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Michael Fabricant: I am happy to talk at some length if there are to be sedentary interventions from the Minister. The hon. Gentleman made many such interventions in Committee, as a direct result of which our proceedings were elongated.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It is not a question of what the hon. Gentleman hears or does not hear. The occupant of the Chair decides these matters. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now address the new clause.
It is absolutely right that Wales and Scotland should have an Ofcom office to provide symmetry with existing provision. The Minister will know that the Independent Television Commission, and, previously, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, had regional offices and offices in Scotland and Wales as well as in England. Of course, they also had offices in Northern Ireland, and I am not quite clear as to why Northern Ireland was not included in the new clause. As devolution has taken place in Wales and Scotland, it seems absolutely right that Ofcom should represent the interests of Wales and Scotland.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion has already raised the question of analogue switch-off, which is a moot point at the moment. The Government say that analogue switch-off should take place, but no date has been set. As I understand it, analogue switch-off will occur when 95 per cent. of the population have access to digital television. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, because of topography, 99 per cent. of the population in England might have such access, while much less than 95 per cent. of the population in Wales and Scotland might have such access. There must be a voice in Ofcom, first, to ensure that analogue switch-off does not happen before adequate coverage has been achieved in Scotland, Wales andI shall addNorthern Ireland. Secondly, there must be a voice in Ofcom to promote the provision of digital services in Wales and Scotland.
As I said in an intervention, we cannot necessarily rely on satellite transmission for the provision of digital television. I am sure that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, NorthEast (Brian White) will rightly say that this an issue not just about television but about interactivity. Interactivity is not available from geostationary satellites over the equator, although it may be available from low earth-orbit satellite constellations. I do not think that such satellites are currently up and running, although I stand to be corrected by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, NorthEast. Microwave facilities could be made available, but as the hon. Member for Ceredigion rightly pointed out, health concerns exist
Mr. Ian Taylor: This is the second time that such concerns have been raised. Will my hon. Friend note that, this week, scientists have again made it emphatically clear that emissions from masts are at a fraction of the safety levels that have been set? The scare tactics perpetrated by some newspapers and some of the so-called environmental groups in this country are nothing short of a scandal. We must lay this ghost quickly.
Michael Fabricant: I am happy to acknowledge that point. I amdare I say ita fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, which produced a similar report five or six months ago. It is surprising that the main media in this country are not doing much to put this lie to bed. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. Nevertheless, my point was that there is a perceived danger, albeit that that perception is wrong, as I tell my constituents.
The third reason why we need to have a representative on the main board of Ofcom from Wales and Scotland is the provision of broadband. In all fairness to the hon. Member for Rhondda, he has consistently argued for that. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion said, Britain does not have a great deal to boast about when it comes to the distribution of broadband in the United Kingdom. Although we have one of the highest levels of internet penetration in the world, we are 22nd in terms of the provision of broadband, and the level of provision in Scotland and Wales is far lower. It is particularly vital to make broadband available in Scotland and Wales if satellite communication is not available for the reasons that I gave earlier.
I support the points made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion. Wales and Scotland will suffer a technical deficit if someone does not fight their corner. The best way to have someone fighting their corner is to have representatives from Wales, Scotland andyesNorthern Ireland on the board of Ofcom.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I remind the House at the outset of my pecuniary interest in BT. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) on securing this debate. I am sure that those hon. Members present who were members of the Committee will recall that we discussed this matter at length.
As we said in Committee, new clause 4 calls for an Ofcom office to be set up in Wales and Scotland. The amendments grouped with it suggest that the membership of Ofcom should include a representative of Welsh and Scottish interests and that, in appointing those representatives, the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament shall be consulted. Amendment No. 19 suggests that the membership of every committee established by Ofcomwhich seems excessive, if the hon. Member for Ceredigion does not mind my saying sowill include a representative for Wales and a representative for Scotland, and that Ofcom shall consult the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament in making those appointments.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion, with his usual eloquence, also talked about the impact in his homeland of analogue switch-off and the switchover to digital. It is regrettable that we cannot discuss that in the context of the United Kingdom, but perhaps we can return to that on Third Reading.
As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) demonstrated his knowledge of Wales, which is greater than mine. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) intervened briefly to speak about the vexed question of telephone masts and scaremongering. All hon. Members receive constituency mail on the subject. I have had cause to raise the matter with BT, which assumed that I was talking about a mast for mobile telephones. Most of the problems in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom relate to such masts. I know that that is a matter of great consequence in your part of East Anglia, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and in the Dedham vale. One of my constituents has been fitted with a pacemaker, and real concerns have been raised about what could happen.
Michael Fabricant: The average strength of signal at a mobile telephone mast is 80 watts, compared with 40 million watts at an ultra-high frequency television mast, yet people near Sutton Coldfield or Crystal Palace have not dropped dead because their pacemakers have stopped.
The official Opposition understand the strength of feeling of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and the other hon. Members who support the amendments, but we do not share their enthusiasm for them. I do, however, support the White Paper proposal that formal consultation