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Digital Dividend Review

Volume 459: debated on Monday 16 April 2007

Ofcom plans to release a statement on the consultation on the digital dividend review this summer. Before then, I will have full discussions with Ofcom about the findings of the consultation.

The Secretary of State will know of widespread concerns about the possibly unintended consequences of the DDR on the programme making and special events sector, which are highlighted by early-day motion 531, which has been signed by many hon. Members, including me. Will she reassure the House that Ofcom will guarantee that sufficient quality and quantity of spectrum will be available to prevent serious damage to this wide-ranging, £15 billion UK industry, which covers, inter alia, performing arts, news gathering and many major sporting occasions?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I know that the matter is of great concern to him—he has taken a leading role—and to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. There are two elements: the impact on what are essentially amateur events, such as community festivals; and the possible impact on professional theatre and other forms of entertainment. Ofcom has recognised the specific concern about the perceived—I believe that it is unfounded—threat to professional entertainment. It will carry out a separate consultation specifically on that to ensure that any unintended consequences are avoided.

The Government are determined to avoid the risks that early-day motions and other interventions have outlined. Obviously, Ofcom’s responsibility is to consider the market price that can be raised for spectrum. However, it was specifically put in the legislation that Ofcom would have to take account of the citizenship impact of any such decision. This is a good example of citizenship in practice.

Order. Perhaps the Secretary of State could use the microphone. It is not necessary to address individual hon. Members; perhaps addressing the Chair is the best way to do things.

I was fascinated by the Secretary of State’s reply. I assure her that the threats from the original proposals set out by Ofcom in its consultation document were not widely perceived, but very well founded. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), for agreeing to meet a delegation of users—including those involved in the theatre industry, the film industry, the music industry, news gathering, sports, and special events such as Live Earth—to discuss in detail the consequences for the sector. Does the Secretary of State realise that if the original proposals are not amended, the effective loss of radio microphones will have a devastating impact?

We absolutely recognise that. It is why we shall not allow the review to have an impact on the sort of community events that I described, or on the professional theatre and other professional entertainment.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned about one aspect of the digital dividend review? Freeview is now the most popular digital television platform and millions of people are being sold HD-ready television sets, but there is a real prospect that, unless something is done, most British viewers will not be able to watch the 2012 Olympics on high-definition television, whereas most viewers in the rest of the developed world will be able to do so.

That is precisely why the review is so important and timely. My hon. Friend will know that 70 per cent. of the potentially available spectrum has been allocated to freeview to enable the roll-out of digital television. The further availability of spectrum for high-definition television is a matter for discussion with the public service broadcasters, but technology and consumer expectations are moving fast and we have to make sure that we keep up with them.