HL Deb 14 October 1999 vol 605 cc509-10

3.15 p.m.

Lord Ahmed

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of the research in the June 1999 report by the Joseph Rowntree Trust that suggests that audio information is the most accessible format for those who speak ethnic minority languages, what provision is available nationally to ensure that information in ethnic minority languages is in formats accessible to all.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, the provision of information is primarily made in a written format, though I am advised that the Home Office and other government departments have entered into an agreement with the Central Office of Information for the provision of Braille, large script and audio tapes. With the exception of Braille, they can be adapted to ethnic minority languages. It is for each department to test and determine the most appropriate format for information, depending on the target audience.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Can my noble friend inform the House what provision the Government have to encourage and support initiatives for the blind and partially blind within the visible minorities? Is he aware that Bradford Talking Magazines are providing an excellent service? Does he agree with me that projects such as the Bradford Talking Magazines need not only be given resources to consolidate and expand their work but also be made more efficient by being encouraged to be more culturally and religiously sensitive?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. I willingly extend my congratulations to Bradford Talking Magazines for the excellent service they operate for those who are visually impaired from ethnic minority groups within their community. Theirs is a model of good practice which should be extended as widely as possible. We nationally have much to learn from it.

As to the Government's position, we make adequate and good provision through the Central Office of Information which has a wealth of expertise in the field. As I said earlier, it has the capacity to translate work into Braille, large script and audiotapes, where appropriate. After all, it is for each department to determine how best to make use of its own resources and the way in which it works.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many languages are clamouring to be heard?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am sure the noble Earl will appreciate that we live in a multicultural society. It is right and proper that we make adequate provision for it. My advice is that the Central Office of Information provides for some 50 ethnic languages to be translated into different formats. There are Hindi, Punjabi, Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek and the Cypriot language. Those are the languages on which advice is most commonly sought.

Lord McNair

My Lords, as a corollary to the noble Lord's Question, can the Minister say what resources the Government are putting in to make English language learning as widely available as possible to our diverse population?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a good question. It is not for me to speculate on the size of the budget, which is probably mostly not from the Home Department. I am sure that we are making good provision through all departments, and particularly the Department for Education and Employment. If the noble Lord wants more information on that I shall be more than happy to try to assist him and will write to him in due course.