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Lord McNally: My Lords, the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Currie, was extremely helpful, but I have one small point to make. He indicated that Ofcom was planning to set up such councils for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whereas the amendment also specifically mentions England. This relates to the reason why we on these Benches support the amendment.

We are still coming to terms with and grappling with the realities of devolution. We shall also have to come to terms with the realities of devolution for England. I think that it would be sensible to have this kind of amendment on the face of the Bill—particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Currie, has gone so far in indicating his own thinking.

I believe that my credentials on this are sound because, both when I chaired a party committee and when I sat on the Joint Committee, I resisted the idea of specific national nominees on the main Ofcom board. I believe that it was right to do so. However, there has also been the powerful point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that there are national sensitivities. It was put rather brutally by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford in Committee that Ofcom would be run from the bar of the Groucho Club. Perish the thought! However, such sensitivities exist—namely, that what is happening in the regions and nations will not be fully appreciated by a metropolitan organisation—and they will have to be counteracted.

I believe that this amendment has the right balance. It addresses the right issue, as we understand that Ofcom is already well down that road. I think that it would be a very smart move on the part of the Government simply to accept it.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in what may have been a Freudian slip, referred to "the regions". This amendment would appear to refer to the three devolved nations and then, in rather general terms, to England. There is an

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asymmetry about the amendment that distresses me, because I believe that in England there are many different regional concerns, which ought also to have the opportunity to be expressed on a level footing with the concerns of the devolved nations.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment. I entirely agree with all that noble Lords have said. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy referred to the possibility of trouble in the national regions. I was also interested in that statement. Perhaps we could have a debate on the definition of "national" and "national regions".

I agree with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. Notwithstanding the fact that it is extremely helpful to have the noble Lord, Lord Currie, offer his reassurances on this matter today, it would be better if this issue were covered properly in statute. The changes introduced by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy are extremely helpful and sensible. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am very grateful for the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, presented her arguments—reinforced, as they were, by subsequent contributions—on an area which we debated at considerable length in Committee. This amendment advances the issues which were discussed in Committee, and the debate has taken place in a very constructive way.

I have listened carefully to the debate and I want to respond as constructively as I can. Of course, we are sympathetic to the anxieties reflected among the nations and to the obvious concern expressed fully in the opening speech that broadcasting is a significant feature of life in scattered communities, as is the case in certain parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I am very grateful, too, for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Currie. He reinforced a point that we also expressed in Committee; that is, there is no way that Ofcom would go about its business without having due regard to the needs of the nations which make up the United Kingdom. I recall that at that time the noble Lord said that there had been a considerable number of visits to outlying possibilities. Much constructive work has been done, and I do not need to do anything other than thank him for his contribution and reinforce what he said this afternoon.

We are somewhat hesitant about expressing in the legislation a degree of rigidity in relation to the committees that Ofcom would set up. It is recognised that Ofcom has provision for representing the nationalities with regard to contact sports, and so on. But we are anxious about the degree of rigidity that would be involved in establishing four committees of Ofcom in the way that has been argued. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have sought to avoid placing unnecessary constraints on the structure of Ofcom or limiting its flexibility in dealing with changing circumstances.

However, the case has been well deployed today. We do not wish to accept the amendment at this stage and hope that it will not be pressed. But we undertake to

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consider this debate in full, to look at the issues again and to see the extent to which we can amend the Bill without, at the same time, falling into the trap of rigidity, which would do harm to the broad objectives that we all share. On that basis, and heartened by the debate, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he indicate whether he has consulted the Welsh and Scottish Executives and whether they have given any indication as to what their attitude would be?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, certain aspects of their attitude have been well expressed. With regard to the feeling in Wales on this matter, I leave that to the eloquence of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. In introducing the amendment, the noble Baroness sought to reflect proper concern for the nations, and we all recognise that concern. But the noble Lord will also recognise that some difficulties arise with regard to this issue. Broadcasting is not a devolved issue. Respect for the views of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is very important. Suggesting that this matter should be directed from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a different matter altogether.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I am most grateful to all who have spoken in the debate. In particular, I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Currie, for his contribution and for his very reassuring remarks. I accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that some improvements could be made to the wording of the amendment. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his sympathetic remarks concerning the spirit of the amendment, and I accept that some rewording should take place. In the light of those comments, I should like to take up the offer to reconsider the amendment and to reword it. Therefore, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 116 and 117 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 215 [Duty to secure the provision of a public teletext service]:

4.45 p.m.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 118:

    Page 191, line 5, at end insert "and which is, so far as practicable, accessible to persons who are blind or have a dual sensory impairment".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 118, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 135 and 139. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, will not be here to support the amendment. I have been informed that she was injured

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in a fall from her wheelchair and thus will not be present in the Chamber today. I hope that we can all join in wishing her a hearty recovery.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Addington: My Lords, the amendments concern issues that we have already addressed. However, we did not come to a satisfactory conclusion with regard to the idea of teletext services being available. As a result of various technical innovations—for example, through items such as a Braille printer being attached to the system—the analogue system is currently available to those who have a sight impairment and to those with a dual impairment in sight and hearing,

I have been assured by the RNIB and its specialist adviser that great difficulties will arise under the changeover. When the adviser spoke to Portset—the Talking Teletext manufacturer—it was said that no device could be made to read the digital teletext in its current format. However, we were assured that, with a new software programme, it would be possible for the service provider to provide a programme which accesses and reads the contents in different ways—that is, it would be compatible with assisted technology. Effectively, such a programme can be devised if one takes the time to apply pressure and ensure that people think about the problem.

When it comes to providing news, it is particularly important that we remember those who have dual sensory impairment. I had a meeting with the Minister and other Members of this House at which the subject of dual sensory impairment—that is, deafness/blindness—was discussed. I hope that this will be a warning shot with regard to later amendments. It was said that if one deals with problems affecting the blind or with those affecting people with hearing impairment, then one deals also with problems affecting the deaf/blind. That is not true. One simple reason is that usually if a person has a hearing problem, he can go primarily to a visual medium for support, or vice versa. In this case, the teletext and the printer which provides Braille enables the sense of touch to provide the information, and that would greatly assist certain groups. As people live longer, the number of those with dual impairment is bound to rise. Effectively, in Amendment No. 118 we are suggesting that the Government should place upon Ofcom the duty to ensure that the best use is made of technology. According to technical advice, we believe that that is now possible.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 135 and 139. These Benches become rather more friendly towards Sky than is normally the case. We suggest that public broadcasters should allow and pay for audio description to be used on the Sky system so that it can reach those who already have the Sky box. Radio 4—it is nice to use the BBC against the BBC—in its "In Touch" programme, asked its listeners for their views on this matter. One response was, "Why should we not use the Sky system?". I must apologise for not being present at one of the briefings, but Sky now has a

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system which delivers audio description. A secondary system which delivers audio description—it may not be quite so good—is infinitely better than a good system that is not available.

A response to the "In Touch" programme stated:

    "You asked if the listeners wanted AD [audio description] well this one does. You also asked how we wanted to receive it. Any way we can. When do we want it?—I wanted it the day I got my audio description set on my Skybox. I despair of this penny pinching and mean spirited country sometimes, it is shameful".

The sentiments and language are probably true of all phone-ins. What are the costs? There was an initial cost of 6,000 and then 20,000 per annum per channel of extra bandwidth. Of course, it is not only 20,000. It expands some local/national channels. But the sum is probably under half a million pounds per year.

The RNIB, whose hand lies heavily on these amendments, suggests that there may be a case to answer under the DDA for not taking reasonable steps to ensure that people receive the system. I suggest that there is a case to answer. If the Government accept the amendments they will be dealing now with the problem for a large number of people. Approximately 480,000 people with a visual problem have access to Sky. It would be a step forward which would not get in the way of those who choose to receive the free-to-air services in other ways. It would merely ensure that those with systems in place receive access now. I beg to move.

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