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Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I was assured by the BBC that if deaf and hard-of-hearing people were to switch over to digital TV tomorrow, the same amount of subtitling would be available as is currently available on analogue TV. I should not like the wrong message to go out, but the BBC assured me on that point today.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are two parts to that point. There will certainly be the same amount of subtitles available on the simulcast programmes; that is, the programmes which are the same as those provided on analogue TV, but I do not believe that that is the case for the new digital programmes which the BBC will be providing. I do not believe that there is any disagreement on that matter.

The second criterion after availability is affordability, which means that prices must be within the reach of people on low or fixed incomes. The affordability test will include also take-up of digital equipment, which 95 per cent of consumers must have. I must emphasise that the switchover will be emphasised on those criteria, not on dates, although we have forecast a date of 2006-2010.

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A number of noble Lords referred to the need for better information on the availability of subtitling in particular. We have asked broadcasters, manufacturers and retailers to work together to provide clear and objective information about digital TV. That applies also to analogue TV. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, my understanding is that the Radio Times--which he does not buy--includes information on which programmes have subtitles. It may be that he will have to have a small further outlay each week in addition to his free local paper.

While addressing the noble Lord, perhaps I may say also that my understanding about digital loops is that when they are available in a room they are plugged into the television set and that is how improved hearing is provided. That is clearly rather more efficient than including a digital loop in all television sets including those for people who do not need them. It is clearly in the broadcasters' interests to provide as much valid information about subtitling and signing as possible.

My noble friend Lord Ashley and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to the application of the Disability Discrimination Act, which requires that there should be a balance of cost with provision. How that will be interpreted in the broadcasting area is a matter still to be worked out. My noble friend Lord Ashley also singled out the cable and satellite broadcasters, as did a number of other noble Lords,

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for having no formal requirements to provide subtitling and signing services. We have made clear our concern at the apparently poor level of subtitling to the cable and satellite broadcasters. We are keen that they should provide more, including on their digital services.

In response to the first question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, we very much support the RNID initiative for a voluntary charter on broadcast subtitling to improve access for deaf and hard of hearing viewers. The RNID sent a consultation document to all major broadcasters: to Hearing Concern, to the broadcasting council for the deaf and to other interested parties. We have encouraged all broadcasters to respond positively to the RNID initiative.

Clearly, there are some areas in which we have powers to force things forward. When the opportunity arises, we shall certainly do so. There are some areas where we do not have those powers. Our powers consist only of encouragement and threats about taking future powers. However, whatever our powers may be, I can assure your Lordships that we take the problem extremely seriously. We propose to use whatever powers and influence we have to ensure that the social and cultural exclusion of the deaf and hard of hearing in the broadcasting area is reduced and eliminated as quickly as is humanly possible.

        House adjourned at ten minutes past eleven o'clock.

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