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Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 25:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 217 [Licensing of the public teletext service]:

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 26:

    Page 195, line 8, at end insert—

"(4A) The licence must contain the conditions that OFCOM consider appropriate for securing that persons with disabilities affecting their sight or hearing or both are able, so far as practicable, to make use of the service for all the same purposes as persons without such disabilities."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I first saw the group of amendments, I was a little worried by the fact that there were 83 clauses between Amendments Nos. 26 and 49. However, they probably hang together with regard to subject matter.

Amendment No. 26 deals with the teletext service. There has been an interesting debate on the matter. Analogue teletext meant that people who had access to Braille typewriters were able to use teletext and thus

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get information. It was of great benefit to them. It meant that the blind and the deafblind who could use Braille had a way of getting information.

We have tried many things to get the Government to move on the matter. We started off ambitiously in Committee, but I hope that the Government will be able to accept this amendment. The aim is to mirror what was done on the electronic programme guide, on which the Government were able to move towards us. If it is possible to do something because of an advance in technology, we should take the argument on board. That is a reasonable approach. As the technology comes on line, we should be allowed to use it. I hope that the Government will respond favourably.

Clause 300, to which Amendment No. 49 relates, covers the issue of people with a dual sensory impairment. The Government have undergone something of a learning process in respect of those with a dual sensory impairment—the deafblind. The department has undergone something of a learning process. One wonders why other Ministers did not bring forward that matter for us. It does not matter, as long as we get there in the end.

The deafblind—those with dual sensory impairment—are a specific group with specific problems. However, they are not even one consistent group. There are those who are born deafblind and those who are initially blind or deaf and then lose the other sense. Those secondary groups can, as their senses deteriorate, get access to services made available by current technology. It is possible to give assistance to a subset within a subset of a specific condition. All that this amendment does is suggest that the Government, or those in power, must bear in mind those considerations. I hope that the Government are able to accept the amendment.

Amendment No. 50 is probably the most controversial of all the amendments. I believe that I previously described audio description as the cock-up school of history, in which broadcasters could be told to audio describe X number of programmes only to discover that no one can receive the audio description. The most recent information that I have is that 49—or has it gone up to 50?—people can receive several thousand hours of audio-described programmes. That is an absurdity, but there is a solution, because for those on Sky—I hope my noble friend will forgive me for saying something fairly nice about—

Lord McNally: My Lords, a wonderful company!

Lord Addington: My Lords, Australian-American broadcasting conglomerates allow one to receive a firm kind of audio description, although it is not as good. I believe that there are two different kinds—broadcaster mixed and receiver mixed. I understand that the receiver mixed system, which the free-to-air people have been working on, is renowned for its superiority. It is better; it has many bonuses; it can be used individually; one does not need to have broadcasts to the entire room. Everything about it is better. But if you cannot receive it, it does not matter

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very much whether it is better. Therefore, if we push forward here, we can simply say that those free-to-air broadcasters must allow their audio description programmes to be broadcast by Sky to those who have Sky; namely, 24 per cent of the target population, or about 480,000, according to the figures that I have been given. That surely makes sense.

A number of arguments have been advanced and a number of letters written about this matter. I believe that at the back of those is the fact that trying to get a producer for the chip to go into the new box may well be discouraged. I have come to the conclusion that that is at the back of the resistance. Therefore, if one manages to scare off someone from the potential market by saying that this should go through Sky, one may well continue the process. I believe that that is one of the greatest points of resistance by the free-to-air broadcasters. I suggest that the Government should consider forcing those free-to-air broadcasters to make this service available to what is under a quarter of their potential market, when they are already pumping vast amounts of money into the audio description itself. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not want to prolong the debate and I shall not make a speech now. However, I want to indicate that I shall advise the House to accept Amendments Nos. 26 and 49.

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, perhaps I may briefly gatecrash the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to deal with a small problem that I have. Due to a miscommunication between me and the Public Bill Office, Amendment No. 50, which relates to backstop powers on training, failed to make it from Report stage to Third Reading. As it was not a contentious issue when I left it at Report stage, and as it has some bearing on the utilisation of new technology, I hope that the Minister will kindly help me further with regard to that particular issue.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has said and welcome what the Minister is about to say. I am very pleased that the deafblind—a most excluded group of people—will at last get something. However, I am saddened that the Minister does not propose to accept Amendment No. 50. I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has said. We are in an absurd situation. It would be ridiculous to be unable to get what is available and hope for better prospects later.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I, too, express my pleasure at hearing that Amendments Nos. 26 and 49 have been accepted and also to add my concern that Amendment No. 50 has not. Over a number of sittings in Committee and at Report stage, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has made the problems clear to us all, and we have also been very well briefed by the RNIB and others. With about half a million people being disadvantaged in this way and 22 per cent of people over 60 having both a hearing and visual

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problem, it is quite absurd—I believe that that is the right word— that we are not moving faster, especially as the facilities are in place and as this amendment would ensure that suitable provision was made for such people. I therefore support all these amendments.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I rise to say briefly that we welcome the Minister's forthcoming response to these amendments. Our only concern, which I hope the Minister will allay, has been to ensure that the legislation is not technology specific. I believe that that would be a great mistake. It is important for Ofcom to be given the flexibility to drive forward these proposals and to respond to technology.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope that the House will agree that we have listened not only today but throughout to the views expressed and have shown ourselves willing to make changes. At Report stage we introduced a new duty for Ofcom to encourage the availability of easily-useable apparatus; we acted on the need for broadcasters to make available adequate information about subtitling, signing and audio-description services to those likely to want to use them; we introduced the 60 per cent, five-year interim target for subtitling; we addressed the concern that electronic programme guides should be as accessible as possible to people with disabilities. I am grateful to all those who have pressed us to make those changes.

Amendment No. 26 would require Ofcom to include in the public teletext licence conditions to ensure that people with sight or hearing disabilities are able to use the service for all the same purposes as people without such disabilities. Teletext provides a valuable service, but it is licensed as a text service. We do not want to change the name of the service. We agree that we would like it to be available to people with disabilities, in so far as that is reasonably practicable. We will therefore accept the amendment. There are some technical difficulties to be addressed with regard to the drafting and the placement of the amendment in the Bill. However, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that what comes back from the Commons will preserve the effect of his amendment.

Amendment No. 49 would require Ofcom's code relating to provisions 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 people with a dual sensory impairment, as well as people who are deaf or hard of hearing and blind or partially sighted. We understand the very particular needs that are involved. As we have said, realistically, a person will need to have some degree of sight or hearing to be able to benefit from television; and, as such, they would be covered by the provisions. I regret that the substantive effect of the amendment is not entirely clear. However, we understand the strength of feeling. The amendment has a great deal of support, and we shall accept it on that basis. Again we may need to make some minor changes to the amendment, but they will not affect the spirit of it.

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Amendment No. 50 is more difficult. We have already discussed the provision of audio-description services. I am well aware of their importance for visually impaired people. We all agree that there should be more audio-described programmes. The amendment would require broadcasters to provide their audio-description services in a form intelligible by their users. That is so obvious that there should be no need to write it into the statute, and the amendment does not appear to add much to the Bill. But it could be counterproductive. It is not clear why we would need such an amendment for audio-description services but not for sub-titling or signing. We certainly would not want to imply that there is no corresponding need for subtitling or signing to reach users in an intelligible form. That is the danger of this amendment. However, we understand that particular problems surround the provision of audio description that do not arise for subtitling and signing.

There are currently two ways of transmitting audio description—either mixed with the programme sound as an alternative to the normal soundtrack or in a separate stream that is mixed with the soundtrack in the viewer's set-top box. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages.

The purpose of the amendment is to get broadcasters to provide their services using a specific system compatible with Sky set-top boxes instead of another one developed by the BBC and other partners which can only be received on 45 prototypes. That would allow Sky viewers to receive the programmes audio-described by the broadcasters which have to provide audio description. We fully understand the desire to make the best use of currently available technology to accelerate the provision of audio-description.

That would not solve the problem of the non-Sky viewers. I agree with noble Lords who said that we must not be equipment specific. There is not enough bandwidth available on the digital terrestrial platform to operate a system similar to the one used on satellite television. The drafting of the amendment presumes that the solution lies in the hands of the broadcasters. In fact, one only has to look at the example of current developments in EPGs to see that future models may depend as much on manufacturers of equipment as on the broadcasters themselves. So we think that this is a matter better left to the codes, since that will mean the regulator can take into account the latest developments and direct the broadcasters accordingly. In future, there might be other options or equipment that might have more benefits and less disadvantages. But my point is that we should not be picking winners now—a point which I think was taken up in debate.

Perhaps I may now address the gatecrasher. Yes, we understand the point that he makes about training. I can just about relate it to this group of amendments. The Government would like to make it clear that the obligations placed in the Bill represent a serious and ongoing obligation to invest in training. We see these requirements as vital to the future success of the sector. Unless we invest in people and their skills our vibrant audio-visual media will eventually go the way of shipbuilding and any other traditional manufacturing

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industries. On the recommendation of the ITC's programme supply review, the Secretary of State asked Skillset to set up a task force to report back to Ofcom on training. We keenly await the recommendations of the task force and expect a robust and vigorous strategy for the industry to emerge as a result.

Broadcasting is just one part of the audio-visual industry. Skillset and the UK Film Council are currently working with the film industry to develop a comprehensive film skills strategy to be launched in September. We look forward to the DTI and Skillset working together with the new media to address skills strategies to drive productivity and competitiveness of the sector. It is particularly fitting to be addressing these issues on the eve of the launch of the Government's national skills strategy, which places particular emphasis on the need for industries to work collaboratively to advance the implementation of skills strategies within their sectors. The Government will continue to monitor this broad range of training and development activities closely, particularly compliance with measures.

7 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for accepting my first two amendments—a brace is a good haul for one day. Amendment No. 50 is designed to deal with an ongoing problem as it currently exists. I heard what the noble Lord said and I have decided not to seek the opinion of the House, although it crossed my mind more than once. I offer the Minister one thought on this matter: I promise never to come back to this subject provided boxes are produced with the relevant technology within, say, eight months from now. If not, I shall come back and badger the Government to merry hell to do something about it. There is no point in ensuring that something beneficial is produced which cannot be received.

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