity to the means of production, distribution and access to creative works. The Bill will overcome some of the dreadful delays and refusals to grant permission that, as debates on this Bill today and previously have illustrated, remain far too common despite the goodwill of many authors and publishers. It will also give people with visual impairment opportunities to fulfil their potential to read, to learn, to work and to participate fully in society. It has received careful consideration and scrutiny and represents a fair balance between the rights of people with visual impairment to access material in the format of their choice, and the ability of copyright owners to monitor what is happening and obtain copyright royalties in circumstances where their interests might otherwise be prejudiced.
In her letter urging us to attend today's debate and support the Bill my hon. Friend told us that the RNIB estimates suggest that more than 3,000 people in the average parliamentary constituency have some visual impairment. I am pleased to be here today to thank my hon. Friend and support her endeavours to help her constituents, mine and those of every hon. Member here today or otherwise serving their constituents in the various activities that usually occupy us on Fridays. I hope that the Bill receives the same reception in the other place as it has here.