Analogue Television Switch-off

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:47 pm on 15th March 2005.

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Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2:47 pm, 15th March 2005

I will in a second. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that we should be talking about the input, and before he intervened—he can happily do so again—I was about to say that he was 100 per cent. right. Unfortunately, a large number of those who have been buying digital television sets simply have not got that message and have been buying things that may not be helpful to them for quite some time. I think he agrees that I have covered the point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale raised a number of concerns about technical feasibility in his area, although he was in no way knocking the skills of the people there, and he rightly pointed that out. He asked whether it would be possible to resolve the technical problems under the very tight and, as he put it, challenging timetable for his area. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute, he took up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon about affordability. Several such issues have been raised in reports, not least the Ofcom consumer panel's November 2004 report, which states that there is an urgent need to consider who the disadvantaged groups will be who might lose out and what support they will need. The panel drew particular, but not exclusive, attention to the over-75s.

Although the overall envelope of financial help might be in the region of £250 million to £400 million to provide such people with support, it is worth reflecting that the panel estimates that the cost of providing such support to those aged 75 and over will be between £134 million and £270 million. Of course, others will have to be considered.

There are concerns about whether we are driving forward enthusiasm for take-up and dealing with the technophobes without 7-year-old children, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East put it. I assume, from the way in which he said that, that he does not put himself in that category, so if he wants to pop around to my flat afterwards to tune my video in, I would be grateful; I have been trying to get it right for two months.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northavon raised a particularly important issue, which was picked up by others: houses in multiple occupation. The question of what options are available has already been asked. An option for some is to get Freeview, but it is not available to people who do not have access to Channel Five, such as many of my constituents in Bath, so that is not an option.

The second option is Freesat, which costs money—£150, give or take. That is an option for many, but not for those who live in private property covered by planning legislation that does not allow a satellite dish. Those who rent property from a registered social landlord or a local authority are completely stuck unless the landlord or authority has got their act together and done something about the situation.

It is important that we acknowledge those issues. Above all, I want the Government to give clearer leadership and to announce their preferred date, rather than the one to which everybody else says that they should agree.