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Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister, who is being most helpful. However, I was going to suggest a different point—that there may be other ways in which we could improve our negotiating stance within the European Union.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am sure that there are, but the noble Earl is not going to tempt me at this stage into a widespread debate on the merits of adopting a more constructive stance on the European Community. Although I have no doubt that he and I could entertain each other for many an hour on that point, I have a rather narrower brief to cope with this evening.

I shall mention the obvious point with regard to audio books. Of course the VAT issue is something on which we would want to make progress, and I do not belittle its significance, because it forms a percentage of the costs of the books. However, my noble friend emphasised that the acute problem is that books for the partially sighted or unsighted are enormously more expensive than the comparable books that the rest of us very readily enjoy, in terms of their cost in the marketplace. That is not an easy issue to resolve.

Reducing the gap between the costs is certainly an aspiration to which we should drive, but my noble friend will recognise that when audio books are produced, someone has to perform the act of reading them. If some people pay David Beckham for his footballing skills with Manchester United, it is only right that Stephen Fry is paid for his reading skills when he produces an audio book. It may be thought that such a benign service ought to be produced by people for free, out of the goodness of their hearts. However, my noble friend will recognise that an awful

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lot of people in the acting profession who are drawn on as readers for such books are not in a position to give their services free, and that there are costs involved.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I totally appreciate what the Minister says, but there a few differences. If someone wants a conventional book, they want it with a nicely bound cover. If they want the special edition, that is fine, and they pay a little extra for it. We are talking about a basic product.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord has said, and I will bear it in mind. I want to emphasise that the debate this evening has thrown up a number of very interesting suggestions on how we could make progress. I respect what he said about how we drive the costs of the books down.

I have somewhat extended my time over the allotted span. The debate has been enormously constructive. The Government believe that we have a good record in this area. In Britain, we have a strong tradition of

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support for those with disabilities, and initiatives that I have outlined this evening bear witness to that. I also want to emphasise the extent to which the Government are open-minded and seek to be constructive on the number of valuable suggestions made.

There is growing recognition of the importance of free and fair access. I assure the House that we will continue to work with key players on the matter to develop good practice in widening accessibility. Social inclusion is a principal part of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked at the beginning of the debate why we could not discuss an element of philosophy as well as issues of practice. I assure him that the Government are serious about the concept of social inclusion. That means that we have to have due regard for the needs of the groups that we have identified this evening. I am grateful for the constructive contributions to the debate, which will advance that cause.

        House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past eight o'clock.

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