HC Deb 09 February 2004 vol 417 cc1311-2W
Lembit Öpik

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (1) what plans she has to hold meetings with broadcasters to encourage them to provide viewing cards for digital access to public service broadcasting channels; and if she will make a statement; [153322]

(2) what plans her Department has to monitor the availability of free-to-view channels to satellite customers who do not subscribe to pay-to-view services; and if she will make a statement. [153323]

Estelle Morris

This is primarily a matter for the broadcasters. Until May last year, the BBC paid for `solus' viewing cards enabling customers who did not wish to pay a subscription to receive the public service broadcasting channels by satellite. However, following the move of its broadcast services to a new satellite, all of the BBC's digital channels are now available via satellite without the need for a viewing card. It has therefore stopped paying for the provision of solus cards.

Following representations from the Government, an agreement was reached between the other main broadcasters and BSkyB to ensure that existing solus card viewers could continue receiving the other public service channels after their current cards expired in 2003. Viewers were able to purchase a new card, valid until at least 31 December 2005, for a one-off fee of £20 + VAT. This offer was extended until 31 January 2004.

We understand that the broadcasters have no current plans to provide solus cards to new satellite customers. However, the Government remain committed to ensuring that analogue terrestrial broadcasting signals are maintained until everyone who can currently get the main public service broadcasting channels (BBC1 and 2, ITV1, Channel 4/S4C and Five) can receive them free-to-view via at least one of the digital platforms.