Amendment 1

Media Bill - Report and Third Reading – in the House of Lords am 3:30 pm ar 23 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Bull:

Moved by Baroness Bull

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 29, after “(taken together)” insert “comprises a public service for the dissemination of information and for the provision of education and entertainment, which”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment reinstates the fundamental Reithian ethos of public service broadcasting (including the important contribution of public service broadcasting to life long learning), the vital role of public service broadcasting in increasing understanding in issues of civic importance, and the relationship between public service broadcasting and a thriving cultural and creative economy.

Photo of Baroness Bull Baroness Bull Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 2 and 4 in my name. I am grateful to my co-signatories, to other noble Lords around the House and to the Citizens’ Forum for Public Service Media for supporting these amendments, particularly given the pace at which all this has come together. I am also very grateful to the Minister and the Bill team, who found time on very busy days for a helpful meeting earlier this week on these amendments. At the time, we thought we were talking about a discussion we would have in June; it turns out that we are talking about it today, but I am very grateful to him and his team for finding time for that.

These amendments are all about the underpinning ethos, values and distinctive purpose of our PSBs. In tabling them today, I have tried to respect the Government’s intention to streamline and update the overlapping requirements in the 2003 Act, to which the Minister has referred previously. I have tried to do that while addressing the very strong feelings of this House and the sector that, in the process of modernisation, too much of value has been lost.

Amendment 1 would reinstate the principle that public service broadcasting content, taken together, should inform, educate and entertain. This three-legged stool is the foundational principle on which public service broadcasting was built and on which its global and economic success stands. Removing the Reithian principle from the Bill effectively limits the definition of the public service remit to a narrow focus on market failure. It fails to uphold the fundamental principle that PSBs exist to serve society in its broadest sense, with content that is culturally, democratically and socially valuable. Its removal also means that there is no longer any mention of the word “education” in Clause 1, and that the vital role of public service broadcasting in providing content of educative value for citizens across the life-course is no longer protected. Amendment 1 would restore the underpinning philosophy that broadcasting should do more than just reflect. It should help us to imagine other ways of being; to learn about things of which we never expected to know nor care about; and to expand our interests beyond our own lives and concerns and into the lives and concerns of others. It is a principle that has never lost its currency and, in an age when misinformation and disinformation threaten our democratic processes and civic cohesion, it is a principle we cannot afford to lose.

Amendment 2 goes a little further and would clarify what Parliament believes to be content of civic, social and cultural importance, thus protecting the type of content that can so easily be under threat in the face of economic challenge and ruthless competition. Without this clear guidance on what Parliament expects to see in return for public service broadcasting status, and indeed what viewers want, I struggle to see how Ofcom can fulfil its role in holding broadcasters to account. My noble friend Lord Colville championed this point in Committee, and I am grateful to him for working with me on this streamlined amendment. Amendment 2 would also retain the requirement that public service broadcasting should stimulate and support a thriving cultural and creative sector—the very sector on which it depends for its own survival. This modest addition to the Bill enshrines the symbiotic relationship between public service broadcasting and the health and success of the creative industries—a sector that this Government have identified as key to growth and that is currently, unfortunately, at serious risk. I know that the Minister and the Secretary of State are genuinely committed to the future success of this sector. I hope that he can accept this amendment today so that the protections afforded by the 2003 Act remain in place at the time that they are most needed.

Amendment 4, my final amendment, is even more modest. It would add no more than six words requiring public service broadcasters to make available content for children and young people that is educational in nature. I have no problem with the stated ambition of the Bill that content reflect young people’s lives and concerns and help them better understand the world around them, but this is not the same as content that is educational. As I argued in Committee, education is one of the aspects of public service broadcasting that parents value most. Amendment 4 would not require all broadcasters to move into the same space as BBC Bitesize, for example—the specific detail of PSBs’ educational content would still be determined at the level of operating licences—but it would enshrine in legislation the importance of educational content for children and young people in opening up and equalising life chances, which is an aspect of PS broadcasting that licence fee payers deeply care about.

The overall aim of these amendments is to address the concerns so clearly expressed in Committee and by audiences and citizens’ groups that a better balance needs to be found between the intention to streamline and the retention of what makes our public service broadcasting so distinctive. My amendments would reinstate and protect the foundational ethos and core principles and purposes that have long defined our public service broadcasters and underpin their domestic success and the global leadership position they currently enjoy. I very much hope that the Minister might be persuaded by our arguments and be able to accept these amendments at the Dispatch Box. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I support Amendments 1, 2 and 4 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and will speak to Amendments 3, 5 and 6 in my name.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for their support for my Amendment 6 and the Minister for our rushed discussions as we try to pull all this together. My amendment extends the same nations and regions quotas that apply to the BBC to Channel 4—the only other publicly owned public service broadcaster. It includes a two-year timeframe from the passage of the Bill for these quotas to apply.

In Committee the debate on the nations and regions production quotas attracted the largest number of speakers and support from around your Lordships’ House, for which I was very grateful. This amendment is supported by devolved Governments and industry bodies across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Committee the Minister reassured us that he and his colleagues in DCMS had heard the strength of feeling on this issue from the sector, particularly in relation to Channel 4’s “out of England” quota, which is currently set at 9% of eligible programmes and expenditure. He noted that Channel 4 has said that it would support a managed increase in its programme-making commitments in the other home nations. He also offered a further meeting with Ofcom to discuss this in detail.

I am sorry that this will clearly be one of the casualties of wash-up, but I had hoped that this revised amendment, restricted to Channel 4 and giving it two years to enable a managed increase, might have found favour with all parties. If the Government are not minded to accept my amendment, I trust that Ofcom will take note of the strong feelings expressed that the current Channel 4 quota of 9% just will not wash.

I turn to Amendments 3 and 5, which were previously tabled in Committee by my noble friend Lord Dunlop, who cannot be here today and sends his apologies. The issue is that the responsibility for Gaelic broadcasting is split. The Gaelic Media Service, MG Alba, is established under UK legislation while Ofcom is the arbiter of whether there is sufficient Gaelic language broadcasting. The funding of the Gaelic Media Service was devolved in 1998 to Scottish Ministers, who have, for the past 10 years, frozen funding to MG Alba. The SNP is posing as great supporters of Gaelic and Gaelic broadcasting. However, as ever, the support is all for show. They are all talk and no action.

I have tabled modest amendments to the Bill that would make MG Alba a PSB for the limited purpose of guiding Ofcom in the discharge of its responsibility to assess whether there is, taken together in the round, sufficient broadcasting of minority languages. It would have to look specifically at the sufficiency of Gaelic broadcasting. If it was found that there was insufficient Gaelic broadcasting, the responsibility for responding to this would fall on the BBC—it is happy to accept that as it supports these amendments—MG Alba and, by extension, its funder, the Scottish Government.

These amendments are narrowly focused to be discrete and not upset the overall balance of the Bill. For example, they do not add any new responsibilities regarding prominence requirements. They would, as we head into an election campaign, be a powerful demonstration of a unionist government’s care for all parts of the UK, including its most peripheral in the Highlands and Islands.

Turning to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, which I am pleased to support, the Minister accepted in Committee that we need to strike the right balance with a remit that gets to the heart of what it is to be a public service broadcaster. We must not dilute that. He also stated in Committee that he did not object to any of the specific genres mentioned in the revised Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Baroness. I hope he can accept that not having this in the Bill really would be a glaring omission.

I am grateful to the Minister for his engagement. I am sorry that we have not had the time to explore some of these issues further with him and his team at DCMS, but I support him in his efforts to see that this Bill passes. I thank him and all noble Lords from across the House who have been so supportive of my efforts to ensure that the nations and regions have the best possible Bill.

Photo of Viscount Colville of Culross Viscount Colville of Culross Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 1 and 2 because it is essential that, in the first clause of this Bill, Parliament gives directed guidance to Ofcom on the content that it would hope to see created by our great broadcasters.

In Committee, the Minister said that the original list of genres and the Reithian mission statement gave “little guidance” to Ofcom on how to focus its assessment of what it is important for public service broadcasters to deliver. Amendment 1 gives a mission statement to provide content that informs and educates viewers. I hope this will ensure that the PSBs do not descend into providing only entertainment and not any information or education.

Amendment 2, which encourages broadcasters to stimulate science and the arts, among other things, is so very important. This is not a list of genres, which the Minister feared, but it does provide a metric for content against which Ofcom can measure the work of our broadcasters.

As other noble Lords have said, we are giving great privilege to broadcasters in this Bill, which I strongly welcome. However, with that must be a burden of responsibility to ensure that they should be distinctive and British. In a world dominated by streamers creating global entertainment, I hope that viewers in this country will be able in future to turn to our PSBs and find content that informs them about subjects that illuminate and bring context to their lives.

I, too, am grateful to the Minister for meeting me and my noble friend Lady Bull to discuss the changes to Clause 1. He was encouraging of the idea of extending the guidance for the public service remit, so I hope that he will support these important amendments.

I have also put my name to Amendment 6 to Clause 14 because I believe that Channel 4 is ready to increase its quota to the nations from the present 9%. The channel’s CEO, Alex Mahon, said as much in her speech to the creative industries last month. I hope that, in the present negotiations for the next licensing round of Channel 4, the Government will give guidance to the channel to increase its quota. It may not be as much as 16%, in line with the BBC, but it needs to be raised from the present 9%.

The television industry in the nations and many regions is collapsing from lack of work. Now is the time for action. I call on the Minister to accept this amendment.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 3:45, 23 Mai 2024

My Lords, I was happy to add my name to this, because it underlines the benefit of Channel 4. I am always a little worried that, if you leave gaps in behaviour, the bean-counters will take opportunities and the good intentions will take a back seat—so I am not afraid of asking for specifics.

It is important to remember—I hope that Channel 4 remembers this—that, when it was under threat not so very long ago, it was many of the people who have spoken today and previously during the passage of this Bill who were strongest in the belief that Channel 4 brings something special to our broadcasting. For me, one of its most special contributions has been seeking out creatives in the regions and giving them the opportunity to succeed. This amendment underpins that good record of Channel 4 so far and helps to see it into the future.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I rise to speak on Amendment 8 in my name with a heavy heart, in the hope that someone out there is listening. I declare an interest as per the register.

The review amendment that I propose is intended not simply as an exercise in public service media management but as a vital contribution to the future well-being of children and young people in this country—that is, to their sense of worth, their understanding, their place in our society, their appreciation of the many and varied cultures of our society, and, in the final analysis, the future of public service media as a whole.

If millions of children and young people are no longer watching the television that is made for them on PSB channels—it is crafted, curated and considered age-appropriate and relevant to their lives as British kids—how can we hope that they will suddenly, on becoming adults, turn to the BBC for their news or even to other public service providers for information, entertainment or programmes for their children? They will not; they will have lost the habit of believing that powerful content that offers meaning to their lives as British people is provided for them by public service media.

I say this because research by the Children’s Media Foundation has found it to be the case. As Ofcom’s statistics prove, children have migrated away from watching linear television. Many are also unaware of the online platforms provided by the PSB broadcasters that this Bill seeks to bring into public service measurement and regulation.

Your Lordships may feel that young children—their grandchildren, perhaps—are still watching dedicated PSB channels, such as like CBeebies and Milkshake!. However, that is not the case for children over the age of seven. Many parents will tell you that their children are now in their bedrooms using mobile devices, phones and tablets to access their media choices, which opens them up to a world of content offered by YouTube and other providers. On demand and immediate, much of it is loud, frantic and attractive but little of it is made with the care that has been the hallmark of public service television for children since the 1950s.

I spoke to a head teacher just yesterday, who told me that many of the children in her school are speaking with American accents because they are influenced by what they watch on online platforms, which is not age appropriate. Despite the Online Safety Act addressing some of the most outrageous harms in these online spaces, nothing is being done to regulate the spaces for good content, which parents need to feel they can trust. Parents are looking to the Government to reassure them that this is happening. That is what public service media is about: it is there to regulate the broadcasters, to ensure that those who have captured the eyes and minds of British children, while being allowed to make a reasonable return on their investment, will always also give back something of meaning and purpose. That has worked since the 1950s, when commercial television started. It was made to work again when cable and satellite channels increased, and it can be made to work again in a new public service environment, which will definitely include shared video services such as YouTube, TikTok and others that may follow.

My amendment seeks to start a process where we can investigate the real future of public service broadcasting in this country, beyond the confines of the current Bill, through a review. It sets down a marker, like those in so many other countries around the world, that says: we are not prepared to carry on burying our heads in the sand; we will investigate the ways in which these devices can be regulated to offer prominence to public service content; and we will explore the feasibility of levies or incentives, to ensure that they share their advertising revenue with producers of content that is relevant, appropriate and local to the UK, and has the power—which all public service content has—to connect people with the world, rather than disconnect them from it.

All my amendment asks for is that we explore possible futures and are open to change. Change has already arrived for our children and young people, who, in ever greater numbers, are watching and being influenced by inappropriate and harmful videos, rather than material that speaks to their lives in positive ways. It is time for the Government and the entire country to wake up to the fact that the algorithms that push that content on our children are not regulated. They work entirely to increase revenue and profit, most of which is not distributed back to the children’s content producers. They do not take into account age relevance or the social value of what they push—and until we at least begin to discuss the potential for regulation, they will not do so. I simply ask the Minister: is that what we want our children to grow up with?

Supporting this amendment is the start of a new way of thinking about how we care for our children in an increasingly complex media landscape—one that, none the less, can be shaped to offer benefits, hope, joy and inclusion, if we are prepared to consider how that could be achieved. We have lost a generation of children and young people, who are not experiencing the high-quality, uplifting and fulfilling content of past generations. They are now meandering online on paths not beneficial to their mental and social well-being. Once again, I feel that it is my duty to plead with the Government, with tears in my eyes, to put children’s current viewing habits at the forefront of their decision-making process at this late stage, as it is already affecting and will continue to affect their future. As I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime. I hope that the Minister will commit to this review, and I look forward to his response.

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 9 in my name. I apologise to the House and to the Minister for having been alerted to this issue only after Committee. I am grateful for briefings from That’s TV and the Local TV Network.

The Conservative Government introduced local TV in 2012. This allowed locally targeted TV services to be introduced using frequencies freed up by the digital switchover process—the switch-off of analogue TV. There are now 34 local TV services in the UK licensed by Ofcom to broadcast on Freeview. Over three-quarters of these services are for smaller towns or cities of under 500,000 homes. Many of these areas receive little or no regular news about their location from any other television service.

The Bill is intended to secure the future of public service broadcasters by giving them guaranteed access to smart TV sets for their digital players, with the terms of carriage and prominence regulated by Ofcom. Similarly, the Bill grants all Ofcom-licensed radio services guaranteed access to smart speakers such as Alexa. Local TV services are designated as public service channels under the Communications Act 2003. However, local TV services are not included in the definition that the Bill uses for public service channels, which means that Ofcom will have no power to secure carriage and prominence for local TV digital services on smart TV sets.

As Freeview viewing diminishes, this omission represents an existential threat to the future of local TV and risks denying viewers access to news about their own area on TV. The Irish language service TG4 currently has reserved carriage on Freeview in Northern Ireland, to secure the availability of its service across the island of Ireland, in accordance with the Good Friday agreement. However, as drafted, the Bill also fails to protect TG4’s access to internet TV platforms in Northern Ireland, or that of any other potential future PSB duly designated by Parliament under the SI process required by the Communications Act.

A cross-party group of MPs in the other place responded directly to the 2023 DCMS consultation on local TV, supporting the renewal of local TV Freeview licences and calling for local TV to be brought within the provisions of the Bill. Subsequently, on Report in the other place, Sir John Whittingdale tabled his own Amendment 78 to capture local TV. This was not adopted by the Government. However, the Commons Minister implied at that time that she would consider any amendment proposed in the Lords further.

The local TV sector is not asking for guaranteed carriage on smart TV sets today, but the sector is seeking support for a permissive amendment that will allow Ofcom, at its discretion, to secure this carriage for any public service channel defined consistently with the Communications Act 2003. Without an amendment, Ofcom will have no power to require any broadband TV platform to carry local TV services and any potential future public service channels on appropriate terms or with appropriate prominence. Powerful global TV manufacturers will be at liberty to refuse to carry the digital players of these services or to seek to demand premium rents.

This amendment is modest. It simply provides a framework that will allow the 2003 protection to continue into the future. It does not open the floodgates for unreliable news services but it allows Ofcom to make a determination as to whether a service is both willing and able to offer an internet programme service. If it does so determine, the service can be designated and obtain the protections afforded to other providers of public service content under the Bill. It also future-proofs the Bill for other potential public service providers.

With this amendment and cross-party support from the other place, I hope the Minister will take this as a signal of parliamentary interest and will explore options. If that does not happen, local TV news services may not be around for the next media Bill.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 4:00, 23 Mai 2024

My Lords, I will speak briefly to my Amendment 7. The listed events regime is something that we all agree should happen—for sporting events and events of national importance. This amendment, initially moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is an attempt to make sure that in the current viewing world, they are still relevant in the way that they should be. Not everybody watches these listed events on an ordinary television and, if you do, you may be watching on internet television. One of the joys of this is that you have highlights and replays and can watch out of sync. I would hope in this modern world that those are guaranteed, because if you do not guarantee that these sporting cultural assets, which the nation has said should be available to everyone and there is cross-party consensus on, are made available for free then you are going to take them away.

Also, if there is any danger of these highlights being taken away—when it comes to the Olympics, for example, determined as I am, even I cannot watch 15 events at once, especially not at various times—we must make sure that they are readily available. This is the second go at this. I hope that the Minister can give us a definitive reassurance that we will have this available to us now, in this Bill, because if not, the Government have thrown away, in effect, half the listed events.

Photo of Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Llafur

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 1 and to echo some of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, in her Amendment 8. It is a very great honour to speak to her amendment. I congratulate her on her very important recognition with her BAFTA award last week. She has been a tireless campaigner for children’s television, which is why these two amendments are perhaps the most important that we are discussing today.

To put at the heart of the Bill the notion of public service broadcasting and to modernise it for the digital age should surely be what we are trying to achieve today. I am a member of probably the first generation of comprehensive school children who were taught using terrestrial colour television—creative programmes such as “Words and Pictures” and—dare I say it?—“Play School”. I still remember “magic e” when I write speeches for the Lords. What is sitting here is a failure to realise that we are the generation that lived in information scarcity and our children are swimming in an ocean of information abundance. That notion at the heart of public service broadcasting—good, thorough content creation that is age-appropriate and relevant to the educational journey that we ask our children and their families to go on—is what we should be addressing.

I hope that all Front-Benchers will be able to take the comments made by the movers of those amendments very seriously when they respond to the debate.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Llafur

My Lords, I support Amendment 9 because the quality of news in total has deteriorated over the last few years, and we definitely need more regulation to deal with this.

As far as local TV is concerned, there is a suggestion that it should be put under Ofcom and monitored. In Liverpool, for example, we have a local TV service, but most of the time it is not local at all. It is GM News. Anyone who knows Liverpool knows that it is probably one of the most left-wing cities in the country. To have thrust on it GM News as the major contributor to local TV is very strange indeed. You need some understanding that there needs to be far more local content than there has been in the past and it needs to be regulated.

I have a problem with Ofcom because even if we put it under Ofcom, as the amendment suggests, Ofcom has failed to do its duty on a number of occasions. It is still allowing GM News to put out propaganda, to allow one Tory MP to interview another Tory MP, and we see no action on this.

Photo of Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row Ceidwadwyr

Does the noble Lord mean GB News? He keeps saying GM News.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Llafur

Correct: GB News. It allows one Tory MP to interview another Tory MP, which is against the rules, as everyone knows, and yet Ofcom sits on the fence because it does not want to take action. It is not surprising because we are dominated by the Conservatives; the chairman and director-general of the BBC are both Tories; the chairman of Ofcom is a Tory; we are overrun by Tories in every area of the media, and we need to address this because there is no balance. This means that people do not stick to the rules that Parliament has laid down. Ofcom has a lot more to answer for and it needs to address some of the shortfalls that it has now if it is going to take on more responsibility.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I will bring the House to the safe harbour of the Cross Benches and take us away from the world of politics—we will have quite enough politics in the next month or so without starting it now.

I spoke in Committee, so I will not say any more, but I endorse everything the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said. She knows how I feel, the Minister knows how I feel. We were all on an Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme trip to Bahrain over the weekend so, apart from having lots of hummus, he also heard quite a lot about Reithian principles. I will follow up on what the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, and I would like to do so, very appropriately with this Minister, on the basis of the alternatives that young children are now exposed to in the online world. The majority of young children will not necessarily benefit from the sort of children’s public sector broadcasting that I suspect most of us are familiar with but have probably not watched a lot of recently, unless we have been babysitting our grandchildren and have nodded off beside them and whatever it is they are listening to.

The reality is that what children are accessing now is very different from what happened before. This is slightly similar to the discussion we had recently about the Government’s new proposed regulations around personal, health and social education in schools. Many children are educated in a way that is pretty much invisible to much of the adult population. I ask the Minister to work very closely with the Department for Education; schools and teachers know very well, having picked it up from them, what their students are exposed to and the degree to which that is good or bad. The Children’s Commissioner should also have a lot of input into trying to understand the firmament of content that children are gaining access to; now is a very important watershed time to do that because every month or year we lose in understanding what children are gaining their knowledge—or lack of knowledge—from, the more time we lose.

Photo of Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I say sorry to the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for going back to being political. But I say to the noble Lord, Lord Watts, that I used to work at the BBC and guess what? Jeremy Paxman and Nick Robinson are also Tories.

Anyway, this is such an important Bill that I will come back to. As I said in Committee, the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, ensure that while we both update and future-proof our incredibly invaluable broadcasting media, we do not lose the principles that have made it so unique and internationally renowned. We get, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, a better balance: in particular, the reinstatement to the Communications Act of the Reithian principles of inform, educate and entertain. At Second Reading, the Minister referred to addressing the concerns of the DCMS Committee report in its pre-legislative scrutiny. The report recommended that the Government retained obligations on PSBs to provide specific genres of content, and the Bill does not. I hope the Minister has considered these concerns as set out in these amendments, which have had support from around the House.

There is a need to enshrine Reithian principles. On the “educate” principle, it is so important for our children today to come together outside the echo chamber that is social media. So many here have supported the matters on which my noble friend Lady Benjamin spoke. With regard to the “entertain” principle, the PSBs, led by the BBC, support and stimulate cultural activity and reflect our nations. They support our creative industries through innovation, skills and training although, as I mentioned in Committee, work still needs to be done on diversity. As for the “inform” principle, PSBs remain essential to UK media, and losing them would leave UK society and democracy worse off.

It is also essential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, and my noble friend Lord McNally mentioned on Amendment 6, that programmes are commissioned from and made across the UK. In Committee, I argued that the change to Channel 4’s remit potentially undermines this. I did not get much support, but I still stand by that argument.

My noble friend Lord Addington eloquently and persuasively argued to update access to listed events, particularly for clips and excerpts. I return to the words of my noble friend whom I call Baroness Flo—who cannot listen to her and accept what she says and argues for? I point out to the Minister that all she is asking for is a review.

This Bill is much needed. I welcome it. With more time, it could have been even better, but I hope that the Minister agrees to the amendments and makes it as good as possible.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, as the Minister knows, we are keen that the Bill should be on the statute book, as is the whole of the media world, which has been telling us, even as late as today, “Please, can you make sure that it goes through?” These Benches certainly support that.

It a shame that we have not had more time on the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, just said, there is a lot of consensus across the House about how it might have been improved, but I hope that the Minister gives us some comfort about the amendments in this group.

We strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, in her amendments about Reithian principles and education, as we did recently in Committee. We are also keen to support those amendments which concern children, one of which is my own. We thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, made a very powerful point in Committee and even more so today. The request for a review is a modest one and, if the Minister is not able to accept this amendment, I would hope that we can persuade Ofcom that it needs to do this. As the regulator in this world, it needs to take some responsibility and do this review. I therefore hope, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, that somebody is listening out there in Ofcom who might do something helpful with this.

I hope that the Minister will address the issues in my amendment, which seeks to ask Ofcom to ensure that minimum standards for age rating are adhered to. That is not to say that it should use a particular method or providers, but there should be some minimum standards, so that parents across the country understand the age ratings for the material that their children are watching. That is very straightforward and simple, and it should be part of Ofcom’s duties.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the whole House agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about the need to get the issues around listed events sorted out. If the Minister is unable to accept this amendment, he needs to acknowledge that this will have to be dealt with, particularly over the summer, as we move towards the Olympic Games again, because the legislation is not in tune with the broadcasting for the different events and how people wish to access them.

In a way, this group is a distillation of the discussions that we have been having in Committee. We absolutely support the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser. I shall not try to pronounce “Gaelic”. I realise that, because half my family is from Ireland, I was using the Irish pronunciation, for which I apologise. Again, these are modest amendments, which I hope the Minister will be able to give us some comfort with today.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) 4:15, 23 Mai 2024

My Lords, we are back for Report stage of the Bill rather sooner than we anticipated when we had our Committee debates earlier this week. By necessity and through the process of wash-up, the conversation and debate will be different to the one we would have had, if the Bill had proceeded at a normal pace. I hope that, in my time at the Dispatch Box, I have gained a reputation for listening to the points raised in scrutiny of legislation in your Lordships’ House. I hope that I demonstrated that through the way I steered the Online Safety Act through, which was much improved by amendments from all quarters.

Had we had more time on this, I would have looked forward to debating many of these points in greater detail and discussing them with noble Lords outside the Chamber. I have had the opportunity to do that, albeit in unusual circumstances: my noble friend Lord Attlee and I had a conversation this morning at Westminster tube station, on our way into Parliament and, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said, we were discussing aspects of the Bill in the Kingdom of Bahrain earlier this week on our red-eye flight back on Sunday night and Monday morning, which was a perfect way to start what has been a quiet week in Westminster. I am grateful to all noble Lords, as I always am, for the time that they have given in the Chamber and outside to discuss these matters.

We are all pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord McNally, back in his place. I hope that he has had a chance to see the best wishes sent to him yesterday, and we are glad that he is back with us for our debates today.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, very kindly began this group by paying tribute to the Bill team. I echo that: they have worked extraordinarily hard since the announcement of the general election to consider these amendments and to prepare. If I may, I single out the Bill manager, Charlotte Brennan, who hot-footed it back from Sunderland this morning. Last night, she was watching a Bruce Springsteen concert and has come back on what was supposed to be a day of leave to aid your Lordships and all of us in our deliberation. Luckily, like the Boss, she was born to run, and she has run back today.

If I may misquote Springsteen again, I think there is a risk in wash-up for this and all Bills that we end up with “All or Nothin’ at All”. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, alluded to the clear statements that we have heard from the sector, including the statement made this morning by chief executives from the broadcasting industry about the Bill. As noble Lords may not have had the opportunity to see that yet, I shall quote it in full, because it is worth bearing in mind in our deliberations. They say:

“As leading CEOs from the UK broadcasting industry, we call on politicians across Parliament not to let the opportunity to modernise the rules that govern our sector pass. The Media Bill as currently drafted is widely supported across industry and Parliament itself and has undergone Parliamentary scrutiny in the Select Committee and both Houses of Parliament, having completed second reading and committee stage in both houses. The reforms proposed in the Bill will update key aspects of media legislation for the online TV era, to ensure audiences continue to benefit from the highest quality UK-originated content from the PSBs, and help the UK’s content sector thrive for years to come”.

I know noble Lords have had the opportunity to meet the representatives of the sector and hear how they have worked very hard to come to consensus on matters in this Bill. I hope that we will be able to follow them and give them the Bill they need, for all the important reasons they have set out. For that reason, inevitably, I will upset some noble Lords who, had we proceeded at a different speed, I might have been able to satisfy.

I will start with Amendment 1, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, about the importance of retaining the Reithian principles in this legislation. As the noble Baroness said, she, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and I had the opportunity to meet earlier this week with officials to talk about this, and we have been considering the issue since she raised it both in Second Reading and on the first day in Committee. I am happy to say that, because that work had already been proceeding and because of the powerful arguments made on all sides of the House at Second Reading and since, I am able to accept her Amendment 1, which will ensure that these principles remain an explicit part of the remit. As we have discussed, they are admirable and important principles, and we want them to remain key to the public service broadcasting ecosystem. I am glad to be able to lend our support to them.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, for her Amendment 4, which seeks to make it clear that children’s programming should be included in educational programming. That goes beyond the current drafting of the Bill, which specifies that children’s programming must reflect

“the lives and concerns of children and young people in the United Kingdom” and support them

“to understand the world around them”.

I am of course in favour of high-quality programming that supports children to learn and grow, and believe that the public service broadcasters have an important role in providing this.

Children’s programming is an issue that my honourable friend Julia Lopez in another place feels very strongly about, but nobody feels more strongly about it than the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, who on this Bill and so many others has spoken passionately about it. She has called for a review of children’s access to public service media. I am pleased to say that there are already requirements on Ofcom to report on children’s television, and legislation already allows for considered assessment of the provision of children’s programming. As the independent regulator, Ofcom is well placed to consider and report on the market more broadly and on how children are accessing content in an increasingly digital world. Ofcom already has a wealth of experience in this area; noble Lords may have seen its yearly Children’s Media Lives report and its Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes report. In these reports, Ofcom analyses in depth the way children are accessing content and their attitudes to media today.

Ofcom will continue looking at how children’s media needs are being met in its upcoming review of public service media. Ofcom will review how public service broadcasters are delivering for children, given the significant changes in the media sector, as the noble Baroness set out. This review will draw on Ofcom’s broad range of research to set out what young people are watching, the services they use and value, and the role public service content plays in their lives. Ofcom will also look at who is commissioning the content that appeals to young audiences, and in particular at the incentives on providers to commission it. Ofcom will set out the scope of its public service media review and related programme of work this summer.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, rightly says, the regulator is listening and is able to act in this area, and I am sure will have heard the strength of opinion raised by the noble Baroness and others in our debate today. Although I am afraid I must disappoint her on her Amendment 8, which I cannot accept, I hope I can reassure her that her words have not fallen on deaf ears—they never do. I know that her work in this important area will continue into the next Parliament and beyond.

I am happy to say that, given that we are returning to the issue in the context of Amendment 4, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, I am able to support that amendment, which seeks to add educational programming for children explicitly to the remit. I hope that goes some way—albeit not as far as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, would wish me to go—to address the concerns she set out in her powerful speech. To repeat, I am able to accept Amendments 1 and 4 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull.

I am afraid that that is where the good news ends. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has also tabled Amendment 2, which focuses on public service broadcasters’ provision of programming across a range of specific genres. I know that many in your Lordships’ House feel strongly that the Bill should include a specific list of genres. We heard throughout Second Reading and in Committee a hearty debate on what should be on that list. In the public service remit, we want to set a clear and simple vision for the industry, one that narrows in on exactly what it means to be a public service broadcaster, and we believe that this Bill achieves just that. The Government carefully considered the issue of genres during the design phase of the Bill and as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny. We have added a new subsection (6) in response to that process which makes clear that public service broadcasters must together produce a range of genres in order to fulfil the public service remit.

As I said in Committee, there are two mechanisms for the provision of genres: first, Clause 1 requires Ofcom to report every five years on the extent to which the public service remit is being fulfilled; and, secondly, we have retained the specific obligation of Ofcom in Section 358 of the Communications Act 2003 to collect and report statistics annually on the principal genres which are made available on television and radio services. If the provision of a particular genre was seen to be lacking by Ofcom then the Government of the day could act. New Section 278A of that Act creates a new power, allowing the Secretary of State to create quotas for underserved content areas on Ofcom’s recommendation. This could be used in future to add specific and granular requirements on public service broadcasters with regard to any particular genre. I hope that as I have set out the vital importance of a streamlined public service broadcasting system, and the options to add a requirement about a particular genre at a later date, the noble Baroness will be content not to move Amendment 2.

As several noble Lords have pointed out, Gaelic language broadcasting is crucial for the lives and well-being of Gaelic speakers across Scotland and in the rest of the UK. This Bill already helps to ensure that audiences are able to access content in regional and minority languages, as well as content that is culturally important to communities across these islands, for decades to come. As I have said previously, Clause 1 makes the importance of programmes broadcast in the UK’s regional and minority languages clear in legislation by including it in our new public service remit for television. This provision already covers Gaelic. As such, I am happy to reassure noble Lords that this is covered in the Bill.

I emphasise that the partnership between MG Alba and the BBC is extremely significant for Gaelic language broadcasting, with the BBC already having a specific responsibility in the framework agreement to partner with MG Alba to provide and distribute BBC Alba. On that basis, noble Lords will already have seen that the Government are formally considering the funding of minority language broadcasting, including Gaelic, as part of the BBC funding review which was launched on 7 December. Once the funding review has concluded, I am firmly of the view that then will be the right time to consider the overall future of MG Alba and the ongoing provision of Gaelic language broadcasting. Given the closeness of the link between the BBC and MG Alba, we think these considerations are best done alongside the upcoming review of the BBC’s royal charter, and further details will be set out in due course.

While I am grateful to my noble friends Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie and Lord Dunlop, who have given considerable attention to this and with whom I had the opportunity to begin discussions outside the Chamber on this, I am afraid that I am unable to accept the amendment that has been brought back today.

The growth in film and television production outside London is a great success story, and our public service broadcasters are one of the key drivers of that growth. That is in part due to the quotas placed on them which require them to produce a minimum amount of programmes made outside London. However, we should not overlook the fact that our public service broadcasters have consistently exceeded those quotas, often significantly, and some have even made public commitments to go further than the requirements currently in their licences.

As I set out on the second day in Committee, on Monday, His Majesty’s Government welcome the pledge by the BBC to increase its production expenditure outside our capital to 60% by 2027, and Channel 4’s commitment to spend at least 50% of its main channel commissioning budget outside London. As I also set out on Monday, the regulatory system proposed in this Bill will continue to support the success of the industry in several ways. The Bill is explicit in Clause 1 in its intention to recognise the need for programmes produced outside London through our new public service remit, while the quota system that underpins this mission statement is a clear and well-understood mechanism for holding public service broadcasters to account. The level of these quotas is set by Ofcom, which has broad powers to amend them.

The levels of Channel 4’s regional programme-making quotas, which are the subject of Amendment 6, are being consulted on by Ofcom as part of its consultation on the next Channel 4 licence, which will come into force from 1 January next year. Channel 4 has said that it would support, as my noble friend Lady Fraser said, a managed and carefully considered increase to its programme-making commitments in the home nations. His Majesty’s Government look forward to the outcome of the licence renewal process and seeing how the sector’s concerns have been addressed.

The issue of parliamentary oversight of these quotas has been raised on a number of occasions. It is an important and long-standing aspect of public service broadcasting regulation that detailed regulatory decisions, such as setting the level of specific quotas, should be delegated to Ofcom so that it has the flexibility to balance the different interests of the sector and to respond to trends in the market which, as we have discussed throughout this Bill, can be dynamic and fast-moving. Furthermore, Ofcom’s decisions are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and its senior leaders regularly appear in front of Select Committees to give evidence for the consideration of Members of both Houses.

We want the production sector to continue to thrive. When it comes to our public service broadcaster’s contribution to that goal, we believe that the existing system of regional production quotas remains the best way to continue to drive the growth we have seen in recent years in every part of the UK. For these reasons, I am afraid I am not able to accept my noble friend’s Amendment 6.

The Government recognise the intent behind Amendment 7 from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to bring digital rights within the scope of the listed events regime. While there is a great deal of support in Parliament for this, it is, as we have covered in our debates, a complex matter. Above all, it is important that the listed events regime maintains the right balance between access for audiences and the commercial freedoms which allow rights holders to reinvest in their sports at every level.

My priority when getting that balance right is the impact on the public. It is of course important that audiences should be able to watch and celebrate major sporting moments; some will be coming up during the general election campaign to distract and delight them. At the same time, broadcasting rights provide essential income to our national governing bodies, which enables them to reinvest in their sports—whether at elite level, grass-roots level or others.

We have seen how technical—I hope—the government amendments are in order simply to ensure that the streamer loophole is closed. Adding digital rights would be a much bigger change, bringing more complexity, and it is not one that we have time to consider now. As I have said previously, moving too quickly to add digital rights without taking the appropriate time to work through the details and consequences, particularly without consulting the industry, would create a real risk to the finely balanced regime overall, so I am not able to accept the noble Lord’s amendment.

My noble friend Lord Northbrook raised an issue which, as he said, he did not raise in Committee. However, I can tell him that a similar amendment was tabled on Report in another place. Both deal with an important issue, which we have considered in some detail: the potential for on-demand applications provided by local television services to be included in the scope of the new online prominence regime.

Because my noble friend was not in Committee, as he said, he will not have heard my offer for officials to discuss this with the trade body responsible for it. I am very happy to extend the invitation to that discussion to him, or to offer to keep him informed about it. I hope with that he will have the reassurance that this has been considered in another place and he will be able not to press his Amendment 9.

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Llafur 4:30, 23 Mai 2024

Can I take it from those comments that the Minister actually believes that there should be far more local content in TV, from regions, towns and cities, and that those these services should not be dominated by GB News in the way they are now? It would be interesting to know if the Minister actually believes in local TV or not. Also, would he like to comment on the fact that—

Photo of Lord Watts Lord Watts Llafur

I am asking a question. Would the Minister like to comment on the fact that the BBC and Ofcom are dominated by card-carrying members of the Tory party? Does he think that is healthy?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

The noble Lord will not be surprised that I do not agree with his final points. But I agree on the importance of local television, which we have heard about in our debates. Local television services continue to play an important role in the wider broadcasting system, adding great value to communities, including during the pandemic as well as in normal times. The Government remain committed to securing the most effective framework for local TV operators going forward. I hope I can reassure him that we very much care about them.

On Amendment 10 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, we are in complete agreement with her on the need to protect children and vulnerable audiences from harmful and inappropriate video on demand content to which they might be exposed. I wish we had more time to continue the discussions on the important matters she raised; my noble friend Lord Bethell and others would have looked forward to that. I reassure noble Lords that the concerns they raised are already well covered by the Bill as drafted. Ofcom will be given extensive powers to set standards, assess video on demand services’ audience protection measures and take action that it considers appropriate. If audiences are concerned, they can complain to Ofcom, and the regulator can, in the most serious cases, set sanctions such as financial penalties or even restrict access to that service in the UK.

The noble Baroness’s amendment looks to set specific standards for services that use age ratings. The Bill already gives Ofcom the power to set these standards and others through the new video on demand code. Ofcom must keep these rules under constant review so that they can be adapted to take into account changes in technology and audience expectations. I am grateful to her for reiterating this important point today, and I hope I can reassure her that the Government are proposing effective and proportionate regulation that covers this and other issues.

With that, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments—other than the Amendments 1 and 4 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, which I am pleased to be able to support.

Photo of Baroness Bull Baroness Bull Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their support, and the sector organisations that have campaigned and briefed us all. I am disappointed that the Minister is unable to accept Amendment 2, particularly given that it aims to support the sector for which his department is responsible. It is sad to hear him say that, if we were not rushing this through, we would surely have been able to arrive at a consensus, as I really believe that he understands our concerns and would have invested his considerable skills and energies into finding a shared solution.

However, I am delighted that the Government will accept Amendments 1 and 4. This will restore the Reithian principle to its rightful place, and it will enshrine education, for children as well as adults, as integral to public service broadcasting. I thank the Minister for his time on these amendments and for the work I can imagine he has had to put in to get them accepted at the 11th hour. I am very grateful.

Given that this may be my last chance to address the Minister on the record in this role, I take this opportunity to thank him for all he has done in it. I, like others, have found him approachable, fair and effective. He has the best role in government, in some ways, because he works with a sector that is creative, vibrant and endlessly varied. However, it may also be the worst role, because the sector is not shy in saying what it thinks and is creative in getting its message across. But, across the sector, he is widely respected for the hard work he puts in, for his active engagement and for his knowledgeability across such a broad sector.

Again, I am grateful for the concessions that the Minister has been able to make, and I am sorry that the specific circumstances have not allowed us to find alignment on that important Amendment 2. I note what he said about options to investigate performance on specific genres in due course, so my noble friend Lord Colville and I put on notice whoever is in this seat in months to come—we will keep an eye on this. For now, it is a great pleasure to commend Amendment 1 to the House.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.