HC Deb 22 June 1993 vol 227 cc139-40W
Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the President of the Board of Trade (1) if the United Kingdom has the power to veto on funding for high definition television via the EC; and what is the upper limit of the contribution that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to make to this project;

(2) which plants in which countries will benefit from EC funding of research and development of high definition television; and how many jobs will be created or sustained in the United Kingdom;

(3) what level of funding is being proposed by the European Commission for high definition television; how much the United Kingdom is being asked to contribute; and what system is proposed for development by which firms;

(4) what was the most recent Council of Ministers meeting at which high definition television and its development was discussed; and how the United Kingdom voted.

Mr. McLoughlin

At the Telecommunications Council on 16 June, unanimous agreement was reached on the framework of an action plan to help launch widescreen television services. The four-year plan will be for Community funds, together with funds from other sources, to be used to partially offset the additional costs to broadcasters and programme producers of broadcasting TV services (including high definition television services) in the widescreen format. The United Kingdom's contribution to the action plan subsidy will be calculated on a gross contribution of about 15 per cent. less abatement, which would depend on the level of United Kingdom receipts.

The settlement represents a considerable negotiating success for the United Kingdom: The 850 MECU Community subsidy originally proposed by the European Commission has been reduced to 228 MECU (£160m). Additional funding from other sources, including industry, will introduce market discipline. The original proposal was to support only the analogue MAC technology. Broadcasters and programme makers using other technologies, including PALPlus or fully-digital technologies will now qualify for assistance. The UK also secured a valuable commitment that UK-based companies contributing to the action plan will be given due recognition of this in future European collaborative research and development and standardisation activities into digital TV. The European Commission are expected to come forward with proposals for such activities before the end of the year.

Consumer reaction to widescreen TV will determine how much United Kingdom broadcasters, programme makers and television set manufacturers benefit from the action plan. United-Kingdom-based television set manufacturers already enjoy 20 to 25 per cent. of Europe's manufacturing capacity and thus should be well placed to capitalise on the spread of widescreen. They should also benefit from the ability to participate in future EC research and development in new television technologies.

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