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Digital Radio Switchover

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

The “Digital Britain” White Paper was clear that analogue radio, via FM, will continue beyond 2015. After the digital radio upgrade is completed, the vacated FM spectrum will be allocated to community radio stations and a new tier of ultra-local commercial radio.

I congratulate the Minister on his new position, not least because I am a former pupil of Erdington grammar school in his constituency. As he knows, 52 per cent. of listeners have not converted to digital audio broadcasting. Many groups of listeners, including the blind, are concerned that their analogue radios may be turned off in due course. That includes, of course, all those analogue radios in cars. What hope for the future can the Minister give those groups?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s congratulations, and thank her for her adornment of my constituency. To answer her two questions quickly, on help for the blind, there is an important issue to do with audio description for radio stations along the spectrum. We have been working for 18 months—and continue to work—with manufacturers to make sure that sets that provide that description for the blind are made available at an affordable price in the digital future. On cars, we are working with the car industry to ensure that all new cars after 2013 contain digital radios. Technology already exists to convert FM receivers to digital in cars.

Is it not a fact that the BBC would have more money to improve coverage and content if it spent less public money on excessive salaries and excessive expenses?

My right hon. Friend must take that up with Sir Michael Lyons and the BBC Trust. Sir Michael will perhaps be glad of the opportunity to take up those matters, because I am sure that he is conscious that he and the trust need to account to the public for them.