Digital Switchover

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 27th March 2007.

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Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Liberal Democrat, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 2:30 pm, 27th March 2007

What recent discussions he has had with the chief executive of Digital UK on digital switchover in Scotland.

Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Liberal Democrat, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

The Minister will be aware that people in vast areas of rural Scotland will not be able to receive through their aerials the full range of digital services that are available to the rest of the country. What action will he take to ensure that rural Scotland does not receive a second-tier service for digital terrestrial television?

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter that I have acknowledged previously from the Dispatch Box. Essentially, this is a matter of engineering. The full suite of programmes can be broadcast from the main transmission masts, but that cannot happen from the relay transmitters because the signal is weaker. That is where the two-tier element comes in. On Thursday, I am due to meet Vicki Nash of Ofcom Scotland at the organisation's office in Glasgow. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will raise the matter with her, and that I will get back to him.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I assure the Minister that that issue was raised at the borders digital forum last week—but may I draw his attention to another issue? Digital TV providers are rightly promoting early adoption of the technology required for digital switchover, which means that older people and people in vulnerable groups are already converting their sets ahead of the availability of the financial assistance scheme later in the year. Will he explain why his colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport do not support the provision of retrospective support for those who convert now and would otherwise have been entitled to that financial assistance?

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

The whole point about assistance is to help those who are experiencing difficulties converting. Obviously, if people have converted they might not have been eligible for that assistance—and the hon. Gentleman knows that there is always a problem with retrospective payments in such cases. However, I hope that he will be reassured to learn that I will add that particular point to the ever-growing agenda for my meeting with Vicki Nash on Thursday.