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Digital Switchover

Volume 473: debated on Monday 10 March 2008

I met the chair and the chief executive of Digital UK at a reception of the all-party group on digital TV switchover and I will meet Digital UK regularly to discuss all aspects of digital switchover.

I was pleased to note that Eaga has been appointed to help deliver assistance to those over 75, disabled people and those who are otherwise vulnerable. What plans has my right hon. Friend to help those who fall outside the help scheme?

My hon. Friend is right that Eaga has been appointed to run the digital switchover help scheme, which will be available to people aged over 75, those with a severe disability or those who are registered blind or partially sighted. The Eaga partnership will be well known to hon. Members through its work on the Warm Front scheme. Experience from Whitehaven shows that the help people received was rated good or very good, so there is some encouragement. For people outside the scheme, Digital UK has a helpline and website to give advice to everybody who has any questions as we get closer to switchover, which is about a year away in my hon. Friend’s region.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, due to the arrangements for digital switchover, many thousands of my constituents will be unable to access digital radio perhaps until 2015, when the Irish turn off their analogue signal? Has he discussed the matter with the Irish? If not, will he do so and report to the House?

Wales is set for digital switchover in the third quarter of next year. I must be honest and say that I was not aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. I will be glad to discuss it with him further and ascertain whether we can hold discussions with our Irish counterparts to tackle the matters that he brings to my attention.

The Secretary of State will know from the experience in Whitehaven, which he mentioned, that only 33 per cent. of those eligible contacted the help scheme. What steps will he take to ensure that, in other areas of the country, older people, for whom television is a necessity not a luxury, can contact the relevant scheme and get the help that they require?

Of some 8,600 households who were eligible, approximately 6,400 responses were received, which suggests a good take-up. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s challenge that we need to work hard to ensure that people know about the help that is available. As we get closer to some of the switchover dates, people’s questions—and possibly anxieties—will increase, so there is a challenge for Ministers to ensure that people are informed. However, there is also a challenge for local Members of Parliament to ensure that we give timely answers to constituents’ questions. I am sure that, if we work in partnership on those matters, we can ensure a smooth switchover, which is in all our interests.