HL Deb 24 June 1991 vol 530 cc413-4

Lord Constantine of Stanmore asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consideration they will give when renegotiating the licence of the British Broadcasting Corporation to the needs of blind and partially sighted people for audio-descriptive services.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, consideration of the future arrangements for governing the whole of the BBC's services, including those for the blind and partially sighted people, will be included in the review which will precede the expiry of the present charter and licence in 1996.

Lord Constantine of Stanmore

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. I am sure he is aware that the audio-descriptive services to which the Question refers are now available in the United States through more than 47 stations serving 52 million people. When the Government come to renegotiate the BBC licence I should not like to think that we shall be left behind Europe, Japan and America in the provision of these services to the blind and those who are hard of hearing

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend is right that audio-descriptive services are in use in the United States of America. However, for technical reasons, those systems as they stand cannot be adopted in this country. The matter will be considered as part of the review before the licence and charter are renewed.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, is it not true that during the passage of the Broadcasting Act the Minister accepted at Report stage amendments on this subject tabled by noble Lords on both sides of the House? Under the amendments those applying for ITV franchises have to agree to take these proposals into account. Out of 40 applications, 38 have in fact so stated. Does the noble Earl not agree that there is an urgent need for the ITC and the BBC to develop the best technological and most economic common audio-descriptive service for use by the 1 million blind and 700,000 partially sighted people in this country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that during the passage of the Broadcasting Act we accepted amendments to the effect that those who applied would have to state what they were going to do for the blind, the deaf and the disabled and that that would form part of their application. That is different from what happens with the BBC. At the moment it operates under a different system but it takes into account the need to help the disabled. The noble Baroness is quite right that if this service is developed we should make certain that the BBC and ITC develop it along the same lines.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, is any work being done to produce equipment that would make the American system suitable for use in this country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, we are aware of what happens in America. It is a technical matter which at the moment precludes the system being of use in this country. I am not aware of the technical complications of it but I shall delve into it and let my noble friend know.

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