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Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said and I welcome tremendously the government amendment, about which a great deal has been said already. Importantly, the amendment talks about ensuring that usable equipment becomes readily available. I am told by disability organisations that, too often, revolutionary new products sit on the drawing board or at the prototype stage and are not brought to the market. That is very important.

I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said about Amendment No. 53. We hope for a Government assurance on that. I believe that the Danish telecoms agency provides affordable rental equipment to deafblind, hearing or speech-impaired people to enable them to access telecommunications services. We hope it is the Government's understanding of EU law that if it is in the form of a rental service that is allowable too.

9 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I turn to Amendment No. 22, but first, perhaps I may continue the mutual admiration society which my noble friend Lord Ashley and I like to maintain in public.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, that is very kind.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in private we love each other to bits, but that is quite different. As my noble friend Lord Ashley made the case in Committee, with his customary eloquence, for this addition to the functions of Ofcom, I need speak briefly only on what is specific to our amendment. It is a simple but broadly framed duty. We think that, bearing in mind the length of time for which we hope this legislation will remain relevant, and the impossibility of foreseeing exactly what concerns will arise, it is right to adopt a broad approach.

So, we have not used the specific label of "inclusive design", which may go out of date or become associated with a specific design philosophy. Instead, we propose a duty on Ofcom that focuses on widening the availability of consumer equipment which is convenient for use by the widest practical range of users, including the disabled. Ofcom should take such steps and enter into such arrangements as will encourage others to secure that wide availability. I know that my noble friend Lord Ashley is concerned

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about the encouragement of others, but it is, after all, the technology and the expertise that lies within industry and outside Ofcom, and which could not possibly be maintained within Ofcom's staff, that must be used for this purpose.

It would not be appropriate for Ofcom itself to become involved in design, much less in manufacture and marketing; so the focus is appropriately on encouraging actions by others. We also propose that the duty on Ofcom should require it from time to time to review the need for further action. Therefore, this is not a one-off programme to be done once and then put on the shelf. Ofcom should check occasionally the real state of affairs, and whether there is a need to do more. That is an appropriate role for Ofcom and will lead to improvements in the availability of equipment that is inherently designed for ease of use by the widest possible range of users. I shall move Amendment No. 22 in its place.

As regards my noble friend's new Amendment No. 12, I understand that behind it is the text relay service, Typetalk. That is a helpful facility for deaf persons, which allows users of text phones to send messages to ordinary phone users via a relay operator who reads the text message to the ordinary user and types the reply back to the text-phone user.

I can assure my noble friend Lord Ashley and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that access to the text relay service for disabled users will be assured through the universal service order to be made by the Secretary of State under the provisions of the Bill, and the implementing measures to be made by Ofcom. So the amendment would not add anything to what is already in hand. We have consulted on the order, and we will publish the results and our response in due course.

In addition to ensuring that there is access to the service, we are aware of concerns about its future development and funding. That was referred to in relation to BT. These questions require careful consideration and could have fundamental implications for the way in which universal services are provided in the UK. I can assure my noble friend Lord Ashley that the Bill allows for mechanisms to be provided to share the costs of universal service provision, which is what he was suggesting, where necessary. So there is scope within the framework of the Bill to address these issues in the way that seems most equitable.

However, there are fundamental issues that need to be addressed before we introduce those funding mechanisms. We will need further consideration and consultation. I understand that Oftel will recommend that a detailed review of universal service provision is undertaken in 2004, and that it would be appropriate to consider the funding of the telephone relay service as part of that wider review. I am sure that that is the right approach.

I round off my remarks on Amendment No. 12 by noting that the issue of access for people with disabilities is included in the general provision at Clause 3(3)(i). Access is a "need" for people with disabilities, so Ofcom must take it into account.

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On Amendment No. 53, again I understand that there is a specific concern behind the amendment, which is, whether the provision of apparatus for the disabled can be mandated within the provisions of the directives. It is our understanding that the universal service provisions of the directives, which deal with services and facilities, do not provide a basis for requiring the provision of apparatus as such—that is, to sell it outright to particular users or to provide it for no charge.

Therefore, we would not be able to accept Amendment No. 53 as it stands. However, I can assure both the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, who raised this point, that we consider that it would be possible to require the provision of a service consisting of the rental of apparatus suitable for use by disabled persons. I believe that that is what the noble Baroness described as happening in Denmark. I shall not express a view on the merits of any particular proposal but, so far as concerns the legal framework, we are satisfied that a universal service requirement would be permissible. We understand that at least one European member state already has such a requirement. Perhaps it is Denmark. I do not know.

With those assurances I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, will feel able to withdraw his amendment and that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will not move his.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Ampthill): My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, moving Amendment No. 14? It was spoken to with Amendment No. 1.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 21.

The Deputy Speaker: No. My Lords, Amendment No. 14 was spoken to with Amendment No. 1.

Lord Crickhowell moved Amendment No. 14:

    Page 4, line 39, at end insert—

""citizens" means all members of the public in the United Kingdom;"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Lord McNally moved Amendment No. 16:

    After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—

(1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to take all such steps as they consider appropriate for promoting the growth and development of community media.

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(2) In this section—
"community media" means communications services provided primarily for the benefit of members of the public in a defined geographical locality or of a particular community and not operated by the BBC or for commercial purposes.
(3) In subsection (2)—
"communications services" includes—
(a) radio and television broadcasting;
(b) electronic communications networks and services; and
(c) content services carried by services falling within paragraphs (a) or (b)."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to add another duty to Ofcom to promote community media. I can almost foretell the Minister's brief that this is another bauble to be added to the tree with which the noble Lord, Lord Currie, is already weighed down.

I hope that the House has noted the Government's totally irrational approach to these matters. Where the Government like the bauble—for instance, the ethnic responsibility we discussed earlier or to promote usable equipment—the ladder is taken out and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is happy to climb it and to hang the bauble on the tree. Where equally reasonable amendments—such as those relating to gender or community media—are brought forward, there are shrieks of disapproval and demands for them to be withdrawn. There is no logic applied other than whether the bauble has the approval of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to go on the tree. I can see the Minister warming to the idea.

We shall attempt to persuade him that this is a good idea. I am a little worried that unless Ofcom has responsibilities such as this it will become an organisation which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing—there is an original statement at this time of night. Ofcom will have its eyes on the big issues and the big battalions.

On looking at the industry I am struck by my memories of the various stages when there were great hopes that technology would supply genuine community access in a way that we had never heard before. I remember the growth of local radio, particularly local commercial radio. These stations would provide local voices and be rooted in the local community, with all the benefits that would bring. I also remember cable television, which would provide live transmissions from Greenwich council—a ratings topper if ever there was one. The whole theme was that the new technologies would allow people access to communications in a way that they had never had access before.

But, of course—we shall discuss this in greater detail when we reach other parts of the Bill—the conglomerates have hoovered up the local stations and we have lost that community identity. We are trying to have yet another go at keeping communications in the community.

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I remember the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, with his vast experience, saying in Committee that this was really an attempt to provide facilities to people who merely wanted to speak to themselves because nobody else wanted to listen to them. It was something along those lines, but I am sure he will tell us in more detail. But I think it is more than that. I have met various groups and remember in particular a young lady from one of the problem estates in London saying what an impact access radio had had on that estate in creating a sense of community and bringing people together to address its problems.

The community media has had the blessing of no less a person than Gordon Brown, who addressed a conference of the Community Media Association a year ago. I do not think he promised them any money but he gave them his good wishes, which is the way of the Chancellor. And some 121 MPs have signed Early-Day Motion 171 in another place, calling for the promotion of community media.

There are enabling powers but no firm commitments in the Bill. We believe that there is a need for stronger wording which would recognise the contribution that community media makes to neighbourhood renewal, local democracy and community access to new communications technologies.

Community media groups are widespread in the UK, located in both urban and rural areas. Radio Ryedale is a rural Internet-based webcast radio station and website. Tenantspin is a broadband television service run by tenants in a Liverpool tower block. Desi Radio has a pilot 12-month licence for a radio service for the west London Punjabi community. Solent TV is a new, not-for-profit community television service for the Isle of Wight. That illustrates what is on offer.

Thinking laterally back to a debate in the House on mutuals and co-operatives, at which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was present, my fear is that if access radio and community television get too popular, the media moguls and conglomerates will start stalking them again and swallowing them up. I would not mind seeing them ring-fenced by some mutual legislation that would protect them.

What is beyond doubt is that community media offers opportunities to get back into local communities. It benefits the community in terms of communications but also—and we shall return to this at another stage—gives talent, often raw talent, its first opportunity to broadcast and to develop. I beg to move.

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