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Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:00 pm on 15th March 2005.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 2:00 pm, 15th March 2005

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. My officials have just passed me a note, which enables me to tell hon. Members that so far only 14 per cent. of local authorities—but that is one in seven—and nearly one in three registered social landlords do not allow their tenants to install satellites. I suspect that we can deal with the public sector, but we need to get on with that, because such things will take a long time. Many local authorities may ask, "Is this a top priority for us this year? We will put it back a year." Their tenants will be at a disadvantage.

I want to do a further bit of special pleading. The documents that I have read focus on the first television in the household. I understand that, but I think that they dismiss slightly too glibly the point about the second or third telly, in the teenager's bedroom, with a portable aerial; if the Government are to obtain political consensus, and the electorate's acceptance, for the change, they need to reach out to a much larger group of people who may already have digital on the main television but will still see it as a serious inconvenience and be resistant to it.

I gather that work on televisions with portable aerials and so on is continuing, but my political sense leads me not to dismiss that aspect of the matter by saying, "Well, frankly, who cares? If they have two televisions they are probably well enough off and that does not really matter." If we are trying to overcome resistance on the matter—and I suspect that the Secretary of State, or her successor, whoever that will be, will have to do that—we shall need to deal with that issue, to avoid some of the obstacles that might arise.

My priority is the elderly, the vulnerable and the isolated. According to a horrific statistic in research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, one in nine people aged over 65 see family or neighbours less than once a month. Someone living in such isolation is not likely to have a friendly son-in-law who will say, "You plug this in here, and sort out that." There will be no substitute for people going into people's houses in significant numbers and just sorting things out. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that that is what is planned.

I think that this debate will run and run, but I wanted to put down a marker; to clarify whether there will be a resolution of the problems of the parts of my constituency and my hon. Friends' constituencies that do not at present have digital or terrestrial digital; and to ask about the present low digital penetration in the west of England, and why that is in the earlier batch, when that makes life more difficult; but primarily to ask about isolated, elderly and vulnerable people and to seek assurances that they do not have anything to worry about and that the Government plan to tackle those important problems.