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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell) has made the following Statement.
On 3 March this year, I announced the appointment of Roger Laughton, Head of Bournemouth University Media School, assisted by Meurig Royles as Welsh language assessor, to carry out an independent review of S4C.
I am today publishing Mr Laughton's report of his review and copies have been deposited in the House Libraries. I welcome this very thorough analysis of S4C's current position and the challenges facing the authority in the digital age. The report's conclusions and recommendations raise a number of issues relating to the Government's digital action plan, BBC Charter review and Ofcom's review of public service broadcasting, which will need to be addressed in the context of those initiatives. My department will liaise with the authority and with other interested organisations to consider Mr Laughton's recommendations in detail and I will notify the House of the resulting conclusions in due course.
22 Jul 2004 : Column WS58
In my statement of 19 May I said that I would report further stages in establishing the plan for switchover. I am pleased to say that much progress has been made in the discussions between the Government, Ofcom and the public service broadcasters.
While the broadcasters have not reached a full consensus on the optimum timetable, someincluding the BBChave suggested that 2012 may be the most appropriate date for the completion of switchover. This could mean beginning the switching sequence as early as 2007. This would be subject to agreement on a detailed plan, including resolution of the remaining issues raised in the discussions. Ofcom plans to include reference to this timetable in the draft digital licences for Channels 3, 4, 5 and Teletext which they expect to publish for consultation later this summer.
We continue to believe that an ordered process leading to the earliest practicable switchover remains desirable given the advantages to consumers, the broadcasting industry and future growth of innovative new services. We believe that switchover should be broadcaster-led but that the final decision on timetable should balance these benefits against the need to ensure that the interests of the most vulnerable consumers are protected. I have therefore asked Ofcom's independent consumer panel to consider what measures might be necessary to ensure this protection and to report to me later this year with their advice. We will also take advice from leading charities. The Government's final endorsement of a timetable will be subject to being satisfied that adequate measures are in place to meet this objective.
The BBC, in its 29 June publication Building Public Value, proposed that 2012 should be the target date for switchover. The BBC made clear its willingness to be a "leader and co-ordinator across the industry" and to "take a special responsibility for bringing the final cohorts into the digital television universe". I have asked the BBC how it proposes to take this forward.
The Government remain committed to ensuring that switchover is planned and implemented in a way which is platform and broadcaster neutral. Consumers must have clear, unbiased information about what is available on each platform and from each provider so that they can make an informed choice. In particular, people who buy television equipment now should know that switchover will take place during the expected lifetime of television sets bought today. We are therefore engaged with retailers and manufacturerswho also need to plan aheadto see that good clear information is given to consumers currently planning to buy a television or an item of recording equipment. We expect this information to spread through retail outlets from September, identified by the switchover logo.
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As an early step towards switchover, we are proceeding with a technical trial in two villagesFerryside and Llansteffanin south Wales. The residents have responded overwhelmingly in favour of taking part in this trial. If, as we expect, this switchover trial is successful, this community will be the first in the UK to go fully digital next spring.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Lord Filkin): My honourable friend David Lammy, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has made the following Written Ministerial Statement in the other place today.
With the agreement of the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) has today published a consultation paper entitled A new focus for civil legal aidencouraging early resolution; discouraging unnecessary litigation.
The main theme of the paper is to refocus the civil legal aid scheme away from contested litigation and to encourage early resolution of disputes. With a limited budget, we need to ensure that legal aid funding is targeted on the most needy cases and in the priority areas. The proposed changes are also required to update the LSC's funding code in the light of new initiatives, for example, changes in handling clinical negligence cases and the new Independent Police Complaints Commission. The changes to family legal aid complement the proposals announced in our Green Paper entitled Parental Separation: Children's Needs and Parents' Responsibilities.
to restructure the levels of service for private law family cases to encourage the early and amicable resolution of family disputes wherever possible. A new level of service called Family Help will replace the existing three services, and will build upon the work already done through the FAInS (Family Advice and Information Service). This proposal will be piloted through FAInS providers before full implementation;
to introduce wider powers to refuse funding for divorce (ancillary relief) cases on the grounds that private funding mechanisms may be available, for example, using the value of the assets in dispute;
to revise the financial eligibility limits to achieve uniform income limits across all levels of service. The upper limit for qualifying for legal representation in court would be reduced, to the (lower) level for legal help, as adjusted for inflation. However, there should be appropriate safeguards and exemptions in place to ensure the most vulnerable applicants are protected;
to remove the current rule which disregards £100,000 of equity in an applicant's home in assessing financial eligibility for legal aid. Again, there will be exemptions for the most vulnerable clients;
in clinical negligence cases and complaints against the police, a requirement that redress is initially pursued through the appropriate complaints procedure before funding for litigation can be considered.
Lord Filkin: The MCSI Inspection of Courts Services Annual Report for 200304 has been laid before Parliament yesterday. This document gives full details of the MCSI's performance for that year. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Lord Filkin: The Court Service annual report and accounts for 200304 has been laid before Parliament today. This document gives full details of the agency's performance and expenditure for that year. Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
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