§ Mr. Hannam
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will take steps to ensure that the new telephone handsets being manufactured by British Telecom will include adaptations for hearing impaired and physically disabled people; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Butcher
The Government fully recognise the importance of the telephone to hearing impaired and 489W physically disabled persons. We are determined to ensure that telephone apparatus continues to be available which will make it possible for the hearing impaired to use the telephone. Problems have arisen because modern designs of telephone are based on microchips and cannot be inductively coupled to present hearing aids. This is the result of changes in technology and has no connection with Government policy on telecommunications. Because of the seriousness of the problems and the anxiety they have caused, the Department has started discussions with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and with the British Association of the Hard of Hearing about solutions which will enable disabled persons to benefit from the new technology. A working group involving these organisations is being set up to investigate the problem in detail and to identify arrangements which will fully protect the interests of the hearing impaired.
The Telecommunications Bill contains special provisions for the hearing impaired and other disabled persons. When granting licences under the Bill and when approving apparatus the Secretary of State and the Director General will be under a statutory duty to act in ways best calculated to promote the interests of users of telephone apparatus who are disabled. The Bill also enables public funds to be made available to meet the costs of developing telephone apparatus which is capable of being used by disabled persons. The working group will discuss how these powers can be used to safeguard the interests of the hearing impaired.