Amendment 1

Part of 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

Photo of Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Ceidwadwyr 3:30, 23 Mai 2024

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.