Amendment 64

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 3:50 pm ar 13 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Clement-Jones:

Moved by Lord Clement-Jones

64: After Clause 141, insert the following new Clause—“Amendment of section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002After section 58(2A) of the Enterprise Act 2002 insert—“(2AA) The need for free expression of opinion and plurality of ownership of media enterprises in user-to -user and search services.(2AB) Media enterprises include—(a) newspapers,(b) broadcasters, and(c) providers of video on demand and audio on demand.(2AC) For the purposes of this section “user-to-user service” and “search service” are defined in Part 2 of the Online Safety Act 2023.””Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment updates the specified considerations that the Secretary of State can use to issue a public interest notice that reflect modern market conditions where new media may give rise to such concerns.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, with only one amendment in this group, I have the mixed blessing of having the Minister’s undivided attention. I will be very brief as I want to give way to heavier oncoming traffic, in the form of Amendments 67 and 158. My intention in retabling this amendment on Report is to probe further the Government’s intentions as regards amending the Enterprise Act 2002, in respect of mergers of digital media.

In Committee, I pointed out that the Online Safety Bill—now Act—sets great store by the importance of freedom of expression on digital media and, in the context of competition in the media, we believe that the protection of the public interest needs bringing up to date, alongside the collective consumer interest. This was on the basis that digital media now play a significant role in the national discourse, and public interest considerations could emerge from permutations of takeovers or mergers.

In Committee, I described how Section 58 of the Enterprise Act is limited in scope, and that we should add the need for free expression of opinion and plurality of ownership of media enterprises in user-to-user and search services to the existing public interest considerations that the Secretary of State can take into account. The reply of the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Offord—was sufficiently encouraging for me to bring the amendment back for further and better particulars. He said:

“The Government are currently reviewing the recommendations on changes to the media public interest test in Ofcom’s 2021 statement on media plurality. Ofcom did not recommend that online intermediaries or video and audio on-demand services should fall within the scope of the media mergers regime, which this amendment would provide for”.

There is always hope. The Minister went on:

“We are considering Ofcom’s recommendations carefully and, as we do that, we will look closely at the wider implications on the industry. The Government have not proposed pursuing substantive changes to the grounds for public interest interventions in mergers in this Bill. The changes recommended in Ofcom’s review can be addressed directly via secondary legislation under the made affirmative procedure, if appropriate”.—[Official Report, 29/1/24; col. GC 291.]

The Minister did not offer any detailed timetable, so this is a brazen attempt to push the Minister further in telling us what the Government really have in mind, even if it is going to be included in secondary legislation. It is quite clear, in general, that changes to the Enterprise Act are needed and should be in contemplation. I very much hope the Minister can go rather further than he did in Committee. Indeed, it may be that there is a vehicle available, in the form of the Media Bill, which could take the position further. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I intervene very briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in the intentions of his amendment. A number of noble Lords will recall that, about eight years ago, we sought that the Government would use secondary legislation to extend the definition of media enterprises under the Enterprise Act.

The point that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is making is in this territory. Clearly, if media enterprises for these purposes were defined more widely, it would capture some of the providers that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was talking about. At the moment, media enterprises basically consist of print newspapers or broadcasters—and broadcasters are only those that are licensed under the Broadcasting Acts.

I hope it will be evident to noble Lords that there are now many more news creators and aggregators, and sources of news, that make up the news landscape and are not comprised within the definition of print newspapers or of broadcasters under the Broadcasting Act. So we need to make sure that the specified considerations under Section 58, about free expression, accurate presentation and plurality, are applied in relation to this wider definition of media enterprises.

This was something that Ofcom said to Ministers in pursuance of the consultation about the media public interest test, I think as far back as 2021, or maybe at the end of 2022. So I suppose what I am asking is to share in the urging of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that Ministers might take this on, and to give advance notice that—from my point of view—we should address this in the Media Bill quite soon, in order to give them further encouragement for this purpose.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, we are very grateful—we are always very grateful, actually—to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for tabling this amendment, which raises a valid concern around the suitability of the current provisions in Section 58 of the Enterprise Act.

We take the view that the world has changed significantly since that legislation was put on the statute book. It was changed as a result of the passage of the National Security and Investment Act, but not in a way that addressed the points that have been properly raised by the noble Lord. Some aspects of this debate featured during the passage of the Online Safety Bill, and I strongly suspect we will revisit this on other occasions in the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has invited us to with the Media Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, described this as a “brazen attempt” on his part. Well, I hope the Government will be open-minded about looking at whether and how the public interest notice regime could be revised in the future, to take account of different types of media provider. However, because I know that noble Lords would like to progress on to another interesting group on a similar topic, I will hand the Floor to the Minister.

Photo of Lord Offord of Garvel Lord Offord of Garvel Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for Amendment 64. It would expand the list of media merger public interest considerations to include:

“The need for free expression of opinion and plurality of ownership of media enterprises in user-to-user and search services”.

I previously addressed this issue in Committee, when I referred to the Government’s ongoing consideration of Ofcom’s recommendations. As suggested by the noble Lord, ensuring that our regime is updated to reflect current market conditions remains important.

My noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston has been engaging extensively with government on changes to the wider media merger regime, and I understand that discussions have been constructive. My noble friend Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, who is in his place, is the Lords Minister responsible for media mergers. To avoid repetition, I will not speak to the detail of these discussions now but will leave it to my noble friend, who will return to the substance of this in the next debate. I hope the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment and allow us to discuss this further when the next group is debated.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology) 4:00, 13 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I can barely contain my excitement. It is very good to see the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, in his place, and I very much look forward to hearing what he has to say in the debate on the next group. There is a difference in principle, though, between the amendments in the next group tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, on ownership by foreign Governments and the future-proofing that my amendment seeks for digital media.

I very much appreciate what the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Bassam, said about the need to encompass this type of media. Whatever the content of the Minister’s response, I believe that if we do not deal with digital media in this Bill, we will need to deal with it in the Media Bill. It is a current issue; the Minister used the phrase “current market conditions”, which was a slightly odd way of describing the fact that we now have an incredibly lively digital media. After all, why do we have the final offer mechanism in the digital markets Bill? It recognises the issues related to news media and the need to make sure that there is a proper negotiation on the use of, and links to, news media. We need to make progress on this, but I will give way to the oncoming traffic of the next group. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 64 withdrawn.