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Lord McNally: A Committee stage is always a pilgrim's progress. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has invited us to pause at a friendly inn to refresh ourselves. That is a legitimate thing to do on a long journey, but I say to the Ministers that we should press on. It is a long, complicated process, but the Bill is very, very important. From the beginning, I have felt that it is as important as the 1920s legislation that set up the BBC, giving us, for the 20th century, the magnificent legacy of culture, democracy and communications that the BBC underpinned. I welcome our approach to this Bill. This Parliament is preparing a similar legacy for the 21st century. From the beginning, my approach has been to get right the balance between competition and the concerns of the citizen and the community.

I appreciate and welcome the thoroughness with which the Government have approached the task. Sitting on the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, was one of the most rewarding exercises of my political life. Pre-legislative scrutiny has been immeasurably advantageous in trying to get the Bill right. It has allowed the expertise outside Parliament and Whitehall to have an input. My approach and that of the committee, which I hope I have carried on to these Benches, is a consistent attempt to make a good Bill better, not to wreck it.

I was surprised that Ray Snoddy, in The Times last Saturday, suggested that procedure in this House might even cause the Bill to be withdrawn. That is absolute rubbish. So long as Ministers keep their nerve and this House keeps to its task, there is no reason why we should not complete the Committee stage in the

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time allotted. As the Minister knows, I have indicated the full co-operation of these Benches in ensuring that we progress. I see the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, muttering from a sedentary position. It is important to get it right at this stage, which is why I welcome the pit stop proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.

Let us have an end to ministerial and Whips' briefings that we are in the business of wrecking the Bill. We are trying to improve it to get the balance right. If we get the balance wrong, the error will be there for many years to come. I appreciate the concerns about uncertainty. But this is not a private debate for the communications industry; it is about our culture and democracy. There is an onus on this House to get the balance right. Be of good heart, Ministers; keep progressing, and we will help you along the way.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: I fully agree with the noble Lord about the importance of the Bill. I should tell him, since the BBC was created a long time before he was born, that no Bill was passed in either House of Parliament at that time. It was created by an Order in Council. That sustains some of the arguments put by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.

Lord McNally: I am grateful to my noble friend for that stab in the back. I am not sure that that trust exists these days. But the point still remains: we are setting legislation that will exist for a very long time. We should not lose our nerve in trying to get it right.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: In response to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I sit in the Whips' Office, and I know all the Ministers involved with this Bill. I have never heard one of them say that this House is trying to wreck the Bill. There are time frustrations, to which we must face up.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for his Motion to oppose. I am particularly grateful to him for warning me about it and sharing some of the substance of his points. I agree with much of what he said. But it might be important to tell noble Lords of our progress with this Bill. We have now had two days in Committee, during which time we have discussed 21 groups of amendments at an average of 33 minutes per group. There are 102 further groups tabled so far. Should we take anything like the length of time to debate the remaining groups that are listed so far, we would need a further 56 hours—just over nine more days in Committee, to say nothing of Report and Third Reading. I am sure that the Committee understands that no Bill can be given such a large proportion of a Session's legislative time. Having said that, we are very grateful to all Committee Members who have grouped amendments to reduce the length of the debate.

The thrust of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is that there is over-regulation. In the short time that I have been in this House, it is a theme about which I have heard the noble Lord talk often. I

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agree with him. However, we should return to the policy document issued when the draft Bill was published. It states:

    "Unnecessary regulations need to be removed wherever possible. By eliminating undue burdens on business we can drive innovation, increase investment, raise employment and bring better services to consumers".

The overall thrust of the Government's proposals in the draft Bill is, in their own assessment, deregulatory.

In some amendments, including those to which I spoke earlier, Committee Members, for all the good reasons raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, may be proposing to put further restrictions on Ofcom. At paragraph 83 the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill stated:

    "Clause 6 seeks to give effect to this policy commitment, which is reflected in the title of the Clause—'Duty to publish and meet promptness standards'. The duty to publish promptness standards is evident in the provisions of the Clause; the duty to meet them is not so evident".

It is a personal thing, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, I believe strongly in trust rather than in mindless accountability. We have a new body that has a very good chairman and is likely to have a very good board, chief executive and infrastructure. We must have confidence that they will do the things we want them to do. We must have confidence that they will interpret not only the fact of the Bill but the spirit of the Bill. That is how I would like to see things happen.

Lord McNally: I understand the philosophy, but special pleading about the shortness of time seems a bit rum when, next week, we are going on another four days' holiday, 17 working days after we finished the Easter break. If we want to get business through the House, we cannot casually take days off when there is no reason to do so.

Viscount Astor: Is the noble Lord aware that it was his party and the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House who changed the hours the House sits? If we had gone back to the previous arrangements, there would have been plenty of time, and we could have had as many hours as the noble Lord suggests.

Lord Tordoff: It was not the Opposition Front Bench that changed the hours; it was the House as a whole, on the recommendation of the Procedure Committee.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: What a can of worms I have opened. I was responding to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I do not wish to get drawn into a debate about a "casual" holiday next week, but I gather that the House has always taken a holiday at Whitsun, so it is not as if we have suddenly decided to have a couple of days off.

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I had more or less finished what I wished to say. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I agree with much of what he said but, when he argues that the Bill is in danger of being over-regulatory, I disagree.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I was struck with grief and sorrow to see that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, could not go just an inch or so down the road of agreeing with me that long Bills are not particularly to be welcomed and that length is not a virtue in a Bill. I was pleased when the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, administered that well deserved stab in the back.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was absolutely unmoved by my references—friendly and constructive, I thought—to the noble Lord, Lord Currie of Marylebone, who will carry the burden of all that we do. My plea was that we should be careful before we tie the noble Lord down and increase the load that he must carry.

The Minister was gracious in what he said. I am glad that he acknowledges that there is no essence of a party manoeuvre here. However, he quoted a policy document. I must say that he was looking at something that is very unreliable. Policy documents are full of acceptable things, often quite inane. They are put out as a sort of decoration, and people have no intention of taking any notice of them at a later stage. I have great respect and regard for the Minister. I hope that he will not be led astray into thinking that he can rely on policy documents as a source of wisdom and general righteousness. They are nothing of the kind.

I am glad that I opposed the Question. I hope that it will not be the end of the matter. I hope that the Government will give serious thought to what they might do by way of modifying the Bill and leaving out some things that are contentious. That would, with the minimum of further delay, bring about the arrival on the scene of Ofcom.

Clause 8 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 39:

    After Clause 9, insert the following new clause—

(1) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to take such steps, and to enter into such arrangements, as appear to them calculated—
(a) to bring about a better awareness and understanding of inclusive design principles, techniques and standards among—
(i) the designers and manufacturers of apparatus designed or adapted for use in connection with electronic communications services or associated facilities; and
(ii) the providers of electronic communications services;

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(b) to encourage the designers, manufacturers and service providers mentioned in paragraph (a) to adopt inclusive design principles and techniques in the development of new apparatus, facilities and services; and
(c) to bring about a better public awareness and understanding of inclusive design in relation to electronic communications apparatus, facilities and services.
(2) It shall be the duty of OFCOM to encourage electronic communications network operators to co-operate with—
(a) the manufacturers of apparatus designed or adapted for use in connection with electronic communications services or associated facilities; and
(b) the manufacturers of assistive devices for disabled people, in order to facilitate access by disabled users to electronic communications services.
(3) References in this section to "inclusive design" are references to designs which result in apparatus and services which are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible, and to the greatest extent possible, without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.
(4) References in this section to "electronic communications services" includes web sites."

The noble Lord said: "Inclusive design" is a formal term for a simple but important concept. It means the designing of products and services so as deliberately to make them available or accessible to as many different users as possible. In that context it is aimed at enabling disabled people to use communications equipment and services immediately and without adaptation.

Without inclusive design, disabled people are excluded and frustrated. In addition, they face extra costs. Video recorders are a good example: had they been inclusively designed originally, they would automatically have recorded sub-titles, and deaf people would have been spared years of frustration and extra cost. It did not happen. Deaf people have been deprived of video recordings for years because of the failure to have inclusive design.

Inclusive design is an effective, cost-efficient way of providing for disabled people. If any required features are included in the original design, rather than added on later, the cost is often minimal. A PhoneAbility study, carried out in 1999, found that 20 out of 44 features required to make telephones more accessible could have been added initially at no, or minimal, cost.

Design with disabled use in mind often benefits other people, not just disabled people. For example, an Easy TV study for the Independent Television Commission, the Consumers' Association and the Design Council found that all users had problems with digital equipment—I know I do. They wanted fewer buttons, clearer labelling on remote controls, quicker responses to pressing the buttons and simpler user manuals. All those features are important to people with impaired eyesight and other disabilities.

Technological developments are racing ahead, leaving many people behind. Almost daily—certainly, almost weekly—new products emerge aimed at confident, fit, lively young people who thrive on complexity and sophistication. The rest of us struggle and ask our grandchildren for assistance. I am always begging my grandchildren to explain things, and they

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do it confidently and with no problems. Inclusive design would mitigate and alleviate many such difficulties. It is wrong in principle and unnecessary in practice to have a divide between the young, quick and nimble and those of us who are a bit slower, possibly less agile or, perhaps, with a disability.

I conclude by making clear to my noble friend the Minister that the amendment would not allow or encourage Ofcom to regulate or set standards in the field. That would be inappropriate. Instead, the amendment would give Ofcom a responsibility to promote inclusive design so as to combat exclusion and make equipment more accessible and usable. It would also ensure that Ofcom encouraged co-operation between network operators and the manufacturers of relevant equipment.

I hope that my noble friend will give a sympathetic response. The issue is of enormous importance to many disabled people, quite apart from the general benefits that would accrue from pursuing the policy. I beg to move.


Lord Addington: The noble Lord has very ably introduced this amendment, which I think is one of the potentially most useful amendments for the disabled. As the noble Lord said, it will also be helpful for those people who are dealing with a barrage of new technology. My daughter is now eight months old and has realised that the video recorder will look wonderful with toast inside it. I am sure that within a year she will be programming it herself. But if we can make it so that these devices are easier to use, we shall not be dependent upon the current generation of crawlers to show us how to use the next generation of machines.

The idea that we promote usability in a body such as Ofcom is very sensible. Computers, and anything with computing design, generally have spare capacity to take on board many new projects and, thus, make use of existing capacity. This amendment also ties in with the Disability Discrimination Act, which refers to the concept of reasonableness when making some kind of allowance. Such a duty is probably hinted at in existing law. We are trying to build on what we have and to do as much as we reasonably can to ensure that the new technology is usable by everyone. Surely that is at least hinted at by the amendment.

I suggest that if the amendment is not acceptable, the Government should look long and hard at ensuring that capacity to promote inclusive design is somewhere within the legal framework. That would head off many problems and would probably save money; for example, if disabled people are to have access to multi-media, expensive adaptations would not have to be made. The intentions of the amendment are good, but if this is not the right form I should be very interested to hear what is.

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