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Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the success he has achieved in the proceedings so far on this important Bill. None of his amendments is more important than Amendment No. 118 with its concern for people who have a dual sensory impairment: the Helen Kellers, as it were, of contemporary Britain.

When I was Minister for disabled people from 1974–9, I was asked what combination of disabilities I thought was the most devastating in its effects. The question was, of course, unanswerable; but I recall that my first inclination was to offer blindness combined with pre-lingual deafness as my response. For it takes scant imagination to appreciate the extent and severity of the handicapping effects of being without hearing, without sight and without speech.

My noble friend Lord Ashley played a leading role in 1970 in enacting the world's first-ever legislation on the dual sensory impairment of deafness and blindness; and this must be an evocative moment for him, fighting the good fight for them again as he is today.

There are those who think that without any action in Westminster or in Whitehall someone will turn up and design new equipment to replace talking teletext and that this will sort the problem out. But it will not. It has to be understood that it is the format of digital teletext itself which is the fundamental problem. The technical expert for the Royal National Institute for the Blind has studied the issue and looked at the structure of digital teletext and how it works. He has concluded that Portset (talking teletext manufacturers) are right to say no device could be made to read digital teletext in its

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current format. That is why this amendment is so important. It would ensure that Ofcom does all it can to ensure blind and deaf-blind people's continued access to teletext post-digital switchover.

What would be untenable would be for Westminster and Whitehall to do nothing. The experience of audio description should teach us that these things should not be left to chance. Nor is it tenable to expect small specialist providers to continue to fill in the gaps in the market and expect cash-strapped, deeply excluded consumers to pay exorbitant amounts of money for a service which everyone else gets at no extra charge.

Amendment No. 118 is very much about social inclusion. I hope that the House as a whole will recognise its importance as today's debate proceeds.

Lord Carter: My Lords, in Committee I tabled amendments which dealt with audio description. Therefore, I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 135 and 139.

The technology is there. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, it is available already on Sky for approaching half a million blind and partially-sighted people. It is available on other broadcasts but only to about 65 people who had the trial modules. There seems to be a real problem in persuading the manufacturers that there is a market for producing set-top boxes. We are told that the technology on trial at present with the 65 trial modules is better. I believe that it is an accepted European standard. But there is still the problem of bridging the gap.

In Committee, the Minister said that requiring the BBC and ITV to simulcast audio description on Sky digital would somehow jeopardise the development of receiver-mixed audio description for digital terrestrial. I wonder sometimes—I dismiss it as an unworthy thought—whether broadcasters who are involved with free-view consider that if consumers could obtain the service on Sky they would be less inclined to have free-view. Later amendments deal with how the percentage of audio description is calculated; and the powers of Ofcom to vary it.

The set-top boxes could be adapted extremely cheaply. We are told that the chip for the set-top boxes costs only about 10 and that the facility will soon be available on all set-top boxes. If it is available, but that does not take place, I ask the Government seriously to consider the possibility raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, of a case brought against the broadcasters under the Disability Discrimination Act. It would be unfortunate, if I may so put it, if the Government were to side with the broadcasters and perhaps resist these amendments, or similar provisions, and then find that they are conniving in a situation which could result in the broadcasters losing a case under the Act. The RNIB is prepared to back a legal case against the broadcasters because we are talking about a very reasonable adjustment.

The DDA applies explicitly to access to and use of a means of communication. Section 21 of the Act places a duty on service providers including broadcasters to amend policies, procedures and practices which

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prevent disabled people using a service and to provide auxiliary aids and services. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider the issue extremely carefully. The technology is there. There are two kinds of technology. We are not clear why there is this delay in the more advanced technology being adopted. However, if it is not adopted, there is a strong chance that a case could be brought under the Disability Discrimination Act. It would be unfortunate if the Government were backing a situation which turned out to be illegal.

5 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I make two basic points. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friends Lord Morris and Lord Carter for their contributions. I appreciate what they have said. They have covered most arguments.

However, on Amendments Nos. 135 and 139 there is a clear conflict about the facts of the situation which should be resolved to the satisfaction of the House. In Committee, the Government said that the cost of Amendments Nos. 135 and 139 was an issue—and for our briefing we have relied heavily on the RNIB and the RNID, both of which have been excellent—but the RNIB, on the contrary, states that nothing could be cheaper or easier to arrange. Only one is right: it is either an issue of cost or it is easy and cheap.

I have enough confidence in my noble friend to assume that he will treat these amendments with great sympathy, but if for any reason he cannot, I do think that it is incumbent on the Government to illuminate the costings and to say what these expensive costings are. Of course we could think about different wording or something of that kind. However, I hope that the Government will be able to give us the details of why these developments will be very expensive.

My second point is on discrimination. I am a great advocate of the DRC taking legal action if one gets recalcitrant employers or organisations and so on. I press all the time to start legal action but I wonder in this case. It occurs to me that it is a form of discrimination if blind or partially-sighted people cannot use these wonderful advances. So I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the Government or the DRC should consider taking action.

But why take that risk? Why bother? The simple answer is to accept the amendments and one would not then need to argue about legal action. The answer is plain and simple for the Government and lies in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I hope that they are able to accept these three amendments.

Lord Luke: My Lords, I associate noble Lords on the Conservative Benches with the sending of best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, and hope that she will be back with us before too long.

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We support Amendment No. 118 in principle. I was most interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Carter, say that the technology—I hope I have this right—with regard to the digital teletext is there, but that it is too expensive to deliver.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I was speaking about technology on audio-description, which is in Amendments Nos. 135 and 139.

Lord Luke: My Lords, I beg the pardon of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. Nevertheless, I just want to say that we support the amendment and hope that the Minister can give us some joy on what is being delivered. It is very important that the discrimination described by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, does not take place. I am not sure that I go along with the idea of suing, but certainly we wish to see progress on this as on other issues.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, we on these Benches have consistently supported amendments tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Ashley. I simply want to say that I endorse and repeat that support for these amendments.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, my contribution will also be brief because everything that I want to say has been said. I have read the RNIB briefing. Like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I was particularly moved by the pleas made by those who wrote to say that they would have wanted these services and facilities from the moment they arrived.

It is clear that this is a growing market. We are told that the longer people live, the more likely they are to be disadvantaged in this way. So the market is there. The costs are going down the whole time. So, again, there is every reason to be doing this. Inclusiveness was mentioned, which the Government have as a main objective. I think it is a very desirable objective. We can now see that if push comes to shove there is a clear possibility that a case could be made under the DDA.

So I hope very much that the Minister when responding will be able to accept the role that government must play if the broadcasters are to have this responsibility. It must be overseen and underwritten by the Government.

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