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Digital Television

Volume 482: debated on Monday 10 November 2008

2. What assessment he has made of levels of access to digital television services in the north of England; and if he will make a statement. (233989)

At present, 83 per cent. of households can receive digital terrestrial television in the Yorkshire ITV region; 94 per cent. in the Granada region; 91 per cent. in the Tyne Tees region, and 51 per cent. in the Border region. After switchover, it is expected that the figure will rise to 99 per cent. for the Yorkshire, Granada and Tyne Tees regions, and 98 per cent. for the Border region. We do not have regional figures for digital satellite or cable coverage, but 98 per cent. of UK households can receive satellite services, and approximately 49 per cent. have access to cable.

I am grateful for that answer, but is it right that those who live in the Yorkshire and Humber region pay their full television licence fee but do not receive the same status as many other regions? What advice is the Minister giving those who live in the Vale of York and may be about to change their television sets about what equipment to purchase?

I do not know the answer to the hon. Lady’s first question, but I will write to her. People in the Vale of York should buy the latest 8k television sets because they are the up-to-date models.

Visually impaired people, including those in the north of England and in my constituency, will benefit from the digital switchover help scheme, which enables them to receive audio described programming. Does my hon. Friend agree that 20 per cent. of programmes broadcast should provide that service, rather than the current 10 per cent. target?

I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is a case for what he suggests, and we will examine it.

The north of my constituency is rural and semi-rural, and many of my constituents can get only four terrestrial channels and cannot receive Freeview, yet are expected to pay the full licence fee. They are even more upset because they feel that they are not being sufficiently prioritised in the digital switchover, when their needs are clearly greater than those in other areas. What does the Minister plan to do about that?

The digital signal will improve for everyone, wherever they are, when analogue is switched off. People do not realise the advantages of that. I stress that most households in the country currently have at least one digital television.

In February, the Department for Communities and Local Government recommended robust exploration of options to include a return path in digital TV set-top boxes. Why are people in the north of England and elsewhere losing out on options such as smart metering, support with independent living and electronic access to local government services simply because the Minister has failed to follow the advice of her colleagues in that Department? If, as she told me in a letter, more research is needed, has she commissioned it?

The research is being done. I hoped that I had made that clear to the hon. Gentleman in my letter and I am sorry that I did not. I agree that the more versatility we can supply, the better, but it does not seem currently to be a cost-effective option.