HC Deb 26 May 1978 vol 950 cc810-2W
Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress he has made in seeking to arrange the provision of subtitles on television for the benefit of the deaf and hard of hearing; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The developments in relation to programme content and presentation to help people with impaired hearing are entirely matters for the broadcasting authorities. However, arising out of the Palantype experiment in the House of Commons which my Department sponsored in co-operation with my hon. Friend, the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the Independent Television Companies Association are jointly supporting a research project at Southampton University to help the deaf and hard of hearing to benefit more fully from television programmes.

This work is expected to cost over £50,000 and is aimed at providing optional sub-titling for the deaf and hard of hearing by means of the ORACLE teletext system.

The project is to be carried out by a Research Fellow sponsored by the IBAITCA, who will work under the supervision of Dr. A. F. Newell of the Department of Electronics at the University of Southampton.

The project is expected to take three years. Its aim will be to establish the form of sub-titling which would most benefit the deaf and hard of hearing. It will include full study of the human factor requirement and experimental on-air sub-titling of programmes in an operational environment.

I am pleased to say that Independent Television hope to be able to start transmitting some programmes with experimental sub-titles for deaf and hard of hearing viewers during the next 12 months.

It must be stressed, however, that before viewers can take advantage of this form of sub-titling, it will be necessary for them to have teletext decoders in their television receivers.

As my hon. Friend knows, the BBC has for many years provided an excellent half-hour News Review programme on Sundays. It has recently introduced an additional daily five-minute programme of news headlines in which captions are used. I understand that the BBC does not favour the use of sub-titles in programmes generally on the grounds that they obscure part of the picture and, in the main, are disliked by the viewing audiences. It takes the view that the way most likely to benefit deaf viewers lies in the CEEFAX teletext system, which is able to display in textual form a full service of news and other information and which can be adapted to carry the text of documentaries and the dialogue of plays.