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Lord Monson: The Minister did not answer my point about current expenditure as distinct from capital expenditure. Does he agree that, if employers were obliged to give disabled employees an average of two hours a week off on full pay for rehabilitation treatment, training and so on, at average salaries, this would cost the employers between £550 and £600 a year per disabled employee in perpetuity?

It is not a great incentive to employ such people, if the money comes entirely out of their own pocket. Does he agree that that is rather unfair and that something ought to be done about it?

Lord Inglewood: The whole afternoon we have debated this Bill, which introduces the concept that under certain circumstances—those circumstances being where the employer has more than 20 employees—it is appropriate for such an employer to introduce what we have described as "reasonable adjustments" in order to help disabled people.

As regards that, we believe that it is appropriate—as I understand it, it has been accepted on all sides—that if this is something which is in the public interest, those people affected by it will have to help to contribute to the cost.

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As regards many of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, they will be offset against tax. That is a substantial reduction in the net effect on the persons concerned of these obligations to which they will be subject.

Baroness O'Cathain: My noble friend the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I am not exactly ecstatic about his response to my amendment. I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate. I wish to make a point about the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, concerning training. I would not have gone so far as to look for Government subvention for the training of disabled people because that is a normal cost of business. Employers spend a great deal of money on training for the able bodied and the disabled. I believe that not to be a problem.

But I am worried about access to work. I was quite pleased to hear what my noble friend said as regards the reassurance for the continuation of access to work. However, he made the point that because this Bill has been introduced, the Government cannot accept open-ended funding. But my noble friend is asking business to accept that.

Going back to the point which I made at Second Reading, we have had a very tough time in business. To get into a situation now where there could be very serious cost implications arising from this Bill which would affect our competitiveness, that is not really the best way to go about it. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who supported me on this by saying that, as we all accept, this Bill is a very good thing, and that the cost should be paid by everybody and not necessarily by employers.

I have listened to what my noble friend the Minister has said and I shall read it avidly. I cannot say that I shall not come back to this matter at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 5, line 7, at end insert:
("( ) as to circumstances in which arrangements for telecommunications provision are to be taken to have the effect mentioned in that subsection;").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the new clause in Amendment No. 140. This is an attempt to improve the provision for telecommunications and to amend the Telecommunications Act 1984. Deaf people currently have important problems relative to this Bill.

I want to deal first with the situation of many of them in the future because there is a potential disaster looming for them. There are 7.5 million deaf and hard of hearing people in Britain, which is far more than most people realise. The reason that we are not all conscious of the prevalence of deafness is the achievement of hearing aids. Although they can be imperfect and sometimes infuriating, nevertheless they have enabled very many hard of hearing people—not all—to lead normal lives, and in particular, to have jobs for which their capabilities suit them.

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That normal life and those jobs incredibly are now threatened and that is a vital issue for this Bill. Telephone technology is shooting ahead and it will not be long before the mobile phone is the normal phone. What is worrying is that in the future the majority of mobile phones in Britain will be using digital technology. In addition, according to Iain Vallance of BT, the digital, cordless office is coming ever closer.

The implications of digital phones are horrendous for millions of hearing aid users who now manage very well, thanks to BT's efforts to help them to do so. The devastating fact is that cordless, digital telephones cause interference to hearing aids and deaf people using those hearing aids could be prevented from hearing any speech in offices buzzing with these phones. The implications are enormous for millions of deaf people. They can in fact be driven from offices in the future.

I know that manufacturers are trying to overcome the problem by designing telephones to use the smallest radio signal to minimise interference. There is some dispute about the seriousness of the issue, but it has the potential to disrupt the benefits of hearing aids, and that is unacceptable in offices. I should welcome an assurance from the Minister, if he can give it, that in regulations employers will be prevented from using digital cordless telephones which interfere with hearing aids.

A further major problem will arise when we have offices using only digital cordless telephones. That is coming very quickly. Not only do they cause interference, they cannot be used by hearing aid users. It is staggering what so-called modern technology and progress can do. What will happen to their jobs when they cannot use office telephones? They will be cut off from the outside world. Everyone knows that a telephone is crucial for a decent job.

The Bill, which will then be an Act, will be quoted by the deaf jobseeker in the future, and in response employers will say, as regrettably William Hague the Minister has already said to me, "It would clearly be unreasonable to hold up the introduction of a new generation of technology and deny its benefits to all customers by the provisions of this Bill".

I can see the Minister's problem, but in my view it would be equally unreasonable to allow millions of hearing aid users to be pushed out of employment. So this is a no-win situation. The Minister cannot have it all his own way for technical progress, but equally we cannot have it all our own way for stopping progress for deaf people. So there must be some kind of discussion, and give and take. A solution must be found.

Tightening the Telecommunications Act 1984 with these amendments could prevent some of those problems. The amendments specify that newly manufactured apparatus be compatible with hearing aids designed for telephone use. It is not easy to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, there is this fundamental incompatibility between the present hearing aids and new telephone technology. Both sides will have to compromise. Pressures from the strong anti-discrimination requirements of the Bill, and subsequent regulations, coupled with amendments to the

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Telecommunications Act 1984 are the only forces that will ease the problem and prevent major discrimination against hard-of-hearing people.

I am sorry to go on at length at this time of night, but these are fundamental issues which affect millions of people. The issue upon which I have focused will probably surface in the next decade, but we must tackle it now, in the early days, if we are to be successful. More immediately, there are other important telecommunications issues which can be resolved with reasonable attitudes.

Hearing aid users can use modern technology telephones so long as they have what is called an inductive coupling done. That is a small, cheap device which sends out electromagnetic signals that can be picked up by a hearing aid with a T switch. There are several telephones on the market with inductive couplers to be bought or rented at relatively modest prices. If deafness is more severe, extra amplification is needed. Amplifying phones are also available.

Two aspects of the issue are covered in the amendments. The first is that the employer should provide for a hearing aid user a telephone with a coupler, and amplifier, if necessary. The other issue is that we should recognise that couplers cost only 50 pence each.

We should follow the example of the United States, which requires every telephone on the market to have a coupler. That is a small price to pay; 50 pence is a minimal cost. Deaf people could then use all contemporary telephones and they would not have the effort and worry of searching for a usable telephone. That situation would be achieved by requiring telephones to be hearing-aid compatible as specified in the new clause.

I apologise for having spoken at a little length at this hour. However, I wish to make two further points. Those deaf people who have been most damaged by their inability to use the telephone—and I ought to know—are those who are totally deaf or profoundly deaf. At one time, they could use telephones only with the help of another person. Now, thanks to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and, above all, to British Telecom, every deaf person is able through Type Talk and the Relay System to talk to anyone anywhere who has a telephone.

British Telecom has been magnificently generous with its time, commitment and money in making the Relay System work. I pay warm tribute to it. However, it is a regulatory requirement which runs out in 1997. It is essential that the requirement is continued and extended to include all those operating in the telecommunications market. The new clause provides for that.

Previously, deaf people have suffered greatly from their inability to use the telephone. This Bill, with these amendments, has the power to prevent future discrimination against deaf and hard-of-hearing people. I hope that they will benefit, as will millions of other

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people, from the amendments and the Bill. Again, I apologise for the length of my contribution and I beg to move.

11.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: I support the amendment. I do not need to say anything about it because the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has moved it so well. I should declare an interest as a user of a National Health Service hearing aid.

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