§ 14. Mr. Barnes
To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what arrangements he has made to monitor the operation of subtitling provisions by ITV companies since 1 January; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Key
The Independent Television Commission is responsible for monitoring the requirements on subtitling both in the ITV licences and in the Broadcasting Act 1990.
§ Mr. Barnes
The deaf and hard of hearing depend on subtitling for television programmes. The change on 1 January from Oracle to the ITV companies was a disaster because for some days there was no decent subtitling. We must ensure that that does not occur again. Does the Minister agree that the Government have a responsibility in this matter, as well as the ITV companies?
§ Mr. Key
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am aware of the technical problems to which he refers with the subtitling services on ITV. Those have now been resolved and the new subtitling system should offer much greater benefits in future. I am sympathetic to the needs of those with disabilities and I shall keep in touch with developments which may be of benefit.
§ Mr. Simon Coombs
As a member of the Standing Committee on the Broadcasting Bill, may I tell my hon. Friend that we were anxious to see the maximum amount of subtitling for the deaf and the hard of hearing? It is fair to say that, so far, they have been disappointed and we should all be grateful for the help that my hon. Friend has agreed to give to ensure that the maximum subtitling is available in future.
§ Mr. Key
I compliment my hon. Friend on the attention given to the Bill by that Committee. Section 35 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 requires that channel 3 and channel 5 licensees must provide 10 per cent. more subtitling in their first year of operation than was achieved by ITV companies in the previous year. Thereafter, the ITC would set reasonable targets to increase subtitling. There is a requirement that in 1998, 50 per cent. of the average number of programme hours will offer subtitling.