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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I have listened carefully to the reasons why my noble friend has felt that an amendment of this nature is necessary. I hope, if I can, to be able to persuade him that his concerns are already catered for by the Bill as it stands. The distinction between my noble friend's approach and our own is a subtle one and your Lordships will need to bear with me as I try to set out the Government's position.

My noble friend's amendment seeks to wrap up two concerns in a single proposition: the first is that service providers should seek to make their services accessible to disabled people, and the second, that the service in question should not be offered at a lower standard. I quite recognise that there is a degree of overlap between the two requirements. But, in my view, the Bill as currently drafted deals with them in a better way by dealing with them distinctly in two separate clauses.

Clause 16 is primarily concerned with the extent to which services are accessible. Clause 16(1), which this amendment seeks to alter, puts a duty on a service provider to change a policy, practice or procedure which has the effect of making his service inaccessible to disabled people. So, for example, a restauranteur would have to waive a "no dogs" policy if it meant that his premises were inaccessible to a blind person with a guide dog.

I can assure my noble friend that his concern that the Government's test of discrimination is insufficiently tough on service providers is unwarranted. Service providers will not be able to get away with treating disabled people without the same dignity and respect as any other customer. If, for example, a café proprietor does have to change a "no dogs" rule it will not be good enough for him to suggest that he is happy to see the animal tied up outside with a bowl of water!

I can also assure my noble friend that, in this context, the term "service" includes the concept of service as far as possible to the same standard as that received by other people. There is no question of service providers being able to get away with providing access to a lower standard than normal unless there are inescapable reasons. This applies to all of the duties in Clause 16. For instance, under Clause 16(2), a cinema will have to make reasonable provision to allow wheelchair users a degree of choice as to where they sit. But all the seats in the cinema would not have to be movable to leave space for a wheelchair. Of course, this means that the wheelchair user would have less choice than other customers and thus receive a lower standard of service.

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The requirement, however, is to provide access to a service as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard normally offered.

A further illustration might help to clarify what this means for Clause 16(1). The dining area of a particular café may occupy two rooms. In one, where 80 per cent. of the tables are accommodated, the management are happy to admit guide dogs, but in the other room, where diners are entertained by a pianist, a ban on dogs is applied. In this circumstance, it will not be good enough for the proprietor to suggest that, because a blind person is able to use 80 per cent. of the café, the service is reasonably accessible. He must consider a reasonable adjustment so that the disabled person can use the service to the full. However, as I prefer to eat my meals without the accompaniment of music, I would volunteer to sit in the 80 per cent. of the restaurant without the music.

A different issue arises where nothing has to be done to make the service accessible but the disabled customer needs to be protected against poor quality service. To return to the café again, it might be that all of the tables are now accessible but the proprietor has decided that he does not want to encourage them to become regular customers because he feels they will make his other clientele feel uncomfortable. That example is not as unlikely as it may sound. There is evidence that that kind of thing goes on, as some of your Lordships will be aware. He therefore makes sure that his disabled customers are made well aware that they are not welcome—ushering them to the least desirable tables, making sure that they have to wait a while to be served, and generally adopting a surly attitude.

Here again, I can assure my noble friend that service providers will certainly not be able to get away with that sort of treatment. But it is not Clause 156 to which a disabled person can look for protection but to Clause 13. Here it states that:


    "It is unlawful for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person ... in the standard of service which he provides to the disabled person or the manner in which he provides it to him".

Bearing in mind that discrimination consists of less favourable treatment for a reason related to a person's disability, your Lordships can be reassured that a disabled person's enjoyment of a service will not be able to be adversely affected by conduct of that kind.

I have gone on at some length, but I hope that I have been able to persuade my noble friend that there is a distinction to be drawn between two different varieties of discrimination which I believe the amendment would obscure. I am content that the Bill already protects disabled people as comprehensively as my noble friend would wish. In view of my explanation of how the Bill does that, perhaps he will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Monson, for his suggestion that the word "adverse" should have a suitable adjective tied to it. He is probably right.

With regard to what my noble friend said, he spoke for some time and at this time of night my brain is moving more slowly than its normal snail-like pace. I

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would therefore like to read what he had to say with a view, if necessary, to coming back to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 71:


Page 14, line 14, at end insert:
("( ) This section imposes duties only for the purpose of determining whether a provider of services has discriminated against a disabled person; and accordingly a breach of any such duty is not actionable as such.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment was spoken to earlier with Amendment No. 10. I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 72 not moved.]

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 73:


After Clause 16, insert the following new clause:

("Television broadcasts: subtitling for the deaf

.—(1) The Broadcasting Act 1990 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In section 35 (subtitling for the deaf)—
(a) In subsection (3) (a) (ii), for ", the greatest number of hours in a week that appears to the Commission to be reasonably practicable" substitute "such numbers of hours in a week as the Commission shall determine in order to achieve 100 per cent of programme hours by the year 2010";
(b) in subsection (3) (b), for paragraph (ii) substitute—
"(ii) for the year which includes the tenth anniversary of the date of the commencement of the provision of Channel 5, 100 per cent of programme hours.".").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I began speaking in these debates on an intervention. This is the last speech I shall make this evening. I see smiles all round the Chamber!
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is taking part in these debates again. That sentiment will be echoed all round the Chamber.
The purpose of the proposed new clause is to establish a timescale for the coverage of all television programmes. Subtitling is crucial for totally deaf and profoundly deaf people, because without it television is meaningless. That is a deeply regrettable form of discrimination. With specially adapted sets, and given subtitling, totally deaf and profoundly deaf people can participate fully in this most powerful medium of information and entertainment.
Great progress has already been made, and deaf people and those who are hard of hearing appreciate it. Nevertheless, if we are not to discriminate against them in access to television all programmes should be subtitled.
The proposed new clause lays an obligation on the ITC, but it is in no way critical of the ITC. I pay tribute to the work of Mr. David Glencross and his colleagues at the ITC as they have been vigilant, understanding and helpful. However, they can only operate within the remit laid down by Parliament. That is why I have tabled this new clause. Although the new clause only deals with subtitling, I hope that the Government will think hard about the needs of deaf people whose first language is sign language.

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One programme per channel per day should be produced for them and some general programmes should also be covered by sign language. That would be one small step forward. The Government should remember that sign language is the fourth indigenous language in the United Kingdom: after English comes Welsh, then Gaelic, with sign language not far behind. The Government subsidise channels with Welsh and Gaelic programmes. Therefore at the very least they should help with some signed programmes.
Finally, the pattern of broadcasting is changing steadily, with satellites and cable competing with terrestrial television. I recognise that there may be difficulties with satellite programmes beamed from other countries. However, the Government should examine the position with the television under their control or where they have an influence.
For the reasons that we have subtitling of our terrestrial television, so we should have it with cable and satellite. In addition, it is important to ensure fair competition for all competitors: they should all have the same subtitling regulation.
In his response will the Minister tell us about the European situation? Have the Government made any representations to other European countries regarding subtitling targets? I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I support the amendment and the remarks of the noble Lord on the importance of the British sign language. I associate myself, too, with his remarks about David Glencross and the ITC.

12.30 a.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the amendment seeks to set target dates by which the Channel 3 and Channel 5 licence holders would be required to achieved 100 per cent. subtitling for deaf people of their television programmes. I recognise that subtitling is clearly important for many viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing and it should be encouraged. I hope that I can offer some assurances on this matter to your Lordships. I have to say that just because those people will be able to hear the programme, it will not necessarily change it from being meaningless. Although I do not see much television, when I do, so much of the content seems pretty meaningless. However, that is a little aside as a television critic for this evening.

First, I confirm that broadcasting is covered by the Bill since it is a service which is provided to members of the public. Providers of broadcasting services will therefore be under the same duties under Part III of the Bill as all other service providers to ensure that they take reasonable steps to make broadcasting services accessible to disabled people.

We must bear in mind the excellent legislation which already exists in this area in the Broadcasting Act. The Government believe that better progress can be made by working with the grain of existing legislation to achieve improvements for disabled people in the field of broadcasting.

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We have made provision for specific targets for both Channel 3 and Channel 5. The Broadcasting Act 1990 sets a target of 50 per cent. of subtitling of programmes by 1998 for Channel 3 programmes and by the fifth anniversary of the commencement of the service for Channel 5 programmes. Thereafter it is for the Independent Television Commission to determine the greatest number of hours per week which it judges is reasonably practicable.

There is no specific requirement on the BBC to provide subtitling. However, the BBC accepts that it has a responsibility to do so as part of its general public service objectives. In practice, the proportion of programmes subtitled on the BBC is in excess of that required of commercial broadcasters.

Progress is already being made. For 1994, the commission set a target of 27 per cent. of subtitling of programmes and all the Channel 3 licensees met this. The target for 1995 is 31.5 per cent. The Channel 5 licence has not yet been awarded.

A target date for total coverage clearly has its attractions, and the Government considered this during the passage of the Broadcasting Act. However, as I said earlier this evening, we need to be realistic. We should remember that full coverage would include live unscripted material, news flashes, football matches, panel discussions and so on. Subtitling might be easier said than done. There might also be legal difficulties for the licence holders if, for example, subtitling were omitted from just one programme.

We also have to consider that subtitling involves licensees in extra work and additional costs. One must bear in mind that, as the proportion of subtitling increases above the 50 per cent. figure, it is likely to have higher cost implications, chiefly because it will bring into the frame programmes which are live and for which subtitling is more difficult to provide such as news, current affairs programmes and sport. Many sports commentators appear to want to speak so fast that I sometimes find it difficult to make them out. The holders of licences bid for them on carefully costed plans, taking into account the statutory requirements placed upon them. It would be difficult now to change the ground rules.

The Broadcasting Act aims to ensure that the obligation on subtitling continues after 1998. Therefore, after the 50 per cent. target is reached, it gives the ITC discretion to set targets thereafter which are reasonably practicable. This does not rule out achieving a much higher target than 50 per cent., and advances in technology may aid that. The advent of digital technology may open up prospects for the further provision of subtitling services.

The noble Lord asked me about Europe, and when considering it one thinks of satellite television and all the other things coming along like the Internet. They are opening up worldwide communication far beyond what we have with our four, nearly five, terrestrial channels. The same problem arises with them as with the manufacture of goods. The services are international. Therefore, quite rightly, we cannot impose the laws

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which we may or may not wish to pass in this country on the international community and international communicators. That is a much wider field.

As regards Europe and European standards, I am afraid I cannot answer the noble Lord's point this evening, but I shall look into it. I suspect that we may well be ahead of the game on that aspect. From what I see when I am abroad, television there does not provide any of the facilities that I see from time to time on my own television screen.

I hope that with that explanation of the position and the progress that has been made, and with a bit of enthusiasm from myself to encourage progress, the noble Lord can withdraw his amendment.


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