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Baroness Wilcox: I thank the Minister for taking the time to respond to the amendmentsthe importance of whichhe recognised. I thank my noble friend Lord Brooke for his support. I am delighted to know that his name still appears on the letterhead of PHAB. In speaking to her own amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, also supported the other amendments in the group. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, indicated
I am disappointed. I was quite encouraged when the Minister began his response, but ended up feeling again that an aspiration rather than a fact is being expressed. The experience of disadvantaged consumers is that, unless they are mentioned early on the face of a Bill, they have an uphill fight all the way. When I was chairman of the National Consumer Councilset up by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, 28 years ago, continued by the Conservative government, and continued to this day by the Labour Governmentits mandate was to be the voice of the consumer, with a special brief for the disadvantaged consumer. That made an enormous difference to the way in which we approached our work. Every time we examined an issue, we did so for the able-bodied consumer and for all of those who did not have a big enough voice; but because that requirement was on the face of our mandate, every time we examined matters we did so in relation to the disadvantaged.
I shall not press the amendments, particularly Amendment No. 24, at this stage. However, I ask the Minister to note the support expressed for themnot by people who do not understand how to read a Bill: they can read "must have regard to" and they can hear the wonderful aspirations expressed in the Minister's comments. But these are aspirations. My experience teaches me that that is not good enough. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter. I know that we shall discuss other amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and others who can speak personally of issues, even within their own families, who have great expertise and who always speak for the disadvantaged. But if I have any expertise to bring to bear here, it is based on the fact that for 10 years I spoke for the consumer, particularly the disadvantaged consumer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: The amendment seeks to insert "accessibility and usability of services" into the general duties of Ofcom. The amendment is grouped separately. Although it seems to cover the ground that we have covered in relation to the previous groupso we shall not have a long debate on itit approaches the matter in a different way. It would be helpful to the Government were they able to accept it.
My noble friend Lord Currie emphasised that Ofcom is a creature of statute. Therefore, what the Bill does or does not make explicit really matters. That was borne out in paragraph 16 on page 9 of the report by the Joint Committee:
We believe that it is far better to be explicit and to state that that the Government expect the new regulator to work for the basic right of disabled and older people to access and enjoy the same information and resources as the rest of society.
In reply to the previous group of amendments, my noble friend Lord McIntosh pointed out the diversity of the requirements of disabled people. I declare a past interest which I should have declared at the beginning of my remarks. For nine and a half years before I entered government I was executive producer of the weekly "Link" programme for people with disabilities. Every week we had 15 minutes of television. I am well aware of the diverse requirements of disabled people, who have many different disabilities, and of the need for "accessibility and usability" to be clearly stated among the general duties.
Later amendments deal with particular aspects of a disability. We know that disabled people have a special requirement of "accessibility and usability". The later amendments involve audio description, sign language, subtitling and so on. The amendment is intended to ensure that in addition to those specific requirementswhich, to some extent, are scattered through the Bill, as my noble friend explained in response to the previous group of amendmentsthere should be an overarching requirement with regard to disability in particular of accessibility and usability, and that that should be clearly set out in the general duties.
I am sure that my noble friend has a briefing that says, "resist" but I cannot for the life of me see why there could be any problem about including the words "accessibility and usability" in the clause, which refers to,
Lord Addington: The noble Lord pointed out that unless a provision is added to the Bill, particularly in this context, this approach will not become a prime requirement. We shall later consider various amendments relating to disability and much of our debate will be about how we have not got the best out of existing technology. We have not done so, but we could have done so with more of a will and more pushing here and there. Having "accessibility and usability of services" early in the Bill would be a great spur and help us to avoid those problems. It would also help us to deal with current technical problems, which the noble Lord discussed. I refer to the farcical history of audio description: there was a requirement to produce it but no one was able to use it. That is a smack in the face of the Government's protestation that we do not need such a provision. If it happened once, it will happen again. Technology will advance. There is the idea that technology will always be able to solve problems if we can bring it into the argument, develop awareness and ensure that producers know that they should be doing something in this regard. That is a huge part of this field, which deals with many disabilities and, in individual cases, disability packages. Unless such a provision is placed up front in the Bill, the Government will miss things, not through any lack of will or good intention but because the proposal asks too much. There should be a requirement to take action as a primary duty.
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