Digital Television

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 13th June 2005.

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:30 pm, 13th June 2005

What discussions her Department has held with Ofcom regarding its recent pledge to undertake research to explore the means of bringing digital television to a higher proportion of UK households than the 98.5 per cent. reached by analogue.

Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Media and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I welcome Ofcom's announcement on 1 June, which should ensure that digital terrestrial coverage at switchover matches existing analogue coverage—around 98.5 per cent. of households. I particularly welcome Ofcom's commitment to consider how to bring digital television to yet more people beyond that 98.5 per cent.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for that reply. However, he may be aware that 30 years after the Crawford report on universal broadcasting coverage, 3 per cent. of homes in Wales are still unable to receive television signals. Indeed, 36,000 homes in Wales cannot receive public service Welsh broadcasting. Given that little improvement appears likely before digital switchover in 2008, will he undertake to meet a delegation of Welsh MPs to find a solution to that disgraceful state of affairs?

Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Media and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I would be happy to meet a delegation of Welsh MPs. Digital terrestrial television will help the hon. Gentleman's constituents, once we switch off the analogue signal—I believe that there is little digital terrestrial coverage in his constituency at present. Of course, consumers who want digital television before then can get satellite, and broadband television is in the pipeline, which will further help his constituents.

Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

My hon. Friend will be aware that the strength and reliability of the digital signal leaves a lot to be desired, not only in rural areas such as the rugged and remote SAS training grounds of Brecon and Radnorshire, but in my constituency, especially in respect of Channel 5. What reassurance can he give my constituents and the House that those issues will be satisfactorily addressed before a decision is made on digital switchover?

Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Media and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

We will consider all those issues as part of our policy development for digital switchover, which should help his constituents receive digital terrestrial. That is why we have committed to maintain the current level of coverage, but Ofcom is also considering whether it can help my hon. Friend's constituents to get digital television in any other ways. For example, by 2012, if someone has electricity, they should be able to receive television through broadband, and that would help his constituents receive Channel 5.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

What steps has the Minister taken to ensure that people living in social housing and multiple dwelling units, who rely on landlords to provide digital reception facilities, will be able to carry on watching television after digital switchover occurs?

Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Media and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue and, in the pilots that the Department will carry out on digital switchover, we will consider it carefully. In particular, we will consider whether the aerials on shared and social housing need to be improved to ensure that people get adequate reception.