HC Deb 21 October 2003 vol 411 cc506-7
22. David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

What steps the Government have taken on inequalities in access to digital services. [132953]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Alexander)

The Government are committed to providing internet access for all who want it by 2005. Fifty-six per cent. of the population are now regular users and 48 per cent. of UK homes now have internet access—five times the number of homes connected in 1998.

We recognise that some groups, such as the elderly and those on low incomes, are less likely to be online. The Government are working hard to engage those groups through initiatives such as the "Get Started" campaign.

David Cairns

I know that my hon. Friend shares my view that, in the long term, digital television will be a key delivery mechanism for providing everyone with digital services. Is he aware that, as well as a digital divide, we still have—in 2003—an analogue divide in parts of the country? Constituents of mine in Inverkip cannot even obtain an analogue television signal, let alone a digital signal. Will my hon. Friend lend his support to my campaign for the insertion in the new BBC charter of a simple principle, namely that those who pay their licence fees should be able to get a TV signal irrespective of any other cost involved?

Mr. Alexander

I know of the tireless efforts of my good friend and constituency neighbour on behalf of his constituents in Inverkip in particular, where I understand from conversations with him that there are still difficulties with the analogue signal. I also know that he has already discussed the matter with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I will happily pass on his concerns to the relevant Secretary of State.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

Does the Minister agree with the conclusion of the recent survey by the Oxford internet institute that the group of "can't surfs" who have no physical access to the internet is now very small compared with the group of "won't surfs" who see no value in its use? When can we expect to see a replacement for the Government's portal, which in its present UK Online form is not attractive and certainly does not encourage people to go online? Can he indicate when his long-awaited plan will come to fruition?

Mr. Alexander

In regard to the Oxford internet institute study, the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about cultural barriers. The "Get Started" campaign focused on targeting groups that are hard to reach, especially the elderly, because we must address not just a lack of technology but a lack of the skills and experience needed to gain access to the technology.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that only yesterday I dealt with a submission relating to his second point. I believe that we shall be able to make speedy progress in the new year.

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