Office of Communications Bill [Lords]

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Dr. Howells: As the hon. Member for Esher and Walton informed us, the amendment would place a similar requirement on Ofcom to one that is in force under section 33 of the Broadcasting Act 1996, upon which his distinguished fingerprints are clear. Section 33 requires the Secretary of State to keep under review the development of digital terrestrial television, the availability of existing analogue services in digital form and the possession of digital receiving equipment in order to decide when analogue services should be switched off. For that purpose, the 1996 Act requires the Secretary of State to ask the ITC and the BBC for a report on or before the fourth anniversary of the day on which the first television multiplex was granted.

The hon. Member for Esher and Walton will be pleased to learn that I made a formal request to the ITC and to the BBC in December 2001 jointly to undertake a review into the progress towards switchover, and that report must be submitted to me within 12 months. We have heard some fascinating contributions on this important issue. During the course of the substantive communications Bill, we shall hear many more informed contributions, but in the context of the Bill, the Government oppose the new clause.

Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful for the positive contributions from all those who have participated in the debate, and I am especially grateful for the contributions from my hon. Friends.

Column Number: 264

I welcome the comments by the hon. Members for Sittingbourne and Sheppey and for Milton Keynes, North-East. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield said, we are considering various types of communication such as television, internet and mobile phones. As the useful document circulated by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology states, using television as a monitor for viewing internet content is something that all of us would support and approve. It can only help the Government to achieve greater take-up of digital television if we can encourage digital television operators to provide full internet access through set-top boxes using the phone line to send and receive data. That is something of which we are mindful.

We can argue, although this is not the context in which to do so, what the take-up by consumers should be. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton did that when he was the Minister responsible for the Broadcasting Act 1996. It is important to place on the record that we want the Government to ensure that Ofcom has a duty to make these proposals, and we would want to proceed with the vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Division No. 9]

Fabricant, Michael McIntosh, Miss Anne Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Taylor, Mr. Ian Watkinson, Angela

Grogan, Mr. John Howells, Dr. Kim Jackson, Glenda Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Miller, Mr. Andrew Pearson, Mr. Ian White, Brian Wyatt, Derek

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

The Chairman: On behalf of the Committee, I thank the Officers of the House, the police, the Hansard staff and all concerned who have facilitated the Committee's discussions.

Committee rose at five minutes to Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. Roger (Chairman)
Allan, Mr.
Fabricant, Mr.
Farrelly, Paul
Grogan, Mr.
Howells, Dr.
Jackson, Glenda
Kemp, Mr.
Linton, Martin
McIntosh, Miss
Miller, Mr.
Pearson, Mr.
Rammell, Mr.
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Thomas, Mr. Simon
Watkinson, Angela
White, Brian
Wyatt, Mr. Derek

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