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Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the BBC appears to spend more and more time advertising its digital channels? People can choose to go digital, but it is galling for those who do not have it to see the increasing in-house advertising taking up programming space.

Paul Holmes: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but given that 75 per cent. of households have already switched to digital it would be remiss of the BBC or any other provider not to advertise its digital services. In terms of encouraging the 25 per cent. who have not switched to do so, it would be remiss of anyone involved in broadcasting not to advertise what will, in just a few years’ time, be the only source of television broadcasting.

Ofcom has estimated an average cost of £100 per household, although that figure could rise to £300 if aerials have to be altered. Some 10 per cent. of aerials are likely to require modification. For the 7 million households that might be affected by the Bill, that gives a total cost of £700 million. Another hon. Member suggested £6 million and I have heard higher figures suggested. When will the Government produce some figures? The Secretary of State, in parliamentary answers, has said that the Government cannot reveal the estimated cost because that would bias the tendering process that will get under way shortly. In many tendering processes, the estimated costs are disclosed to enable the bidders to put together a package that meets or betters the expectations and estimates. In many instances, it is part of the bidding process in both the private and public sectors. As long as all bidders are given the same estimated costs, it would not breach competition rules and would not give one person an advantage over another. Given the estimated costs to Parliament so we can take an informed decision during the passage of the Bill, it will surely not prejudice any issues on the bidding process.

The Bill effectively gives the Secretary of State carte blanche to alter at will major and significant parts of the Bill once it has passed through this place. For example, clause 5(1) provides for the agreement between the BBC and the Secretary of State to be changed, without the consent of Parliament, at the whim of the Secretary of State and without any further recourse to Parliament once the Bill is passed. It is intended to allow the scheme to be updated as it progresses, but effectively gives the Secretary of State total freedom to make further demands on the BBC without any parliamentary scrutiny.

Clause 2 provides power for the Secretary of State to prescribe, by order, the precise kinds of information that can be supplied under clause 1. Once again, we do not know what information the Secretary of State might, at any given stage, decide to prescribe, and the clause gives the Secretary of State total freedom to prescribe far more information than Parliament, if it were allowed to discuss the matter, might be willing to give at this stage. When the Bill has been through Committee and Third Reading it will be too late—we will no longer be able to contribute to the process. The Bill is far too permissive in the powers that the Secretary of State wishes to accord herself.

Discussions between the Secretary of State and the BBC have been happening late in the process, but they
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have not been made public. It looks as though Parliament is to debate the Bill, vote it through and take it through Committee without being privy to all the detail of what is happening, what the requirements are and what the costs will be. Parliament should have much more clarity on those issues rather than be asked to give the Government a free hand to do as they like.

With regard to illegal disclosure of information issues, the Bill asks the House to abandon the tried and tested standard of UK law—that people are innocent until proven guilty. That will be subject to detailed discussion in Committee in January, but if satisfactory answers are not forthcoming at that stage, the Government can be assured that that part of the Bill will face a very rough ride in the other place, where the Government have already suffered setbacks in recent years in their attempt to introduce the concept of “guilty until proven innocent” in other contexts.

Other issues arise. One of the defences under the Bill is that the person concerned can say, “I believed that I was acting lawfully,” but how can we establish what a person believed in retrospect? Do we just take the person’s word for it? How will proof of innocence be tested, or is it meaningless? If it is not an offence to release summary data that do not contain personal information for regions, how will the reverse burden of proof be applied if a summary allows people to be identified because of the very small number affected in certain areas? How contextual will the offence be and how can it be applied fairly when data sets are so variable in size across the country?

The Bill does not make specific provision to prosecute a sub-contractor—I understand that it was intended to and may be amended later—but only the people directly employed by the BBC or the Secretary of State. What, then, will prevent sub-contractors from using or selling the sensitive information that we will pass to them if they are not specifically named in the Bill in that way? Many sub-contractors throughout the country will receive lists of names and addresses of vulnerable people in their areas—sensitive information that we in Parliament must be sure cannot be abused by anyone further down the supply chain.

It is not an offence under the Bill deliberately or maliciously to inform a contractor or sub-contractor that the data may be used or disclosed freely, so there needs to be a way to prosecute employees of the BBC or the Secretary of State who misinform contractors about their responsibilities. If the detail is not clear before Committee stage, we need a draft of the statutory instrument that will clarify the prescribed data and all the offences so that we are clear, before we agree to the Bill’s passage, about how those offences would operate.

Many technical issues arise from the process. Late as it is, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has not given the industry a clear brief about the specifications for the equipment required for the big switchover that will affect up to 7 million households, yet the Department of Trade and Industry stated earlier that the industry would need quite a lead time in order to develop that equipment. That was a year ago, but up to now the industry has not been given the specifications to start working on it.

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There is a danger of all that becoming a classic Government information technology procurement fiasco—as with the individual learning accounts or the Department for Work and Pensions and NHS projects—as costs spiral out of control because the brief for the equipment is too vague or undefined at the start or keeps changing throughout the process. We must avoid the problem of the Government constantly amending the contracts.

Given the present vague data available to work on and the increasingly short time scale within which to operate the scheme, there is a danger that the industry will not want to bid for the delivery. We need clear terms for the scheme and we need to know what the contractors will be expected to deliver for a fair tendering process. If DCMS wants to shift its risks on to the contractor, it must also hand over full control of the project—otherwise DCMS must retain responsibility, as well as control. Which of the two is it to be? It cannot be both. Will there be a choice of equipment at switchover and will the equipment be usable by the full range of elderly and disabled people who are eligible under the scheme? For example, although it is not strictly part of digital switchover, there is a very large Government procurement programme for the equipment, so what a wasted opportunity if the Government do not specify as part of their requirements that the equipment should have a return path capability built into it. If that happened, the people who secured access to digital in that way could also start to access all the e-government that local government, for example, has been obliged to provide. Those people could then access it from home via that method.

What training provision will be put in place to help people use the new equipment? I am thinking of my 80-year-old mother, who lives in Sheffield. I tried to explain it all to her last weekend. One quick explanation of how the equipment works once it is installed will simply not be enough. I understand that the two small pilot projects that have taken place found exactly that—that one explanation to people in that category is insufficient.

Finally, environmental issues also have to be considered. Let us start with just the single issue of set-top boxes, which cost a typical household £30 extra in electricity while they are on standby around the clock. If we multiply that by however many millions of houses use it, the figures start to reach hundreds of millions of units of energy consumption unnecessarily wasted unless the right specifications switch off after a set period or, if that is not possible because of the delayed recording capabilities, switch to the minimum power stand-down in a short period of time. The industry tells me that it is perfectly feasible, but will the Government enforce the specifications when they are eventually sorted out?

A third of recently tested digital TVs did not meet strict energy efficiency criteria. The Government should have taken the lead in encouraging the industry to produce cleaner and greener equipment. Carbon emissions will go up as a result of digital switchover. The production of waste electronics, as defined in the WEEE directive that was mentioned earlier, will inevitably increase as a result of the switchover from analogue to digital.

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The Government knew for a long time that there was going to be a problem with recycling fridges, but they waited for years until the last minute, so we saw the nonsense of fridge mountains around the country. There was one in my Chesterfield constituency, awaiting the provision of the equipment necessary for recycling. More recently and on a slightly smaller scale, we had the same problem with the recycling of car parts, oil, brake linings and so forth. The DCMS and the DTI must learn from the farce of the fridge mountain and ensure that we do not have a WEEE mountain, to coin a phrase.

Finally, we support the Bill’s principle of switchover, but so much more detail is needed—and very quickly if the Committee is only two or three weeks away in January—if we are to consider the Bill in a worthwhile way. If the major project that is to be delivered by the Bill is to happen, we need to know the specifications and costs, but as yet, they are a complete mystery to us all.

5.59 pm

Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) who, in his thoughtful contribution, illustrated perfectly why the Bill deals with such a complex issue, why great care is needed and why it is essential to protect vulnerable people as proposed.

I am glad that the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) raised one or two important issues of detail and even acknowledged the complexity of the issues, but that followed a rather disappointing bit of knockabout, which is really not appropriate either to the issue as a whole or to the specific measure before us today.

I do not know why the Conservatives are so unambitious for the United Kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman has looked at all the issues with any seriousness, he must know that natural migration is limited. Natural migration is the way in which many people have chosen to switch to digital, but there then comes a tipping point. As the tip takes place and there is a need to switch off analogue to allow for a boost to digital, we must protect people who perhaps do not want to spend money or to make the choice for themselves. That is why the Bill is so important.

Natural migration is perhaps easier in some parts of continental Europe. We do not have the options open to some less compact nations, because we live in a small island where the change in one nation or region affects its neighbours. Indeed, switchover will take place later in the south of England because of the implications outside the boundaries of the UK. Progress so far makes it urgent to take the step of developing digital television and switching off analogue. The programme that we are considering was quite rightly not put in place years ahead and on the basis of dubious predictions; it follows the choices that have been made by the public and the take-up of digital television.

Of course, people worry about change. However, I say to Conservative Members in particular that
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Members of Parliament can help constituents over that worry. I commend the public information already circulated to every household by Digital UK, and I concur with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) about the importance of the work that Digital UK is doing. That is very much focused on local and regional needs rather than general information for the whole UK. It is crucial that we understand that point if we are to get the best out of the programme and to avoid the dangers.

My hon. Friend also rightly spoke about the importance of people receiving good information, but that is not easy to achieve. People should be able to make choices and much work has gone into training people in the retail trade, which is where many people get the information that they need to inform their choices. A lot of work has been done to improve skills in the aerial industry at the time that it is needed in each region and not in the wrong region at the wrong time.

Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) (Lab): The use of video recorders is a point that has been raised with me. I accept that video recorders are not part of the television set, but they are part of the television experience and can be found in 95 per cent. of people’s homes. Some people are concerned about their ability to video channels other than the one that they are watching on digital TV. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to do some work on that issue, because videos are an important part of the overall television experience that many people enjoy?

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People need such information and the point that I was making—the two points come together—is that we need differential timing in the provision of information, so that we do not worry people unnecessarily when switchover is two years away, but provide the information in the region as the changeover becomes closer. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway focused on an issue that will take place soon for his constituents and a little later for some of us in other regions. However, it is essential for all of us—Opposition Members as well as Government Back Benchers—to work with Digital UK and the Government to make sure that information is teased out in Committee in the way that the hon. Member for East Devon outlined, and that it is then made available to people at the right time, when it can inform the decisions that they need to take.

Technical issues will continue to emerge as the programme works through, but so will people’s issues. In the pilot areas, a number of issues arose that had not been predicted, but some of us who have a background not so much in technical issues but in working with people were able to predict one or two of them, such as the difficulty of identifying the people who need help. I shall return to that point in a moment, because it goes right to the heart of the Bill.

We talk about the complexities, but we should not ignore the fact that they can cloud the fact that the switchover is generally good news. It will provide an improved and expanded service and opportunities for the creative industries and for the export of services.
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That will help us to make the most of the creativity that we have in this country. One of the constructive features that has been happening quietly over the past couple of years has been the effort, with increasing leadership from Digital UK, towards the development of a partnership involving people from across the television, the retail and manufacturing industries and—this is particularly relevant today—from social services, housing bodies and the voluntary and community sector where a range of leading organisations at a national level are linked with work at a local level and provide an enormous amount of input into ensuring that the problems are understood.

It is also worth underlining the fact that the change will free up a lot of potential, and services such as high-definition TV have been mentioned. I would like the maximum number of people across the country to be able to see in high definition “Torchwood”—an iconic new production that stars Cardiff Bay in my constituency—as we were able to do in the pre-launch preview across the road. It was quite staggering. Indeed, an American commentator said that evening, “New York, San Francisco—eat your heart out.” That is the way I think of Cardiff Bay as well. I could not leave out such a reference to my constituency.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to previous changes such as North sea gas and decimalisation. It took some time for people to understand and appreciate the North sea gas programme but, once started, things were simple right across the country. Decimalisation was a bit different, and I think that I was the country’s only decimalisation correspondent when it took place and I was a young journalist. My editor had been placed on the decimalisation board by my predecessor, the then Chancellor of Exchequer, and he took a greater interest in decimalisation than any other newspaper editor. That influenced the way that I spent my time. My point is that one would have thought that the changeover from 12 to 10 would be fairly simple and straightforward but, my God, did it not half complicate the lives of people. If we compare that relatively simple change with the complexities involved technically and in terms of people in the switch-off of analogue and the transfer to digital, it is not surprising to learn that the switchover is an extremely complicated process that has rightly given rise to many questions in the debate.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on from discussing Wales, will he acknowledge that one of the problems with the terrestrial analogue service is that people get either Channel 4 or S4C, the Welsh language service, and not both? Digital switchover might provide people in Wales with the opportunity to choose to receive both channels.

Alun Michael: It is rightly said that nothing cannot be made to seem even more complicated than when it is described by a reasonable Welshman. Colleagues across the border may say that we introduced additional complications when we were given what we asked for in Welsh language broadcasting. However, the hon. Gentleman is right. His example makes the choices that people will have to make all the more complicated.

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The hon. Gentleman’s point is very close to the one that I was about to make. Whereas change is never easy, the difference in this case is that the changes that we make in one region will have an impact on regions nearby. I would have loved Wales to come earlier in the process—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) illustrated earlier when he talked about the difficulties that he experiences in his valley—but the problem is that that would have an impact on Cheshire and the west midlands and, in south Wales, on the west of England. It is difficult to get the right order other than by allowing the technology almost to dictate.

During my period at the Department of Trade and Industry, I worked closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), who then had responsibilities at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We both felt that we needed to understand the obstacles and why the issue seemed so complicated. Indeed, I think that we got more involved in some of the detail than officials would have liked, because we ended up asking many of the sorts of questions that the hon. Member for Chesterfield asked in his contribution. As a result, I can certainly agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the principles are clear and that the Government have shown real leadership on the issue, but the details are immensely complex.

The discussions involved the television industry, and—if that was not complicated enough—service providers and manufacturers, because the timing of supplies needs to fit with the regional roll-out. That is particularly the case in relation to the needs of the most vulnerable, whom the Bill addresses. Retailers, who have to decide on stocking, ordering and advice, often take those decisions on a national rather than a regional basis, but it is at the regional level that people need to make choices to be ready for the date of switchover. Other issues include landlords. There are also the organisations concerned with the elderly, people with disabilities and so on. There are issues about having simplicity of design—above all for vulnerable people—at the same time as allowing people to make choices and trying to future-proof some of the equipment.

My conclusion is that the Bill is not an optional extra and nor is the sharing of data. It is essential. I know that this is breaking a little with the tradition of speeches so far, but the issue of sharing data is at the core of the Bill and it is important for us to understand what we are agreeing to. Data protection is largely misunderstood. Certainly many people talk about it in an ill-informed way. Data protection is about good practice and integrity in the use of information. It is about good management of information and responsible behaviour. It is about sharing information in ways that are appropriate and that bring benefits to individuals and the community.

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