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Digital Switchover (South-West)

Volume 493: debated on Monday 8 June 2009

Switchover is on track in the south-west: viewers served by the Beacon hill and Stockland hill transmitter groups have now successfully switched, and other parts of the region will switch between July and September. Three months away from the remaining south-west switchovers, 97 per cent. of residents are aware of switchover and 96 per cent. of homes already have access to digital TV on their main sets.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to an area that is so important in Plymouth, Exeter, the rest of Devon and Cornwall; I am sure that their media industries will look forward to his contribution as Secretary of State. On digital switchover, does have confidence that when it comes to the turn of the Caradon hill transmitter, which serves Plymouth, things will go as smoothly as they have done thus far? What is his assessment of how far the help scheme is reaching out to the people it needs to help?

As I understand it, Plymouth will begin to switch on 12 August, with the Caradon hill transmitter, and will conclude on 9 September. We believe that we are prepared, as are viewers across the region. Leaflets have been sent to every home, and there have been television, radio and press adverts. As my hon. Friend will know, people are eligible for help if they are over 75, registered blind or receive certain allowances or benefits. In total, 300,000 eligible people will be offered help in the old ITV West Country region. So far, we are aware of 26,000 people requesting help.

May I join the general acclamation of the Secretary of State’s appointment and wish him every success in dealing with his crowded in-tray? One of the complex issues that he has to confront is the consequence of digital switchover and the release of spectrum that flows from that programme in the south-west and elsewhere. Will he pay particular attention to the consequences for the programme making and special events sector, and the continued viability of radio microphones for broadcasting entertainment and a wide variety of other purposes?

I will be happy to look into the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. As the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) said, I have had only two days to get on top of the issues, so I hope that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) will forgive me if I am not on top of every detail. I will ensure that I look into the one that he raises.

May I also add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend? He was a superb regional Minister and I was proud to be his deputy. All of us in the south-west are delighted to see him elevated to the Cabinet.

He may be aware of an issue in Swindon that I have raised with several of his predecessors—the digital switchover for the railway village. It is one of the poorest communities in Swindon and a conservation area, and the switchover faces extreme difficulties. Will he look into that?

I will happily do that. May I also use this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for her assistance in her role as assistant regional Minister?

I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State. May I say how welcome it is that we may now expect a large dose of culture in DCMS? Will he look at the situation in Salisbury and south Wiltshire, one of the last switchover stations? Is there any hope of accelerating digital switchover for people in rural communities who depend on it more than other people for any possibility of choice and diversity?

Again, I will happily look into the situation in Salisbury and the rural areas of Wiltshire that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and I will write to him.