§ The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)
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, some—including the BBC—have 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 83WS 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 their 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 coordinator 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 they propose to take this forward.
The Government remains 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 manufacturers—who also need to plan ahead—to 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.
As an early step towards switchover, we are proceeding with a technical trial in two villages—Ferryside and Llansteffan—in 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.
We expect further progress on these matters in the coming months and I will report to the House on material developments as they occur.