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Lord Carter: My Lords, the only contribution I intend to make is on the government amendments. It is something of a culture shock for me to be questioning the Government on the quality of their amendments.

The amendments to which my noble friend referred were Amendments Nos. 150, 150D, 150E, 151A and 152B to leave out "in every week". We believe that this has been introduced without any consultation with the relevant organisations to increase flexibility for the broadcasters. In other words, they are allowed to concentrate their provision on certain weeks or months in the year so long as they reach the overall average year target. At the moment they are judged against a weekly output averaged over a year.

We are not quite clear what powers Ofcom has to prevent abuse. Let me give an example. There are dead periods of the year in television—the summer—when there are a great many repeats and very little origination of programmes. That could be the period that the broadcaster chose to use rather than the period when there were a lot of original programmes. We are not being suspicious here, but we are concerned about something introduced, as we understand it, at the behest of the broadcasters to increase their flexibility. We are not sure why.

I think that my noble friend will now have to reply at the end of the debate, but he has to deal with this concern. We do not quite understand why it has been done. Has Ofcom enough power to prevent the broadcaster using this change to vary the proportions that are subtitled, and so on, to suit themselves? At the moment there seems to be a system of weekly averaging over the year which works in favour of disabled people. It would be extremely helpful if my noble friend could specifically deal with that point.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I would like to become an echo to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, on that last point. The idea is to make sure that people are not cut off from the media of entertainment, news and cultural involvement that is provided with broadcasting. If you

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are getting programmes only every second week or for a period of time, you are cut off. It does not matter if there is that block of time, you are still cut off.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, puts his finger on a very serious concern. If the Minister can explain why this concern is irrelevant, I would go away from here fairly happy—but only if we received that assurance. Without that a great hole will have been made in an otherwise very welcome government amendment.

The only other amendment I wish to speak to is Amendment No. 149. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, pointed out, the deafblind do not fall into the category of the hearing or visually impaired. They are a separate group who share some characteristics. They should appear on the face of the Bill. It is clear that they have not been brought into government thinking—certainly not into the main part of it. They are a small group and should have been included.

This is a very good opportunity to make sure that they are brought into the structure of government thinking. It is not a great crime on the part of the Government; it is just a case of adjusting your mind to a new set of problems. You may think that you have dealt with a disability issue but, so long as you are naming individual disabilities, you will discover that there is something else. I am rather like a scratched record on the matter but until there is a more structured approach which includes disability rights as civil rights within the whole structure I have to persist.

This Bill does many good things, but its structure means that you are naming disability groups. The deafblind should certainly be here. For that matter, I would like to see the other disability groups who might be affected also named—but that is by the by. If we are here dealing with sensory impairment, the deafblind are certainly an important, if small, group. Having said that, provided that we are worrying about nothing when it comes to the weekly quotas, the noble Lord's amendment is very welcome and I thank him for putting it forward.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, as my name has been added to some of these amendments, I want to thank the Minister very much for his amendments and to endorse all that has been said thus far. I should like the target to be reached a little more quickly, but I appreciate very much what the Minister has done. I echo the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for more focus to be placed on the deafblind because they run the risk of far more exclusion than anyone else.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, has given, we have considerable sympathy with Amendment No. 149, which would give Ofcom the duty to draw up a code on provisions for the deaf and visually impaired at least once every three years rather than from time to time.

Although I am reluctant to place an unnecessary burden on Ofcom, the reality is that, with the rapid pace of change in technology, a report must be produced regularly to ensure that it is up to date and

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includes the latest developments and opportunities for disabled people in the communications industry. Perhaps the Minister would find a period of time other than three years a little more palatable, but we believe that the terminology "from time to time" somewhat reeks of deadlines being pushed further and further back.

Amendment No. 155 recognises that able-bodied people are often not the best judges of what benefits disabled people. We on these Benches support this amendment. It seems a sensible addition to the Bill in that it recognises that disabled people themselves are the best judges of what would and would not be of benefit.

Government Amendment No. 156F would empower the Secretary of State to alter either the percentage target or the date by which a target should be reached if it seemed that the original target would be met in advance of the deadline. The intention behind this amendment is sound. Some channels will find it easier than others to meet targets. Where rapid progress can be made, the Secretary of State should raise the bar for such channels. However, the amendment concerns us in that it provides an incentive for channels to do the minimum possible to meet the targets so that they do not give the Secretary of State a reason for revising their target upwards. Therefore, can the Minister assure us on this matter? I question what reasons the Government have for believing that this amendment will not act as a disincentive for channels to meet their targets.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I rise merely to congratulate the Government on what they have done thus far. It is clearly a move in the right direction, although, as has been pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, some clauses still cause considerable concern—not least, Clauses 149 and 150. While we all appreciate that there has been some movement on the part of the Government, I hope that the Minister will realise how strong the feeling is in this direction and that he will be able to do rather more by Third Reading.

10.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall respond to non-government amendments and to points made in the debate. Amendment No. 149 would require Ofcom to review and revise its code relating to provision for the deaf and visually impaired,


    "at least once every three years",

rather than "from time to time". That would be the case regardless of whether it was thought that any review or revision was necessary.

We fully expect Ofcom to review and revise its code regularly, but we believe that decisions on the frequency of the reviews should be left to Ofcom, which has the expertise and experience to judge when they might be necessary. The situation might be very different in five or 10 years' time from the current one. We may need to have such reviews far more frequently

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in the near future and far less frequently later, or, as technology develops, the other way round. Frankly, I do not believe that Amendment No. 149 would lead to a different end result.

Amendment No. 150 would require Ofcom's code relating to provision for the deaf and visually impaired to give guidance on the extent to which applicable services should promote the understanding and enjoyment of programmes by persons with a dual sensory impairment, as well as persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and blind or partially sighted. We do not underestimate the problems faced by people with a dual sensory impairment. We certainly recognise that they have particular needs. But we do not believe that an amendment to the Bill is necessary.

Realistically, a person would need to have some form of hearing or visual ability in order to enjoy or understand television. In this case, the current duty to promote understanding and enjoyment for people who are deaf or hard of hearing and blind or partially sighted would seem to satisfy that need.

There is specialist equipment such as the talking teletext service, which is particularly useful for people with dual sensory impairment. The ITC's technology group believes that it is possible to design a digital version of the talking teletext equipment—I referred to that in debating an earlier amendment—and suggests that the equipment manufacturers work with broadcasters and set-top box manufacturers to try to find a commercial solution. I think that that is the right way to proceed and more likely to bring about the desired result than bringing forward an amendment to the Bill.

I remind the House that government Amendment No. 22, which we moved last week, introduced 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 disabled people. That was in response to Amendment No. 39 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, in Committee. Ofcom will be required to take those steps, and enter into such arrangements as will encourage others to secure that wide availability. It would not be appropriate for Ofcom to become involved in design, much less manufacture and marketing; so the focus is correct.

Amendment No. 152 is consequential to Amendment No. 151, which will be discussed in the following group.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said that he will not move Amendment No. 150B, so I can move on from that, except to say that we still think that a 10-year period in which to satisfy those obligations is right. It gives those services with new obligations, such as digital, cable and satellite services, enough time to plan for the introduction of these new requirements. That is important, because there are substantial costs involved. Ten years is a long time, that is why we have agreed a fixed, five-year interim target, which is the purpose of government Amendment No. 150A. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is not satisfied

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with that response. However, I know that it is also recognised around the House that that is a significant improvement.

Amendment No. 153 would require all channels to achieve at least 40 per cent of their 10-year targets for subtitling, signing and audio description by the first anniversary of the relevant date; and at least 90 per cent of their 10-year targets by the fifth anniversary of the relevant date.

Government Amendment No. 150A goes a considerable way towards meeting this amendment. After consideration, we thought that a fixed, five-year interim target should only apply to subtitling, which is a well-established technology. We concluded that a five-year target of 60 per cent struck the right balance between the objective of accelerating the provision of subtitling and the need to avoid imposing new burdens on broadcasters in an unreasonable time-scale. I know that some people would wish for higher than 60 per cent. I know that some people would wish it to include signing and audio description, which are less well developed than subtitling. But I hope that they will accept that we have listened to the concerns and acted on them.

On Amendment No. 154, Ofcom's code relating to provision for the deaf and visually impaired must set out the descriptions of programmes that should be excluded from the subtitling, signing and audio description obligations. The amendment would mean that Ofcom would have to consider the number of viewers per programme when considering which programmes should be excluded from these obligations.

In excluding programmes, or in special cases all programmes in a service, Ofcom must have regard to a number of factors set out in subsection (6)(a) to (f) of Clause 298. Those include the size of the intended audience for the programme. I am not clear how Amendment No. 154 would add to those requirements.

Amendment No. 155 aims to ensure that Ofcom would have to have regard to the extent of the benefit as perceived by the disabled person in setting out the descriptions of programmes which should be excluded programmes, rather than just the extent of the benefit for disabled people as now.

Amendment No. 156 would require Ofcom to have regard in the same context to the views of organisations representing persons who are hearing or visually impaired. Both amendments seem to be aimed at ensuring that Ofcom consults disabled people and their representatives on individual exclusions and that they decide which programmes it is appropriate to exclude from the perspective of the disabled person. Ofcom is already required to consult these people on its code relating to provision. That code will set out the overall policy on programme exclusions. So the RNID, the RNIB and others with an interest are already consulted on the policy regarding exclusions.

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In making decisions on individual exclusions, Ofcom will only be applying the code and we are not persuaded of the need for further consultations.

My noble friend Lord Ashley made a particular point on the need for targets for signing and audio-description, to which I have already referred. He referred to the need for Ofcom to act in an open and consultative manner. I entirely agree. I can give him an assurance that we would expect Ofcom to do just that.

My noble friend Lord Carter raised the issue of the targets on a weekly basis. There is not a change of policy, only a change in drafting. At present there is a tension between the requirement in Clause 298(2) for figures to be averaged over a 12-month period and the apparent requirement in Clause 298(3) for targets to be met every week. We have never intended that broadcasters should meet targets every week. That could be very difficult.

Therefore, we require some way to bring these two figures together. The answer is that the 12-month period continually rolls forward. For example, if the year starts on 1st January 2004, the target must be met over the period to 31st December 2004, but it must be met also over the period 8th January 2004 to 7th January 2005, 15th January 2004 to 14th January 2005 and so on. So although the target is calculated over a 12-month period, it is based on figures calculated on a weekly basis. That should make clustering of provisions in fallow periods harder to hide and so help to discourage it, which is the matter that concerned my noble friend Lord Carter.

I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about deafblind being a different category. Although I recognise the tragic position of those people, I say only that their problems are wider than those of broadcasting. The whole issue of how they communicate with the outside world of course relates to broadcasting, but it also relates to other forms of communication. Of course broadcasting has an important role to play, but there are other developments that must impact to enable them to communicate at all with the outside world. It is important that we should recognise that, as well as broadcasters recognising their problems.


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