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Digital Television

Volume 447: debated on Monday 5 June 2006

6. If she will make a statement on proposals for digital switchover in (a) South-West Bedfordshire and (b) the rest of the UK. (74922)

Switchover across the UK will begin in 2008 and be completed in 2012. In the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, as he knows, there are three broadcasting regions: Anglia, Central and London. Switchover for Anglia and Central will take place in 2011 and be completed, with London, in 2012.

Is the Minister aware that some of the information on the Digital UK website is not accurate and could lead viewers to subscribe to commercial packages that they do not need? In areas, such as mine, on the edge of a Government region, will he investigate whether the Department could do more to clarify which digital transmitters will transmit programmes to areas outside their own regions?

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Given that the Government are committed to ensuring that switchover happens across the whole country by 2012, it is absolutely important that we get it right. At this stage, of course, what we have conducted are pilot schemes and trials. In 2008, we begin in the Border region. There are lessons to be learned, and the point that he makes is well taken—I will certainly take it back and look at it—but I propose to write to all hon. Members in the coming weeks to begin to set out what I think the timetable will be. We will have further, final revision of that timetable in the autumn, and I will write again to hon. Members. If questions are raised by hon. Members’ constituents—if people are worried about suddenly losing television pictures and issues of that sort—we will want to satisfy them, and working together with Digital UK, I am sure that we can get this right.

I thank my hon. Friend for coming to Carlisle and addressing the conference on the digital switchover—it was very much appreciated—and for saying that his Department will co-operate with the parliamentary Committee that will be set up to look at it. The Border Television area, part of which I represent, will be the first to switch over in 2008. I understand that the pilot scheme that was recently carried out in Bolton has now reported. Are there any lessons that people in the Border Television area can learn from the results of that pilot?

I thank my hon. Friend for chairing an excellent conference a few weeks ago, which I enjoyed attending. He is right that Border will be the first region where digital switchover will happen. We know from the pilots so far that 97 to 98 per cent. of people in Bolton who experienced switchover liked it. We also found that it was the oldest people and those who are the most severely disabled who had a problem, so we are rightly focusing—in terms of practical help, call centres and targeting of resources—on those whom we believe are most likely to need help. We have learned a lot from the pilots and we are intending to build that into our programme for the Border region. I am sure that, before we begin the work, which after all is still two years away, there will be more lessons to be learned so that we can ensure that my hon. Friend and his constituents are not only the first chapter of the story but one of the best.

Will the Minister explain what help will be given when the analogue signal is switched off to those living in isolated rural communities who cannot receive the digital signal?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We estimate that, when switchover is complete, 98.5 per cent. of the country will be able to receive digital television services. As he will know, that is roughly comparable with the number of people who can receive analogue services and we expect the 1.5 per cent. who cannot broadly to map each other, although it will not be exactly the same.

We will need to address the issue of those who will not be able to receive pictures in 2012. We are conscious of that and working on it now. It is a significant number of people. It is worth bearing it in mind, though, that 1.5 per cent. of the country does not receive television pictures. We need to improve on that and undoubtedly technology will help us in that process. We are determined to work with the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who may have constituents who do not receive analogue pictures so that we can bring everything we know and the technology to bear to help every constituent in the country.