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Lord Inglewood moved Amendments Nos. 31 to 33:


Page 17, line 25, leave out from beginning to ("3") in line 27 and insert ("shall not exceed whichever is the greater of--
(a) £50,000, or
(b) the amount determined under subsection (2A).
(2A) The amount referred to in subsection (2)(b) is--
(a) in a case where a penalty under this section has not previously been imposed on the holder of the multiplex licence during any period for which his licence has been in force ("the relevant period")").
Page 17, line 30, leave out ("shall, in any other case, not exceed") and insert ("in any other case").
Page 17, line 32, at end insert--
("and in relation to a person whose first complete accounting period falling within the relevant period has not yet ended, paragraphs (a) and (b) above shall be construed as referring to 3, or (as the case may be) 5, per cent. of the amount which the Commission estimate to be the share of multiplex revenue attributable to him for that accounting period (as so determined)").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move these amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Clause 19 [Duration and conditions of digital programme licence]:

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 34:


Page 18, line 36, at end insert--
"(c) that by the eighth anniversary of the commencement date of the digital programme licence not less than 95 per cent. of the programmes to be broadcast in the service are subtitled to such technical standards as is specified by the Commission,
(d) that by the eighth anniversary of the commencement date of the digital programme licence not less than 10 per cent. of the programmes to be broadcast in the service are presented or interpreted into sign language and
(e) that by the tenth anniversary of the commencement date of the digital programme licence not less than 50 per cent. of the programme hours to be broadcast are audio-described.").

5 Mar 1996 : Column 221

The noble Lord said: My Lords, of all the amendments to the Bill this is the most significant for deaf, hard-of-hearing and blind people. I regard the amendment as terribly significant for those people who are very often deprived of enjoying television. I hope the Minister will be able to accommodate us tonight. Millions of deaf people and blind people are looking forward to the Government's co-operation in opening television to them.

The amendment seeks to set targets for subtitling, signing and audio-description for digital services. As the noble Lord will know, the respective targets are 95 per cent. for subtitling; 10 per cent. for signing; and 50 per cent. for audio-description for blind people. The reason for the 95 per cent. is that we want to accommodate the difficulties and technical problems that will arise. We do not want to penalise people if they cannot keep to 100 per cent. However, we do want to achieve mass coverage. Therefore we are setting a target of 95 per cent. Ten per cent. for signing is a very small step forward but a very important one for those who depend on signing. Blind people need audio-description to explain what is going on.

The point of the amendment is that the targets are to be achieved by fixed dates. Targets are essential if those who are seriously impaired are to follow and enjoy digital television. In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, rejected similar amendments. He expressed concern about "the need to strike a balance" and to avoid "suddenly imposing onerous requirements out of the blue." The Minister wanted to avoid deterring new entrants. He was right. I do not want to deter new entrants either. Nor do deaf people; nor do blind people. I am anxious to strike a balance, as the Minister wanted. I also want new entrants into television. By specifying now what will be required in eight or 10 years the amendment removes uncertainty, itself a great deterrent to entry. It also ensures that there are no sudden, onerous requirements on the television companies. The requirements are carefully--some would say too carefully--phased in. I hope that that allays the anxieties of the Minister.

For sensorily impaired people, the expansion of television through digital channels will be welcome; but it is not enough. There will be no gain from the entry of even 1,000 new companies if they are all unintelligible, as they will be if there is no subtitling for deaf people, no signing for hard-of-hearing people and no audio-description for blind people. In other words, provision for television can be multiplied as much as we like, but it will remain inaccessible to deaf, hard-of-hearing and blind people without the provisions of the amendment. Without parliamentary pressure that could happen. Those people will still be deprived while television provision is expanding for everybody else. We have a responsibility to those people which I hope the House, and especially the Government, will accept.

History is on our side. We know that it was the addition by the Minister--I underline the word "addition"--to the 1990 Broadcasting Act of the amendment to set targets that resulted in the gradual but definite increase in subtitling. Subtitling is now at

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37 per cent. but is on course to meet the target of 50 per cent. by 1998. It is significant that the ITV companies are doing no more and no less than the Act requires. The targets set in the Act are determining progress. That is why those targets are essential. It is also significant that there has been no increase in signed programmes comparable with that of subtitled programmes. The reason is that there were no signing targets in the 1990 Act.

Each year hearing people have available to them, according to ITC/BBC figures, over 200,000 hours of terrestrial, satellite and cable television. Yet 62,000 profoundly deaf people, reliant on sign language, have no access to general programmes. That means they are prohibited from watching television. The new technology will enable signing to be done without being visible to the hearing audience. That will be encouraged by the amendment. If the amendment, or any measure that the noble Lord can present to the House, does not become part of the Bill there is no doubt whatever that deaf, hard-of-hearing and blind people will be excluded from enjoying digital television. That would be a terrible deprivation. We have a unique opportunity to include them in the new television era.

On the question of cost, the seemingly miraculous simultaneous presentation of words on a screen as they are spoken is not unduly expensive in relative terms. In fact it is very cheap. I put the figures to the Minister in an interview with him a short time ago. The cost of subtitling is about £600 an hour. That has to be compared with the cost of £600,000 an hour for television drama, £120,000 for documentaries, and £34,000 for sport. So £600 is a very tiny amount, especially when official figures show that some 10 million people use the subtitling provision. Apart from the "See Hear" programme, there is no signing or audio-description. I am reliably told that the cost of that provision would be of the same order.

The amendment calls for the targets on subtitling and signing to be met by the eighth anniversary of issuing a licence and by the 10th anniversary for audio-description. In an area where technology is galloping ahead those timescales are very generous. In the 1990 Act, a five-year period was allowed. We are now allowing an eight-year and 10-year period. Today it is far easier to advance subtitling because the mechanisms are well understood. Much of the expertise is available, although there will be a need for more trained operators. Once the size of the market is defined and the salary earned by operators becomes well known, I anticipate that market forces will establish training schools. At present the BBC is doing virtually all the training.

I hope the Minister will not say that the amendment is not required because we have the Disability Discrimination Act. I know that. The noble Lord was number two on that Bill as it passed through Parliament. There are good reasons why we should not leave the question of digital television access for seriously impaired people to that Act.

The Disability Discrimination Act rests on what is "reasonable". Until codes and regulations are published we have no idea what the Government will consider to

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be reasonable. This is an issue of very great importance to broadcasters and disabled people. It should not be left to others--in this case the ITC and civil servants-- to decide what is "reasonable". It should be decided by Parliament and hence be part of the Bill.

It will also take some time before the codes and guidance emerge. But with this amendment companies planning to enter this exciting market will know, immediately the Act is passed, precisely what is required of them. That is beneficial to the companies and to a large section of their potential audience. It is far better to develop those facilities as they go along rather than try to tag them on at a later date. The "tagging on" approach would inconvenience the television companies and is an inappropriate and unacceptable way to meet the needs of disabled people.

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond constructively. On his words tonight will rest the hopes of millions of deaf people and blind people of watching television. I hope that he is able to oblige. I beg to move.


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