Amendment 1

Part of Media Bill - Report and Third Reading – in the House of Lords am 4:15 pm ar 23 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.