HC Deb 21 July 1997 vol 298 c682
10. Mr. Fraser

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what representations he has received concerning the Independent Television Commission and digital television; and if he will make a statement. [7506]

Mr. Chris Smith

The recent award of licences to operate digital terrestrial television multiplexes was a decision which was, by statute, entirely for the Independent Television Commission. I have accordingly received no representations concerning that decision, although some opinions have been expressed to me about its possible implications.

Mr. Fraser

Does the Secretary of State agree that the licence fee for digital television should be higher than that payable for terrestrial television?

Mr. Smith

No, I do not necessarily agree with that proposition. Those, of course, are matters for further debate and discussion. The BBC's licence fee arrangements are in place for the next four years—agreed by the Government of the day, whom the hon. Gentleman now supports from the Opposition side of the House. I see no reason at this stage to move to a higher licence fee.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the frustration felt by people in north-east Lancashire, who are fed up with being treated as country cousins, with no Channel 5 and very little cabling? To cap it all, digital terrestrial and digital audio, which will roll out across the country next year, will touch only 60 per cent. of the population. What does he have to say to people in north-east Lancashire who will be left behind by that? We all pay the licence fee. Surely, digital terrestrial and digital audio should reach 99 per cent. of the population, not just 60 per cent.

Mr. Smith

I agree entirely that that must be the aim. Indeed, if we progress properly and speedily with the introduction of digital terrestrial television, we will be able to expand it to a much greater extent than that envisaged by my hon. Friend in making his point.

Mr. Green

The Secretary of State will be aware that Channel 4 has been awarded one of the digital multiplexes. In the light of an answer that I received from the Treasury two weeks ago, merely saying that if Channel 4 were to be privatised the amount raised would depend on the means of sale, will he take this opportunity to state unequivocally, once and for all, that the Government have no intention of privatising Channel 4?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is slightly incorrect in that the multiplex has been awarded jointly to Channel 4 and Channel 3. I can confirm that we have no intention of privatising Channel 4; nor, indeed, does his party, which did not propose that before the general election.

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