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Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 5:


Page 19, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) 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 standard as is specified by the Commission,

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( ) 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
( ) 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.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall refer briefly to the amendment once again for three reasons. First, as the Minister said in a recent letter to me, there was insufficient time to discuss the matter on Report. Secondly, I do so because it is a matter of profound importance to those who are deaf and hard of hearing and people who are sight impaired; and, thirdly, because I believe that the Minister has genuinely misunderstood the situation. In his letter to me he said that a code would have a greater impact than specifying targets for subtitling, signing and audio-description. After all the discussion that we have had this afternoon on the effect of a code, I cannot believe that the Minister still holds that belief.

The Minister has given the impression that he believes that the levels of targets required in the amendment could be achieved by the code which has already been mentioned. In his letter to me the Minister said that the code would allow,


    "for the amount of subtitling to be increased as the market takes off and broadcasters move into profit [and that it] could make clear that those entering the market in a strong position might be expected to provide subtitles .. from the start".
The point about subtitles on television is that they enable totally deaf people to follow television programmes. When I lost my hearing completely about 28 years ago I could not watch television because there were no subtitles. That meant, apart from just watching sport and perhaps activities like snooker, I could not follow the dialogue on television. It is incredible, but television did not exist for me 20 or so years ago; indeed, it did not exist for me for 25 years until I had my cochlea implant.

Many deaf people today are reliant upon the subtitles on television and those who use sign language are similarly dependent upon that. If they do not have those services, television in 1996 does not exist. It is a staggering fact but it is true. Blind people or those who are very heavily sight impaired cannot follow television programmes. However, if they have access to audio-description where someone explains to them what, say, the criminal is doing racing down the street in a car being followed by a policeman, they can then understand the dialogue. Indeed, with audio-description, those blind people or those whose sight is impaired can follow such programmes. That is why the amendment is so profoundly important.

I support the plaudits offered to the Minister. I believe that his conduct has been great on the proceedings of the Bill. I endorse all the tributes that have been paid to him. I know that he cannot accept my amendment on this occasion, but I hope that he will accept the principle behind it. If he does not do so, it means that those very severely handicapped people, those sight-impaired people who cannot regain their sight and those without the implant to which I referred--and there are many

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thousands of people without such implants--will be seriously deprived of digital television. When that comes it will be a great shame to leave those people without access to it.

Finally, I should like to turn to the code, to which my noble friend Lord Donoughue spoke with great eloquence on the last amendment. He spoke about the impact and effect of a code. It does nothing compared with legislation. If the Minister does not accept that, all I can say is that he will be letting down all those people who are relying upon him. At the end of the day, I hope that the Minister will be able to do something for the people to whom I referred. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said, I have already written to him setting out in detail the Government's position on the provision for disabled people by digital terrestrial broadcasters. Therefore, I shall attempt to be as brief as possible. However, at the same time, I believe it is important for the whole House to have the opportunity to hear the arguments involved.

It may appear at first sight unreasonable to object to the proposition that virtually all digital terrestrial programmes should be subtitled and that a large proportion should be available with sign-language interpretation and audio-description. I accept that, without those services, television is inaccessible to significant numbers of people and that where it is practicable they should be provided. I think it is fair to say that the Government have, with the full co-operation of existing broadcasters, demonstrated their commitment in the area, and a large proportion of programmes shown now has subtitles. That was achieved gradually and further progress is being made under the provisions in the 1990 Act. The advent of digital technology may well facilitate the provision of subtitles by allowing them to be provided as separate streams of information on the same frequency channel as well as via text services. It may also facilitate both audio-description and sign-language interpretation, as it will be possible to make them available to those who wish to access them without their being received by all viewers indiscriminately. I hope that full advantage will be taken of those possibilities. But let us be clear that none of those services can be provided without a great deal of effort and without the involvement of a large number of skilled people.

I shall concentrate here on subtitling. On Report, the noble Lord referred to the,


    "seemingly miraculous simultaneous presentation of words on a screen as they are spoken".--[Official Report, 5/3/96; col. 222.]
There is no miracle involved, merely a great deal of hard work. Even subtitling for pre-recorded programmes, the easiest and cheapest sort to provide, involves a great deal of work by highly trained staff using sophisticated and expensive video and computer equipment. The text of most programmes has to be edited down by about 40 per cent. The captions must be synchronised with changes of camera shot. It takes a year to train a subtitler to operate at what is regarded as a good speed, about 30 minutes of screen time subtitled per working

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day. The skills required are very much akin to those of a modern newspaper sub-editor in terms of both linguistic and technical skill.

As the noble Lord said on Report, that might cost about £600 per programme hour. If a broadcaster is spending £600,000 on an hour of high quality original drama, I agree with the noble Lord that he should be able to afford an extra 0.1 per cent. for the subtitling. Equally, if someone is providing a movie channel, spending large sums on film rights, attracting large numbers of subscription viewers and repeating films on several occasions, he, too, should be able to afford to subtitle a high percentage of output. I am sure that the ITC's code, which we have provided for in the Bill, would reflect that. The government amendment that I shall shortly move reinforces the ability of that code to respond flexibly to the practical needs of disabled people by requiring the ITC to consult them before drawing up the code.

However, let me be very clear. In 1990 we were dealing with a situation which is very different from that which we have now in that analogue terrestrial broadcasting was an extremely stable market dominated by very large and established organisations which have very large programme budgets. But most new digital terrestrial broadcasters will not have £600,000 to spend on one hour of programming. Nor are they going to have large numbers of viewers; indeed, every broadcaster will start off with an audience of nil and some will be providing specialised services that will only ever attract a minority. Many new services could be working to budgets of as little as £2,000 per hour, as I understand some satellite and cable stations already do. What is more, some of those are likely to be live services. Subtitling live programmes is considerably more difficult and requires more expensive equipment and the efforts of very fast stenographers with levels of skill similar to those of the people who serve us so well in this House. It also requires substantial extra studio space. It is quite possible that for some new broadcasters subtitling could represent as much as a 50 per cent. increase in programme budgets. That clearly would be enough to endanger their survival in the market. If they do not survive, there will be no programmes for anyone, including disabled people.

In these circumstances we believe it would in the long run help no one to impose on new digital broadcasters, within eight years of launching their services, requirements considerably more onerous than those asked of existing broadcasters who have been established for decades and have almost every citizen of the United Kingdom as customers. As I explained on Report, each existing terrestrial broadcaster, unlike many new digital ones, also provides a heterogeneous service, some parts of which are easy to subtitle and some more difficult and costly, leading to an overall balance. But even then, the provisions in the 1990 Act do not, as this amendment would, remove the scope for account to be taken of differing circumstances between broadcasters. Once the proportion of programmes subtitled by existing

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broadcasters exceeds 50 per cent., as it is scheduled to do by 1998, the Act allows the ITC to require broadcasters, through licence conditions, to subtitle,


    "the greatest number of hours in a week that appears to the Commission to be reasonably practicable".

The noble Lord said in Committee that it would be quite unfair for some television businesses to bear the cost of subtitling and others to evade it. I suggest that it would not be fair to treat the whale the same as the minnow. Given that there are not unlimited numbers of subtitlers, it seems to me important to ensure that efforts are concentrated on programmes with the widest appeal. The Government therefore remain in favour of a code. The use of a code will allow for distinctions to be made between different types of broadcasters; for example, those spending £600,000 an hour on programmes and those spending a tiny fraction of that. It will also allow for the amount of subtitling to be increased as the market takes off and broadcasters move into profit.

If digital terrestrial television takes off in the way we hope and believe it will, and becomes the primary mode of transmission, the medium-term outcome might be that subtitles are provided for a similar proportion of new digital programmes as for programmes transmitted on existing analogue channels. Simulcasts, of course, will be subject to the same requirements as analogue services. In absolute terms that would mean a vast increase in the number of programmes accessible to deaf viewers, although the percentage might be higher on profitable digital services with wide audiences--in other words, the ones that most people want to watch--than on more specialist channels. I should stress also that the code could make clear that those entering the market in a strong position might be expected to provide subtitles and the other services referred to in the noble Lord's amendment at an earlier stage rather than after eight years.

I have already made clear to the noble Lord that I am concerned to ensure that we do the best we reasonably can in this Bill for people who would benefit from subtitling, signing and audio description and that I am prepared to discuss this issue further. That consideration might, of course, now feed through into deliberations in another place. However, I believe the arguments I have just set out are strong. The Government remain convinced that a code is the right approach, as opposed to the inflexibility of setting percentages on the face of the Bill. As I have already made clear in previous debates, the House has already accepted, by giving its approval to the Disability Discrimination Act, that this approach should apply to other industries and services. Under that Act, what it is reasonable to expect service providers to do to make their services accessible is to be determined by detailed regulations allowing for different circumstances and drawn up after due consultation and reflection, including with disabled people. We believe that we should be consistent with that. I fully understand that the noble Lord may feel disappointed at my remarks but at least I hope that he will understand the basis of my thinking.


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