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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I share with all noble Lords who have spoken today our keenness that people with sensory impairments should benefit by improved access to all television services including the public teletext service. I think that view has been universally expressed. In particular, we recognise the peculiar problems of those with dual sensory impairment. My noble friend Lord Ashley was particularly eloquent on that point in Committee.
There is a problem between analogue and digital. Those who are visually impaired and those with dual sensory impairment have access to analogue public teletext services and other analogue text services through Talking Teletext equipment, which uses a
The amendment would require Ofcom to introduce a new kind of technical requirement in the regulatory regime for the public teletext service with no certainty of how and at what cost the broadcaster might fulfil any condition imposed. We want the legislation to be future-proofed. In so far as we can, we want to provide for any anticipated new beneficial technologies, but we really cannot include in a Bill an obligation on Ofcom to do something that we do not know can be done, and which, even if it could be done, we do not know how to do it.
The fallback situationI realise that this will not be entirely satisfactoryis that in carrying out its functions Ofcom has a general duty to have regard to the needs of persons with disabilities. Of course that includes the needs of those with dual sensory impairment. So there is the general duty pushing Ofcom in this direction, but we are arguing that it does not need a special provision of the kind set out in Amendment No. 118.
We do not just rely on the wording. One of the key tasks of the technology and equipment group of the digital action plan is to consider the specific equipment needs of disabled people. We will ensure that the issue of accessibility to digital teletext services is taken forward within the work of the group. The most effective way would be a commercial solution, but it does not need to be reflected in the provisions of the Bill.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I intervene in the hope that it will save time later on. Is the noble Lord saying that, to the best of his understanding, if, say, a new software system was designed that would make access to teletext possible, it would have to be brought into being and used in the existing structure?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, certainly the digital action group would take that forward, yes. The general duty on Ofcom would oblige it to take action on it. I do not know what that action would be. It depends on whether the technology is inherent in the broadcasting process or is much wider, which is converting the spoken word into something which is intelligible, particularly to those with dual sensory impairment. So I cannot tell on whom the obligation would lie, but I can say that the digital action group has a responsibility to take it forward and that if it takes it forward and finds the solution, Ofcom has a duty to progress it under its general duty towards people with disabilities.
On Amendments Nos. 134 and 139, we fully understand the need to ensure that, where a channel must be offered on a network or satellite service, any viewing aids that relate to that channel are also carried. But in fact, audio description, which is what is in play here, is just one form of ancillary service. As is clear
I turn to the issue of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, to which several noble Lords referred. That Act relates to persons who provide the servicesin other words, to the broadcaster, certainly not to the Government or Ofcom. Although the debate about the type of audio description is for Ofcom to deal with, the question of compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act is for the broadcasters. If nothing were done, they could be prosecuted under the Act. It is in their interests to take the necessary steps. That needs no further action from Ofcom or the Government.
I hope that it is clear that we are in sympathy with the amendments. We believe that we are taking the necessary steps, both for dual sensory impairment and for audio description, to advance provision as fast as technically feasible.
Lord Addington: My Lords, the Minister's argument"Don't worry; it is already covered twice"was plausible. As for his answer on Amendment No. 118, it was interesting and should be considered in detail by those who helped me withlet us be honest, performedthe drafting. I am prepared to withdraw the amendment to consider exactly what sort of cover is available and whether the process is strong and quick enough.
However, when it comes to Amendments Nos. 135 and 139, I am less happy. We are basically dealing with the cock-up school of history come to life. We are producing audio description that no one can receive. Boxes do not have the technology available; no manufacturer has been going through a system. Then we have a system through which we could access a huge chunk of those using a free-to-air servicesomething that the public are funding and which the public should be able to access but which, because of an administrative disagreement, they cannot.
To be honest, that is on the edge of sanity. If our figures are rightthe Minister did not challenge them, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, saidwe have every grounds for pressing ahead. But the Minister then effectively said, "If you have a case, go and do it". To pick up on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, if we must use the existing legal structure, we shall. I am not sure whether the Bill is the right way with which to deal with the matter, but I say to all those listening, please remember that if you are to give us nothing other than a legal option, we shall use it.
Lord Addington: My Lords, with due respect, I accept that, but the fact is that audio description, which has previously been allowed for in legislation, has been produced but still is not getting through. There is no guarantee in the Bill or in any discussion about it that we will have the box with a chip in place. We have heard good noises; we have heard of things going forward. Perhaps we should not press the amendments; we have not reached the appropriate stage in the Bill. I am trying to listen and to be as co-operative as possible.
However, good intentions were already there. That is why the issue arises. We have not achieved them. Having said that, there is a case for further discussion and for returning to the issue at a later dateif, indeed, there is still a live issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 119 and 120. The Government have stated that they have no intention of regulating the Internet. On Second Reading of the Bill in another place, the Secretary of State stated that,
However, the world in which we live is one in which the distinction between television and the Internet is becoming increasingly blurred. It is possible to access the Internet via digital television; it is possible for near-broadcast quality pictures to be distributed via broadband connections on the Internet. That is why it is important to define what is meant by televisionand therefore is capable of being regulatedand what is Internet content, and therefore not regulated. That is what Clauses 229 and 230 are intended to do.
Clause 230 makes clear that there are a number of exemptions to the definition of "television licensable content services". Those include all websites, as specified in Clause 230(3), if they are accessed via a personal computer, and most types of website that can be accessed via digital television.
However, increasing amounts of the content that can be accessed on websites is of a broadcast- type nature, known either as "webcasting" or "webstreaming". If such content can be linked to via digital television, it appears that Clause 229 will make that content subject to content regulation by Ofcom, as the webcasting service providing it will be defined as a relevant ancillary service. Such a service will not fall within the exclusions set out in Clause 230(3).
At present, the functionality is still being developed that will allow webcast material to be screened on a television set, but it will not be long before satellite and cable set-top boxes can play webcasts that are accessed via websites available on television.
There is an argument that someone sitting in his or her sitting room watching the television not only expects what he or she sees on television to be regulated but also expects any television-type material that he or she can access to be regulated as well. But in the converged world, that is surely anomalous: the consumer expects to be able to access the same material from a website on his or her PC as he or she can access from a website that he or she can reach via the television.
Equally, a website that provides web-streaming will be capable of being accessed both via television and from PCs. There is a real danger that, as presently drafted, these clauses would allow for the back-door regulation of Internet content. Any company that provides both a television service and a web-streaming service would be at risk of its web-streaming service being classified as television licensable content if it could be linked in any way, however remotely, from a television service.
Our amendments seek to deal with the situation by introducing the principle of putting distance between the television service that viewers are watching and the web-stream they are capable of accessing. Everyone can agree that the viewer should not be able to switch by a single click of the remote control from a regulated television environment to an unregulated web-streamed one. However, if viewers see a link in a television service and have to follow a route out of the regulated environment, then they ought to be able to access the same web-based material as they could access via a PC.
These amendments seek to introduce the idea of web-streaming provided via a website accessible by television being at least two clicks away from the regulated television environment so that viewers would know that they were leaving a regulated environment and entering an unregulated one.
These are probing amendments aimed at elucidating exactly how the Government intend to address the issue. The Explanatory Notes to Clause 229 state that although a link to a website would be regulated as part of television licensable content, the website at the end of the link would be neither regulated nor within the licence of the main service. But the note fails to point out that this is not true for websites that consist of web-streaming services provided by companies that also provide television services where the web-streaming service is accessible, however remotely, from the television service. The amendments seek to reintroduce the principle of an unregulated Internet which, we understand, has been government policy. I beg to move.
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