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Digital Switchover

Volume 451: debated on Monday 6 November 2006

5. What targeted assistance package will be offered to viewers during digital switchover; and if she will make a statement. (99150)

Given the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for digital television, he will be pleased to know that take-up in the Central region is among the highest in the country, with more than 80 per cent. of first sets now converted. The digital switchover help scheme will provide support with equipment and installation for those who are over 75, have a serious disability, or are partially sighted. Those who are eligible can also opt for a different platform, such as cable or satellite, and receive a contribution towards the cost of equipment.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her answer. She will know that this is to be funded out of the licence fee, which is borne by everyone who watches television. She will also be aware, however, that digital switchover will result in the analogue spectrum being sold off, and the Treasury taking all the money. What representations will she make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that some of that money is brought back in to the BBC so that the licence fee can be lowered?

That is quite a rich mix that the hon. Gentleman has created. Yes, the Communications Act 2003 provides for the technology-neutral auction of the spectrum that will be released. Yes, discussions are going on at the moment about the licence fee. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that it is the established policy of the Government that, as switchover is a broadcasting cost, the cost will be borne by the broadcasters, and principally by the BBC.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that appliances left on standby are producing 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year. That is enough to heat the homes in the whole of County Durham. Will she take the opportunity of digital switchover to consider introducing regulations to control the sale of wasteful standby televisions?

My hon. Friend makes exactly the sort of point required to demonstrate how climate change and environmental sustainability are, in part, a function of changing our own personal behaviour. That is a very good and practical example of the contribution that we can all make by being more vigilant about ensuring that we do not leave our sets on standby. I do not think that regulation is necessary.

The Secretary of State has explained the mechanism for support in respect of digital switchover, but what people want to know—in my area, they will shortly be going through the process—is exactly when they get help and where it will be available.

Help will be available through the telephone or in people’s own homes. The Select Committee placed great emphasis on the importance of elderly, vulnerable and isolated people receiving a personal service and individual help with fixing the equipment or providing whatever advice they need. It is interesting to note that the trials showed that one of the most difficult choices that people, particularly elderly people, have to make is deciding on the right kind of remote control. A personal service is appropriate, because it will be a difficult and worrying transition for some people.