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Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are about to have a major debate that is time limited, so I must appeal for short questions, as well as short answers.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart): I welcome the White Paper from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry, and I look forward to debating it in a little more detail in the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. However, I should like some clarification. First, will my right hon. Friend give a total assurance that the BBC's ability to be the highest-quality broadcaster in the world, as well as

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one of its most innovative, will not be affected by the proposals? Secondly, will he ensure that that ability extends to the very good website that the BBC operates, and which it will develop in the coming years? Nothing must be done to prevent the BBC from using that to give people throughout the world the quality that the corporation can offer.

Mr. Smith: The quality of BBC programming and production values will be enhanced by our proposals in the statement. That will, of course, apply to the excellent BBC online service, as it will do to BBC television programme making.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): I welcome what is overwhelmingly a sensible and robust set of proposals-- I felt that the Conservative response was a little churlish--and it would be difficult for me to do otherwise, because the proposals echo many recently published Lib-Dem proposals; perhaps it is comforting that, in the digital era, we still have repeats.

I turn to a repeat of a less welcome nature. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the White Paper's proposals were trailed significantly in the press today and at the weekend. What briefing took place of journalists for last Sunday's newspapers?

How will the relationship between Ofcom and the Competition Commission work to prevent duplication? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the probable formation of one ITV will not in any way reduce regional programming and regional production? Will his commitment to ensure that ITV is available on satellite television extend only to that one ITV--in other words, London--or will all ITV regional companies be accessible on satellite?

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the future of BBC World, which he did not mention in his statement? In the digital era, it is surely a little odd for the Foreign Office to maintain that it should support the BBC World Service--radio services involve technology from a bygone era and, although radio is still important, it is only one medium--while there are no proposals to ensure that BBC World is similarly supported.

Mr. Smith: In relation to briefings of the press, I gave an interview to The Daily Telegraph for its Saturday edition and to the Financial Times for this morning's edition. I spoke only in the most general terms about the principles lying behind all that we are seeking to do. Other briefings, I have to confess, I know nothing about.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Ofcom and the Competition Commission. They will work together to regulate the media from the point of view of competition policy. Ofcom will clearly have a role in closely advising the Office of Fair Trading in its approach to these matters.

On any move towards a single ITV and its impact on regional production, we set out in chapter 4 of the White Paper some very tough provisions on the need to maintain regional strength. For example, one provision states that if a regional licence changes hands at any stage, Ofcom will assess the regional proposals that are being made and enhance regional requirements at that point. If ownership changes, regional requirements will be strengthened, rather than diminished, in the process.

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The hon. Gentleman asked about the accessibility of ITV companies on satellite. The answer is that, so far as possible, we would want to ensure that the relevant regional programme was available to the relevant region. That is the principle that we want to set in place, although it may of course be necessary to sort out some technical issues to achieve it.

On the World Service, radio may be an old technology, but it is a very popular, versatile and high-quality technology. It offers ready access to virtually all communities across the world, and the World Service does an excellent job in using that medium to make impartial news and current affairs information available to the world.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): My right hon. Friend mentioned the need to allow disabled people access to broadcasting services. He will be aware that about 1,000 people in every constituency rely to a greater or lesser extent on subtitling. What measures will he introduce to ensure far greater availability of subtitling outside the traditional analogue channels than there is now?

Mr. Smith: Such matters will rest in tier 1 of the three-tier regulation system for broadcasting, which will apply to all broadcasters. We shall look to Ofcom to ensure that subtitling is enhanced beyond what is available at the moment.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): The Secretary of State has given birth to a White Paper after a long pregnancy, which began during the previous Government when I was a Minister. I remember very well many of the better bits of what he has announced. I commiserate with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who should have made this statement. I hope that he has not lost control of the matters that we gained for the DTI and Oftel, such as the electronic programme guide and the technology under the Broadcasting Act 1996, when a Bill, because it is crucial that those matters are in the hands of the DTI if the commercial and creative industries are to be best promoted.

Will the Secretary of State please make it clear what is intended for digital television, because that is the unspoken part. The right hon. Gentleman is so passive about this issue. Surely it is no good waiting for 95 per cent. coverage if what is needed is a public-private sector partnership to get the thing going. In a multi-digital channel age, it is not enough to announce the semi-continuation of the BBC and the statutory position of Channel 4. Public service broadcasting now covers a multiplicity of channels and various means of delivery, and we must completely redefine how public service broadcasting can best be achieved, rather than continually backing just the BBC.

Mr. Smith: First, may I say what a great pleasure it is to see the hon. Gentleman in his place.

The DTI and DCMS are at one on the need to ensure that responsibility for access to the new media--especially issues such as the electronic programme guide and access for programme makers to satellite and cable channels--comes under the framework that we are establishing.

On digital switch-over, we are right to say that we do not want to switch off the analogue signal until we are absolutely certain that everyone who can receive the

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analogue signal at the moment will be able to receive digital signals in the future. It would be folly for any Government or any party to suggest that they wanted to do otherwise. That and the test of affordability are the two fundamental tests that we have put in place. We have set a target timetable of 2006-10, and we believe that that can be achieved, but those tests must be met.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As my right hon. Friend knows, the Independent Television Commission has the power to monitor the commitments made by franchise holders on the delivery of programmes. What in the White Paper will ensure that franchise holders of lucrative contracts deliver the programmes that they promised to deliver when they were awarded the franchises?

Mr. Smith: We propose a stronger process to ensure that that happens. ITV franchise holders will be expected to issue a statement every year of their programming, scheduling and public service priorities. They will have to be tested against that statement during the year, and Ofcom will be expected to analyse how they have performed against that statement before they make the next one.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Given that the same sure management hands have presided over the finances of the dome, the letting of the new lottery contract and Oftel's control of prostitutes' cards in telephone boxes, and given the analogous delays in the development of the Financial Services Authority, what is the latest possible date for the commencement of the powers that the Secretary of State envisages?

Mr. Smith: First, let me say that we do not intend to put the New Millennium Experience Company in charge of Ofcom.

As for timing, it is proposed that we should seek to legislate to implement the White Paper at an early stage in a new Parliament--provided, of course, that we succeed in persuading the electorate to give us their trust.

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and, in particular, his robust comments about preserving regional identity. He did, however, mention a fairly significant change in the way in which the system would be regulated. He talked of a lighter touch and of transparent self-regulation. Will he say a little more about how that is likely to operate in practice?

Will the existing licence conditions of Channel 3 companies continue in force? There is also the question of regional regulation. Does my right hon. Friend anticipate that Ofcom will have regional offices? Will it have a Scottish office, for example, and will it have a Scottish board member?

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