Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 2040 - 2059)


Ms Jocelyn Hay CBE and Mr Robert Clark

  Q2040  Lord Maxton: There is another one. BT are launching television services this year?

  Ms Hay: Yes.

  Q2041  Lord Maxton: The telephone line has two advantages?

  Ms Hay: It does.

  Q2042  Lord Maxton: One, it can provide television, but also does not use up any spectrum?

  Ms Hay: That is true.

  Q2043  Lord Maxton: Would you consider maybe a free telephone line into every house and a box as I way of doing this?

  Ms Hay: Certainly with wireless communications for telephones as well as for broadcasting services, that is another way which is coming and which is being developed and might be a very feasible way of doing it, but certainly we believe that there should be an alternative to cable, which will not reach everybody—digital terrestrial will not reach everyone and satellite will not reach everyone—and so we believe very strongly there should be a combination of them all, and if that can be now assisted through broadband or the telephone, then that is excellent.

  Q2044  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: You have said that you do not think the BBC should be responsible for paying for the vulnerable. What is your attitude? There are going to be some people who just do not want to convert?

  Ms Hay: That is right.

  Q2045  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Whose responsibility should they be and how does one deal with that element?

  Ms Hay: It is going to be very difficult, because probably this is going to be a more rapid change than previous technologies and there will be some resistance. I think the resistance is growing less, but perhaps more determined, amongst those that remain, and it will be a difficult one to manage. It is government policy, so in the end it should come down to government, I believe.

  Q2046  Lord Peston: We certainly took the view, and this Government told us, that it was in the national interest. As you know, our earlier report arguing it is for the national interest not for the general tax payer who should take it is your view?

  Ms Hay: It is in the national interest, we believe, yes, and it is a new technology that will bring benefits. It cannot be uninvented, so let us make the most of it.

  Q2047  Lord Peston: You have really answered, I think, what I was going to ask you about who should bear the cost of the social side of all this. You are saying it should not fall to the licence fee-payer?

  Ms Hay: That is true. We have just come this morning from a meeting with Digital UK, whom you have already interviewed. They are responsible for managing the project. The BBC is contributing enormously to the costs of Digital UK and to the communications programme that it is preparing. I cannot quite remember now the actual costs, but I thought it was 95 per cent of the costs, which is a considerable amount that is already coming out of the licence fee. So, together with the development of the technology, the build out of the transmitter network, the work that the BBC has put into developing digital radio, for instance, that is a considerable amount which is already coming out of a limited pool of people, the licence fee-payers.

  Q2048  Chairman: We keep on talking about vulnerable groups. Have you any thoughts on who these vulnerable groups are? The government appear to have decided the over 75s is by definition a vulnerable group. The disabled?

  Ms Hay: Yes.

  Q2049  Chairman: How does one draw it? Have you given any thought that at all?

  Ms Hay: Certainly not all over 75s are vulnerable; some of them are far less vulnerable than some younger people.

  Q2050  Chairman: I think we can probably talk with experience in this House on that subject.

  Ms Hay: I do not like to be patronised myself. Nevertheless, there are, and I am not saying that there are not, some people who do need help and particularly with the technology and learning how to understand it, and a number of people with disabilities, whether they are physical or mental; but I think some of the groups who may not be exactly vulnerable but who will disproportionately have difficulty in making the move, include those who are living in very isolated areas, those who are living in particular areas where it is not so easy to get switched from satellite or they cannot get Freeview, for whatever reason, or digital terrestrial. Then there are people who live in mobile homes, or in flats or in the lea of another big building, or whatever; so I think there is quite a range of people and also a lot of young people who are on very low incomes. One tends to think of the over 75s, but there are a lot of young people with young families who may be on benefits who could find it much more difficult, and, of course, anyone on a low income is much more dependent on television for every service from entertainment to information.

  Q2051  Chairman: It is going to be a pretty complicated business bringing aid to all these people?

  Ms Hay: I think it is going to be, and perhaps in some ways it should be tied more, much more with greater difficulty, to means-testing rather simply than age.

  Chairman: Yes, that takes us right into social security policy, does it not?

  Q2052  Lord Maxton: Except that there is a bit of a myth that somehow those who are not taking up the new technologies are somehow the poor than the better off, but that is not the case.

  Ms Hay: That is not the case, no.

  Q2053  Lord Maxton: Let me come to a point where the last resisters are those who simply do not want to do it. Surely we are not going to start subsidising them if they can well afford to take it up. What do you do with them? Do you just say the television gets switched off and that is the end of it?

  Ms Hay: It is very difficult. I would not like to say.

  Q2054  Chairman: In your experience, has a great deal of thought been given. One could paint a picture which gets in a quite substantial body of the population actually.

  Ms Hay: Yes.

  Q2055  Chairman: Has any serious thought been given to who we are talking about: how many people we are talking about?

  Ms Hay: I do not think it has. I do not think anybody knows. Ofcom has estimated ten per cent. I have seen some other estimates, but ten per cent of the population is actually quite a lot of people.

  Chairman: Six million.

  Q2056  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Following that one up, we had evidence from the BBC not very long ago that there was going to be a very small percentage that they think would not have access of a suitable quality. There are other people, of course, who have responsibility—Ofcom with media literacy, and all of that is part of it.

  Ms Hay: Exactly.

  Q2057  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: You have obviously given some ideas to some of the problems, but to what extent should the local communities themselves get involved with this? I am just going back to the days when electricity and gas suddenly appeared and, surprise, surprise, surprise, there was a Women's Gas Federation, a Young Homemakers' Organisation set up and an Electricity Council that were specifically to deal with making certain those who were mainly in the home, if you like the disadvantaged, actually to cope with the new technology.

  Ms Hay: I think that is part of the responsibility that has been given to Digital UK, and they are beginning to get to grips with it. I do not yet know that anyone has realised the full magnitude of the job. I think it is probably the biggest infrastructure project since the end of the Second World War. It is far bigger than North Sea Gas, because every home in the land will be involved this time no matter how remote or whatever level of affluence they are. It is a colossal project.

  Q2058  Chairman: I had a letter the other day and a discussion yesterday in which the person who wrote to me, who is in the university field, was saying that under-graduates, people studying at universities, could be brought into this for an advantage to both sides, I suppose, in terms of costs but also one generation speaking to another. Do you think there is anything in that?

  Ms Hay: Yes, I would think it would be a very good thing. We have recommended, and I am glad that Digital UK are doing this, that they will need to involve voluntary organisations on the spot, because what will be required is an enormous amount of one-to-one passage of information from trusted people, particularly amongst the elderly—they are not very keen to welcome a total stranger into their homes to help them adapt—and also, with new technology, you can be shown how to use it one week—and I know this with the computer—and three weeks later, you have not used that particular facility and the buttons seem not quite the same! So it is going to happen in the same way. One might need to show some people two or three times how to use it and to get the best out of it. There is also the question of is it just the first set in each house. I think the average is 2.5 television sets per household; so the cost is going to be quite considerable. It is not simply one set that has to be adapted.

  Q2059  Chairman: No. I think we can point out the scale of the problem.

  Ms Hay: I think involving voluntary organisations, voluntary labour and effort on the ground will be absolutely essential.

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