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Lord Addington: After watching us wield clubs, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has come forward holding an olive branch. Once again we come down to the fact that the technology in audio description is well-established. There has been a monumental cock-up in actually getting access to the service. To offer kisses as opposed to kicks to Sky is rare on these Benches but here I freely do it. Sky has shown it can be done. As the noble Lord said, we just have not got ourselves together. The technology is there but we have not had the will or the co-ordination to make sure that a perfectly well-understood service has not been accessed. It is an absurd situation. If something has to be done to address this issue in primary legislation, we should do it. We cannot allow this state of affairs to continue. I have heard that everyone thinks that the position will improve. Why did we get into this mess in the first place? There are thousands of hours of broadcast audio description but nobody can receive it. That really is Gormenghast and Alice in Wonderland and wasting money with it. I do not know how we got there.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: I rise briefly to give my warm support to my noble friend Lord Carter. I thought he moved his amendment wonderfully well. The Committee will be struck by the similarity between the arguments for subtitling and audio description. The question of cost is crucial. While I understand the reservations of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I would not place great store on that. Relatively speaking, the costs are low. My noble friend Lord Carter is quite right in his contention, especially taking into account the billions of pounds involved. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, mentioned the previous Broadcasting Bill which in many ways was botched. There were far too many omissions. The Government say that we should discuss those at some other time. That is not good enough. It is time to act. We can correct at least one of the shortcomings of the previous Bill.
The argument for modules sounds quite convincing. I cannot claim to be an expert on this subject but my impression is that it is a red herring. There is no significance in the module argument but that is a matter for the Committee to decide.
My final point is that what we decide tonight, on Report and at Third Reading will affect people who are sight impaired. They want audio-description because it means so much. They cannot see the programmes. They need a voice to explain and to put things in context. There has been an enormous advance. If we do not accept the amendments they will just keep doing without. If we accept the amendments we can take a really good step forward for them. I hope that with her usual care and consideration the Minister will be able to go some way towards understanding and will accept the amendments.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: Through the amendments we have the opportunity to be imaginative in using available technology for the benefit of those of all ages who have disabilities. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, has been fair in drawing attention to the potential costs of doing that. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, have expressed reasonable and understandable frustration. The general thrust of the amendments is supported from these Benches. I hope that the Minister will find a way to accommodate some of the points the amendments express.
As regards Amendment No. 242, as I am sure my noble friend is aware, the 10 per cent target for audio description was considered as part of the review of the statutory requirements for the provisions of subtitling, signing and audio-description. Having considered all the issues and arguments during the review we concluded that the 10 per cent target should be maintained.
The decision recognised the unresolved production and distribution difficulties with the audio-description modules needed to receive the service. The Government have been working with the RNIB, broadcasters and manufacturers to help identify possible solutions to the problems. We are disappointed that the current problems have not yet been solved.
My noble friend Lord Carter asked in particular about audio-description systems currently offered by BSkyB on satellite. BSkyB currently provides a limited number of audio-description on some of the 300 channels broadcast via satellite but uses a different transmission system which is suitable only for high bandwidth delivery platforms, such as digital satellite. I do not entirely understand this technology. However, I understand that requiring broadcasters to transfer their existing audio-description to a pre-mix audio description system as used on digital satellite for terrestrial transmission would reduce the number of programme services which could be transmitted. It would also be very expensive and would hinder the development of the receiver-mixed audio-description system which has many advantages and could be applied to all digital platforms. So there are technical problems about the question raised by my noble friend Lord Carter.
My noble friend also asked whether the Bill as drafted would allow Ofcom to lean on manufacturers. As we debated earlier in Committee, the Government have agreed to consider the question of how we might strengthen Ofcom's responsibilities in regard to access to systems. We are actively considering that at present and shall return to it on Report. I hope that that is helpful.
I return to the question of targets. Clause 301 allows the Secretary of State, after consultation with Ofcom, to vary the target percentage for audio-description by order. So, even though the target is currently only 10 per cent, if there were the significant advances that we all want to see in the technology and more widespread take-up of the modules, targets could be increased. I very much hope that that will be the case.
In the same way as the ITC code currently does, we expect that Ofcom's code relating to provision for the deaf and visually impaired will include guidelines on the technical standards to be attained for audio-description, as well as the subtitling and signing, in order to meet the current standards. Amendment No. 243, therefore, would not really appear to lead to any different result.
I turn to Amendment No. 250. As we have said before, EPGs can make both the selection and recording of programmes much easier, enhancing the viewing experience in the process. This is just as true for people with disabilities as it is for anyone else, provided they can use the EPG.
Having considered the amendment quite carefully, I can understand the concerns of those who would like Ofcom to be under a more specific duty here, and I should like to return with some suggestions on Report.
Lord Carter: I am sure that after all our years of working together my noble friend the Minister would be extremely surprised if I sought to divide the Committee. There is time between the Committee and Report stages for reconsideration, and then we can decide what to do on Report.
I should like to pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. I said that 50 per cent would be crippling for some broadcasters, but not for others, and there would have to be some discretion. There seem to be two systems on offer; there is almost a technical battle going on. We must be sure that the best is not made the enemy of the good. Ofcom should have the power to try to resolve the problem.
My noble friend the Minister referred to the unresolved production difficulty. I hear that this is on the verge of resolution. It should be possible for a very low costI am told as little as £10to put the chip into new boxes so that they would all then become available. There is the lift-off problem in getting the number of modules out in order to have the production run and bring the cost down. This is just the area where Ofcom should be working.
"( ) The code must include minimum requirements and best practice guidance on making electronic programme guides accessible to people who are blind, partially sighted or have other disabilities."