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The amendment, as we have heard so eloquently from the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, deals specifically with design and usability of telecoms and broadcasting equipment. As other noble Lords have said, in practice we are all keen on more ease of application of apparatus. I must admit that I often find it extremely difficult to utilise properly the television zapper. I now have a fantastic and amazing new telephone which has many capabilities, but I find myself carrying around a rather weighty book of instructions. For some of us, there is no question that the more advanced the technology, the more complicated it becomes.
I think that, to a large extent, it is generational. It is always my children teaching me how to use this equipment. That said, there is no doubt a need to develop a much greater awareness in terms of usability and the understanding of inclusive design in relation to electronic communications, apparatus, facilities and services.
While this is already happening to some extent, we believe that it would be very helpful to underpin the objective by placing this amendment on the face of the Bill. Therefore, we strongly support the amendment. It may be said that it is not profitable to develop equipment designed specifically for certain disabilities. My response is that it would be extremely profitable. Indeed, it is profitable, as is often shown by equipment designed for mainstream use which everyone can access, use efficiently and enjoy.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I, too, admit to being part of the club which finds the different techniques and the complications of accessing the parts of the media which one wants to access particularly irritating. I certainly support the proposed new clause, which I shall illustrate by reference to the needs of those who are hard of hearing and deaf. These people are the largest disabled group in the UK. In order for them to enjoy the kind of media literacy to be debated in the next clause, it is essential that Ofcom is responsible for ensuring that access is both universal and of a high quality as well as easy. As we have heard, the costs are fairly small. I believe subtitling costs in the region of £400 per hour and is decreasing.
Sadly, hearing loss increases with age. Fifty per cent of people over 60 have a hearing loss. Yet there is considerable evidence that many who would benefit, including the over-60s, do not know how to access the service. Worryingly, use of subtitles does not increase
For Ofcom to be given a specific duty to ensure that broadcasters promote this kind of service and, particularly, how to use itinformation that is currently almost non-existentwould certainly be consistent with the objectives of the Bill to promote media literacy and would make a considerable difference to people's lives. Therefore, I hope that this will be taken into account; that this clause will be accepted in principle, whether it can be accepted in totality or not; and that this group of people, who have an added need for access to the type of information that the rest of us perhaps take for granted, are properly prioritised.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I agree that this is a significant amendment. The interventions made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, on these matters are always pertinent. What he said today goes to the heart of the issues about disabled access to broadcasting and communication technology. I do not wish to add any detail to what has been said but I want to record the support from these Benches for the valuable points that have been made. In addition to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, spoke about wishing to explore further important issues about disabled access and inclusive design. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, spoke on behalf of the deaf. These are all issues which I am very aware of in my own ministry among "deaf" churches over the past 10 years. I support the amendment from these Benches.
Lord Wade of Chorlton: I support the amendment, but perhaps I may draw the attention of the Minister to the recent report of your Lordships' Science and Technology Select Committee into the future of microprocessing, which identifies the technology that now exists for the development of what we call in our report, "ambient computing". It makes possible all that has been suggested should be done to be done very quickly if there is encouragement for the development of the technology. We also draw attention to the importance of the Government as a customer for these new developments. I recommend that the Minister has a glance at our report.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My apologies for any delay. My noble friend Lord Ashley is without his Palantype operator. I gave him a copy of my closing speech and discovered that my remaining copy was incomplete. I am glad to have the complete copy returned.
I was somewhat dismissive of earlier amendments relating to disabilities but I am certainly not dismissive of this one. It makes a real contribution to the debate and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ashley for bringing it forward.
There are two elements to the proposed new clause. First, it seeks to impose a duty in relation to inclusive design; secondly, it seeks to impose a duty to encourage co-operation between network operators and relevant manufacturers to facilitate access by disabled users to electronic communications services.
As to the first element, we are sympathetic to the aim of encouraging designers and manufacturers to consider the needs and preferences of all potential customers and to consider the advantages of designing equipment so that it is suitable for use by the widest practical range of users. But, as my noble friend Lord Ashley said, this should be pursued through encouragement, not regulation.
Design is an important aspect of innovation. We are strongly in favour of promoting innovation in electronic communications in all other fieldsI shall draw the attention of officials to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorltonbut to attempt to regulate creative and inventive processes such as design would be counter-productive and damaging to the growth of the sector.
The Government are very active in the field of inclusive design and believe that they are better placed to act than a national regulator. We have previously supported the work of the advisory committee, TCAM, which has, within the framework of the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive, been advising the European Commission on how to improve access for disabled users.
We shall pursue these issues positively through the work of the new committee, INCOM, which the Commission has established to look at these issues within the framework of the four directives implemented by Part 2 of the Bill. As the title of the new committee refers specifically to "inclusive communications", it is clear that the encouragement of inclusive design is on its agenda.
We are not sure that Ofcom is particularly well placed to take this work forward or that we should give it a particular duty in this area. Inclusive design is a matter for manufacturers, not regulation, and the role of encouraging inclusive design is best performed by government, which has broader relationships with manufacturers and other people concerned. So, although we are not able to accept the first part of the amendment as it stands, we shall look at the contribution that Ofcom can make on inclusive design and consider whether there should be, with due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, some addition to Ofcom's duties consistent with the rest of its responsibilities.
The second part of the amendment is partly based on Recital 8 of the framework directive. We are confident that, because of the provision in Clause 3(3)(i), to which I have already referred, it is unnecessary to have regard to the needs of disabled persons. In so far as Ofcom can take practical steps to encourage co-operation between network operators and manufacturers as envisaged by the recital, we are in no doubt that the general duty we have provided will lead it to do so.
There are one or two other detailed difficulties in the amendment but I do not need to go into them. I can sum up by saying that, although we cannot accept the amendment as it stands, we shall look again at the question of inclusive design in the light of the points that have been made today.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: I am grateful to my noble friend for his original and imaginative consideration of the special difficulties we face. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. As the Minister will have heard, they are all supportive of the amendment and have underlined the importance of inclusive design. I am glad that my noble friend has offered to look again at the issue. He has outlined the Government's difficultieswhich I appreciatebut I am sure that we can establish some kind of modus vivendi and move forward on this very important principle which will help millions of disabled people. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.