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Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 54:

Page 19, line 15, after ("review,") insert ("following consultation with persons who have sensory disabilities").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 55 to 57. In view of the lateness of the hour, I propose to do so in 60 seconds. The purpose of the amendments is, first, to strengthen the code by making it a code of practice rather than one of guidance. Secondly, they call for the code to be in such a format that those whom it is intended to help--deaf and blind people--can read it; and, thirdly, they propose that in the drafting and reviewing of the code there should be consultation with those whom it affects.

This is a simple and straightforward group of amendments. I hope that the Minister can accept them. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: I understand that some amendments may have been grouped with Amendment No. 54, but, as the noble Lord spoke to that amendment, I shall take it by itself. I have already made clear in a speech to the Media Trust that I expect the ITC to consult organisations representing the sensory impaired as well as broadcasters before drawing up its code. I am happy for that requirement to go on the face of the Bill if that is what the noble Lord would like to see happen.

I defer also to the noble Lord as regards the terminology to be used to describe those people with reference to whose understanding and enjoyment the ITC's code will be issued. I am therefore prepared to accept in principle, subject to full consultation with

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lawyers, the inclusion of the term, "persons who have sensory disabilities". I hope that the noble Lord finds that encouraging.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: I am very grateful and delighted. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 55 to 57 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clauses 20 to 24 agreed to.

The Earl of Stockton moved Amendment No. 58:

After Clause 24, insert the following new clause--

Cessation of all analogue terrestrial television transmissions

(".--(1) The BBC and independent broadcasters shall cease all analogue terrestrial television transmissions fifteen years from the commencement of digital terrestrial transmissions.
(2) The BBC and the Independent Television Commission shall report to the Secretary of State on the progress of and prospects for digital terrestrial television every five years from the commencement of digital terrestrial transmission until analogue transmissions cease.
(3) Provision shall be made for the use of public funds to assist in the supply of digital decoders to such individuals or groups of individuals who can demonstrate financial hardship that would preclude them from purchasing such a decoder.").

The noble Earl said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 62.

This new clause seeks to assist the Government, the broadcasters and the manufacturers by fixing a firm date at which the frequencies currently reserved for the five analogue channels can be released to allow the issue of additional multiplex licences and the provision of other services on the expanding digital network.

In framing the amendment I have had consultations with the principal broadcasting organisations, and with BREMA, the trade association of the equipment manufacturers. They endorse the Government's stated objective to bring about the transfer of television and radio broadcasting to the digital system as rapidly as possible. Like the Committee, they applaud the decision to act now, which will mean that Britain is in the forefront of the new technologies in this area, some years ahead of all our competitors in this growing field.

On 15th December last year, my right honourable friend the Member for Surrey South-West announced that she would be reviewing the date for switching off analogue frequencies once 50 per cent. of UK households were able to receive digital television, or after five years of the first multiplex licence period, whichever was the sooner.

The merit of that approach is that it recognises that digital transmission is a desirable long-term objective, since analogue transmission is an extremely inefficient use of the spectrum. For instance, it requires 16 separate frequencies for BBC1 alone to cover the UK. This transition from analogue to digital is more significant and of greater benefit to the public than the previous move from black and white to colour.

The drawback to the softly-softly approach is that it does not, in itself, bring about a more rapid transition to all-digital television transmission. It prolongs the

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inefficient use of scarce spectrum resources, and defers the economic boost to the UK manufacturing, transmission and telecommunications industries that the Bill places in an enviably advantageous position. It also involves the broadcasters in prolonged increased costs from dual-running their transmissions on the two systems.

Perhaps of greater interest to my noble friend the Minister is that it also delays significant revenue streams to the Government from licensing alternative uses of the spectrum for new national, regional and local broadcast services, wireless, telecommunications and data broadcasting. Even if his own department may be cautious on the issue, were he to agree to these proposals he would find himself basking in the warmth of the Treasury's approbation, which is not, I imagine, an every day occurrence.

In welcoming the decision to go digital, the manufacturers and broadcasters have expressed concerns about the seriousness of the Government's intentions. They need to be sure that digital terrestrial television is going to happen and preferably within a time scale that allows for investment planning if they are going to make the very large financial, planning, design and marketing commitments required for set-top boxes, digital television sets and associated equipment. In developing their services and their distribution strategies for the next millennium, the broadcasters also need certainty and an assurance that they will not be bearing the duplicate running costs of simulcasting for an indefinite period.

To them, and to me, the disadvantage of the proposals announced by the Government, and not to be found on the face of the Bill, is that they merely put off the evil day. Indeed, it may be that the end-date may not be any different from that suggested in this new clause, but there will be an ugly rush as D-Day (D for digital) approaches. I would, for instance, encourage manufacturers to label products with a warning that the equipment will not be able to receive digital transmissions after a certain date; a sort of sell-by-date. There would be justifiable outrage if people bought analogue sets and then found the Government subsequently announced an end-date to occur during the life of their new television set.

Members of the Committee will share my concern that the closure of analogue broadcasting may potentially deprive those who are unable to afford the upgrade to digital reception equipment. This, I believe, may not be such a major problem. With a firm end-date the manufacturers will have an interest to go into mass production and marketing as soon as feasible with inevitably a considerable reduction in price. A closure date of 2012 gives plenty of time for most households to change sets as they would in the normal course of events. The industries assure me that the average life of a set is between 10 and 12 years. Lower income groups, who are the most intensive television viewers, have already shown a willingness to upgrade equipment, as evidenced by the penetration of satellite dishes and by the fact that more than 80 per cent. of UK households now have a video-cassette recorder.

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By the latter part of the period there will be an active second-hand market in set-top boxes, released from households as they gradually purchase digital television sets. This pattern was one of the features in the transition to colour receivers of a few years ago. I am also certain that a number of charitable and community projects will assist exceptional cases by recycling digital receivers and set-top boxes.

The penetration of new technologies is not easy to predict. If the take-up of digital terrestrial television is rapid, then there will be the need to consider bringing forward the termination of analogue transmissions. If, on the other hand, the take-up is much slower, then the Government would reserve the right to postpone the analogue end-date. This is why I have suggested setting two review dates after the introduction of digital terrestrial broadcasting. The Secretary of State would require the BBC and ITC to report on the take-up of digital receivers. This is work that they will be doing anyway as part of their audience research and programme planning.

There may be certain areas of the country where the transition to digital needs to receive special funding. An example would be areas of Wales where, because of the topography and the need to carry Channel 4 and S4C, there is already a shortage of frequencies to carry planned digital broadcasts. In my Amendment No. 62 the Secretary of State for Wales would be empowered to permit householders in those areas to be converted to digital reception on condition that they did not lose any of the services currently being received and that all the conversion costs were borne by the commercial beneficiaries; for example, the multiplex operators and new users such as data distributors and mobile telephone companies. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: I am most grateful to my noble friend for the way that he has moved his amendment. I should like to explain the Government's position briefly now and subsequently write more fully on the matter to my noble friend. We are certainly happy further to consider the issues that he has raised, with the possibility of bringing forward a government amendment. We have already announced our intention to review the prospects for analogue switch-off in five years, or when the household market penetration of digital terrestrial receiving apparatus reaches 50 per cent.

First, I believe that it is a mistake to set a firm date for switching off analogue transmissions at this stage. Secondly, it is our view that the timetable for reviews of progress needs to have explicit regard to the rate at which viewers, of their own volition, acquire additional digital equipment and to give an adequate notice of the proposed switch-off date.

Finally, Clause 15(4) of the Bill explicitly empowers the ITC to require multiplex operators seeking to review their licences to furnish a revised technical plan. The Government are not convinced of the case for

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subsidising the take up of digital receivers from public funds or from the funds of those who might then use for other commercial purposes the spectrum which analogue switch off would release. However, I have indicated in my response to my noble friend that we are prepared to consider the matter further and, as I said, write more fully to my noble friend in that respect.

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