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My hon. Friend raised the issue of war crimes. The Government are clear that the crimes committed during the second world war by the Nazis are among the most serious. We remain determined that the UK will not provide a safe haven for anyone guilty of such atrocities. The Metropolitan police continue to investigate all allegations, and immigration powers are in place to revoke leave for suspected war criminals to enter or remain in the UK.

It is important not to forget that Britain is a multi-faith society, quite as much as it is a multi-ethnic and multicultural society. Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs and others form sizeable minorities alongside the majority Christian faith. The Government are committed to engaging with all faith communities. We are working towards ensuring that members of all faiths and none enjoy the same opportunities in life. We work with people of different beliefs but shared values toward common goals. Faith communities contribute to social and community cohesion through those of their values that help to underpin good citizenship, such as altruism, respect for others, ethical behaviour and community solidarity.

We recognise that in the past some well-meaning initiatives might have inadvertently contributed to a sense of division within communities. Although concerns that a section of a community is receiving a preferential level of investment or treatment over, or at the expense of, another section are often unfounded, the Government are determined that the important work that we have embarked on will be undertaken in a manner that promotes community cohesion. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside has demonstrated how she was able to use her experience and background to assist people of another faith who were experiencing discrimination. We should all learn from such examples.

We have established the Faith Communities Consultative Council, as a way of engaging with faith communities. The new body supersedes the Inner Cities Religious Council and the “Working Together” steering group, and covers nine faiths: Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. The council will be administered by and linked with the Department for Communities and Local Government. In addition, many Members of this House and the other House, such as Lord Janner, are doing considerable work on improving inter-faith co-operation.

I should also mention the creation of the new commission for equality and human rights, which we aim to have in place by October 2007. For the first time, there will be institutional support for people experiencing discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief. As hon. Members will be aware, the Government have introduced a range of laws on discrimination, outlawing it in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation, and religion and belief. Later this year, we will introduce regulations to outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the grounds of religion and belief, and
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sexual orientation. We shall continue to look at how to respond to a changing inter-faith integration and cohesion agenda, and to focus on all faiths.

Interfaith engagement and dialogue are part of the glue that binds society together. The Government are deeply committed to dialogue and have brokered Jewish-Muslim dialogue through meetings with imams and rabbis and through engagement with the Three Faiths Forum, which focuses on Muslim, Christian and Jewish dialogue and understanding.

There are nearly 185 interfaith and multifaith and local bodies throughout the country. Those bodies play a key role in bringing together people of different faiths to increase trust, mutual understanding and respect, to help to defuse intercommunity tensions, to build community cohesion, to provide advice and information on religious issues, to foster co-operation on local issues and to work jointly on social and educational projects.

The Government have consolidated their work with faith communities under the auspices of the new Department for Communities and Local Government. The new arrangements put us in a strong position to make a difference. Our focus is on helping communities to prosper through good governance, tackling deprivation, housing, regeneration, empowering communities and improving the local environment. Those are some of the fundamentals of building communities and of building cohesion at their heart. Race and faith issues are seen as an important element of the different strands that need to be knitted together.

I hope that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have found useful my explanation of how we intend to move forward in the area of faith. Britain has for the most part a positive tradition of accepting people of different faiths, races and cultures. I hope that, through the Government working positively with all who are willing, we can ensure that the children of today grow up feeling accepted by society at large.

Last night, the Prime Minister said:

the Jewish community—

The Jewish community in England and in the UK as a whole has made a significant contribution to our society. It has contributed enormously to our diversity and helped to make us a vibrant and successful society. This debate has shown that we ignore at our peril the talents and abilities of any section of our society and of any individual. There are many important challenges ahead of us. We want to build diverse cultures within a framework of integration. I am sure that the Jewish community will continue to be at the forefront of helping us to build a more inclusive and cohesive society.

10.52 am

Sitting suspended.

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Digital Switchover (North-East Wales)

11 am

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Williams. I hope that the conversation over the next half hour will be of interest to you; I suspect that it will.

Television broadcasting provision in north-east Wales in general and Wrexham in particular is complex. In my living room in central Wrexham, it is possible to receive analogue TV signals from three separate regional broadcasting areas: Wales, north-west England and the ITV Central English region. At present, it is difficult to obtain information about which channels individual viewers watch and, in particular, how many viewers in north-east Wales watch out-of-area services from England. In 1999, at the birth of the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh Affairs Committee suggested in its inquiry at Westminster that that figure might be as high as 10 per cent. across Wales. I suspect that in north-east Wales the figure might be higher.

My first request of the Minister is to ask him to commission research, perhaps through Ofcom in Wales, on viewing patterns in north-east Wales. That is not merely a subject of academic interest. At present, only Welsh TV channels engage with the development of civic society in Wales—a development that is now rapid. If viewers in north-east Wales do not watch channels from Wales because the services do not interest them, their disconnection from the rest of Wales will grow, which could have profound implications for devolution in Wales.

Local TV signals in north-east Wales are broadcast from three transmitters: the Wrexham-Rhos transmitter, Winter Hill in north-west England and Wrekin in the ITV Central region. In my living room, the signals vary in quality; Winter Hill is best, Wrexham-Rhos is next and Wrekin is worst. Poorer quality signals blur in analogue but they are still perfectly visible.

I raise the issue now to explore the effect that digital switchover will have on TV reception and whether it will limit my constituents’ choice of the number of channels that they can watch. With digital signals, poorer quality transmission leads to intermittent signals rather than blurring. When transmission is interrupted viewers are much less likely to stick with a channel. After switchover, I want to see maximum choice for my constituents. Those who wish to must be able to receive transmission from Wales and those who wish to must be able to receive transmission from England. If digital switchover means that the habits of a viewer are disregarded overnight, there will be considerable outcry.

I am certain that the possible impact of switchover has not yet registered in the minds of the vast majority of my constituents. The current position is simply unacceptable. Viewers in Wrexham cannot receive digital services from Wales through freeview. Signals come from Winter Hill in north-west England and thus there is no BBC Wales, HTV Wales or S4C on freeview channels. That has the considerable impact on coverage of Welsh affairs that I mentioned earlier. Can the Minister assure me that following switchover, viewers
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in Wrexham, which is the largest town in north Wales, who want to receive freeview digital TV services from Wales will be able to do so?

As I said, I want my constituents to have maximum choice and I believe that those who want to watch English television too should have the right so to do. Will it be possible for individual viewers to choose which digital signal they receive? At present, different regions can be viewed on the same television set. Given the break-up effect of poor digital signals, is it possible that choice could be reduced by switchover because channels such as ITV Central might no longer be available to viewers? What steps can a viewer take to ensure that the number of regional channels that are available through analogue signals can be viewed on digital in the future?

I would also be grateful if the Minister clarified what steps will be taken to ensure that the cost of maintaining viewers’ level of choice will be met. I anticipate that the costs will include those of not only a digital box, the idea of which is beginning to enter the public consciousness, but additional aerials. If one might require an additional aerial to preserve a signal from north-west England and the ITV Central region, for example, the cost of securing it will be considerable.

Given that the changes are driven by Government policy and that individuals on poorer incomes might not be in a position to fund such extension of reception, will the Government take any steps to support the provision of additional aerials and boxes? In short, what help will there be for consumers who are prejudiced by digital switchover?

As the Minister knows, the changes in Wales will happen in 2009-10. I have been fortunate to receive helpful briefings from Ofcom and Digital UK, and to have had a number of discussions with broadcasters from Wales in particular but also with some from outside Wales. I want to thank them for their help. There is a common interest in ensuring that the digital switchover happens and is successful. I have grappled for some while with the complexities of switchover in order to get my head around them, and it is clear that Digital UK has a big job on its hands in explaining the implications of switchover not only to the general public but to the media and politicians, who at this stage have not appreciated the scale of what is to occur. I have found that one of the most helpful phrases is “analogue switch-off”, rather than “switchover”. The phrase “switch-off” makes it clear that what is there at the moment will disappear. That has not yet entered the public consciousness as something that will have a profound impact.

It is clear that, for the reasons that I have set out, switchover will have a localised impact. It is vital that the information from Digital UK should be localised. What plans are in place to focus on localised information from Digital UK? Like many others, I recently saw the beginnings of the national advertising campaign, and I have benefited from a briefing meeting with Digital UK, for which I am grateful. We need more localised information.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Some of the issues that face my hon. Friend’s constituency are differently cast in mine. It seems that there is an enormous inequity as freeview is not available to many households in
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Wales, which is worse off than other parts of the country in that respect. When freeview becomes available to everybody because of analogue switch-off, as my hon. Friend calls it, it will be only a poorer version of the freeview that is available in many rural and semi-rural areas of the UK. Will that not make a lot of people feel that they are not getting the same deal from the BBC as the people of Chelsea and Westminster?

Ian Lucas: Absolutely; I echo my hon. Friend’s concern. My other concern, based on my dislike of monopolies, is the suggestion that satellite television rather than freeview can be used to allow access to television services. That is unfair in the extreme. Those of us who hold strong views about Sky and who do not want to use satellite services do not wish to be forced to obtain a satellite aerial from a particular broadcaster because it is the only way to obtain a secure television signal. It is important that we work to improve freeview reception. I welcome freeview—it is a tremendous innovation—but the service needs to be broadened and spread to as many households as possible.

I do not want to be negative about the digital switchover. Digital television has tremendous potential, and I know that the local media community in Wrexham has a great appetite for services to be broadcast that represent what is happening there. We in north-east Wales feel that we do not receive a satisfactory level of coverage from existing services; the BBC within Wales focuses on other areas of Wales to the exclusion of our culture, and services from the north-west of England do not generally cover our area.

There is a great appetite and capacity among those in the media community in north-east Wales, especially at Yale college and the North East Wales institute at Wrexham, to explore digital television and especially local digital television. About two years ago, the BBC in Wales held a laboratory broadcasting experiment in Wrexham for a week, which led to the successful, high-quality production of local television; it was viewed within a room and not broadcast, but it showed the capacity to make programmes and the appetite for viewing local news in a more localised manner.

One of my major concerns about freeview is the development of gaming shows and channels that seem to appear from nowhere, and without discussion or consultation about their content. I hope that the strength of appetite for local digital television will in due course be registered by the Government, and that it will be taken forward in order to benefit areas such as north-east Wales, and particularly Wrexham.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to put my concerns on to the radar. It is important that Members of Parliament engage with the issue, because we are leaders in our communities and can put such matters before our constituents. I am pleased to have seen some local recognition of the debate, and pleased that the issue has now been discussed. Of course, that discussion is coupled with the launch of Digital UK.

The Government are making good progress with the roll-out of digital television, and I commend them for that, but I hope that the local issues that I have raised—I make no apology for them—are addressed as early as possible, because the earlier they are dealt with, the better the resolution will be and the more positive
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the outcome will be for digital television.

11.13 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (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 the Member for Rhondda (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
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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.

Chris Bryant: Yes, everybody wants to go digital in Rhondda because they want to watch Channel 4 instead of—or at least as well as—S4C, and they want to watch some decent rugby. The way in which the Government have structured broadcasting in the UK and broadcasters have managed to attract rights is deliberately geared towards making people go in that direction. However, the difficulty is that the only way to go digital in Rhondda is by paying money to Sky. I can count the dishes outside the houses in Rhondda to find out how many have gone digital. The problem is that people have been waiting for some time for a freesat service from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. I hope that the Minister will bash some of those broadcasters’ heads together to provide a non-Sky freesat option as soon as possible, so that people in Rhondda have some choice.

Mr. Woodward: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. There is a need for a little head bashing, although not necessarily only inside the BBC and one or two of the other channels—it should take place across the whole industry.

My hon. Friend makes a good point about his constituents. I am sure he is out there every night, assiduously counting the number of satellite dishes going up. There are short-term issues that have to be addressed, but those must not mask our opportunity. He mentioned why people in his constituency and elsewhere may have gone digital—to access particular television stations. However, by the time digital switchover is completed in 2012, there will be literally scores of channels and opportunities of different kinds, not least through the potential of high-speed broadband.

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