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Digital Switchover

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2007

1. What steps the Government are taking to raise awareness of digital switchover in Scotland; and when he last discussed this matter with Ofcom and Digital UK. (156888)

The Secretary of State recently met Ofcom and I met Paul Hughes, Digital UK’s national manager for Scotland, over the summer. In addition, I will address a conference in Scotland next month on the opportunities presented by digital switchover. Book early to avoid disappointment.

The Minister knows that there are currently teething problems in Whitehaven, especially with people not knowing about the switchover. My constituency has an above average number of elderly people, whose television is not a luxury but a necessity. What contact has my hon. Friend made with, for example, Glasgow city council, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Citizens Advice Scotland and the electricity boards to ensure that information is issued especially to the elderly about the changeover?

My hon. Friend mentioned Whitehaven, which is the first part of the UK to switch over. That will happen tomorrow. I was not aware of the teething problems that he mentioned. When I last examined the matter, I was told that awareness in Whitehaven was 100 per cent., which sounded suspiciously North Korean, but I am prepared to believe that the percentage is high. He is right that the key to it all is public awareness. No single organisation—be it Digital UK or the BBC—will achieve that on its own. We need to work together—the councils, the Scottish Executive and the registered social landlords, who also have a role to play—so that, when the scheme is extended throughout Scotland, beginning in Borders in 2008 and in the rest of Scotland in 2010, there is awareness of it, ensuring that people know that switchover will happen and know the steps that they have to take. In addition, a help scheme will be in place for the elderly and vulnerable people to whom my hon. Friend referred, so that they do not lose out on that opportunity.

The help scheme will not kick in until close to switchover. What is happening now to develop new handsets for the visually impaired, those with disabilities who have difficulty accessing digital TV, and those, mainly the elderly, who may need to buy a new TV before the help scheme kicks in in their area but also need access to digital advice now so that they do not miss out when the switchover happens?

That is precisely why Digital UK appointed a national manager for Scotland, Paul Hughes, and why I met him earlier. I pay tribute to him for raising the issue of the handset for people with disabilities. After he prompted me, I spoke to Vicki Nash of Ofcom Scotland about the matter. I also discussed it with the Scottish Consumer Council because it is a genuine concern. Ofcom Scotland has conducted some research on how useable the handsets are, the results of which are being fed back into the former Department of Trade and Industry—now the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform—taskforce on the matter. As I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), it is important that no one loses out, especially those who have visual or other disabilities.

Does my hon. Friend agree that digital television provides opportunities, especially for my constituents through North Lanarkshire local authority, which provides information and tremendous services? Will he encourage other local authorities to conduct a similar exercise?

My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, she pre-empts excerpts of my keynote speech next month. North Lanarkshire has proposed a creative and imaginative scheme, which is a way to disseminate information throughout the area so that everybody knows the services to which they are entitled and that they can access. It is an excellent programme, which I thoroughly recommend to other local authority areas, not only in Scotland but throughout the UK.