Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Henley: My Lords, I believe that that is the case; that they would be in such a position. I should like absolutely to check up on that. However, I think I have affirmation of that point and I can assure the noble Baroness that that is the case; it would be a matter for the discretion of the local authority.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have supported me once again, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for her interjection which was useful, too. I wish to thank the Minister for his full reply and also for the offer to correspond with me if I have not fully understood everything he said. That would be useful.

I start with his final point, that there will be research into the current position on transport and any problems there may be, and that further guidance will probably be forthcoming. That is most welcome, as is the offer that the department will investigate any individual problems, and the reminder about the ombudsman.

Turning to Amendments Nos. 61 to 64, I appreciate that very full answer to my suggestions about regulations and an alternative definition of reasonableness, and so on. It was very useful that the Minister said that, once accepted, a student would be entitled to expect the appropriate support within the college. He also said that there would be a great deal more about the suitability of the college and the admissions policy. He made an announcement about additional financial support, which is most welcome, and on the increase in the allocation of equipment.

The Minister then went on to talk about redress, about which I was particularly worried. He said that when a student had exhausted the initial procedures he could go to the council, which will have the power to impose further conditions of grant. I am greatly reassured by that. I thank the Minister for that answer.

Turning to the provision in Schedule 2 and to Scotland, I should like again to extend my thanks. He will ask the FEFC to consider further guidance on what he said was a complex subject. Let us hope that it will be less restrictive and more in tune with the Bill. In respect of LEAs, the Minister said that he is willing to

18 Jul 1995 : Column 250

consider whether to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading. That would tie in very neatly with the welcome government amendments on students in higher and further education. I look forward to that, and I may communicate with him beforehand to ascertain whether that amendment will be forthcoming.

That is a very auspicious start. I appreciate that the groundwork was done by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. We must not forget him. I thank the Minister very much, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 58:

Page 10, line 24, at end insert:
("( ) other service providers not defined in paragraph (b) above shall, where necessary, make accessible information ancillary to the use of a product, good or service.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Government have made clear that manufacturers not selling directly to the public will not be covered by the Bill. If a company sells to the public by way of a retailer, the onus will fall on the retailer to explain to a customer who, for example, is visually impaired or has learning difficulties how the product works. In reality, that will probably be considered an unreasonable requirement for a retailer to undertake.
The manufacturer is best placed to ensure that instructions relating to the safe use of a product are made accessible on request. The use in the amendment of the words "information ancillary to" are designed to distinguish written information from adaptations to the product.
The provision of information is of vital importance following the purchase of a product so that blind and partially sighted people can get the most out of a service. For example, information is needed about the installation, operation, maintenance and safety aspects. However, blind and partially sighted people are denied access to this kind of information every day.
I have been told of the case of a deaf-blind man who bought a washing machine. He was told that if he wanted the manufacturer's instructions in braille it would take about seven months before he would receive those instructions and in addition he would have to pay an additional cost. Why should a disabled person have to pay extra for instructions which are given free of charge to other people? Furthermore, why should he wait an unreasonable amount of time in order to be able to operate the product independently? I beg to move.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, the amendment has been clearly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. Clearly, if you are buying a product you need the instructions on how to use it. If one is blind or partially sighted, one cannot read the instructions on how to use the equipment. Quite frankly, that is wrong. I support the amendment.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I wish to intervene even at this late hour. I think we are being a little unrealistic. My noble friend referred to a situation involving a washing machine. I beg to suggest that the washing machine was almost certainly not manufactured in this country. Perhaps I may say, as someone who has

18 Jul 1995 : Column 251

worked a long time in the manufacturing industry, that unfortunately the greater proportion of domestic and other equipment that we buy is not manufactured in this country.

It is a difficult situation. Although not necessarily through the provisions of this Bill, people should be mindful of providing some other ways of communicating the instructions for such a machine, perhaps by a tape in a cassette player. If noble Lords buy equipment manufactured in other countries—for example, Japan, or even Germany—they no doubt find that the translated instructions are almost as impossible to follow as if one were blind. I believe that we are being a little stupid on this matter, much as I support the principle.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I cannot agree with this amendment. It seeks to widen the effect of the right of access provisions to beyond those who provide service to the public and include manufacturers of goods and services. It seeks to make manufacturers provide information ancillary to the use of their goods and services in accessible formats.

As the Bill stands, there will be no compulsion for manufacturers to alter the way in which they make their products, for the reasons I have already discussed in responding to one of my noble friend's previous amendments. This is the case even where the product could be regarded as "information"; for example, newspapers, books and television programmes. There will therefore be no requirement for those items to be made available in an accessible format.

Manufacturers' instructions and packaging are special cases. Although they can be thought of as "adjuncts", I do not believe that it is practical to compel them to be made available in different formats.

If we did not place the duty on the manufacturer, the only other agent who could be asked to comply is the retailer. But it would be an extremely onerous liability, particularly where information about products is supplied as part of the packaging, in a situation where a retailer might stock thousands of items. Imagine the responsibilities that it would place on, say, a large supermarket to provide accessible information on all the goods that it sells.

There are also two major problems with holding manufacturers responsible for providing accessible information. I have already used these arguments in relation to a previous amendment. Foreign manufacturers would clearly fall outside the scope of the Bill and therefore only some of the products available in a shop will be covered. My noble friend Lady O'Cathain made the point exactly. If my noble friend looks for a washing machine, he would probably have to spend a great deal of time before he finds one manufactured in Britain. What will he do? Will he force the Italian manufacturers to go down this road? The Italian manufacturers, I think, will very quickly tell him where to go. If we say, "You cannot bring your product into the United Kingdom", then we are up against all sorts of problems with market access, the European Union, and, indeed, GATT.

18 Jul 1995 : Column 252

Secondly, it would prove very difficult to tie down exactly what was meant by information. For example, would the operating instructions for a CD player include the booklet that comes with the product together with the labels and knobs on the machine itself? If they did, the implications for designing and bringing new products to the market would be enormous.

I think that the problems I have outlined show how this amendment would add nothing but uncertainty and, frankly, unreasonableness to the right of access provisions. Every opportunity will be taken to persuade manufacturers to make information about their products accessible, but it would simply be wrong to risk constraining the creation and design of new products within the straitjacket of legal compulsion. It would be wrong to impose these additional costs on the United Kingdom manufacturers with all the other aspects I have mentioned about products coming in from abroad.

While we probably all have some sympathy with the points of my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, people who lobby my noble friend and bring amendments like this before your Lordships' House must try to live in the real world. I fear that the amendment is going a few bridges beyond the real world. I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page