Digital Switchover (North-East Wales)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:13 am on 14th June 2006.

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Photo of Shaun Woodward Shaun Woodward Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Creative Industries & Tourism) 11:13 am, 14th June 2006

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ian Lucas on initiating this debate on digital television and the digital switchover as it affects his constituency. He is right to want to put his concerns on the radar. Indeed, he should make no apology for raising local issues. Everyone in the country has a huge opportunity. It is right that Members of Parliament should take a strong and extensive interest in the subject because of the changes and the opportunities that their constituents will undoubtedly have once we complete the analogue switch-off in 2012. I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk about what the switchover and the switch-off of the analogue signal will mean generally in the United Kingdom and specifically for people in north-east Wales and in my hon. Friend's constituency.

My hon. Friend raised a number of important questions that I hope to answer, and those that I cannot answer I shall refer to Ofcom. He spoke about a number of specific issues, some of which will need to be explored further. I will be happy to write to him and to meet him in order to explore the reality of the matter during the next few years before the change comes into effect in his constituency.

As my hon. Friend said, it is important to recognise the enormous opportunity that the switch-off and the digital revolution will bring to the UK and to his constituents. However, we may not yet have taken on board quite what that revolution will bring. Indeed, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee said in its recent report on the digital switchover that we might almost be hitting the "lowest common denominator" in our vision of what it could bring about.

Yes, it will mean that people will have access to many more channels—channels that are currently enjoyed by most people in the UK, but not all. When the full programme of switch-off is complete, and the signal is boosted once everyone has access to digital, people will have a great deal more than the 33 channels, which is sometimes all we speak of. If we get it right, if we manage to get the synthesis between ourselves and the software and hardware manufacturers—those that make the televisions and those who provide the services, through whichever platform—we will truly have revolutionised the way in which people can enjoy all kinds of services, of which the television channels are only a part. Indeed, companies such as Microsoft Entertainment are beginning to explore the full potential of digital television.

I hope that my hon. Friend's constituents, like those of my hon. Friend Chris Bryant and others, will be able to enjoy all the benefits. We are already beginning to see a glimmer of that, with people being able to enjoy things such as the World cup and using the red button to gain access to all kinds of other dimensions of the game.

By the end of March this year, almost three-quarters of UK households had converted at least one television set. It is worth pausing on that point, because in some ways the debate has been characterised as if the Government were forcing people to make the conversion. That is not the case. We will have switched off everything by 2012, but three-quarters of households have already embarked on this great venture. They are not being pushed into doing it. They want to do it—and for a very good reason.

People realise the opportunities. Consumers in Britain and in my hon. Friend's constituency are demonstrating that they want to be part of the change. None the less, we must recognise that some out there have not yet taken on board the advantages that digital television can bring. On the evidence that we have seen, some may feel that, because of their age—the most likely reason—or because of disability and not because of income, it is too great a challenge at the moment.

Part of our policy is to ensure that the digital revolution and the change to digital television is available for everybody, and that we provide help or know-how to those for whom age or disability are barriers to taking it up. In trials that we have conducted—for example, we held one in Bolton—we have found that, if we offer help to people, regardless of age or disability, not only do they want to do it, not only can they do it, but if we ask them afterwards how they feel about it, 98 per cent. of them say that it has made their lives better.