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Volume 470: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2008

5. What recent discussions he has had on the quality of television reception in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. (179991)

My hon. Friend will be aware that problems remain with television reception in parts of Ayrshire. Will he outline what steps are being taken to ensure good television reception in as many households as possible, both before and after digital switchover?

My hon. Friend is right. The whole point of digital switchover is to give people better television: better reception, more choice and more interactivity. I know her constituency well, because it borders mine, and I know that many people in north Ayrshire have difficulty accessing a decent signal. It is difficult to say with any degree of exactness what will happen before switchover, but I sincerely hope that they will see an improvement in the quality of their television reception and in the range and number of channels that they receive once we reach digital switchover.

As the Minister knows, the other advantage of digital television is that audio description will enable those with poor sight to enjoy the experience of television far more effectively. The Government have set a very low threshold for what broadcasters have to provide. What are the Government doing to encourage greater take-up of audio description and to improve ease of access to the handsets for those with disabilities?

The hon. Gentleman is right. I mentioned the interactivity that comes with digital TV, and things such as audio description are a key part of that. I have had discussions with the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland, which has been campaigning on this for some while. Just as there is now complete acceptance of subtitles for the hard of hearing, audio description for people with visual impairment must become standard. That will happen, to any meaningful degree, only when we switch off the analogue signal and boost the digital signal. The hon. Gentleman is right to keep campaigning on the issue, and I shall ensure that Ofcom is aware of his concerns.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, Tarbolton, in my constituency, is closely associated with Robert Burns—but none of my constituents could be called a

“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie”.

They are not slow at coming forward to tell me that the TV reception is appalling. What will the Minister do for the good people of Tarbolton?

In a week when we celebrate the great Ayrshire poet, Robert Burns, I am sure that the people of Tarbolton will be enjoying those celebrations. Of course, the first ever Burns supper was in Greenock, in my constituency, so we lay claim to having set the tradition. The people of Tarbolton, along with those throughout Ayrshire and the rest of Scotland and the UK, will benefit when digital switchover happens. It will provide more channels, more services, more interactivity and more choice.