§ Mr. Hannam
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry under the proposals of the Telecommunications Bill what provision will be made for ensuring telecommunication apparatus specifically designed for disabled consumers will be provided to them at a price they can afford; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Butcher
Clause 3(2)(a) of the Telecommunications Bill places a specific duty on the Secretary of State and the Director General of Telecommunications to exercise their functions in the way they consider best calculated to promote the interests of disabled people in respect of the price, quality and variety of telecommunication apparatus.
Under this duty, the Secretary of State will include conditions in the licences he grants to telecommunications operators, particulary British Telecommunications, to ensure the continued availability of apparatus designed for use by the disabled. For example, BT will be obliged by its licence to continue to supply telephones adaped for the hard of hearing. BT will also be obliged to continue to provide the directory inquiry service free of charge to the blind and other disabled people who cannot use printed directories.
The Director General will have powers to enforce these obligations and powers to ensure that the disabled are not charged unreasonable prices and to seek changes to the licence to safeguard further the interests of disabled persons. The Government have also decided to amend the Bill to require the Director General to establish an advisory body for persons who are disabled and of pensionable age. This will ensure the Director General is kept fully informed of the needs of disabled persons.
The Secretary of State will also use his powers under the Bill to require, from a specified date, all new operator-controlled private branch exchanges to be capable of adaptation for use by blind operators. This will ensure that existing job opportunities in telephony for blind persons are safeguarded.