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I emphasise that this was the right process for TV: in a way I am touching on the point raised by the right reverend Prelate about the Select Committee. We had the cost-benefit analysis and full impact assessment, and the TV help scheme was established and implemented without any statutory duty such as that proposed in this amendment. We recognised the need to assess the situation; we had a full impact assessment and a cost-benefit analysis and we agreed that if it proved to be necessary-the noble Lord, Lord Low, might well be right-the help scheme would be established. In short, we accept that a precedent has been set for a help scheme, but it is too early to say whether such a scheme is needed for radio. However, if there is a case, we will take steps to introduce a scheme to support those disadvantaged listeners. There is no way that we want to deepen any digital divide so that those listeners would be disadvantaged by the introduction of digital radio.
The amendment also raises the issue of the usability of digital radio devices. I want to respond to a concern that the noble Lord, Lord Low, raised in relation to the question of whether the visually impaired or blind would be disadvantaged by the complex nature of digital radio receivers. Those of us who are using digital radio receivers at the moment know that there is a strip of text that gives, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, said, information about the station and often about the programme. It is a useful development.
However, I can reassure the noble Lord that recent developments in DAB technology have sought to address the needs of vulnerable groups and listeners with disabilities. Using iVOX technology, DAB digital radios can tell listeners station names, the time and alarm settings. It can even talk users through setting alarms
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In the mean time, we have invited the Consumer Expert Group, which advised the Government on the TV switchover, to extend its role to include the digital radio switchover programme. That is another assurance that we are making the maximum effort to assess the need for the help scheme.
I hope that I have assured the noble Lord, Lord Low, that there is no way that the Government would want to see disabled people disadvantaged by digital radio switchover. We have the right processes in place to assess the need and will support a help scheme if that is what is required. In the light of those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Low, will feel capable of withdrawing his amendment.
Lord Low of Dalston: I thank the Minister and all noble Lords who have spoken for their support. I apologise for intervening in the Committee at such a late stage in discussions on the Bill when I did not take part in Second Reading. There is quite a lot I would have liked to have said at Second Reading but I was unfortunately on the other side of the Atlantic that day, so I apologise for this late intervention. I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene and for the consideration that has been given to the case that I made.
I was interested in the point about the Select Committee. If it is not too late, it would obviously be useful if groups representing the disabled and the elderly were to give evidence to that committee. I hope that its report may be able to influence the debates on the Bill as it proceeds through Parliament.
I was surprised to hear the Minister say that there was no statutory basis for the digital television switchover scheme, because although there was no provision for it in the Communications Act 2003, there was a separate Act that went through Parliament in 2007 that made provision for a digital television switchover scheme. That is significant because that Act provided for the research to be undertaken that would facilitate and enable such a scheme. The research undertaken was on the likely beneficiaries-the numbers of people who would be likely to need additional help with switchover, their characteristics and so forth. Quite a lot of the work that would need to be done for the impact assessment has probably already been undertaken and there would be quite a ready read-across from the one to the other, although I do not in any sense deny that there will be-
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the Minister might be able to answer the question about whether the noble Lord, Lord Low, is correct about the statutory basis for a digital switchover help scheme for television. My recollection is entirely in accordance with what he has said: that there is a statutory basis for the help scheme, which would colour the view that one would take moving to Report stage.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: Yes, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Low. However, I am reliably advised by my Bill team that the TV help scheme was established and implemented without the statutory duty such as that proposed in this amendment. Usually, if my officials are in doubt, they will indicate. They have not indicated that there is any doubt. Or have they? Let me put this one to rest by giving an assurance that we will write and confirm precisely what the nature of the statutory duty was in the case of the TV help scheme.
Lord Low of Dalston: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and to the Minister for that reply. I look forward to getting the Minister's letter. I was also very interested and encouraged in what the Minister had to say about iVOX technology. I know about this technology. I have a couple of digital radio sets that employ it and give an audio output of the kind of information that is necessary to use these radio sets effectively. As I said, the problem is not that this is impossible; it is that the market seems to be incapable of delivering it.
It is no longer possible to get the kind of radio set that I am talking about. It was marketed for a short while. Indeed, it was very successful among visually impaired people but, from the manufacturer's point of view, it did not sell in sufficient numbers to warrant continuing with the production lines. So the technology is there but the market is not. If we are to get over that problem, some government intervention is needed.
It is getting late. I do not want to test the House's patience by going on. Without denying that it will be important for the Government to undertake an impact assessment, I believe that a strong prima facie case has been made. That being the case, I hope that, in principle, the Minister will be able to indicate a measure of willingness to establish a help scheme. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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