§ 7. Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)
What role Ofcom will play in the governance of the BBC. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells)
In relation to the BBC, Ofcom will set and monitor standards and quantifiable quotas and targets, much as it will do for 8 all public sector broadcasters. The BBC governors will remain responsible for regulating the impartiality requirements and for the delivery of the corporation's overall remit.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. What we do not understand, at least on this side of the House, is that if the BBC takes a position in ITV Digital and continues with the most successful website in the world, those activities will cover the whole of broadcasting in broadband, so why should the governors retain a specific interest on their own? Surely, we want a level playing field and Ofcom should provide it.
§ Dr. Howells
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As a former distinguished England winger, he is used to taking positions on sides—usually offside, as I remember. I do not disagree with him; indeed, Ofcom will have an important part to play in the commercial activities that the BBC undertakes. Streaming images across the internet is an expensive, highly competitive business. I expect Ofcom, as well as the competition authorities, to play a large part in determining the future shape of such a service.
§ Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)
That was a charming answer from a charming Minister, but he did not answer the point that the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Mr. Wyatt) made. Either the Government trust the BBC and distrust the commercial sector or Ofcom should have the same powers over the BBC as it has over the commercial sector. What is the reason for the imbalance?
§ Dr. Howells
The spectrum of public service broadcasters ranges from the BBC to Channel 5, which is mainly a commercial operation but has a small public service responsibility. It is difficult to assume that regulation should be the same for a broadcaster with a small public service remit as for that with an entirely public service remit.
I shall reiterate the earlier comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Parts of the BBC's remit will be profoundly affected by Ofcom's regulatory activities in future. However, we must maintain a clear perspective. Throughout the world, the BBC is considered the best single broadcaster, which makes the best programmes. We either want such a public service broadcaster or we turn it over to the market. If the Conservative party supports that, that is fair enough.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
While my hon. Friend is considering Ofcom and the way in which it will affect the BBC, will he also urge it to consider the governance of ITV, given the comments of Jon Snow on the appalling deterioration in the quality and quantity of the current affairs and news coverage on offer in the independent sector?
§ Dr. Howells
Loth though I am to disagree with my hon. Friend, who has long been a good ally, it would be a sad day when the House attempted to determine the content of television. Most politicians never watch it. They pontificate about it endlessly, but they are lucky if they turn on "Newsnight" last thing at night before they crash out. I do not believe that we are the best judges of 9 what constitutes proper television. Although I regard Jon Snow highly, neither he nor anyone else has a monopoly on wisdom. Broadcasters should determine the content of television. We have a good broadcasting system, we make good news programmes and we have a good news service. Long may that continue.
§ Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)
It is clear that the Minister is dithering about how far Ofcom should regulate the BBC. His explanation of why it should not totally regulate it is inadequate and based on groundless assertions. The same dithering was apparent last week when the Government published their consultation paper on media ownership and failed to take the opportunity to relax Britain's outdated media ownership rules. Are the Government also dithering about the date for digital switchover?
§ Dr. Howells
Certainly not; we are consulting about important issues. Parties on both sides of the House should ensure that our conclusions are sound. There will be a long debate on the matter because the communications Bill will be one of the most important that we shall consider. We need to hear the views of industry and everyone involved in broadcasting before we make a decision that we could otherwise regret later.
§ Mr. Yeo
That was a long way of saying yes, the Government are dithering. Does the Minister understand that, of the thousands of television sets that will be bought this Christmas, more than nine out of 10 will be analogue sets? Does he realise that refusing to give a lead on the crucial issue of digital switchover means that families up and down Britain will be in the dark about whether they are spending their precious money on obsolete equipment?
§ Dr. Howells
I realise that the Conservatives have been out of power for well over four years, and that they probably do not know what is going on. They do not seem to read the newspapers or follow the news. We have been taking a strong lead on digital switchover. We have declared that it will take place and we are trying, with the co-operation of the industry, to ensure that it is done properly and as swiftly as possible. What we are not going to do is disfranchise large numbers of people. The only party that has ever dithered on this issue is the party that was originally afraid to tackle it: the Conservative party. We will drive forward this project, and we will be the first country in the world to have properly digitised television broadcasting.