All 17 contributions to the Media Act 2024

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 21st Nov 2023
Tue 5th Dec 2023
Media Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee stage
Tue 5th Dec 2023
Thu 7th Dec 2023
Thu 7th Dec 2023
Tue 12th Dec 2023
Media Bill (Fifth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage:s: 5th sitting
Tue 12th Dec 2023
Media Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage:s: 6th sitting
Tue 30th Jan 2024
Wed 31st Jan 2024
Wed 28th Feb 2024
Wed 8th May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage part one & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings
Wed 8th May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage part two
Mon 20th May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage
Wed 22nd May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stageLords Handsard
Thu 23rd May 2024
Media Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading
Thu 23rd May 2024
Media Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments
Fri 24th May 2024
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent

Media Bill

2nd reading
Tuesday 21st November 2023

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Media Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Second Reading
[Relevant documents: Fifth Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee of Session 2022–23, Broadcasting in Wales, HC 620, Twelfth Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Session 2022–23, Draft Media Bill: Radio Measures, HC 1287; Thirteenth Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of Session 2022–23, Draft Media Bill: Final Report, HC 1807; and the Government response to both reports, HC 155.]
2.24 pm
Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time. I am especially pleased to do so today, as it is World Television Day.

The British media are world renowned. They inform and educate, they challenge and entertain. Content created by our media, be it journalistic exclusives or broadcasting endeavours, attracts domestic and international audiences and helps to drive our creative economy. However, the world in which this content is competing is changing rapidly. Technology has transformed every facet of our lives, and nowhere is that more evident than in the way we watch and consume television and listen to the radio. We have seen the rise of streaming giants and on-demand content, YouTube and smartphones, tablets and TikTok, and all those have combined to reshape our whole broadcasting landscape. Today, that landscape is unrecognisable in the context of what followed the last major reform of the rules that governed broadcasting in 2003.

We need to support the British media to enable them to compete and continue to serve their audiences with high-quality content. We need regulations fit for the digital age, and that is what this Media Bill will give us. In keeping with the Government’s defining mission, the Bill makes long-term decisions for a brighter future for our viewers, our listeners and our public service broadcasters. It is a pro-growth Bill that is designed to level the playing field for public service broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4, STV and ITV, among others, so that they can continue to provide first-class content and reach their audiences. As Members will know, we have engaged heavily with all parts of industry, from the streamers to the independent production sector and our public service broadcasters, to get the Bill right, and if we want our broadcasters to be ready for the next wave of technology, it is imperative that we get it right.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Minister says, the Bill marks a time of huge change in broadcasting and what have you, but the specific concern in Scotland, especially in my part of the world, is that while it mentions and makes provision for S4C, Gaelic broadcasting seems to have been omitted from it. I am sure that that is just an oversight, and that during the Bill’s later stages we will see safeguards in place for Gaelic broadcasting and BBC Alba in particular.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise the great contribution made by Gaelic speakers. We have agreed that we will, in the first instance, bring together the BBC and Scottish Government officials to discuss the co-ordination of funding decisions for Gaelic language production between the two organisations. We considered funding arrangements for minority language broadcasting, including programming for the Gaelic language, at the previous charter review, and those arrangements will be considered again at the next review.

Nia Griffith Portrait Dame Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the Minister will acknowledge the immense importance of public sector broadcasting to the Welsh language. How will she ensure that the Bill reflects the significant challenges faced by S4C in providing a wide range of good-quality programmes for both linear TV and online consumption, and protects the viability of the Welsh medium sector?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are of course anxious to protect S4C. As it is a public service broadcaster, many of these provisions apply to S4C, which we strongly support.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way; she is being very generous with her time.

In recognising the importance of public service broadcasting to outstanding broadcasting UK-wide but particularly in Wales, we should also recognise that this is not just about Welsh language programmes; it is also about English language programmes produced in Wales. Is my right and learned hon. Friend not saying—entirely correctly—that the Bill is not about protecting public service broadcasters, but about allowing them to compete on a level playing field in doing what they do best?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point, because this Bill is all about protecting our public service broadcasters, whether that is the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 or S4C, and I am proud to be bringing it forward.

Robert Buckland Portrait Sir Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the point about public service broadcasting, does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise the growing importance of local television and how the Bill could be improved by making sure that local television coverage is dealt with as a public service broadcaster? It is getting as important as local radio stations such as Swindon 105.5 in my constituency—

Robert Buckland Portrait Sir Robert Buckland
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Swindon 105.5—I recommend you all listen to it, and BBC Wiltshire, of course. It is important that we recognise local television as a public service broadcaster, and an amendment could be made to the Bill in that regard.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am always happy to discuss matters with my right hon. and learned Friend. This provision will help to protect radio more broadly through the smart speaker provision and there are other measures on protecting. The Government understand the issue of online local news, which is very important, and Ofcom has concluded proposals in relation to its role, but there are always matters we can look at further.

Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What is contained in this Bill to address the concern that, in the digital age, the BBC licence fee is simply unsustainable?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend will know that this is a matter that the Government are considering—that is, the question of the licence fee. We have already started looking at the issue that faces the BBC in a changing media landscape. People consume their media in a different way. Last year, 400,000 people did not renew their licence. This is something we are looking at, but it is not a question for this Bill.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Secretary of State knows, Channel 4 is based in Leeds and I thank her for her decision that it should be retained as a public service broadcaster in the public sector. The Media Bill is an opportunity to legislate for new public service broadcasting purposes for media literacy and workforce diversity. They are not currently in the Bill, but is the Secretary of State considering those two issues in relation to the Bill?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the hon. Member will know, we are bringing forward the matters in this Bill, but he is right to state the importance of Channel 4. We have brought forward measures to ensure that it retains its ability to be sustainable while also protecting independent producers.

I was talking earlier about how it was important to engage to get this Bill right. We have engaged heavily and are very grateful to the wide number of people who have helped to ensure that the Bill has the appropriate scrutiny and has landed in the right place. I would like to put on record my thanks to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage). The Committee invested heavily in the Bill and I am grateful for its recommendations. I want to thank it for its constructive engagement with my Department and for its pre-legislative scrutiny earlier this year. Alongside views from the industry, its reports have played a crucial role in ensuring that the Bill delivers for audiences and listeners.

But it is not just the Select Committee that has called for this Bill. The Welsh Affairs Committee, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), and the Scottish Affairs Committee have both called for its introduction. I would like to thank Baroness Stowell of Beeston for her leadership of the Communications and Digital Committee, which also called for this Bill’s introduction and worked hard on the issues in it for a number of years. I would like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), for East Devon (Simon Jupp) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter) for their thoughtful and considered engagement. I would also like to thank the previous iteration of the shadow Front Bench for its support, and I am sure that this shadow Front Bench will also provide constructive engagement.

It is not just films that are central to our creative industries and our national life. We are in a golden age for the silver screen in the UK, and public service broadcasters are the main reason why. Whether it is reality TV shows such as “The Great British Bake-off” and “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!”, or dramas such as “Time”, “Broadchurch” and “The Night Manager”, our public service broadcasters have proven that they can continue to go toe to toe with the streaming giants, but it is clear that this Bill is needed to enable our world-leading broadcasters to compete in an ever-more online world. Measures in the Bill will introduce simpler, more up-to-date rules on what our public service broadcasters have to broadcast and how they reach viewers, making sure that the high-quality public service content for our audiences remains easy to find as viewer habits evolve.

For a renowned public service broadcaster such as Channel 4, this Bill will help to support its long-term sustainability. This includes removing its publisher broadcaster restriction, which will free up Channel 4 to make more of its own content if it wants to, and open new options for diversifying its revenue away from advertising. Alongside this, we are bringing forward measures to safeguard Channel 4’s significant role in driving investment into the production sector. As many Members will recall, I set out the core aspects of this package, which the Government have designed in consultation with Channel 4 and the independent production sector, in a written statement to this House on 8 November.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I heard the right hon. and learned Lady’s previous answer and I am sure that it came from a good place, but just to be absolutely sure—what we are looking for in Scotland are provisions similar to those for S4C, and if they could be bolted on as things progress, that would be gratefully welcomed. One final point I would make is that Gaelic broadcasting has enjoyed tremendous cross-party support in Scotland, pre-devolution and post-devolution, and I think she should bear that in mind. It is probably the same in Wales with S4C, so hopefully we will get the same provisions as S4C.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. He will be aware that Alba is not in the same position as S4C because it is a programmer rather than a channel. In that way, it has a relationship with the BBC, and that is how its funding arrangement is determined.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am going to make some progress.

I was talking about Channel 4, but it is not just Channel 4 that is going to benefit from this Bill. The Bill includes measures specific to S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster. We worked closely with S4C on the provisions in the Bill, which will enable S4C to broaden its reach and offer its content on new platforms in the UK and beyond. The Bill also updates S4C’s public service remit to include digital and online services, and implements in statute other recommendations made in the independent Williams review in 2018. These provisions are a crucial part of the Government’s support for regional and minority language broadcasting. We know how important this kind of broadcasting is, giving many people content in a language familiar to them and providing a cultural outlet for communities across the UK. It was no surprise that, in its recent report on broadcasting in Wales, the Welsh Affairs Committee called on the Government to introduce a media Bill to Parliament as early as possible in the next Session, and I am glad that we have been able to deliver on that commitment.

It is clear that online demand streaming services are now an important part of the broadcasting landscape. From Netflix to iPlayer, they provide huge value to UK audiences and in many cases make significant and growing contributions to the UK economy. While UK audiences enjoy having instant access to the programmes they love, it is also essential that when they watch them on their smart TVs, they enjoy similar protections to live TV.

Beth Winter Portrait Beth Winter (Cynon Valley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I would also welcome assurances that our Welsh media broadcasting, S4C, is safeguarded under the Media Bill, but more specifically, can the Secretary of State confirm that the listed events regime will accurately reflect the importance placed by supporters on key competitions including the Six Nations rugby to ensure their status on terrestrial TV?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member will know that sport is devolved in Scotland, and if the Welsh Government want to make any recommendations to us in relation to listed events, of course we would be very happy to listen to them.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will make a little progress.

The Bill will provide greater protections for children and vulnerable audiences through a proportionate new on-demand video code, to be drafted and enforced by Ofcom, bringing streaming services in line with the protections that already exist for the audiences of public service broadcasters.

The Bill will also require greater provision of subtitles, audio description and sign language. This will lead to a much improved service for millions of people living with a hearing loss or visual impairment when they watch or listen to television programmes on demand.

Chloe Smith Portrait Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I draw the House’s attention to an expected future interest on this point that I articulated in Westminster Hall.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the work she has done to ensure that accessibility is accommodated in this Bill, and particularly for responding to the previous work she did with me and others on subtitling and other accessibility points.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was pleased to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss these important points, and I am very proud that this Bill will ensure greater access so that those with impairments can enjoy the things that those of us without impairments already enjoy.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State mentioned the Scottish Affairs Committee, of which I am a member. She will know that, in our report on public broadcasting, we recommended that the Government provide urgent assurances on maintaining Freeview beyond 2034. That chimes very much with her speech to the Royal Television Society, in which she said:

“We want terrestrial television to remain accessible for the foreseeable future.”

Does she anticipate an opportunity in this Bill to ensure we have that guarantee beyond 2034?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important point, because we want to ensure that everybody has access to television. That is why I made those comments in my speech. We are looking at this matter. There are a number of ongoing reviews to make sure we have evidence bases. I am happy to stay engaged with him on that subject.

From Wimbledon to the FIFA World cup final, live sports are among the most important fixtures on our television schedules every week. To protect British viewers’ access to major sporting events, the Bill will modernise the listed events regime. In line with the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s recommendation, we have acted to close the streaming loophole.

Millions of us tune into the radio every single day to spend time with our favourite presenters or our favourite music. Whether it is Cambridge 105 Radio or LBC, we rely on local radio to keep us entertained and informed. Few know more about this issue than my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South, and I thank him for his tireless work to champion this vital sector. But as modern technology continues to transform how, when and where people tune in, we must ensure that stations across the UK have the right support in place so that they can reach their listeners.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s kind words. One of the issues we have discussed and debated in this Chamber over the last 12 months is the BBC’s decision to reduce local news on many of its local radio stations. I am very supportive of this Bill and welcome the steps to cut red tape for local commercial radio, but can she assure me and this House that there are sufficient provisions to ensure that local news continues on local multiplexes?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was pleased to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and to take part in a session on his local radio station. As he knows, the BBC is operationally and editorially independent but, of course, local news is important. We have measures in this Bill to protect local news.

Because listeners increasingly listen to radio using smart speakers, the Bill will require that major smart speakers ensure that the UK radio stations that listeners love remain available on request. The Bill will also remove a number of outdated and burdensome regulations that are holding back the commercial radio sector, while strengthening protections for local news and information.

Finally, one of my central priorities as Secretary of State is to protect media freedom so that our world-leading media can continue to thrive. The Bill has media freedom at its core. One of its most significant measures is the removal of a long-standing threat to that freedom by repealing section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Section 40 and the possibility of publishers having to pay the legal costs of the people who sue them, even if they win, has hung over our media like a sword of Damocles. The Bill removes the sword for good.

The Labour party, of course, is no friend of the free press. The shadow Secretary of State has, in the past, called for boycotts of some of this country’s most well-respected papers. The Labour party has accused the Government of muddying the waters of this crucial legislation by including the repeal of section 40, but for us the water is clear. The position is clear: we will protect our free press.

Andy Slaughter Portrait Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

At Justice questions earlier today, the Government were again lauding anti-SLAPP legislation that protects small publishers and investigative journalists from oppressive conduct by wealthy individuals and organisations. That is exactly what section 40 does, and the Minister has completely mischaracterised it. Is it not inconsistency, amounting to hypocrisy, to repeal that provision?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable on this point, and I am always grateful for his interventions. I am proud that, together with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale), I have brought forward provisions to strengthen the anti-SLAPP regime via a taskforce. The Ministry of Justice has proposed further legislation and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who is extremely knowledgeable, will know that currently it applies only to economic crime. Section 40 applies across the board, and SLAPPs are strategic lawsuits of a particular client, so repealing section 40 is necessary. I am proud to be bringing forward that repeal in this Bill.

I am sure that today we will hear significant contributions on this important Bill, and I look forward to the debate. We should be under no illusions about the urgent need to press ahead with reforms. Success today is never a guarantee of success tomorrow, and it is our job, as a Government and as a House, to enact reforms that keep our broadcasters at the top of their game in the years ahead. That is what the Bill will do: levelling the playing field, removing threats to the media’s sustainability, and opening up opportunities for them to maximise their potential and unlock growth. I commend this Bill to the House.

14:47
Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Secretary of State knows, I welcome the introduction of this important and long-overdue Bill. I start by making her an offer: I will work with her on a cross-party basis to get the Bill into law as quickly as possible, subject to the proper scrutiny that would be expected from His Majesty’s Opposition. Britain’s public service broadcasters must be fully equipped with the tools they need to thrive in this intensified era of internet and on-demand television. That is why Labour has been calling on the Government for some time to bring forward many of the measures in the Bill. And it is not just Labour; Ofcom, Select Committees of both Houses, the public service broadcasters, consumers and industry leaders across the sector all back the Bill and want to see it passed into law, and some have done so for many years.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Further to the point I made to the Secretary of state, and further to the shadow Minister’s excellent point about working co-operatively across the House, would she support a straightforward amendment to protect Gaelic language broadcasting? I hope the Government will do so too.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I cannot say whether I would support an amendment until I have seen it, but despite a specific mention of “Gaelic-language content” in the briefing note on the King’s Speech, there seems to be no mention of protecting Gaelic language broadcasting in the Bill, which gives me cause for concern.

I am sure that the Secretary of State understands how frustrating the delay has been to everyone involved and how, unfortunately, it seems to our public service broadcasters, the creative industries and all the talented people who work in them that the Government do not care about them. Much of the delay was down to the pointless war on Channel 4: were the Government going to sell it off and did they think it was publicly funded? Nadine Dorries, their 10th Culture Secretary in 13 years, certainly seemed to think so, which slowed down the Bill.

Not content with chipping away for more than a decade at our remarkably resilient British creative industries, they attempted to take their Tory wrecking ball straight to one of our finest institutions, costing Channel 4 and other PSBs time that they could have used to get on the stronger footing with their international competitors that the Secretary of State has described today. If only the Bill had come sooner.

Selling off Channel 4 was never going to work. It was wrong for viewers and it has only done damage to our creative industries. The Government should not have been contemplating it in the first place. With all that time wasted, looking inwards and wrangling with themselves, they held our public service broadcasters back. The resulting delay to the Bill and all the consequences of that have to sit squarely with the Government. Never again must our PSBs be treated with such disdain.

It may seem like a non sequitur, but the Culture, Media and Sport Committee undertook incredibly thoughtful pre-legislative scrutiny. I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that the Committee’s work added considerably to the quality of the legislation across the piece.

PSBs are important to the wider creative economy because they stimulate growth, create quality jobs and nurture British talent across all our nations and regions, so I welcome the measures in the Bill to boost that success further, particularly those ensuring that PSBs are always carried and given prominence on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks. There is still debate about whether “appropriate” prominence, as it is described in the Bill, goes far enough. Would “significant prominence” avoid confusion? As we set the framework and as the Bill moves to Committee, we have to explore what being clear about the mandate to Ofcom actually means.

For many people, the most important part of the Bill is the recognition that PSBs bring us joy and their unique universality brings tens of millions of us together, whether to cheer on the Lionesses, watch Elton at Glastonbury or mourn the late Queen. At a time where loneliness is at an all-time peak, public service content keeps us connected. It is a string threaded through homes in every city, town and village in this country. I welcome the important modernisations to the listed events regime in the Bill—there is a lot to welcome in the Bill—including closing the streamer loophole, so that TV-like services that provide live content via the internet, such as the World cup and Wimbledon, will be brought within scope in the listed events legislation.

However, unfortunately the Government have not taken on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s recommendation to include digital on-demand rights in the regime, so on-demand highlights and online clips can be kept behind paywalls. I know the Government are conducting a review on digital rights, but the deadline for responses to their consultation was last year. I urge the Secretary of State to look down the back of the Culture, Media and Sport sofa—I am very fond of sofa metaphors, I am afraid, so hon. Members may hear more about sofas later—pull that review out and tell us what is in it? If the results of the consultation are not ready in time to be included in the Bill, will the Government include an enabling provision to allow digital rights to be added later?

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Some of the points raised, including those about digital rights, are made by Colin Browne of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer. I recommend that the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State meet him to understand what other points he is concerned about, so they can be addressed during the passage of the Bill?

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Father of the House is quite right to draw attention to the Voice of the Listener and Viewer—I believe that organisation is on my call list, so I will chase that up following his kind and sensible suggestion.

Another broad area that I ask the Secretary of State to look at again is children and young people’s television, which has been one of public service broadcasting’s biggest contributions to the life of our country. I am sure we can all name our favourite programmes, which might reveal the age of hon. Members. For me, they are “Jackanory”, “Grange Hill” and “The Magic Roundabout”, but for others they might be “Byker Grove” and “The Story of Tracy Beaker”, tackling issues rarely seen elsewhere in the media. Colleagues are welcome to mention their own favourite TV programmes.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

“The Wombles”.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Interesting. The hon. Gentleman obviously appreciates the importance of tidying up.

Sadly, I fear that the importance of children’s TV has been lost in the Bill. There has been a dramatic shift in the viewing habits of young people, particularly children over the age of 7, as increasingly parents no longer control viewing. Coupled with the long-term reduction in commissioning of original UK content for children, I am concerned that the Bill does not go far enough.

The Government must ensure that the next generation does not miss out on the high-quality, culturally relevant storytelling, such as “The Wombles”, for which our generations are so thankful to our public service broadcasters. I think I will develop a Wombles theme now. These programmes have a powerful influence on a child’s development. They provide role models—I am sure the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) is an assiduous tidier up as a result of what he watched as a child—inspire ambition and encourage social inclusion. They engage participation in national conversations and develop a child’s understanding, valuing and ownership of what it means to be British.

Children’s TV also makes a significant contribution to the economy and provides quality jobs. It is a key part of our soft power too, promoting tolerance, logic and fair play to children all over the world. The Government must consider the wider consequences for public service broadcasters if children are not consuming as much content as they used to. It is unhelpful for the long-term interests of our public service broadcasters if a generation has little experience of their content. Will the Secretary of State think carefully about how she can work with public service broadcasters to get more quality UK-made children’s content and, crucially, make sure it is as accessible as possible to them?

The Bill is designed to allow current public service broadcasters to fulfil their obligations by taking into account their online delivery platforms, but children also spend a massive proportion of their time on Disney+ or on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube. I urge the Secretary of State to speak with those platforms about how they can provide more quality public service content produced here in the UK.

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There seems to be an excessive amount of advertising on commercial programmes aimed at young children, to the extent that it sometimes seems almost subliminal within the programme. Does my hon. Friend think that area needs to be looked at, because those programmes are using children as a commercial pressure on their parents or guardians?

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of work done by the Children’s Media Foundation and I am pleased to note his point. A great concern of mine is that all children’s television and broadcasting ought to be of the highest possible quality. In our country we have that tradition of making great children’s TV.

I am also concerned about the talent pipeline that PSBs rely on. For the past 13 years, successive Tory Governments have failed to understand the importance of creative education for economic growth and jobs. We get announcements with no follow-up, which means they have not taken the issue at all seriously. Government adverts patronised creatives, suggesting that ballerinas should retrain in cyber.

Complementing the aims of the Bill, Labour will back the next generation of creative talent that we know our PSBs need if they are to fulfil the promise offered by the Bill. We will equip the workforce with the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to sustain PSBs and the wider creative industries, which are so necessary to fulfil the pipeline. There will be a broad and balanced education for every child, who will have access to high-quality arts, culture and creativity under a future Labour Government.

I recognise the unique and vital role of the independent sector, as set out in the Bill. As MP for Bristol West, the home of BBC Wildlife, some Channel 4 studios and many creative industries that supply and work for them, I know how important PSBs are, or can be, for driving inward investment into communities across our country. I have seen for myself in my patch how that can stimulate the supply chain and the resilience of the local economy, but I want more for this industry across the country from this Government.

Finally, I welcome the measures in the Bill to give S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster, more flexibility in the modern world, and I welcome the comments that my hon. Friends have made about that.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and congratulate her on her appointment. The point that I would like to make to the Secretary of State is that, although there is a broad welcome in Wales for the reforms to S4C, it is a channel that seems at the moment to be at a crisis point; perhaps that is going too far—it seems to be in an element of turmoil. I would be very grateful if the Secretary of State would look at what is going on at S4C, starting with the journalism of Martin Shipton on Nation.Cymru, because there are a few issues that need to be addressed.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, although I think it was probably addressed to the Secretary of State. I agree with him on the importance of S4C, as I am sure we all do. I want S4C to have more flexibility in the modern world, but I did note, as has been raised by other colleagues, that there is no specific mention of protecting Gaelic broadcasting in the future. That is despite an explicit mention of it in the King’s Speech, so I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could clarify what has changed by the next stage of the Bill.

I thank the Secretary of State for bringing forward the measures in the Bill and urge her to listen to the comments that I have raised today, and those that my colleagues and others across the House will raise, because there is a great deal of cross-party consensus. We all want the Bill to be as good as it possibly can be. I reiterate my offer to work with her to get the Bill through Parliament in the best shape possible and to do so as smoothly as possible. Labour will back this Bill to back our public service broadcasters.

15:01
Damian Green Portrait Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I echo the sentiment of others. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire). In continuing with the spirit of non-partisanship that she expressed, I, too, hope that the Bill will get through the House quickly and think that we should congratulate the Secretary of State on getting this far. As she said, it is 20 years since we last had a significant media Bill of this size. Most of the big names that we think of in the media now, apart from the public service broadcasters, would not have meant anything or, indeed, did not exist at the time. I suspect that when the 2003 Act was being prepared, the biggest disruptor around was Blockbuster Video—[Interruption.] I can see a few memories being sparked across the House. That was the case then; companies come and go, but the importance of the sector continues.

This Bill is so important and timely for two reasons. The first is the economic importance of the creative sector; the creative industries are one of the Chancellor’s five important growth sectors—and rightly so, as they contribute something like £108 billion to the economy and support something like 2 million jobs. They are an extremely important part of the British economy and also help to spread British soft power around the world. Those institutions that provide great creative content are some of the things that people around the world most admire about this country.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I was last in the United States, before the pandemic, I was astounded by how many people asked me if I had heard of “The Crown” or “Downton Abbey”. If that was not an example of the soft power that our creative industries give this country, then I know of no better.

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman is of course quite right, with the slight caveat that of course “The Crown” is made by Netflix—one of the global disruptors that produce great work that we watch, but also give rise to the necessity to protect our own British public service broadcasters.

Arguably even more important than the economic importance of our public service broadcasters is their cultural importance; in a global world—where, indeed, people can take British stories but produce them in a global context—we need a British voice or a collection of voices. At a time when our society is riven with divisions, we need activities and means of expression that remind us all of what we share, so the media, which both create and carry those illustrations of our shared experiences, are more important than ever. The protections in the Bill are important not just for our economy, but for the flourishing of our culture, and I can think of few more important things that a Government can address.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point about British soft power and projecting British culture on the world stage. Does he agree that, within that, there is also huge scope for projecting the variety of what modern Britain looks like? Does he agree that, whether it is through programmes on Disney+ like “Welcome to Wrexham” or through the Welsh public service broadcasters, projecting Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish identities as part of that overall industry is an incredibly important thing in the 21st century?

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Partly as a fellow Welsh man, I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that it is about the subtlety of British culture. There is one recognisable British culture, but within that there are many streams of different cultures, and preserving each is extremely important—not just by itself but also to preserve the whole British culture. Precisely because we have not just one public service broadcaster—it is not just the BBC, but people from ITV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 doing great work—we get the ability to project diversity of voices within the wider British voice. That is extremely important.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving way. I had hoped that there would be consensus right across the House on epistle he is giving on the importance of the Gaelic language, and that an amendment to make sure that the Gaelic language is protected should be supported across the House. If I may say so, there is a Gaelic TV station, BBC Alba Radio nan Gàidheal —in contrast to what was perhaps said from the Dispatch Box. It is important that we have that parity of esteem and that we can consider the funding that is necessary to allow the station to flourish.

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. As that matter is not in the Bill, I have not considered it very carefully. If I may say so, I thought that it was an expression of wisdom on the part of the shadow Secretary of State when she made the point that she could not commit to supporting an amendment that she had not seen. I think that is a good rule for everyone.

I wish to concentrate briefly on five areas covered by the Bill, the first of which is indeed Channel 4. It is what is not here that I celebrate as much as what is, because the Secretary of State took an early and wise decision not to proceed with a wholesale privatisation of Channel 4. I always thought that that policy was based on two pillars that were mutually incompatible; there was an argument that Channel 4 had no commercial future and was not viable, and a separate argument that it could be sold off and raise a huge sum of money for the Treasury. It seemed to me that we could make a plausible argument for either of those propositions, but it was really impossible to make a plausible argument for both those propositions at the same time, and that seemed to be what the Government were seeking to do for a time.

I wholeheartedly congratulate the Secretary of State on moving on from that policy and finding new ways to make Channel 4 viable in the long term, because that is extremely important. The way that the Government have chosen to do that is to remove the publisher-broadcaster restriction to allow Channel 4 to start making some of its own content. I merely observe at this stage that I hope that that will be done very cautiously, because among the virtues of Channel 4 is not just what it broadcasts, but the fact that it has promoted the growth of an enormous sector of production companies—some very small and some that have grown to be very large—and it is that ecosystem that has allowed much the successful creativity in recent decades, for more than 40 years.

I should declare an interest, because I was working for “Channel 4 News” the day the station started. I was there from day one. I suspect that, particularly given that the early reception of “Channel 4 News” was—how shall I put it?—not wholly positive, if somebody had told us then that the programme would still be on air at the same time every night as it was in 1982 when the station started, we would all have dropped down dead with shock. Nevertheless, it is still there and it is still controversial, and many other excellent things have been produced by the channel.

That has allowed other production companies to flourish, so I hope that, as Channel 4 moves cautiously towards producing some of its own programmes, it recognises, and the regulator and the Government recognise, that preserving that ecosystem of independent companies is hugely important. Channel 4 says that its move into in-house TV production will be gradual and will build on the existing diversity in the market; I very much hope that it observes that and that there is not too much conflict between proceeding cautiously with that and maintaining the channel’s overall viability.

The second detail in the Bill that I would like to deal with is preserving the prominence of public broadcasters on the new platforms that people use to watch TV. I welcome the measures in the Bill, but with some caveats. It is obviously important to ensure that UK users can easily find the public service content they value; despite the increasingly diverse global marketplace that we have discussed, about seven in 10 UK adults want UK life and culture represented on screen, and that is the core purpose of the public service broadcasters.

If I may pick up on the many gratifying favourable references to the CMS Committee, on which I serve under the enlightened chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage), we have suggested that PSBs should be given “significant”, not just “appropriate”, prominence on all platforms. We think that that will be a better way to protect the long-term interest of the PSBs, and it can be done by introducing amendments to proposed new section 362AM of the Communications Act 2003 on the Ofcom code of practice, so it is not a complicated thing to do.

Another detailed point I would make is that the Bill creates a level playing field in the must-carry/must-offer section for commercial PSBs in their negotiations with the programmers about how they will be carried, but not for the BBC. An amendment to that part of the Bill covering the must-carry obligations, setting out that a regulated platform should act consistently with the equivalent BBC charter and framework agreement provisions, would address that small point.

The next point I will concentrate on is listed events, and here I echo some of the remarks made earlier in the debate: it is very welcome that the loophole about streaming services has been closed. That will be a significant step forward in the way people watch big sporting events in particular, but again I commend to Ministers a recommendation of the Select Committee that the Government should go further and include digital on-demand rights as well, because that is how many people will watch big sporting events—something that brings the country together—in future. With the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, which were obviously in a different time zone, some digital on-demand clips and highlights reached 10 times more people than the live TV coverage where an event had seen some British success overnight in this country.

If we look ahead to future great sporting events, the men’s football World cup is in the USA, Mexico and Canada, and the 2028 and 2032 Olympics are in the USA and Australia respectively. Those are all inconvenient time zones for most British viewers, so extending the regime to on-demand rights would make a lot of difference to a lot of viewers.

I echo the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), the former Lord Chancellor, about local TV. Those channels provide valuable services and I think they could be included in the licensed public service channel definition in the Bill. Allowing some guaranteed prominence for local TV services in the new TV ecology would help to ensure sustainability for that sector, which is increasingly important.

My final point is about radio. I am a lifelong fan of radio, and I am impressed and surprised by how the medium is flourishing in this area of infinite choice, particularly when it comes to music listening. For years, people have thought that the existence of services such as Spotify would kill off radio, but the opposite seems to be happening: there is more radio listening than ever. That is a tribute to all those in the radio sector, both BBC and commercial services, who have done an incredible job of preserving new generations of listeners.

As another word of congratulation to Ministers, I am delighted that, after some doubt, part 6 on the radio sector has been included in the Bill, because there are some very important protections that are needed. As online listening grows, radio stations are becoming increasingly reliant on global technology platforms that produce smart speakers to reach their listeners. It is important, at this stage in the development of radio, that we stop platforms’ potential abuse of their market position by charging for access to UK radio services or inserting their own adverts in commercial radio services, so those protections are very welcome.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On that point about the growth of the radio sector, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the real success stories of recent years is the emergence of a new generation of digital community stations to plug the gap of the local commercial stations that have become part of national groups and lost some of their local rootedness? Does he further agree that Ofcom should look at releasing more FM licences so that those new digital community stations can grow, especially in areas such as mine in west Wales, where take-up of digital radio is perhaps lower than elsewhere?

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do, because in an era when the biggest media have become completely global, what we used to call hyper-localism is important in all media. Radio Ashford in my constituency does what it says on the tin—it is very local. It is strictly about the town and it competes with the BBC’s offering on Radio Kent, which is broader and, like all BBC local radio, for a large part of the day is regional rather than even county-based. The capacity to have properly local services is very important.

If I may suggest a way in which those welcome protections could be strengthened even further, Ministers should consider expanding them to include online-only radio content such as podcasts and catch-up radio content, and indeed the systems in vehicles—that is where a significant proportion of radio listening takes place—which are not protected in the Bill as it stands.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is important in that context that we give consideration to the community radio stations that broadcast on FM—I have a number in my constituency, including Skye FM, Two Lochs Radio, Nevis Radio—which are very often hand to mouth. It is important that Government agencies conducting advertising through local radio stations remember the importance of those community stations and their high level of reach. They need to be given their fair share in that regard.

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who makes a powerful point.

To conclude, the Bill is welcome. Many of the individual measures are welcome and necessary. Some could and should be improved, and I am sure that they will be as the Bill is scrutinised in its various stages. Overall, I am delighted that the Bill is now before the House, and I wish it, and the Ministers carrying it through, well.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the SNP spokesperson.

15:20
Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate having the opportunity to lead for the SNP on Second Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson), who usually leads on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has been unable to come along, so I have stepped into the breach, as it were, and agreed to manage the Media Bill for the SNP.

Although the Bill is welcome and takes a number of positive steps forward, I am concerned about how over-complicated some of it is. The Bill amends the Communications Act 2003, the Broadcasting Act 1996 and the Broadcasting Act 1990. Apart from amendments to corporation Acts and tax Acts, I have not seen anything quite this complicated. If I were a broadcaster or worked in this area, I would find it difficult to find all the information I needed even to comply with the legislation because of its complicated nature. The Media Bill mostly amends those three pieces of legislation, as well as a few others in smaller technical ways—smaller technical amendments are absolutely standard—but it has been done in a complicated way that will make it difficult to find some of the definitions.

I was looking, for example, for the definition of “programme”. I was directed to the Communications Act 2003, which directed me to the Broadcasting Act 1990, which then told me what the definition was. I have yet to find out the definition of “person”. Perhaps the Minister could furnish me with information on where I could find that definition in those three pieces of legislation. I did, however, find out that when it comes to choosing programmes and organising programming, an algorithm can be counted as a “person” if someone is assisted by an algorithm. I would find it very helpful if the Minister pointed me in the direction of the definition of “person”, which is used a significant number of times in the Bill when it talks about a person who is in charge of programming. Does the word “person” also relate to an entity or a group of people if they are in charge of programming? It would be helpful to have more information on that.

I am slightly concerned about other definitions and uses of words. The requirement for Ofcom to work out that there is a sufficiency of something without there being any clarity on what “sufficiency” means is slightly concerning, because something that I see as sufficient may not be seen as sufficient by somebody else. If there were more information on what “sufficient” meant, there would be more clarity on the changes to Channel 4 as a proportion of expenditure, for example, as opposed to a proportion of programming. “Sufficiency” is not sufficiently defined in the Bill.

The shadow Secretary of State mentioned the word “appropriate” in respect of the availability of public sector broadcasters through internet services, and raised concerns about whether it should be re-termed as “significant”. That would probably give those broadcasters the level of prominence that we expect and want them to have, so that people can access their services in the way that they want and expect. I agree that there could be a different way of doing that.

I will come to a number of different issues, but let me touch on the requirement on the prominence of services. That is important, and I am glad that the Government have chosen to tackle the prominence of services. The order in which public service broadcasters appear—particularly for those who use Amazon Fire Sticks, for example—is important. As those broadcasters have responsibilities that other broadcasters do not, it is important that they are given a level of primacy.

However, I am concerned that the App Store and the Google Play Store are not included in the measures, given the way in which such organisations—particularly the App Store—have behaved. They have said, “We can carry things such as the BBC iPlayer or the STV player only if you give us a significant slice of your revenue.” That is not acceptable. If people look up the BBC iPlayer on the App Store, it should be the top result, rather than being placed further down because Apple has had an argument with the BBC about it. It is inappropriate for Apple to charge the BBC significant amounts of money for a level of prominence that the BBC should have by right as a public service broadcaster. That is important not just in relation to the software in the Fire Stick, for example—or however we choose to view our video-on-demand services—but in the prominence that public service broadcaster apps, such as Channel 4 on demand and BBC iPlayer, are given. The same applies to BBC Sounds in radio access. Those broadcasters should not be charged significant amounts for that prominence.

While I am on radio, I appreciate what has been said about ensuring that Alexa and Siri provide the correct radio station. I would really like Alexa or Siri to play Taylor Swift when I ask for her, rather than Rage Against the Machine. It is not that they are trying to provide me with something else; it is that they do not understand my Scottish accent. Improving the listening ability of those services so that they can play the song that I want would be incredibly helpful.

I like the provisions on advertising. In some cases, it is not Alexa or Siri making decisions on advertising; it is TuneIn Radio—or whichever programme Alexa or Siri is playing through—that is making those decisions. As long as that provision applies to how we hear advertising, rather than who deals with the background stuff, I am happy enough with the measures.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), who has just headed out of the Chamber, on the importance of local radio. In my constituency, Station House Media Unit—known as shmu—does local magazines as well as a significant amount of local radio. It feels really rooted in our communities in a way that, as the right hon. Member said, larger stations that have been taken over by other companies do not.

I appreciate the level of children’s content we have had, particularly on the BBC, having watched CBeebies with my children. When I was younger, I went to a fancy dress party dressed as a Tweenie. I cannot remember whether I was Bella, Milo, Fizz or Jake, but I can tell the House that I did not have to look up those names, because I remembered them. They are ingrained in my soul, having watched the show with my little sisters. They are significantly younger than me, which is why I mention such a recent television programme.

Ofcom has had to scale up massively to service the provisions of the Online Safety Act 2023. I am appreciative of that, and I have a lot of time for the growth in capacity and the number of excellent people it has brought in to do the work. Can the Minister give us a level of reassurance that, for the policing of this area, the writing of the regulations and guidance that this Bill will require and the different interactions that Ofcom will be having, in particular with video-on-demand services, it will have the number of individuals and capacity and resource to be able to undertake such additional layers of work? I am aware that Ofcom is doing significant portions of work around broadcasting already, but I do not want it to have to stretch itself when it is already having to grow at pace. I am concerned that there are not even the number of qualified individuals to take on that work, given how specialised and important it is. Can the Minister reassure me that he is having conversations at least with Ofcom about its capacity when this legislation comes in?

A number of my colleagues have mentioned the Gaelic language and the issues around it. Of course, those could all be solved by devolving broadcasting to the Scottish Government, but in lieu of that, I will highlight some of the disparities. The Secretary of State was perhaps getting a little confused between BBC Alba and MG Alba, which are two different organisations. [Interruption.] Alba—my pronunciation is nearly there. I am an east-coaster. The two organisations are different and operate differently. We appreciate the support being given to S4C, which is a good thing, but we have a disparity, as £89 million of licence fee is going to S4C, whereas only £10 million is going to the Gaelic language. There is a requirement for a quota of at least 10 hours a week of Welsh language programming, but no requirement for a similar quota for Gaelic programming. I am concerned by that.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member is making a very good point about the Gaelic language. I absolutely hate to say this in this place, but my constituency has a few native Gaelic speakers—there are so few of them. I pray that in a few years’ time another generation will have the language. Gaelic is in a vulnerable situation, which reinforces her point.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much appreciate the hon. Member’s point. I went to visit a Gaelic nursery in Aberdeen a couple of years ago. Staff there were concerned about the reduction in Gaelic programming for children, because outside the nursery the children were not necessarily getting the exposure to Gaelic that they might have had if they had lived in Skye or the Western Isles. They were concerned that, just because they had chosen not to live in those communities, the language embedded in those children and their ability to access TV programmes in their native first language was significantly reduced. I am concerned by the disparity. I hope the Minister appreciates that we are coming from a good place in trying to ensure the protection of Gaelic, some level of parity and that people across Scotland can access it.

I will highlight specifically what the Bill states. It states that there has to be

“a sufficient quantity of audiovisual content that is in, or mainly in, a recognised regional or minority language”.

Later, the Bill states that

“‘recognised regional or minority language’ means Welsh, the Gaelic language as spoken in Scotland, Irish, Scots, Ulster Scots or Cornish.”

The Bill does not define what “a sufficient quantity” is. It does not say whether it will be measured on the basis of the percentage of people who speak that language in each of the countries. That wording is concerning, and given that there is a quota for Welsh programming, it is disappointing that there is not a similarly recognised quota for any of the other languages.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is making some strong points, and all of us on the SNP Benches support full funding for S4C, but it is specifically worth saying that there is no index-linking of the funding available for MG Alba. In many respects, the situation that Gaelic broadcasting is now facing is even worse than people might consider, because in real terms the funding available for MG Alba will, by 2027, be 50% of what it was in 2008. We are facing an existential threat to the survival of Gaelic broadcasting. We can think about the breadth and depth of the programming. I have programme-making in Skye, including from Chris Young of Young Films, who is known for “The Inbetweeners”. He, for example, produced the excellent “Bannan”. We need to fund such broadcasting appropriately.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree. We do not regret or feel angry at the Welsh language programming that is provided and the support for it. As my right hon. Friend said, we are looking for parity, and the index-linking of funding is important. We also need to recognise that the Scottish Government are already providing significant funding for the Gaelic language and to MG Alba, but there is no parity in terms of the licence fee.

I have a few other things I wish to say. Sadly, the Bill finally says goodbye to teletext; it is the end of teletext as we know it. It has not been in use since 2009, but the Bill finally removes it from legislation.

I also wish to talk about football games and how broadcasting and listing works. Listing is the particular concern. The Secretary of State said that the listing system is being revamped—I am not sure exactly what word she used but that was the direction she intended. However, the listing system itself—the way in which category A and category B listings are chosen—is not being revamped. No change is being made to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) is unwell and unable to take part in today’s debate, but he has done a huge amount of work on trying to ensure that we can access Scottish football games. It is incredibly important that we can see Scottish football games in Scotland. The Broadcasting Act 1996 says:

“’national interest’ includes interest within England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.”

It does not say, “England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”; it says “or Northern Ireland”. Given how popular Scotland’s football team is in Scotland, its games should be classed of national importance, especially as we have finally made it to the finals of a tournament. That is wonderful and we want to be able to see those games. It is not fair that viewers in Scotland have to pay to see their national team play, whereas viewers everywhere else in the UK do not have to pay for the same privilege. This issue is important. I note the point that the shadow Secretary of State made about the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s digital rights enabling provision, and I agree that if enabling provisions could be made on digital rights for sports events, that would be an important move.

I have a couple more issues to raise. The first is on-demand services and the inclusion of the 30-day requirement. Unfortunately, the Bill does not make it clear whether that means 30 consecutive days. It is important that the word “consecutive” be added unless precedent in other legislation suggests that “30 days” means 30 consecutive days. Why is news excluded from that provision? The right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) spoke about the economic and cultural importance of our media, but we must consider its democratic importance in ensuring that knowledge is spread. I do not understand why the Minister and the Secretary of State have chosen to exclude news from this 30-day requirement on digital provision. The other thing that could have been clearer is ensuring that some of the provision is accessible. I know that the BBC has worked hard on this, but we are not there yet, as some of the local news that is provided is nearly impossible to find. If I want to watch Aberdeen-specific news, or even Scotland-specific news, it is hard to find it and disentangle it from more national news. Accessibility is required in that regard.

This legislation provides for quite a lot of delegated powers. I have not managed to make my way through all of them, but using the affirmative procedure often strikes the right balance. Using the draft affirmative procedure for a significant amount of the delegated powers in this Bill is important.

I am pleased that we have the Bill. I am concerned about the lack of futureproofing in some of it and about the overcomplication, as some of the definitions are difficult to follow and therefore may not achieve what the Government intend. The cultural sector is incredibly important to the entirety of the UK. It is incredibly important in Scotland, and we certainly will not oppose the Media Bill as it goes forward.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

13:19
Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to speak in this debate, not least because although the Government have been committed to a media Bill for a long time, it has always been with that well-worn caveat, “when parliamentary time allows”. I am really grateful to both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for their kind words about the work of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. I am pleased that one of our first recommendations to be adopted by the Government was to include the Bill in this Session, and I am even more delighted that it has been introduced so quickly following the King’s Speech.

So much has changed since the last piece of major media legislation was passed 20 years ago, in the days when broadcasters decided when their programmes could be watched, TV was almost entirely analogue and only about 4% of the country had any form of access to the internet. But not everything has changed. Public service broadcasters remain at the heart of the UK’s media ecosystem, providing content that enriches our culture, our society and our democracy, and radio remains resilient, despite the environment in which it operates changing beyond recognition. It falls to us to pass legislation that both recognises the immense way in which technology and audience behaviour has changed and preserves the future of our valued PSBs and radio stations for years to come.

I am really pleased to see that the Government have accepted the majority of our Committee’s recommendations following our hard work on the Bill. The changes make the Bill more effective, closing the loophole that allows an unregulated streaming service to buy the rights for a listed sporting event and then stick it behind a pay wall. They make it more workable, improving the drafting of how the must-offer and must-carry carriage deals between PSBs and platforms should be negotiated. They make the Bill more proportionate, exempting news and sport from the requirement for on-demand content to be available for 30 days if it is to count towards a PSB’s remit. They make it more futureproofed, ensuring that the definition of an internet radio service can be amended to reflect changing audience habits or use of technology, and they make the Bill clearer, by ensuring that Channel 4’s sustainability duty is compatible with its existing statutory obligations.

There remain a few areas where the Bill will benefit from further discussion as it progresses, and I would like to pick up on a few of those today. The first is the issue of genres, which some Members have talked about. Ensuring prominence for our public service broadcasters is central to the Bill, but it is the obligation on them to provide high-quality and diverse programming that enables us to make the argument for prominence so incontrovertibly.

The changes to the public service broadcasting remit are significant. Other than news and current affairs, the Bill will remove the genres in the Communications Act 2003—for example, religious and arts programming, or children’s programming; I will not be drawn into the trap of discussing my favourite, because my dad may well be watching the debate—and replace them with an obligation to provide programming that reflects the lives and concerns of the UK’s different communities and cultural interests and traditions. That simplifies the remit of PSBs and the enforcement of it for Ofcom, but at what cost?

In our inquiry, the Committee found that these changes have received far less attention than other aspects of the Bill. Funnily enough, it was something that the PSBs themselves did not want to linger on in their evidence to us, but that is all the more reason why we need to consider whether these changes are the right ones. It is true that much of what people regard as public service content is now provided by a wide range of providers beyond PSBs and sometimes for free—for example, on Sky Arts—but not all genres are served in that way, and we need to be sure that the Bill gets the balance right.

With regard to prominence, obligations on our PSBs must be fairly balanced with the benefits that they are going to see. The harder it is to find public service broadcasting content, the less likely that content is to be watched, so PSBs need prominence on smart TVs and streaming sticks. That cannot come soon enough, but those who followed our inquiry will know that there was a debate among stakeholders as to whether we keep the existing descriptor for electronic programming guides that PSBs’ prominence should be “appropriate”, or change it to “significant”. That sounds like a really technical argument, but in the advanced user interfaces of today, what prominence looks like varies considerably from device to device and from platform to platform, so it is really important. What is considered appropriate prominence is far more open to interpretation than before, which is why we supported changing “appropriate” to “significant”. That was one of the few recommendations we made that the Government did not accept. Ultimately, what really matters is ensuring that public service content is always carried and is always easy to find, so that is what we need to work through as the Bill progresses.

We also need to consider whether the Bill’s “must carry” obligations on platforms need aligning with the “must offer” obligations in the BBC’s charter and framework agreement. Are we aiming for a level playing field between platforms and all our PSBs, or only the commercial ones? The House needs to explore that question, as well as whether the Government should extend the new prominence regime to local TV services. Those services are given prominence on electronic programme guides, on either channel 7 or channel 8, but the Bill does not give them prominence on smart TVs. We need to decide whether that is the right direction.

There are also places where I would be grateful if our Ministers provided more detail. Our Committee recommended that the new video-on-demand code should apply to all platforms in the same way that the broadcasting code applies to all broadcasters. However, the Government intend to apply that code only to platforms with a large UK audience. I recognise the Government’s argument that the legislation must be proportionate: clearly, applying the code to small, niche services such as a football team’s on-demand service could unfairly and unnecessarily penalise them, with no overall audience protection. However, we need more indication from the Government of the types of services they have in mind. The Minister will probably say that no decision has been made, but Ministers will have already considered this issue as they developed the Bill and responded to the Select Committee’s report, so I hope he will be able to say a bit more about what services he envisages being in scope.

We also need a bit more clarity on a late addition to the Bill: the introduction of a new special clause for multi-sport events that was not in the draft Bill. That clause would apply to four group A events: the summer Olympics and Paralympics and the winter Olympics and Paralympics. Currently, Ofcom consent is not required when there are genuine partnerships—that is, full and comprehensive rights on both sides of the partnership—but the Bill will change that, with each partner only entitled to “adequate live coverage”. This morning, the Select Committee had a session on women’s sport and met broadcasters, including the BBC’s director of sport, Barbara Slater. She raised real concerns about the impact of that clause, especially without any detail of what “adequate” means. If we are to avoid PSB coverage of those listed events being undermined by the Bill, we need clarity. Why did Ministers add that clause? What is wrong with the current rules? We need to make sure that we protect those moments of national importance, and that the Bill does not lead to any unintended consequences.

Turning to radio, there are places where we could look again at what is covered by the legislation. As Members have already heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), on-demand content from licensed radio stations is not covered by the Bill, nor are any online-only stations, yet some 10 million adults listen to podcasts every week and some of our biggest broadcasters have online-only stations. We all know how incredibly important radio is—it is the most trusted medium in the UK—and, in particular, how important local radio is. More than anything, the public reaction to the BBC’s changes to local radio brings that home. Sharing content across large areas risks undermining the sense of localness that has, until now, made BBC local radio really distinct. The measures to protect radio are some of the most important parts of the Bill, and we need to reflect on whether they go far enough.

Ultimately, of course, there is only one question to ask of any piece of media legislation: does it deliver for its audiences? First, the Bill is critical to the sustainability of our PSBs. While those broadcasters do not always get everything right, they provide huge value for audiences: they are the broadcasters who entertain us, who teach us, and who show us our national sporting triumphs—and, quite often, our defeats. Secondly, the Bill is critical if viewers are to be confident that all TV-like content, whether broadcast or on demand, will be subject to the same or similar standards. Thirdly, this Bill is critical to the future of radio, where stations are increasingly dependent on online platforms for access to listeners. This Bill seeks to ensure that radio remains the strong, trusted medium that it is today. Yes, there is more discussion to be had on the exact contents of the Bill, but it does deliver for audiences, which is why I am so pleased to hear that it has support from across the House and why I want to see it come into law as soon as possible.

15:49
Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to start by expressing my party’s broad support for this Bill, which is timely. What a change we have seen since 2003 when the Communications Act was passed: it is a massive change. The new legislation is crucial for public sector broadcasters, and I therefore believe that time is of the essence. However, I am treating this debate as a bit like a tutorial in which we will have an interesting exchange of ideas. On behalf of my party, I will reserve our opinions—in the light of certain reservations that I will express—and we shall be abstaining on the Bill tonight. That does not in any way indicate that we do not support the thrust of the Bill, and I think that needs to be understood.

The first concern I would air is the removal of some regulations about local broadcasting. We have heard from all around the Chamber the importance of local broadcasting, including what it means in platforming voices and stories from across the nations and regions, not least the highlands, where I come from. I think this is a good point at which to unreservedly add my support to my colleagues—one across the Minch, the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil); another to the south of me, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford); and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman)—in saying that it is crucially important that we get it right with regard to Gaelic. As I said in an intervention, it saddens me to say this, but the situation of the language is precarious and we need to do everything possible to secure its future.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that there should be some sort of legislative underpinning and support for Gaelic broadcasting. Indeed, BBC Alba has asked for that and pointed that out.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct.

Furthermore, as we know, local radio—and, as was expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), who is no longer with us, the same is true of local television—is absolutely fundamental to the proper functioning of local democracy. I know this only too well, and in some ways I regret it. Let me give Members, for their lighter amusement, a cautionary tale. When I was first elected to be a member of Ross and Cromarty District Council a long time ago—I was once upon a time the youngest member of the council—my younger brother was a broadcaster on Moray Firth Radio, our local radio station, which is still alive and well today. He thought it would be kind to me to put me on his chat show on a Saturday morning called “The Chipboard Table” just days after I was first elected. He sat me down—this was live—and he said, “Jamie, last night we had a dram together, and you told me that you felt your fellow councillors were quite creative in the way they completed their expenses.” This led to an indifferent start to a career in local government, but that is one of the scars I bear. Luckily, it was a long time ago. For accountability and throwing a light on local democracy, local radio is absolutely crucial, and notwithstanding my experience, I would not have it any other way.

On the issue of quotas, the removal of Ofcom’s responsibility to monitor the delivery of content in education, science and culture may risk content in these areas declining. That would concern me because, as was eloquently expressed by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), the soft power this country exerts is about being British, but it also about reflecting the different facets of our nation that English-speaking countries find absolutely fascinating. As the Bill progresses, I will be looking to ensure that Ofcom retains a statutory requirement to measure the output of each of these genres—language, culture or whatever—against, let us say for now, the benchmark of what we have at the moment. I do not wish to see any decline from that whatsoever.

On accessibility, when it comes to linear television, there is a requirement for 90% of programmes to be provided with subtitles, as we know. It is right that there should be greater access to those things. Let me give the House another personal example. On a Sunday evening, a cousin of mine who is a little older than me comes and has a meal with my wife and I, and she watches the television. She is a great friend and much loved. She is also pretty deaf, and for some television programmes we can get the subtitles up, but for others we cannot. Perhaps I am not very intelligent with IT, but by gosh we’ve tried, and it is hugely frustrating that she cannot see the words that are being said. The same applies to people with visual impairment—we are talking about signing and other ways of helping. The Liberal Democrat party will look to require that at least 80% of on-demand TV content be subtitled, with 10% audio described and 5% signed. That is our position at this stage.

While I find it tricky to find the subtitles, another issue is also tricky to find. One of the most important aspects of the Bill is the call for public service broadcaster prominence, ensuring that the likes of BBC, Channel 4 and ITV are not only easy to find on any smart TV, but are also given due prominence. This is the existential issue for our public service broadcasters, and the question of how appropriate prominence will be defined is vital. The Liberal Democrats would like the current call for “appropriate” prominence be strengthened to “significant” prominence, and I believe we will be tabling amendments to see whether we can achieve that.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member is talking about a range of different issues, which highlight the fact that there are a lot of disparate concerns about the Bill. Does he share my concern that the draft programme motion does not include taking oral evidence for the Bill, and does he understand why the Government have done that?

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I believe that is a wise point, and we would be wise to heed it.

When it comes to Channel 4, I believe I am not alone in having concerns about plans to relax the publisher-broadcaster status, and about the potential risk that that poses to the unique contribution that the channel makes to the diversity and sustainability of the independent production sector across the nations and regions. Again, that takes me back to my earlier point about the sheer diversity of the product being part of our soft power, which is important to this country. However, there is a caveat. With the increased independent production quota and Channel 4’s prediction that any changes will take at least five years to launch, that fundamental change might not lead to any market shock in the short term. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we shall see.

Finally, let me turn to what is perhaps a core debating point today. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 requires new outlets to pay the costs—we know what that is all about. The Liberal Democrats stand firmly against that charge. The 2013 Bill followed the Leveson inquiry and the phone hacking scandal, and the proposed change will put at risk the balance between free speech and public safeguarding, all the while favouring news publishers. One could say that that is a standard political stance in this debate, and perhaps Conservative Members would take a different view. However, let us consider one final point, which is important in terms of the notion of British justice. This change would mean that anyone without substantial financial resources or deep pockets that can match the might of the newspapers would find it impossible to pursue legitimate grievances through the legal system. We need to think about that very deeply. What can the small man possibly do against the publishing giants? That is hugely important and I think there is a warning here. With that I will conclude my remarks. I sincerely hope that my career in this place will not include any more gaffes on live radio, but you can never tell, Madam Deputy Speaker, least of all from a highland Member of Parliament.

15:59
Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

A number of hon. Members have mentioned how long it has been since the last major piece of media legislation, but it is worth reflecting on that period of change and what it means. When the Communications Act 2003 was passed more than 20 years ago, Amazon was a relatively small online retailer selling music, books and video games, Netflix delivered videos and DVDs by mail order for people to watch at home, and YouTube did not exist. If we had asked someone then what a smart device was, they would probably have guessed that it was a scientific calculator. There were no smart devices, and the iPhone was still some years away from existing.

The idea that every one of us would carry in our pockets a device allowing us to watch live television whenever we like would not have been envisaged, or people would have thought that to be far off. That is significant not just because technology changes the media landscape but because it has a massive impact on viewing habits. That in many ways is the real challenge faced by the public service broadcasters today. The Bill is a hugely welcome step towards addressing some of those needs, but there will continue to be an ongoing challenge.

All Ofcom data is clear that, with the exception of the pandemic period when everyone watched a lot more television, public service broadcasting is declining. The minutes people spend each day watching public service broadcasting are declining year on year. Broadcasters face ongoing pressure not just from that audience decline but from rising costs through inflation for television production, which are running much faster than the consumer prices index. That puts an inevitable squeeze on budgets.

Public broadcasters that have the luxury of making more of their own programmes while raising money through subscriptions and other things are better placed to deal with that audience change. Nevertheless, it is there. The biggest challenge that the BBC faces is not about it not making brilliant programmes, not having fantastic writers or not nurturing brilliant talent; it is that people are voluntarily declining to pay the licence fee simply because they feel their needs in gathering news or watching fantastic programming can be met elsewhere.

The challenge that Channel 4 has faced is that, without the ability to invest in programmes from which it can make money, it relies solely on advertiser revenue, and that revenue is under challenge all the time, so it is much harder for it to be sustainable and to plan for the future. I welcome the Government’s introduction of measures in the Bill to change Channel 4’s remit. I understand the concerns raised by companies in the independent production sector, but I think they would recognise that that sector is totally different from when Channel 4 launched. At that time, a lot more BBC and ITV production was done in-house and there were no other routes to television.

Channel 4 created an opportunity for independent production companies to launch businesses, make programmes and gain an audience that otherwise would not have existed. Now, there are huge opportunities for independent producers. While Channel 4 is an important part of that ecosystem, it is by no means the only one, so the best thing we can do for the independent sector is ensure that Channel 4 is in as robust health as possible so that it can commission more, because 65% or 70% of a bigger TV company is worth a lot more than 100% of a very small one, or one that is struggling to continue to exist.

Those are the ongoing challenges that the PSBs will face, and the fight for attention will only continue. People now are more distracted not only by video-on-demand services but by video gaming and other forms of audio-visual entertainment. That is the backdrop against which the Bill is being introduced.

The question of the degree of PSB prominence on connected devices—modern televisions that are internet-connected and totally integrated with people’s on-demand viewing habits—is incredibly important. Whether that level of prominence is “significant” or “appropriate” is an important debate. Is it enough simply to have the television schedule there on the device, with that schedule the live schedule ranked in order on the electronic programming guide as we are used to seeing it? How easy is that to find? Will people be constantly shifting through menus for on-demand services, be those Netflix, Amazon, Sky programming or whatever, before they find the television guide?

We see in Ofcom’s yearly audience analysis data from its media nations report that those under the age of 40 do not really regard television as a live product any more, unless they are watching the news or live sport; it is an on-demand product. If we asked student audiences what they thought of the TV schedule, they would find the idea of going home, turning on a television, pressing the No. 3 button and watching live what had been preselected for them, in a selected order, completely anathema. Younger audiences do not expect television to be a live product. They do not expect to go to the television guide to find what they want. In fact, audience analysis shows that, increasingly, when people turn the television on, the first thing they do is turn to an on-demand service like Netflix to browse what is there—that is their primary act, rather than going to a channel.

Whether it is easy to find the schedule and see what is being shown will be key to the debate on prominence. Otherwise, the PSBs will continue to find it hard to have a share of voice and be noticed in an environment where people are increasingly distracted by what they want to see. That experience itself is fractured, as a consequence of the way that on-demand services are designed. They are tailored to the user, so everyone will see a different screen when they turn them on. When everyone turns to Netflix, they see something different. They even see different tiles advertising the same programmes, tailored based on their past viewing habits. That is great for the consumer; it makes it much easier to navigate the services and find what they are looking for, but it makes it much harder for them to be challenged and surprised.

What is the value and role of original British content, telling unique stories of people on these islands? How easy will that be to find if people do not know to look for it and have not viewed it before? Those are the sorts of questions that Ofcom will have to consider. The Bill gives Ofcom the power to issue guidance, but it is important that here in this House we are on top of what Ofcom analyses and recommends, and that we feel that whatever the final wording of the Bill, it ensures that PSBs get a fair share of voice.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I did not even think about the TV schedule as something that people look at. I never look at a TV schedule. I do not know if my Fire Stick or my PlayStation has a TV schedule. On significant prominence, I was picturing the BBC iPlayer app being at the top of the apps list. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Ofcom should look at both those things: how it appears on the screen and where the public service broadcasters are in any live schedule?

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady makes an important point. It should be easier to find through app stores. Although they are not directly in scope of the legislation because they are not broadcast formats in their own right, that question should be asked—is it easy to find? It should be easy to find on a connected device when it is turned on, and it should be easy to locate the apps.

Ofcom also has to consider whether the business model that underpins connected devices is fair to public service broadcasters. There is no doubt that the business model for Amazon and Google is to try to create a connected device space where all the entertainment exists and is tailored to each person. They also want to build the ad tech into that, so that they are the principal beneficiaries of the ad revenue, by monetising the placement of that content as well and diverting it away from broadcasters who have traditionally sold audiences to make money. That is the underlying problem that public service broadcasting faces today. The sale of audiences to generate advertising revenue to invest in programmes—the model that has fuelled independent public broadcasting for 50 years—is not broken, but it does not work in the way it used to; it is much more diffuse.

The revenue challenges that come from that are extremely real. That is why, on Channel 4, although I am pleased to see the Government’s changes to the remit, we need to keep a watching brief to see whether they go far enough. We have not gone as far as Channel 4 asked to go in its counter-offer to privatisation, which was the ability to go to the markets to raise money from private investors to create a programming fund that would invest £1 billion over two years in new programming. If we simply allow Channel 4 to acquire a stake in the making of programmes that it will broadcast, which will make revenue in the future, will that be enough now to meet the challenges that it will face? Given the ongoing pressures this year on declining ad revenue for TV broadcasting, we need to make sure that that will be enough. We should not assume that the measures in the Bill, which are welcome, will be the last word on that. There may be more challenges to come.

I would like to add two further points. It is right that we try to create more parity between the regulation of on-demand online services and broadcast television. If a viewer turns on their connected TV device, as far as they are concerned Netflix is as much television as the BBC, and there should be some parity in the way the platforms are regulated, the obligations they have to their users and the notifications they give about the suitability of the content. That should apply to advertising too. Often the debate we have is around advertising that targets children, but children are not watching live television; they are watching it on demand. The danger at the moment is that we have a highly regulated live broadcast television environment, but an almost completely unregulated online one. We should be far more worried about the ad rules that apply on YouTube than those on ITV, because that is where the children are. It is vital that the work on the Government’s online advertising review is completed at pace. The project has been worked on for a number of years. There needs to be proper enforceability of the advertising codes that have stood us in good stead in the broadcast world, but do not yet work in the same way online.

Finally, on media ownership and media freedom, which the Secretary of State mentioned in her opening remarks, we should give some consideration—maybe the Bill is not the right place—to the ownership of UK news companies and news assets, particularly if they are acquired by organisations based in jurisdictions overseas where maybe the regard for press freedom is not the same as it is in the UK. The Bill does not address that concern. If we have an ongoing concern about a vibrant news media landscape, there should be some concern about the companies that own media organisations—where they are based, what their interests are and what interest they have in the way the news is reported here. We do not want to see the press regulated in any way—we want to avoid that and in many ways the measures in the Bill are a nod to that as well—but we want certainty about safeguarding media freedom in the future.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point about news media. What does he think about the ownership of public service broadcasters? Should there be legislation in place to consider who is allowed to own a public service broadcaster? For example, ITV could be bought and sold tomorrow on the stock exchange to somebody in a different country who has very different values and views on what content might be put out on ITV. Should that be in scope as well?

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point. Whether it be ITV or a newspaper such as The Daily Telegraph, which is currently up for sale, what is the motivation of someone acquiring them? We might assume they would not seek to censor what was going on, but would they have a different view on creative content, news, the stories they want to tell and what obligations exist for them? That is not something we have had to consider before, but in a market where such media assets are attractive to global investors, we should not be unconcerned about the motivations of investors who might buy those companies.

16:12
Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Mòran taing, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate.

There has been much discussion about the impact of the Bill on Gaelic broadcasting and it is that that I would like to reflect on today. I think it is fair to say that in decades gone by—50 or 60 years ago—there was largely indifference to the Gaelic language right across the political divide. That, I am glad to say, has changed. Let me state that the Gaelic language belongs to absolutely everyone and it is right that we continue to look at the support we can give to the language on that cross-party basis. It is important that we retain that consensus. The reason I mention 50 or 60 years ago is because in the 1970s some fundamental changes took place. In some respects, there was a renaissance for the language. We had the establishment of the Gaelic college in Skye—we have just celebrated its 50th anniversary—and there was everything that happened in a wider sense in music. There was the arrival, again on the island of Skye, of the rock bank Runrig, which gave a voice to young people in the language. We think, of course, about what the West Highland Free Press did.

My friend the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) reflected on the diminishing numbers of Gaelic speakers in his constituency, but it is important that we retain a sense of perspective. There are some very strong signs about not just the durability but the growth of the language. I can think specifically about Gaelic education. In my own constituency, I have a number of Gaelic primary schools, most recently in Portree. I am delighted that the number of children going to the Gaelic school in Portree is way in excess of the number going to the English language school. There are some very strong and encouraging signs.

In the light of all of that, what we do and in particular what we do in relation to the Media Bill is important. It is worth reflecting that the Government have in the past said some very encouraging things about recognising the importance of the Gaelic language.

According to a White Paper published on 28 April 2022,

“The Government recognises the hugely valuable contribution that MG Alba makes to the lives and wellbeing of Gaelic speakers across Scotland and the UK, including through its unique partnership with the BBC in the provision of BBC ALBA. Such a partnership must ensure high quality, diverse Gaelic language content continues to be readily available so that Gaelic culture is protected in the years to come. We also recognise that certainty of future funding is important for MG ALBA being able to deliver for Gaelic speakers.”

I endorse those words, and I make an appeal to the Minister: that protection of Gaelic really must be included in the Bill, so that we can then have the necessary discussion about the responsibilities we all have to ensure that there is appropriate support for the language.

We have heard a great deal today about remote and rural areas, and I think of the contribution that is made by Gaelic broadcasting in such areas. I think of the production facilities in Inverness, Stornoway and, indeed, Portree in my constituency, associated with the Gaelic college. We are home to some film production activities—I referred earlier to Chris Young, who produced “The Inbetweeners”—and I think of some of the Gaelic drama that has been produced, such as “Bannan”. We often hear about programmes in the UK being sold internationally, and this Gaelic drama has been sold internationally, although admittedly on a shoestring. I have always been overwhelmed when I have had the opportunity to be on site with the 70 or 80 people producing that masterpiece of Gaelic drama.

All of that shows what we are capable of doing throughout these islands, and it shows the ability of people to contribute Gaelic content, but of course it has to be funded. As I mentioned earlier, we face a cataclysmic challenge because of the real-terms decline in funding for MG Alba ever since its foundation in 2008. We are at a crisis point. I welcome the funding that has gone into S4C, but my goodness, if we could get even a fraction of that funding, what a difference it would make. Let us think about not just the social and cultural contribution, but the economic contribution generated by the investment that we have had. MG Alba sustains about 340 full-time jobs, half of which are in the highlands and islands, and with its annual funding of £13 million, it produces gross value added of more than £17 million. We are talking about a return of £1.34 for every £1 of investment. Just think how it would be if we could increase that, and see more of that economic contribution in our remote and rural areas!

I appeal to the good sense of the Minister, because I know that he has much good sense. I appeal to him to respond positively when he winds up the debate. Let us come together in this Chamber and collectively accept our responsibilities for Gaelic, as we have for other languages. Let us make sure that this station—for MG Alba is a station—can flourish, and that BBC Radio nan Gàidheal can flourish. Again, mòran taing, Madam Deputy Speaker.

16:18
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to contribute to this Second Reading debate on a Bill that comes at a crucial time for our creative industries and broadcasters. Several broadcasters are already applying for the 10-year licences, and we need to have a settled approach to how they can be granted. I should refer the House to my entry in the transparency register, as a former Minister, and to the interests that I have declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who was in the Chair earlier, was the director of BBC children’s television in the 1970s. A number of children’s programmes have already been mentioned, but, for what it is worth, my favourites were “Paddington”, “Pipkins” and “Mr Benn”. It has often been said by the person who created “Mr Benn” that children’s television had to attract not only older children but adults, who would often sit watching it alongside the children. It has sparked many a career, including the careers of Members of the other House but also those of some of the greatest broadcasters of today.

The Media Bill reflects the changes in technology and in how people consume broadcasting in a variety of ways. A lot more is consumed on the go or on demand, and I regret that there are fewer community moments—water cooler moments, as they used to be called—but broadcasting still plays a vital role in shaping the conversation, through the fun and joy that people have in watching, as well as in exposing some of the interesting challenges we face.

In this broader landscape and market, I welcome the global online platforms. They have helped the viewer and the creative industries, but they have also brought a risk for our public service broadcasters, particularly our commercial public service broadcasters, who have responsibilities that those other organisations simply do not have. It is important, if those broadcasters are to be viable and sustainable, that we recognise the context in which those platforms land.

There has been at least one call from the shadow Secretary of State for the use of Henry VIII powers, and that is because we need to be flexible. The last time we had similar legislation was in 2003. By the time the Bill goes through, we will need to have that flexibility built in—I hope it goes through at pace, because it really matters to our broadcasters and the industry that it does. As my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) said, there are certain areas in which Channel 4 would have liked the flexibility to go slightly further. Let us build that flexibility in now and, rather than seeing Henry VIII powers as something bad, look at what they can be used for. I must admit that in my role as a Minister, I found that one of the most flexible pieces of legislation was the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It was by having Henry VIII powers that we were able to keep pace with the challenges we faced, and we should welcome the opportunity to add such powers to this Bill.

I thank the Members of both Houses who performed the pre-legislative scrutiny. That has made it a stronger Bill, and it is important that the Government have largely listened. That shows maturity, and it is why I think the Bill will be a success. I echo Members’ comments about ensuring that we use the word “significant” and not just “appropriate” in proposed new sections 362AM and 362AO to the Communications Act 2003, because we need to give clarity and send a firm message to Ofcom. At the end of the day, Ofcom is an independent regulator. It does not represent people right across the country, and it is important that Parliament has a voice in pushing or promoting that.

The Select Committee referred in its report to the use of negative statutory instruments by the Government. I ask the Government to think again slightly. Having experienced a variety of legislation, I know that the role of negative SIs is well established and that they represent about 80% of the legislation that we make. They are used to update minor points. However, it is not necessary to leave such elements to Ofcom or to take these things to court when Parliament can assert that role.

I am really pleased about the change in Government policy that has led to the parts of the Bill that relate to Channel 4. It was under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government in 1982 that Channel 4 was created as a way to have a public sector broadcaster that was still state owned but that generated all its revenue privately rather than through the licence fee, and what a job it has done. S4C was, of course, created on the same day. I very much welcome the special status that Channel 4 will continue to have, as well as the new powers that give it the freedom and flexibility to produce. I also welcome the commitments still being made to the independent sector, and I know that Channel 4 will not suddenly rush to bring everything in-house—far from it. Why would it, when the way it has done things so far has been so successful? I pay particular tribute to its exceptional chief executive, Alex Mahon, who has been a real champion for Channel 4 and the creative industries. Long may she flourish.

Turning to the excellent ITV, I suggest that it really needs a level playing field and this kind of opportunity, particularly when it comes to global platforms. The extra burdens put on our public service broadcasters are important to the diversity of the TV that we enjoy, and ITV continues to go from strength to strength. Just like Channel 4, it has made transformations in its filming. Channel 4’s portrayal of the Paralympics in 2012 has been recognised around the world as a real game changer by the Paralympic movement. Similarly, ITV broadcasts brave coverage of the news and is spending a lot more money on going to some of the most challenging parts of the world. Other broadcasters including Sky have done similar things. When we give Ofcom these powers, we must send a strong message about the robust application and enforcement of prominence for PSBs on global online platforms, on terms that enable them to thrive and deliver their remit.

Much has been said about local radio, and a significant number of local radio stations have been created in Suffolk Coastal following the significant reduction in BBC Suffolk’s very local content. Although I regret that reduction, it has opened up an opportunity for many more broadcasters. I welcome the provisions in the Bill to make it easier for local radio stations to broadcast and thrive.

On part 7, there is a lesson for all of us in the light of the Leveson inquiry that a knee-jerk reaction to a prominent public inquiry is not necessarily the best way to generate new legislation. I can see why people were so upset, and continue to be upset, when the media seem to have the freedom to trash people’s lives and reputations, but it was not the right knee-jerk reaction. It is good that we never commenced section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and are now repealing it. I would be very concerned if the repeal led to a rush of newspapers suddenly departing from the Independent Press Standards Organisation or Impress. I know that some newspapers have chosen not to use either, but we should not actively encourage that choice through the Bill.

This is a good Bill, and I hope the House will let the Government work at pace. The Bill is important for the commercial viability and sustainability of PSBs, none of which has the benefit of the licence fee, which means that the BBC does not particularly need to work to generate income. I should say that I worked at the BBC for six to nine months before becoming a Member of Parliament, and it has a very special place in UK life, but it is important that we have a wide range of PSBs. The Bill will help to keep PSBs sustainable for the future.

16:27
Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome this debate, and I strongly welcome the departure from the idea of selling off and privatising Channel 4. It has been a very good channel that continues to do a lot of innovative things. That it can develop its own content can only be a good thing, as it shows the importance of public service broadcasting.

We should reflect that the Bill is going in the direction of proper regulation of the media, while recognising the value and importance of public service broadcasting. We should compare that with the United States, which, since the second world war, has systematically defunded public service broadcasting and has ended up with news values essentially dominated by Fox News and nothing else. We should value the principle of public service broadcasting.

I am particularly pleased that Gaelic and Welsh-language stations are not only protected but supported by the Bill, as they have greatly increased the speaking of Gaelic and Welsh, enhancing and developing the culture of both Scotland and Wales.

Many of us often criticise journalists, but we very much value the idea of a free press and a free media, which we do not always appear to have. We should think a little more about the multiple ownership of different media outlets across TV, newspapers, radio and so on.

The Bill is also about trying to keep up with changing technology and a changing media landscape. There was a time when radio was one thing, television was another, social media had not been invented and newspapers were completely separate from all of them. All of those are now essentially merged into one, in some way or another: radio interviews are televised and newspaper articles appear on websites, often with videos. That is not a bad thing—it is often a good thing—but there is a universality to the media, and many people get their information from online sources.

However, we should be slightly cautious because we, in this Chamber, are all media obsessives, I suppose. We probably read newspapers and listen to current affairs programmes more than anybody else in our society, so it is easy to forget that a significant proportion of the population does not watch very much television, has no access to smart phones, does not know how to use a computer and is completely lost in a digital divide. Those people are increasingly isolated and left behind. The Bill does not pretend to give an answer to that. I am not sure there is a simple answer, but we should recognise that a growing proportion of the population—not huge, but significant—often loses out on all kinds of information as a result.

I will briefly address the question of news values. I believe there is a high degree of bias in the way that a lot of news is reported in our media, notably international reporting on global affairs. If something happens in the USA, Europe or whatever war is being followed at that time, be it the horrors of Gaza or Ukraine, that is news, but if something happens in much of Africa, Latin America or south Asia, it is simply not reported at all. The huge conflict going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo receives almost zero coverage in any of our written or broadcast media. The problems of, say, indigenous communities in Ecuador receive no coverage either.

We need to think about how we can encourage all our media to have a more global view when they report globally. The BBC has cut back on its global coverage significantly. It cannot afford to have journalists all around the world, so it puts them in the best known places—Brussels, Washington and so on—and has cut back on many other places. The only global channel that currently tries to report on the whole world is al-Jazeera, which is funded entirely by the Qatar Government and royal family. We need diversity in broadcasting as well as in the way in which the news is chosen. That applies to many other issues as well, including the reporting of environmental affairs and debates about global warming.

Commercial media is driven by the need to make money to survive, so it has no great incentive to do anything other than entertainment, because that is what brings in the audience and advertising. It does not necessarily provide information and education for the population. I realise Ofcom has to do a difficult balancing act, but we should be aware that the majority of the population no longer looks at the two alternatives most of us in the Chamber grew up with—the BBC and ITV—but at a whole plethora of different news outlets. Therefore, those people have a wide variety of news issues thrown at them.

A number of colleagues have raised issues about local journalism and local papers, which also appear heavily online. I once worked in a genuinely local paper—it was printed on the same site where we wrote the stories and it was part of the community. It then became part of a bigger group, then another bigger group and then an even bigger group. Local papers across the country are actually not local at all. They are owned by a media group in a distant place and, if they are lucky, there are one or two journalists in the town in question and they live largely by press releases.

My friend, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), quite rightly commended the West Highland Free Press for its work. I remember that it was set up because of a lack of local reporting. There was a very serious determination by those who set it up to ensure that it was a genuinely independent paper that covered a huge part of Scotland and that was able to build community strengths and links with it, and I think that the paper has been very successful in doing that.

A long distance away and in a completely different kind of community, the Camden New Journal group, which also includes the Islington Tribune and other enterprises, is, again, a wholly independent group set up by the journalists who worked on the paper when the previous owners essentially walked away from it. It is independent, it is local, and it is co-operatively run. It is also very, very successful, because it concentrates completely on the news and stories within the local community and tries to bring them forward.

Having newspapers and radio stations that cover all languages is also very important. We have talked about Scotland and Wales, but there is also a plethora of communities in this country who want to hear stuff in their own language. I remember speaking in this House, probably from this very spot, in the 1980s, trying to defend London Greek Radio, which was set up as an independent Greek-speaking radio station. It was raided 74 times by the Post Office and all its broadcasting equipment was taken away—goodness knows what happened to the 74 items of broadcasting equipment. Eventually the station was given a licence, and it is now a very successful Greek language radio station. There are many other language radio stations all across the country, which is important. It is important for people growing up in bilingual communities to be able to listen to things in their own language, and for young people to feel that sense of belonging to the Greek, to the Turkish, to the Somali or to any other community, as well as being able to communicate in English. That to me is the great value of local radio stations.

My final point is about social media. When I go to meetings, I often ask people how many of them ever buy a newspaper. If the audience has nobody in it over the age of 50, no hand goes up. Younger people simply do not buy newspapers at all—they have no relationship with them. They rely completely on social media for their news, information and ideas. We all access social media. We are all driven in social media by various algorithms, some of which are owned by people far away, who have patented those algorithms. They follow us, they follow our interests and they decide what news we ought to have. It is hardly a free media when we are directed to the news that somebody wants us to hear. It is not simple. It is not simple to regulate on what algorithms do, but we should be extremely well aware of it.

We should also be aware that it is possible to set up a radio station—unless I am wrong about this Bill—that is purely online. There is no regulation of it whatsoever, other than the basics of libel law and things such as that. That is an area that will grow. It is an area that is increasing, and some of the online radio stations have very large audiences indeed. Some of them are very good, and some of them less so, but we must be aware of that and the need in the longer term for further regulation and control of the behaviour of algorithms and how they can influence opinion—politically, socially and commercially—and everything else in our lives.

We should just take a moment to think of the bravery of many journalists around the world, including those who have been killed in Gaza over the past few weeks; those who are in prison in Egypt, in Russia and in a number of other countries; and those who risk everything in order to try to get the news out. They need support and protection in every way possible.

I would also like to put it on record that we should reflect quite seriously on the situation facing one of the world’s best-known investigative journalists—that of Julian Assange, who has now spent almost five years in a maximum security prison for revealing uncomfortable truths about Iraq and other places. Journalism at its best tells us the truth. At its worst, it is propaganda for somebody else and somebody very, very powerful.

16:40
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with some of the comments of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), in particular his comments about the bravery of journalists covering conflict around the world today.

It is very doubtful that there will be a Division on the Bill this evening. We have had something of a love-in, with contributions from all parties saying that they support the Bill. I do not want to shatter that consensus, but I am going to do so. Although it is clear that the Opposition are not going to divide the House on Second Reading, I must say to them that, had they chosen to do that, I would have supported them. I would have done so purely because of the strength of my feelings about clause 50, which repeals section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. I believe consistency in this place matters, even though it might sometimes be elusive. The truth is that section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act was part of a Conservative-drafted compromise following the Leveson inquiry. It was a compromise in which I had a hand, and I am not about to vote against it, today or at any other point.

The reason I supported the thrust of the Leveson proposals at the time was not despite my being a Conservative, but because I am a Conservative, and true Conservatives believe in accountability. It is true Conservatives who, throughout history, have faced down powerful vested interests and it is true Conservatives who will always look out for the underdog, whatever the consequences might be. The Leveson inquiry followed decades of failure on the part of the press to engage seriously with self-regulation, and the craven failure of this House over 70 years to act on the findings of no fewer than seven inquiries and Royal Commissions set up during that time.

It is often the case that we never quite know when something that is known to be a problem will become a big story—a running story, as we call it in the media. It was the hacking of the phone of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl, that made this House decide to act. Therefore it was a Conservative Prime Minister at the time who condemned the Press Complaints Commission as wholly ineffective. It was a Conservative Prime Minister who set up the inquiry. It was a Conservative Prime Minister who chose Lord Justice Leveson to lead that inquiry—in part because Lord Justice Leveson was recognised as somebody who respected the press and believed passionately in the freedom of the press, and could therefore be relied upon to come up with a sensible set of proposals.

It was a Conservative Prime Minister who wrote the terms of reference of the Leveson inquiry and a Conservative Prime Minister who said that that inquiry should make policy recommendations to the Government. When that report came back, it was a Conservative Prime Minister who stated on the Floor of this House that we could not just say, “Let’s have one last chance saloon for the press again.”, because we had done that. When that report landed—all 1,800 pages, in four volumes—my noble Friend Lord Cameron, then Prime Minister, asked Oliver Letwin to work out a way to implement the proposals of the Leveson inquiry.

There followed a series of compromises to accommodate some of the concerns of the press. First, while Lord Leveson had recommended that there should be a statutory body, preferably Ofcom, that would act as the recognition body, that was seen to be problematic by the press. So Oliver Letwin came up with the rather ingenious idea of establishing a Royal Charter for the self-regulation of the press. The press then raised concerns that a future Government might be able unilaterally to change the terms of that charter simply by bringing forward Orders in Council. We accepted that that was a very fair concern. Paradoxically, the press then asked whether Parliament could safeguard the integrity of the Royal Charter by ensuring that it could be amended or removed only if there were a super-majority of both Houses of Parliament and, in addition to that, a super-majority in the Scottish Parliament.

Finally, there was a lot of discussion about the editors’ code and who should hold the pen. The media felt that existing editors should always hold the pen on the editors’ code, which was contrary to what Lord Leveson had suggested. Again, however, to carry the press with us—as it had said that it would work with us if we made the concessions that it wanted—we made that final concession to ensure that the editors’ code would always be written by the newspaper industry, not by any other independent body.

At various stages during those multiple concessions, Oliver Letwin asked me whether I would help to broach conversations with the Opposition parties with a view to forming a cross-party consensus on the matter, and I did so in good faith. At this point, I pay particular tribute to the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who was at that time the shadow Secretary of State, and to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who was then the Leader of the Opposition, for the way in which they approached the issue. The easiest thing for any Opposition to do is simply to oppose everything for the sake of it, but on that issue, they recognised the importance of trying to arrive at a consensus in Parliament for the good of civil society.

I hope that you will not mind if I pay tribute to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in your former guise as Opposition Chief Whip. I remember attending one meeting where it was somewhat presumed that I would be able to turn up on the night with 70 Conservative rebels to defeat the Government. You probably saw the anguish on my face at the daunting prospect of having to do such a thing. You made everybody else in the room aware that Whips’ Offices can, when they put their minds to it, be pretty good at burning off opposition.

It is true that the victims of phone hacking were quite concerned about the level of compromise that politicians were making on their behalf. I remember Hugh Grant being particularly sceptical of that. We got him in and said, “Trust us; we are going to do this. This is a cross-party consensus: all parties are signed up to it. It will happen.” It is disappointing that, a decade on, Hugh Grant is being proved right because of the Government’s actions through the Bill.

Some months after we had put in place the royal charter for the self-regulation of the press, I met Sir Alan Moses, who was the first inaugural chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the industry’s own regulator. I remember saying to Sir Alan, “IPSO is making good progress. It is an improvement on the PCC. It wouldn’t have to do a great deal more in order for it to be a recognised regulator. Why doesn’t IPSO simply seek recognition?” He said, “George, I completely agree with you. However, my contract of employment forbids me from saying so publicly.” How is that for the freedom of speech that we hear so much about? Sir Alan Moses, the inaugural chairman of IPSO, was subject to a gagging order, no less, that prevented him from saying what he believed to be true.

Let me turn to the specifics of section 40, which put in place one of the key provisions of Leveson’s recommendations: the creation of incentives for an industry regulator to seek recognition. That is often misunderstood, for the provisions of section 40 are symmetrical: not only does it protect innocent people who want redress and access to a process of arbitration, but it protects publishers from people with deep pockets who go to lawyers such as Carter-Ruck or Schillings and threaten litigation—through so-called SLAPPs—to intimidate and bully publishers and prevent them from publishing things. Had we put that in place and commenced section 40, if a Russian oligarch, for instance, had said, “If you print that, I will see you in court,” and all sorts of injunctions came forth from various lawyers, a publisher would have been able to say, “No, you won’t. We will see you in arbitration.” That would have protected genuine investigative journalism in a way that has never been done before.

Jeremy Corbyn Portrait Jeremy Corbyn
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman is making a most interesting speech. He must be aware that the laws relating to libel and so on are completely misshapen, in that it is totally a rich person’s game. Anyone without resources gets threatened with libel and is silenced immediately. They have no recourse to legal aid and no other way of dealing with the situation other than either to accept something they believe to be wrong or to make themselves bankrupt trying to defend themselves.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The truth is that the system of arbitration, backed up by the cost provisions under section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, protected small, plucky journalists working for small publishers as much as it protected the weak and vulnerable who could not afford legal action. It is important to note that the arbitration system envisaged would only have engaged at all where there was what is called a cause of action, which is to say where people have a case in law. The arbitration system would never have become overwhelmed, since there would have been a sifting process to take out simple complaints about inaccuracy and so forth. In essence, the system would have focused predominantly on the areas of defamation and privacy.

We even considered what I used to term the Private Eye test, which is to say that if we have a publication that for all sorts of ideological reasons has never joined up to anything at all—bear in mind that Private Eye never even joined the Press Complaints Commission—there was an option for them to be able to demonstrate adherence to the principles set out in the royal charter while not joining a body. There was also a large area of discretion for the courts on an individual case. While there was a strong margin of appreciation in favour of those who signed up, it was not black and white. The clause stated that where it was “reasonable in the circumstances” for a court to find a different position, it had the right to do so.

I am therefore generally critical, as the House can understand, of the repeal of section 40, but I welcome the fact that the Government have committed to the continued existence of the royal charter on the self-regulation of the press and that they have no intention of bringing forward any Order in Council to disband the Press Recognition Panel. It is important to recognise that Leveson did not recommend that we needed to take a legal provision through an Act of Parliament to give effect to these cost provisions. His recommendation was that we or the courts could use the Civil Procedure Act 1997 to set civil procedure rules to create a margin of appreciation and an incentive in favour of those who joined an independent regulator.

While the Government legislated in this place, albeit that they then failed to commence the order, it was entirely understandable that the Civil Procedure Rule Committee and the Master of the Rolls might have felt it inappropriate for them to act in this space. Now that the Government have signalled their intention to vacate this space, it is entirely open to the Master of the Rolls and the Civil Procedure Rule Committee to make their own civil procedure rules in this space to give effect to the Leveson inquiry. Let us not forget that that inquiry was established under the Inquiries Act 2005 and is explicitly referenced in the royal charter. It would be fair and reasonable for the courts to give consideration and weight to that fact.

An important duty now falls to the Press Recognition Panel. That body, independent of Government, does not need to wait for advice or permission from Government; it is entirely open to the Press Recognition Panel to put together a detailed report setting out its recommendations for what the alternative incentives might be to encourage publishers to sign up to a recognised regulator. It may come up with some useful advice for all parties in this House as they consider their manifestos going forward.

In conclusion, I feel that the failure to commence the full architecture of the Leveson proposals was a terrible missed opportunity for the press, and I say that as one of the few Members on these Benches who first came into Parliament with a brown Press Gallery pass. I knew every single one of the journalists in the Press Gallery and the news organisations they worked for, and I developed a strong appreciation and respect for the individual character of each and every one of those newspaper organisations—even the ones that were often critical of the party on the Government Benches—as I understood their tradition.

Those of us who really believed in the freedom of the press and wanted to see the press thrive had in our minds that if it sought recognition, it would become distinguished from social media and other news content. A decade ago, we were already seeing the start of so-called “fake news” and the idea put forward by Leveson was that a recognised regulator could be used as a Kitemark showing a news organisation’s commitment to ethical journalism. That would be a positive and would restore trust in our press, which had been lost over the years. The idea was that the Broadcasting Act 1996, covered today in much of this Bill, would affect the regulated broadcasters, but that there would be a much more flexible, self-regulatory model for the press or other online content. We could also see, even 10 years ago, that there was going to be a convergence between broadcast media, who would increasingly have online news content in written form, and the print media, who would increasingly be online and would have podcasts and video content. Therefore, a blurring would take place in the traditional distinction between broadcast and print journalism. The great beauty of the architecture we put in place with the royal charter for the self-regulation of the press is that it enabled there to be multiple regulators, some of which might specialise just in online news and others that might specialise just in the printed press, with everything else in between. Had we implemented that, we would have had a great opportunity to restore trust in the truthfulness and integrity of journalism in this country.

There is a final reason why I believe it was short-sighted of the press not to do this. When the courts see that over a period of time there has been intransigence on the part of the press to take standards and genuine accountability seriously, and a craven weakness in this House to act in this space at all, they will make public policy decisions. It is no good complaining about SLAPPs, privacy injunctions and so forth when this House has failed to do even the most basic things to put in place some sensible protections for our civil society. So I would have opposed this Bill on those grounds alone, but I recognise that it contains much else that has cross-party support. I hope that the Government will consider removing clause 50 at a later stage of our consideration of this Bill.

16:57
Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the Media Bill. I wish to focus narrowly on part 4, which sets out the provisions on public service broadcasting and gives Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a video-on-demand code. The Bill proposes to do that by extending audience protection measures, for example, age ratings and content warnings, that are currently enforced for broadcast media and BBC iPlayer-only to all on-demand programme services.

A number of colleagues have mentioned how the media landscape has evolved rapidly in our lifetimes. I remember the black-and-white telly in my parent’s lounge, with the choice of just three or four channels. I remember traditional linear TV, where we would all sit around to watch a programme and we would not answer the phone or the doorbell, because if we missed something, that was it. I remember my grandparents getting a VHS player before we did in the 1980s and my grandma would record “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “Postman Pat” for us, and we would binge watch it when we went to stay with her. Of course, so much has changed since then, and when my children were young, they did not even understand the concept of linear TV. I remember going to stay with a family member who did not have a smart TV at the time and my children did not understand how they could not watch “Octonauts” right that minute.

So much has changed in our lifetime. Of course, there are many wonderful aspects of media programming in this country—we have some fantastic content that is the envy of the world—but there are also some not-so-wonderful aspects, and there is lots of material out there that may be entertaining for adults but we definitely do not want children to see. That is the point of the Ofcom broadcasting code, which says for broadcast TV:

“1.1: Material that might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of people under eighteen must not be broadcast.

1.2: In the provision of services, broadcasters must take all reasonable steps to protect people under eighteen.

1.3: Children must also be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them.”

A healthy family media environment relies on parents being able to keep children safe by making sure they do not accidentally come upon content that is not suitable, and on parents having control over what is suitable for their own children. It goes without saying that young children should not be watching violence, sex, extreme language and all those kinds of things. We accept that as a society, and that is why we have rules and systems in place to help parents and to stop children seeing unsuitable content.

Our traditional on-demand media—cinema, DVD and VHS—is regulated by the British Board of Film Classification, which is a highly respected organisation that has been going for over 100 years. We are all familiar with the littles triangles telling us that a film is a U, PG, 12 and so on. Our TV scheduling is regulated by the broadcasting code, which mainly relies on the watershed so that broadcasters do not put out programmes before 9 pm that children should not see. On demand presents a new challenge for our broadcasters, because the watershed does not apply. By definition, all the content is available all the time, and therefore parents cannot rely on the fact that it is before 9 o’clock to know that a particular programme is safe.

Some commercial streaming services have voluntarily adopted the BBFC’s ratings. Netflix is a good example. It has adopted the U, PG, 12 and so on ratings. That is really important, because the BBFC ratings are some of the clearest, most transparent and most respected in the whole world. The BBFC even has an app now where parents can look for any programme or film, and it will tell them the rating and exactly why that rating is given, so that parents can be fully informed about what children are going to watch.

I visited the BBFC a couple of weeks ago—I highly recommend that to Members; it is more than willing to give briefings—to see how it rates films, trailers and programmes. It is a hugely impressive organisation, with enormous levels of trust from not just the content creators but the public. It surveys 10,000 members of the public every four years to ask them about their attitudes to violence, swearing, sex, drugs and so on, to feed into its ratings, so that there is buy-in from the public.

Some services have not opted into the BBFC ratings or produced a suitable rating system of their own. The most significant player in this category is Disney+, which has an opaque system of age rating that cannot be trusted by parents. For example, the film “Avatar”, which I think most people would say is suitable for children, has a rating of 16+, and yet a quite sinister adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” that involves nudity, horror, child molestation, forced prostitution and a depiction of child drowning has a rating of 9+.

The problem is that when parents see that kind of discrepancy, and when the ratings are opaque and there is no transparency about why things are rated in the way they are, parents just remove the passwords, because they think, “I want my child to be able to see ‘Avatar’”. But in removing the passwords or changing the settings on their account, they inadvertently enable children to watch a lot of material that is not suitable for them.

Clearly, Disney+ and other streaming services need to be subject to the same standards as broadcast media. If material is unsuitable for children, it is unsuitable whatever the platform on which it is viewed, and it is the intention of the Bill to remedy that. Clause 38 will require Ofcom to review audience protection measures used by providers of all on-demand tier 1 programme services, including those that do not have their headquarters in the UK. In other words, the Bill seeks to ensure that what we might call the new media—streamed content—is subject to the same audience protection measures, such as age ratings, content warnings, parental control and age assurance measures, as traditional and linear material such as cinema, DVD and broadcast TV.

So far, so good—that is a laudable and much-needed aim—but my question to the Government is, why reinvent the wheel? Why task Ofcom with another review and developing another new code, when we already have a world-leading regulatory framework in the BBFC? Why not instead extend the remit of the BBFC—an internationally trusted organisation—and an age-rating system understood by millions who already use streaming media, so that those familiar ratings logos of U, PG, 15 and so on are visible on each and every programme on every streaming platform?

Indeed, 88% of parents find the BBFC ratings on Netflix extremely helpful, so it would make sense to standardise these ratings across all the major streaming platforms. The platforms would pay the cost—that is how the BBFC is funded, so it would not require a massive expansion of the BBFC. For example, the BBFC gives the code and the transparent materials for rating to Netflix; Netflix polices itself, and every so often, the BBFC will check that it is fully compliant with the way it regulates itself. There would be a clear advantage to extending that universal rating system across all streaming services: it would not be reinventing the wheel, and there are also serious question marks about Ofcom’s capacity to deliver on both the requirements in this Bill and the significantly increased requirements placed on it by the passage of the Online Safety Act 2023. I urge the Minister to consider amending the Bill to use the BBFC and its code, rather than Ofcom, to achieve the aims of clause 38.

I also urge the Minister to consider extending the remit of the Bill’s audience protection provisions beyond broadcast and streaming to all UK-accessible video content, including online. I appreciate that that would be a very significant expansion of the Bill, but if its purpose is to bring audience protection regulation up to date with the current and future media landscape, we are just skirting around the issue if we do not include online content. Indeed, the principle of part 4 of the Bill is to create that parity between online and offline. Nowhere is that more needed than in the much less regulated online space.

I say that principally because of the proliferation of unregulated hardcore pornography on the internet—pornography that would be completely illegal in the offline world, on DVDs or on streaming services—that is now being viewed by millions, including children, and causing immense societal damage. We are not talking about erotic magazines passed by teenage boys around the bike sheds, but extreme, violent, hardcore, repulsive and completely illegal material: violent rapes, violent assaults and incest. It is the most unimaginable, degrading material—material that is illegal offline on traditional platforms, and always has been. If we are rightly convinced that it matters what people watch—that it matters that children are protected from strong content, whether they are watching it on TV, streaming it on demand or seeing it on their phones—we have to apply the same principle to pornography.

A third of the internet is pornography; Pornhub has more users than Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, Zoom and LinkedIn put together. It is a $100 million industry, and algorithms draw users into more and more extreme material. The Government’s own research makes the link between viewing violent pornography and violence against women and girls, yet the average age of first viewing in this country is 11. We will never turn the tide on violence against women and girls unless we recognise the role of pornography in conditioning men and boys to link violence with sexual pleasure. That is why I urge the Minister to bring online pornography content within the scope of the audience protection measures in the Bill.

The Online Safety Act will go some way towards helping in this space: its age verification provisions will make it harder for under-18s to access that content. I very much commend the Government on accepting those amendments, which had cross-party support. But that Act missed an opportunity to crack down on online porn that would be completely illegal in the offline world—material that still proliferates online and, even with the new protections, will of course be accessed by some children. Again, the BBFC can have a role here, because it is the BBFC’s role to regulate offline porn, such as DVDs, and certain adult websites. It has a very effective working relationship with the adult industry and with payment providers, so if the BBFC establishes that a particular adult platform has on it a video that is illegal and should be taken down, it can contact the payment providers and ask them to deny payment to that website until the video is taken down.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend agree that the BBFC is also a very established brand that is trusted and understood by the public, so the public would themselves have confidence if the BBFC was given the ability to act in this space?

Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is exactly why I am calling for the BBFC to have a much greater role in this Bill, but also for that role to be extended to the regulation of pornography. The BBFC has been going for over 100 years; other countries look to it and its ratings. It has buy-in from the public and from the content creators themselves, so it is perfectly placed to provide the kind of regulation and expertise we need. If we really want online and offline parity when it comes to audience safety—of course we do, because it does not matter where this content is viewed; it will have the same effect—we must look to include pornography in the scope of the Bill. I would go so far as to say that if the Government really want to leave a legacy of child protection and reducing violence against women and girls, nothing is more important than preventing access to hardcore pornography that is, and always has been, illegal in the offline world.

I welcome the Bill; it contains some excellent provisions. Obviously, I have focused narrowly on one aspect of it, but I ask Ministers to consider mandating that all streaming services use the BBFC’s age verification ratings, and extending audience protection measures to online content, especially violent pornography.

17:09
Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to see this Bill before the House today. It has been a long time coming, and its arrival is extremely welcome.

From a very young age, I wanted to be a broadcaster. So committed was I to this goal that I wrote to BBC Radio Oxford at the tender age of 15, and complained that it did not produce any programmes for teenagers. Somewhat to my surprise, it told me to put my money where my mouth was, and invited me to go in and make them myself. My first series covered such weighty topics as spots and school dinners; life as a teenager was rather more naive in that long ago era.

After university, I joined the BBC full time in its news and current affairs department, working as a reporter, presenter and producer. As the Spice Girls, in a blaze of colour, heralded the launch of Channel 5 in 1997, I perched on the newsroom desk to prove that current affairs did not have to be stuffy and boring. Indeed, so keen were we to be modern and relevant that I was even allowed to have a cameo as a newscaster in “Shaun of the Dead”. There being no greater possible pinnacle of an on-air career, I then moved behind the scenes to work as an adviser to ITV for several years.

I recount this biography not as an application to make a late appearance on the new series of “I’m a Celebrity”—I feel these Benches have provided enough victims of that recently—but to show that I have been lucky enough to have some experience of the subject matter, and perhaps more importantly, to illustrate the wide range of the country’s public service broadcasting landscape. All the broadcasters I have mentioned—the BBC, Channel 5 and ITV—have in common that they are PSBs, and it is on them that I wish to devote most of my remarks.

Public service broadcasting is not just about news and current affairs, crucial though they are; it is about reflecting all parts of our country, not just the metropolitan elites, not just London—and, indeed, not just England, as we have heard from our colleagues in the Scottish National party. It is also about showing programmes that do not just have an immediate commercial rationale. As one example, I think Channel 5’s commitment to children’s programming is commendable, and its recent commission of an animated series with disabled lead characters for pre-school children is incredibly important.

As the Government themselves have stated, this Bill will

“reform the legal framework for the regulation of public service broadcasting”,

and there can be no doubt that this is sorely needed, because the media and entertainment landscape, as we have heard several times, has changed almost beyond recognition over the past 20 years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage) have touched on some of the circumstances we faced in 2003, such as watching analogue TV, Netflix still posting DVDs to its customers and Blockbuster Video still existing on our high streets. YouTube, iPhones and Twitter had not been invented, yet they are the ways in which we watch much of our content these days.

Let me add some other cultural memories of that year. Jemini—with a J—scored “nul points” at Eurovision, Cilla Black quit “Blind Date” live on air and Jonny Wilkinson scored a last-minute drop goal that won the Rugby world cup and the nation’s hearts. That same year, 2003, more than 19 million viewers were glued to their screens as the “Coronation Street” serial killer Richard Hillman abducted the Platts and drove the family into the canal. It was must-watch TV the length and breadth of the country. However, those TV audience numbers for drama could only be dreamt of today. Indeed, the entire TV landscape is almost unrecognisable, thanks to rapid developments in technology that have in turn brought about fundamental changes in viewing habits. Today, 75% of households have an on-demand streaming service, and according to Ofcom, 90% of 18 to 24-year-old adults bypass TV channels and head straight to streaming, on-demand and social video services when they are looking for something to watch.

While the likes of Netflix, Prime and Disney offer a panoply of great programming, they are not bound by the requirements on our public service broadcasters—the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. The responsibility that PSBs bear to present socially valuable content carries a burden, and it is only right that that is reflected in the regulatory regime. Key to achieving that is ensuring due prominence for PSBs on whatever device. At its simplest, there is no value in having high quality, publicly important programming if viewers cannot find it quickly and easily, yet that is increasingly the risk with the market as it is today.

We are all familiar with the shift away from an on-screen list of TV programmes—electronic programme guides—to a set of tiles along the bottom of our screens, but whereas the lowest numbers on an old EPG could easily be reserved for the PSBs, the tiles can be set in pretty much any order. Inevitably, those linked to the highest paying providers of content, or otherwise prioritised, are frequently the first to be seen. It can take many clicks on the remote to get to the smaller PSBs: Channels 4 and 5.

I strongly welcome the Government’s provisions on the new online prominence regime, and I agree with ITV that a “clear mandate” must be

“given to Ofcom for a muscular implementation of the Bill…on terms that enable PSBs to flourish and deliver their remits.”

I would be grateful if the Minister set out in a little more detail how he envisages Ofcom implementing the new regime, and said whether he supports the regulator taking a bold stance to ensure that global companies comply with our decisions in Parliament for an appropriate level of prominence for our PSBs.

I would also be grateful for reassurance that a secondary power to designate platforms will be cast as broadly as necessary to achieve the aims of Bill. For example, that could potentially include gaming consoles, which I understand from much younger colleagues are often used to access PSB content. This is not just about watching the box in the corner of the room. The requirement to give PSBs prominence cannot become a licence to print money by the platforms carrying them, so I welcome the Bill’s proposals for a must-offer, must-carry regime, with an arbitration scheme as a backstop.

The other side of the coin is that the privilege of prominence carries with it a duty, and nowhere more so than at the BBC. It must do better if it is to retain its hallowed position as the most prominent and privileged of the PSBs, because it is funded by all of us through the licence fee. I have said before that I believe that that funding method is living on borrowed time; it is an anachronistic and frankly regressive tax. During my 12 years as a magistrate, I saw the painful impact, particularly on some women, of the draconian measures that are taken against those who cannot afford to pay that licence. Although the future of the licence fee is not part of today’s debate, the funding model puts additional and serious duties on the BBC as a PSB.

I fear that the BBC is no longer the organisation that I joined more than 30 years ago. We are all familiar with the growing torrent of criticism, not least of aspects of its coverage of the middle east crisis. Although there are undoubtedly some phenomenally good and brave journalists in the field, there have also been some appalling and inexcusable lapses in the BBC’s reporting. Responsibility for that must go to the very top of the newsroom, and it must always be remembered that the facts are far more important than a juicy headline. I fear that if it is not careful, BBC Verify will have to start scrutinising its own newsroom, and that was not the idea of it in the first place.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Leaving aside the newsroom, when pensioners started paying the licence fee again, I had a large number of them in my constituency. Three of them made contact with me, one of whom objected, and two of whom were trying to pay in an old-fashioned way that the BBC’s agents could not cope with. That shows that the licence subscription system works pretty well and is welcomed. I say to my hon. Friend that if we had the alternative to the licence fee, or some other kind of household impost, we would have a subscription where the BBC stops serving everyone in the country, and starts serving those who choose to pay. As it is a national institution, we still face the question put by the Canadian, Graham Spry, nearly 100 years ago:

“It is a choice between the state and the United States.”

Let us choose the state and make it a public broadcaster still.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Father of the House for his intervention. He raises important points, which is why we will need to have a long and detailed debate on the future of the licence fee at another time. I chose my words relatively carefully in saying that I hoped the licence fee was living on borrowed time, rather than saying that the end must come immediately. My hon. Friend raises points that will have to be addressed before we move to another system, but I personally feel that the current model is not sustainable in the medium to long term.

It is not just me who has raised concerns about the BBC. According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, trust in BBC News has plummeted from 75% in 2018 to 55% in 2022. That trend clearly cannot continue.

I have focused my remarks principally on broadcasters, as that is where the majority of my experience lies, but I will turn for a moment to the print media. I listened carefully to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), and I am afraid to disappoint him but I agree rather more with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) on section 40. I am glad to see the Bill removing that sword of Damocles from newspapers. It struck me that, although it was never commenced, it loomed over papers and magazines as a potential form of state control that would have been unconscionable interference in the freedom of the press. While I have many quibbles with both national and local newspapers about how they cover some stories, I felt that the draconian measures in section 40 were an entirely disproportionate way to tackle complaints.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will make one or two more points, just in case they answer my right hon. Friend’s question, but I will certainly give way in a moment.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on media freedom, it was a surprise to me that it was ever considered appropriate to oblige the publisher to pay the costs of both sides in a legal claim, even if the publication won the case. I know that that stance was taken by the organisation Reporters Without Borders. Thankfully, the Bill will put that right, and I am reassured that the industry’s own actions in recent years in setting up its own regulator, IPSO, and beefing up internal complaints handling procedures have proved effective, without the need for further statutory intervention.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously, the easy way for any publisher to avoid the cost provisions would be to seek recognition. What is it about the Leveson recommendations that my hon. Friend disagrees with so much? What in the royal charter for the self-regulation of the press does he find objectionable and impossible for a news organisation to subscribe to?

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I just outlined, my principal concern is about the suggestion that a publisher would have to pay the loser’s costs, irrespective of what those costs could be.

The Government have considered the many factors in play in reaching this decision. It is important to say that this is not a licence for newspapers to print whatever they wish—I hope that is understood in my local area by the Bucks Herald and the Bucks Free Press. There are undoubtedly times when the line between fact, comment and insinuation seems to be ever thinner. Self-regulation brings with it a responsibility to get articles right first time, as well as to give sufficient opportunity for a right to reply and appropriate space for both sides of the story. I hope that newspaper owners and editors will take the opportunity of the repeal of section 40 to redouble their efforts to justify the trust we are putting in them to work to the highest standards.

The Media Bill is essential to securing the long-term future of our public service broadcasters. More than that, it gives confidence to our nation’s wider creative economy. We need to ensure that the Bill gets on to the statute book as smoothly and quickly as possible. I have not proposed amendments or called for specific changes because I recognise the urgency. The industry has worked closely with the Department for many months, if not years. As a result, I believe that we have before us a Bill that is well thought-out, fit for the future and fair to all. I am delighted to give it my enthusiastic support.

17:23
Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler). I fear that I may repeat much of what he just said. I am pleased to be speaking in this debate, a week on from the King’s Speech debate in which I spent quite a bit of time calling on the Government to get on and introduce the Media Bill. For once, they listened to me—that’s nice.

The Media Bill we are debating is the first piece of media legislation for 20 years. The media landscape has changed beyond belief in the last two decades—it is vastly different from the world we lived in 20 years ago—so the Bill is vital to supporting broadcasters and audiences in the modern age. As the media landscape has changed, it is important that we support legislation without delay to give certainty to this important sector. We should recognise that the Bill will probably govern the media landscape for the next 20 years, so it must be forward-thinking, outward-looking and open, just as the previous legislation was.

I declare my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary media group and the all-party parliamentary group on commercial radio. Let me start by saying that I welcome the Bill, which responds well to the needs of the sector. Because of time limitations, I will focus my remarks on three specific areas of the Bill. I will do something that I rarely do, and put television ahead of radio.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to simplifying the existing remit for public service broadcasters. PSBs are what make our television landscape renowned around the world, but they face unprecedented competition for viewers, programming content and talent in an era when global streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are producing original content and becoming increasingly dominant in the market. It is good that we have more content producers, but even better, they are choosing to make content here in the UK because of our regulatory framework.

TV prominence is about ensuring that UK viewers can easily find public service content that they value. We are living in an increasingly global marketplace, but there is still an appetite for programmes that reflect British values. In fact, around seven in 10 UK adults want UK life and culture to be represented on screen, and a similar number agree that PSBs make programmes designed for UK audiences. Why is it important that we introduce legislation to protect PSBs? Surely, viewers will want to watch the programmes that they make.

Until now, in return for providing public service content, the Government, through Ofcom, have allocated frequencies to broadcasters. In a relatively uncomplicated world, those channels have been easy to find on electronic programme guides: ITV, and STV in Scotland, on channel 3; Channel 4 and Channel 5 on their respective channels. Once someone has tuned in their TV to the nearest transmitter, they press the number on their remote control and the channel is there.

In a future world where the internet is used to deliver the linear TV and video on demand, the tech companies and platforms will decide where products and programmes appear. In fact, at the moment, if Samsung or LG decided not to include the BBC iPlayer app on their TV screens, there is nothing the BBC, UK viewers or the Government could do about it. If Amazon decided to double the charge for Channel 4’s on-demand service to appear on its Fire Stick, there is little Channel 4 could do about it. From speaking to Channel 4, I know that when Amazon moved the location of the Channel 4 app on the Fire Stick, there was a significant alteration in the viewing of Channel 4. It matters where the apps are located on the relevant platform.

If we want to make sure that British viewers can easily find BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, and STV in Scotland and S4C in Wales, we need to agree the framework that will ensure that platforms carry those services. I fully support that. I also urge the Government to look carefully at using the word “significant” rather than “appropriate”. That will determine where the channels are found on those platforms.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wholeheartedly agree that it is not just about the schedule. As I said earlier, I was not aware that we had a schedule. We do not use Freeview; we open the Fire Stick or PlayStation and look at the apps. The prominence of the apps is important. If someone does not have terrestrial TV or an aerial hooked up, that is the only way that they are able to consume the public service broadcast content.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There may be an age divide that determines whether someone looks at an electronic programme guide or the Radio Times, or whether they just look for a tile. The notion that viewers want to continue to use linear TV is important. That is why it is so critical that we legislate in the right way to make sure that British viewers can find it.

The changes in the Bill will impact Channel 4 more than any other PSB, given its unique publisher-broadcaster licence. Channel 4’s status, introduced by the Conservative Government back in the 1980s, has significantly aided the development of the independent production sector in the UK over the last 40 years, which is now worth nearly £4 billion. The removal of the publisher-broadcaster restrictions will allow for Channel 4 to produce its own content, as opposed to simply commissioning or acquiring all of its content from third parties. Why does that matter? For the first time, it will allow Channel 4, when it produces content, to own the rights for that content, which it can then sell around the world, creating another stream of revenue which will allow products and programmes to be funded on Channel 4.

The Government have announced plans to increase Channel 4’s independent production quota as part of the changes. However, there will be many small production companies in areas such as the north-west of England, which have seen a rapid growth in independent production businesses, who are still unsure about the full impact the changes will have for them. Will the Minister, in his response, expand a little more on what the changes will mean for those businesses and give some assurances that they will still be able to thrive once Channel 4 receives its new licence and the Bill receives Royal Assent?

Channel 4 has indicated that it will maintain its existing commitment to spend 50% of its budget for main channel commissions outside London. That is really important to regional production. Ofcom has announced that it will be consulting on whether changes will need to be made to Channel 4’s regional programming making quotas. Is the Minister able to provide a timeline for that consultation, so we know when any changes will come into effect?

I want to touch on local TV and echo some of the comments from other hon. and right hon. Members. I have received representations from the local TV networks who are concerned that the current Bill does not guarantee local TV service prominence in the new TV ecology, and neither does it grant powers on a par with those of local radio services. At some point, the sector will start to provide streamed linear programme services. Will the Government be giving consideration to including local TV as part of the licensed public service channel designation in the Bill to help ensure sustainability for the sector? It really is important that there is an understanding for this sector going forward, because it is making decisions today on the future of its business plans.

Finally on TV, if we are looking to the next 20 years, because this is the only Bill we are likely to see in the media landscape, we should be conscious that the previous broadcasting Bill ran for 20 years. On the Government’s management of a digital terrestrial television switchover, I have been reassured in my conversations with the Minister that he wants terrestrial television to remain accessible for the foreseeable future. I very much agree with him on that. When he is summing up, could he give an indication of the criteria he might want to set before broadcast TV services on Freeview are considered for switch off? That was in place for DAB digital radio. There was a clear criteria in terms of when that might happen. Things have moved many, many times over the years, but it would be helpful for the digital terrestrial sector to understand what the Government might be thinking.

Before I turn to the provisions on radio, may I put on record my congratulations to all those who have worked in commercial radio over the past 50 years? Independent local radio, as we once knew it, celebrated its 50th anniversary just a few weeks ago. It was 50 years ago in October since LBC and Capital Radio arrived on our airwaves in the capital, 50 years since Radio Clyde in Glasgow launched and 50 years since BRMB in Birmingham launched. They were the four stations in 1973 that appeared on our AM radios. Over the 50 years, we have seen a plethora of local, regional and national stations arrive on AM, FM, DAB and now online via Radioplayer and smart speakers. Today, commercial radio is delivering record audiences. Back in the early 1980s, we were all convinced that video was going to kill the radio star. Actually, radio is in rude health. We have regional brands, national stations and hyperlocal services focused on their own towns and cities that are doing remarkably well. We should all recognise in this House how strong commercial radio is today and how much we value the services that people who work in that sector provide for us.

There is unanimous agreement across the BBC, and across commercial and community radio, that the Bill, on the whole, works for radio. It contains crucial measures that will help to safeguard the future in the face of changing technology and shifts in listening habits. The radio sector continues to deliver significant public value, providing trusted news, entertainment and—particularly important—companionship for about 50 million listeners every week. UK radio broadcasters make a substantial contribution to the creative industries, and BBC and commercial radio combined generate more than £1.5 billion in gross value added for the UK economy.

I especially welcome the provisions to support the future of the UK radio industry on voice-activated smart speaker platforms, and the removal of outdated regulatory burdens such as music formats on analogue licences for commercial radio stations. When there was a limited number of stations in each market, it was right for the Government to regulate the number of stations that could provide each particular type of service, but today, when there are a great many services, it should be for the market to decide. If country music is not working, it is possible to switch to jazz without spending too much time bothering the regulator.

There are, however, a few parts of the Bill that I should like the Minister to clarify for the industry. Part 5 deals with the safeguarding of local news and information on DAB services, and it would be helpful if the Minister could explain how those powers will work in practice. For instance, how would a multiplex decide which services must carry local news? Would the multiplex owner be responsible for the enforcement against a digital sound service provider, or would that be the responsibility of Ofcom? What would happen if a service carrying local news stopped broadcasting? Would the obligation be transferred to another service holder, or to the multiplex owner? As for Ofcom’s new role in producing guidelines for the regular broadcast of local news, can the Minister tell us when and how Ofcom will be consulting on that process?

Part 6 contains clauses relating to futureproofing. Will there be scope for expansion of the provisions to cover on-demand and online-only radio content provided by UK broadcasters, as opposed to linear content? Finally, may I ask whether the Government will consider an amendment to protect access to radio in cars, which still accounts for about a quarter of all radio listening, by bringing non-voice activated infotainment systems within the scope of the Bill?

I want to touch briefly on the proposals

“for the repeal of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013”,

a decade-old provision that has never been brought into force. While I appreciated the opportunity to observe the perspective of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), whose knowledgeable account of the forming of that legislation was extremely insightful, I am afraid I disagree with the points that he made. It does not seem right to me that publishers who are taken to court could be forced to pay the legal costs of a judgment if they are not a member of an approved regulator, regardless of whether they win or lose the case. I am a firm believer in the freedom of the press. I have spent time working as a journalist, and there have been times when journalists have written about my activities. There are, occasionally, times when I do not like what the press have written, and there are, occasionally, times when I believe that the press have got it wrong. Healthy democracies, however, need objective journalism which is free from state involvement.

The reason I do not agree with my right hon. Friend is this. The Leveson report recommended a system of

“voluntary independent self-regulation”,

envisaging

“a body, established and organised by the industry”

which

“must be funded by its members”.

Lord Justice Leveson said that that body should include all the major players in the industry—national newspapers, and as many regional and local newspaper and magazine publishers as possible—

“although I am very anxious that it remain voluntary”.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What Lord Justice Leveson actually said was that the members of the body would only be recognised as a regulator if they had sought recognition from an organisation called the Press Recognition Panel. Leveson very clearly rejected the model put forward by Lord Black in the other place, for the very good reason that there was no independent accountability and no body to recognise that independent regulator.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s comments and I recognise his knowledge in this area. He was involved at such a deep level that he has experience and expertise in this field.

For me, the media regulatory landscape has changed significantly since section 40 was introduced, with the Independent Press Standards Organisation now regulating nearly 2,000 print and online titles, including the vast majority of UK national, regional and local newspapers. I feel that that has left us with an obsolete law on the statute book which was never enacted. Removing the section was a Conservative party manifesto commitment in 2017 and in 2019, so I welcome its proposed repeal by the Bill.

In concluding my remarks, I want to offer my thanks to the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale), to the Secretary of State and to officials in DCMS for all their positive engagement with me, with the industry and with those in the House who have long been pressing for this Bill to be brought forward. I know that the Minister is just as keen as I am to see the Media Bill on the statute book, and I am grateful to him for taking note of the issues that I have raised today. I look forward to his addressing those issues in his reply, as well as to our continued engagement over the coming months so that we can pass this Bill as soon as possible.

17:41
Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter). I remember being warned by the Whips on my very first day in this place, “Do not make the mistake of thinking that the media are your friends. They are not.” I can still remember that. After four years of being in this place I understand the sentiment, but actually we have a job to do. It is to represent our constituents and be accountable, and the media equally have a job to do. As far as I am concerned, we form a relationship with each other, hopefully for the benefit of our constituents. It might not always be a friendship, but in my case it is a decent, healthy working relationship none the less. In North Norfolk we are lucky, because we have some really good local media companies. We have good local TV, good local radio and good local newspapers, and I work with them all. I would like to think that we have a good relationship because I have a job to do and so do they in reporting on my role and what I am doing in Parliament.

We all know that local media are under immense pressure and I have been very outspoken about BBC local radio cuts. BBC Radio Norfolk is a beloved institution in my parts and I still think that those cuts were misguided and wrong. They will devalue the product, push content creators into online from radio and put pressure on our regional newspapers, which are already struggling as a result of the ever-dwindling numbers of people who are reading print content. Local media are often far more adept at reporting on the stories our constituents want to hear, because the regional stories affect the reader directly. Local news programming often aims to be the authentic voice of its viewers and their interests, with viewers often telling stories directly through their own words.

One of the purposes of the Media Bill is supposed to be to ensure that viewing migrating to new streamed platforms does not result in viewing and revenues to public service broadcasting being lost. However, while supporting the largest broadcasters, the Bill does little to protect the rights of viewers to access local news and information on their new TV sets. So for me, the fundamental issue of the Bill is the definition of public service channels. Under the Bill, local TV services are no longer included in the definition, which means that Ofcom will have no power to secure carriage and prominence for internet-delivered local TV streamed services on smart TV sets.

The reality of that is that if local TV services cannot replace lost viewing and revenues, they will ultimately no longer be able to deliver their services. For one of my local TV stations, That’s TV, it will have a direct impact on its business. I have always supported That’s TV, along with its presenter Charlie Walden and now his successor, Ryan Wykes. Both have been young, talented and keen reporters and I have greatly enjoyed working with them. It is important that they flourish and are not lost, because the demise of local TV would be an irreversible loss to the media landscape.

Where the Bill has got it right is in reducing the regulatory burden on commercial radio stations. They, too, are stretched for advertising revenue but contribute enormously to the rich fabric of community media. To give an example of just how popular local radio is in my region: according to RAJAR data from Sept 2023, 199,000 people across Norfolk and north Suffolk tuned into Greatest Hits Radio, including 18,000 in North Norfolk alone. That is more than BBC Radio Norfolk, at 125,000, and more than Heart Norfolk, at 174,000. That echoes what my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South has just said.

Of all the people listening to the radio in Norfolk, around one in every five listened to Greatest Hits Radio for at least some of the time. It is vital that stations like these are supported and enhanced so that brilliant reporters such as Tom Clabon can continue to report on the latest and most important regional topics, day in and day out. I often find these journalists have a freer rein and more flexibility than journalists from, say, the BBC, with its strict schedule on what they can and cannot report.

One concern is that increasing the visibility or accessibility of public service broadcast content could have an adverse consequence in providing unfair competition to regional newspapers that, as we know, are under great pressure across the country. I am blessed to have a brilliant local newspaper that covers all of my constituency—I know not all MPs have that.

There is almost a clamour to buy the North Norfolk News on a Thursday morning, and I pay tribute to up-and-coming journalists such as Adam Barker and the local democracy reporter George Thompson, and not forgetting Stuart Anderson, the community editor, who was the first reporter to interview me after my election, We have worked together productively ever since I was elected to inform the population of all things in North Norfolk.

As I end, I cannot fail to mention protections for non-commercial community radio stations. I have one of the best, Poppyland Radio, based in Northrepps village hall. A bunch of wonderfully energetic, creative and talented presenters and volunteers enable it to broadcast 24/7 but, like every other local media channel, it needs protection to ensure its viability. I hope consideration can be given so that, across the spectrum, it is not just the broadcasting giants that are protected but also the content creators who represent our smaller communities. Without them, the journalists of the future may never be given the opportunity to learn their trade, and then we and the communities we represent would all ultimately suffer.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House for neglecting to mention at the start of my remarks that I have recently accepted hospitality totalling £345 from Sky, a broadcaster, to see Madonna—it was unforgettable. I apologise for failing to mention that in my remarks, and I wish to correct the record. I hope that is acceptable. Thank you for your guidance.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for correcting the record as quickly as possible, for which I am grateful.

17:48
Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to welcome the introduction of the overdue Media Bill. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

It has been 20 years since the last major piece of broadcasting legislation was passed, and the media landscape has since changed dramatically. In 2003, the words “television” and “radio” described the devices on which we consumed our visual and audio content. Now these formats have taken on a life of their own.

Television can be viewed without a physical TV, and radio can be streamed online. As this technology has evolved, so have the habits of audiences and the competitors entering the industry. In the television space, for example, global streaming services now challenge our public service broadcasters for the attention of audiences. Rather than being linear channels, they offer catalogues of content for the price of a subscription.

Against this backdrop, we are pleased to finally have the Media Bill before us today, in order to give our public service broadcasters and UK radio the tools they need to thrive in the digital era. Just last week, I again met stakeholders from across the industry, including from public service broadcasters, radio providers, online platforms and consumer groups. While not everyone agreed on every detail of the Bill, what was clear from the discussions was the almost unanimous desire to get the Bill through as soon as possible.

Too much time has already been wasted in bringing forward the changes that are needed. Around 18 months ago, Ministers first introduced the “Up Next” White Paper, which contained many of the crucial measures we see before us in the Bill today, including welcome commitments to modernise the public service remit, to ensure public service content is prominent and easy to find on smart TVs and streaming sticks, and to futureproof the listed events regime, so that UK audiences can enjoy important national sporting moments.

However, rather than getting on with providing support for the broadcasting industry, the Government chose to waste a year pursuing doomed plans to privatise Channel 4 instead. Thanks to widespread opposition, Ministers finally made a very welcome U-turn on that proposal. That was a huge relief, not least for those local economies across the country who rely on Channel 4 spending over 50% of its commissioning budget in areas outside London, which the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) raised some important questions about.

Although I am pleased to welcome the Bill today and look forward to supporting it in its passage, it is vital that the Bill is subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, the Bill has already made distinct progress from its draft thanks to pre-legislative work by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which has rightly received praise from across the House. The Chair, the hon. Member for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage), outlined some of the accepted changes, including creating exemptions to the 30-day requirement, making progress in closing the streaming loophole in the listed events regime and adding much-needed protections to help facilitate a smooth end to Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster restriction.

However, I would like to highlight some areas where clarification may be needed, starting with the first four parts of the Bill, which primarily focus on visual media. It is important that the Bill seeks to ensure that the public service remit is not overly complex or onerous. However, the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, the Media Reform Coalition and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee have raised concerns that removing explicit requirements to cover genres such as entertainment, drama, science, religion and other beliefs could lead to a decline in the provision of content in those areas. Will the Minister clarify what impact assessment the Department has carried out on how the new remit will impact the nature of public service content, particularly with respect to the removed genres?

In the light of changing viewing patterns, it is sensible to provide PSBs with some flexibility to meet their remit through on demand programming, but the Broadcast 2040+ campaign and others have been clear that public service content on linear television must still be protected and maintained. If it is not, we risk excluding those who live in rural areas, do not have an internet connection and an older generation that rely on being able to watch television in its traditional format. Will the Minister explain how the Department will work with Ofcom to hold our PSBs to the highest standards, and ensure that they continue to deliver quality content for as many people as possible?

Further scrutiny will also be needed to ensure the new video-on-demand code is not just a copy and paste of the broadcasting code, and is tailored to the needs of the on-demand environment, a point touched on by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). It must also be clear who this code will apply to. Currently, the Government have said tier one services will be subject to the code, but there is confusion over how tier one will be defined.

Discussions will also be important to ensure the new prominence regime achieves the aim of making sure public service content is easily accessible on smart devices, properly considers how best to implement prominence for the likes of S4C, as raised by a number of hon. Members, and takes into account legacy devices.

On listed events, we need further clarification on how the findings from the Government’s consultation into digital rights will be implemented. We do not want a situation where a major sporting event takes place overnight and the next day the online clips are behind a paywall, meaning people in the UK are cut off from viewing it.

Let me move now to the radio-focused parts of the Bill—particularly part 6. I am aware that there has been a wider concern over the drafting and intent of the clauses. Thanks to the occasions that I have been in this Chamber to discuss the importance of preserving BBC local radio, the Minister will be well aware by now that I believe that radio services are of vital importance to people up and down the country. I am therefore also in full support of the changes that the Bill makes to ensure that UK radio services are available and easy to access, without undue interruption, on devices such as smart speakers.

It is with that support in mind that I wish to ask the Minister how he plans to ensure that these measures are futureproofed, as I know that is something that Radiocentre and the BBC have raised, too. For example, does the Department have any plans to extend the regime where necessary, for instance, to include car entertainment systems? Further, despite the rapid growth of podcasts and online-only radio, these forms of audio are not covered by the Bill’s protections. Does the Minister believe that that, too, should be kept under review?

Although I support these measures, I know that the likes of TuneIn, TechUK, and Google, which I met last week, have shared some concerns over this section. Again, I am pleased that the Department has taken on board some of the important recommendations made by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to ease some of those concerns. However, I would still be keen to hear from the Minister on what work the Department has carried out to ensure that smart speaker platforms are able to prepare internally for carrying radio services through their preferred routes. It is vital that radio is protected in light of changing listening habits, and, in order for this regime to be successfully implemented, there must be proper engagement with platforms and technology stakeholders to ensure that they are able to comply.

Although the Media Bill is overdue and in need of some clarifications and adjustments, I am very pleased to welcome it today. I look forward to working closely with Ministers and Members from across the House on ensuring that we seize this once in a generation opportunity to update media regulation, and create the change needed to ensure the future of our brilliant British TV and radio.

17:56
John Whittingdale Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Sir John Whittingdale)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I start by thanking all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate? It has been wide ranging and remarkably consensual with one small exception. Nevertheless, there has been much support for what the Government are seeking to do in this Bill from right across the House. That is perhaps in part because it has been a long time in the preparation, but I think that it is all the better for that. The Government decided to publish the Bill in draft form, and we have consulted very widely since that time.

We are extremely grateful to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage), and to the Lords Communication and Digital Committee. We have also held extensive discussions with broadcasters, platforms and all those who have an interest including—just to reassure the Father of the House—with Colin Browne of the Voice of the Listener & Viewer, whom I met recently. We intend to continue to engage with all those with an interest in the Bill to make absolutely sure that we have got it right.

A number of hon. Members, in the course of their contributions, remarked on the extraordinary transformation that has occurred in the media landscape over the past few years. It is absolutely the case that things such as EPGs and linear television are becoming less and less part of everyday behaviour, particularly for young people who access television content. It has meant that there has had to be a succession of Bills to update the legislation to take account of the changes. I have to admit that I was a member of the Broadcasting Bill Standing Committee in 1996. I led for the Opposition in the Committee on the Communications Act 2003, and I am delighted that I shall be taking this Bill through Committee in the next few weeks.

I particularly welcome the offer from the shadow Secretary of State to work with us in taking the Bill through and I look forward to working with her and the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) in Committee as I think that there are areas where we share a common objective. We are also keen to work with all members of the Committee to ensure that we get this right.

As I say, there has been a remarkable transformation in the media landscape. We are particularly grateful for the recommendations, and I want to touch on one or two made particularly by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I have always had a high regard for that Committee, having spent 10 years chairing it. As ever, the report produced by the Committee was extremely valuable and we were delighted that we were able to accept a large number of the recommendations.

There were one or two recommendations on which we took a different view. In particular, one that has been raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Gosport and for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), was the distinction between “significant” and “appropriate”. A number Members have recommended that we should use the words “significant prominence”, rather than “appropriate prominence”. The Government have taken a different view, which can be summed up as, “Significant can indeed be appropriate, but appropriate is not necessarily significant.”

S4C is an example of that. In Wales, it is very important that it should be highly visible, and therefore significant prominence in Wales is appropriate. On the other hand, it would not necessarily be appropriate for S4C to have significant prominence outside Wales. It should obviously be findable, but it has a different position outside Wales. The Government remain of the view that “appropriate” is a more fitting term than “significant”.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very conscious of what my right hon. Friend says, but “appropriate” is so wishy-washy and it is clear that promoting S4C in parts of England is not what people are talking about. It is leaving the decision to Ofcom and judges, as opposed to the very clear signal from Parliament that we want our public service broadcasters to be high up the list right across the country, including on the platforms we discussed earlier.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I say, in a large number of cases the appropriate position would be a significant one, but we think there needs to be a degree of flexibility to take account of regional differences, and therefore that Ofcom is perhaps better placed to look at each individual example and decide the appropriate level.

I come to Channel 4, which has featured a lot in the course of the debate. Channel 4, set up by a Conservative Government, has played an extremely valuable role in the broadcasting landscape. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe who rightly said that when Channel 4 was created, the independent production sector did not really exist at all. The indie sector was created by Channel 4 and the fact that Channel 4, as a broadcaster, commissioned all its content from the indie sector.

As a result, we now have one of the most successful independent production sectors in the world, which to some extent does not now need the support of Channel 4; it is making content for all the broadcasters, in this country and beyond. Nevertheless, it is the Government’s decision that, to provide Channel 4 with a more sustainable revenue base moving forward, we should allow it to acquire an in-house production capacity if it so chooses. We talked to the independent production sector at length and felt it was appropriate that in those circumstances we should increase the independent production quota to 35%, in order to provide some underpinning of the independent production sector. We hope that that will ensure the continued sustainability of the independent production sector at the same time as giving a Channel 4 an additional ability to diversify its sources of revenue.

There have been a number of contributions from north of the border during this debate, particularly around Gaelic broadcasting. One measure in the Bill for the first time makes the provision of services in the minority languages across the United Kingdom part of the public service remit. That did not exist before. It is for Ofcom to decide an appropriate level of provision, but there is now a requirement that there should be such provision.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but should there not be something a bit stronger and more stringent in the Bill than a decision by Ofcom further down the road, and should it not be written into law, as several Members have asked?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Well, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that clause 1 makes clear that there should be a significant quantity of

“audiovisual content that is in, or mainly in, a recognised regional or minority language”.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Just to correct the Minister, it does not say “significant quantity”; it says “sufficient quantity”, but there is no definition of “sufficient”. We are concerned about the fact that that word has not been defined. We want a reasonable amount of Gaelic content to be available.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise to the hon. Lady. She is absolutely right: it does say a

“sufficient quantity of audiovisual content”.

That will be a matter for Ofcom to rule on. MG Alba already gets support—

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister, who I appreciate is trying to be helpful. What we are asking for specifically is that protection in law be given to Gaelic in the way it is given to other languages, such as Welsh. I hope that that can be done with cross-party consensus, which is what we have done over the course of the past few decades in this place.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I share the right hon. Gentleman’s wish to see continuing provision both for the Welsh language and indeed for Gaelic. I would, however, draw a contrast. Some have suggested that there should be some kind of equity in the support given to the Welsh language and to Gaelic. Of course, S4C receives funding from the licence fee, but that is in recognition of the fact that there are nearly 1 million Welsh speakers in the United Kingdom. MG Alba gets some support from the Scottish Government, which is welcome, but there are approaching 100,000 people in Scotland who speak Gaelic, so there is a big contrast between the two.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is a reason there have been so few Gaelic speakers over the centuries: Acts of Parliament, from the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 onwards—and even before. The point is that we are looking for redress and hope, not for more of the same. I mean that in a good spirit; I hope it does not come across otherwise, because I know that the Minister is not that type of person. I am trying to communicate to him the urgency of the real need, expressed by a number of Members, for that kind of support.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid that all I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Government recognise the importance of continuing support. We expect the BBC to continue providing a channel in Gaelic, in the form of BBC Alba, and we welcome the fact that MG Alba produces content through an arrangement with the BBC and with the support of the Scottish Government. We have now, for the first time, put into the public service remit the requirement to provide

“a sufficient quantity of audiovisual content”.

That is a significant step forward, even if it does not go quite as far as SNP Members would like.

The provisions covering radio have been rightly welcomed and described by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), who is an acknowledged expert in this area. We have worked closely with the radio sector, and I think that the audio review identified the need to ensure the protection of radio services as more and more people adopt smart speakers.

A number of hon. Members raised local television, of which the Government remain supportive. However, at the moment, local television is not available through apps, so including it in the provisions for prominence was not appropriate, but we will of course keep the situation under review, should it evolve in future. The Government are consulting on the future of local television.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates) raised a specific point about the regulation of video-on-demand streaming services. The Government completely share her wish to see adequate protection for children. Having sufficient protections in place will be part of the new requirements on the major streaming services. She is right to praise the BBFC. I have worked with the BBFC for many years, going right back to James Ferman, who for 25 years was its director. It is absolutely true that the BBFC is recognised as expert in this field. I very much welcome that a number of streamers have chosen to adopt the BBFC to carry out their age ratings, including Netflix and Amazon.

The Government’s objective, however, is to ensure that protection is in place, rather than necessarily to specify that it has to be done by the BBFC. It will be left to Ofcom to oversee that, and it already has a lot of experience in this area. It enforces the broadcasting code, which also requires age-appropriate broadcasting. As my hon. Friend rightly said, that was traditionally via the watershed, although that is now changing with the move to on-demand TV. Ofcom also undertakes other protections such as parental controls and so on, so it is not just age rating. I entirely share her view that the BBFC does an excellent job, and I hope that all services will consider using it when reaching decisions, but the Government are not at the point of wishing to mandate that at this time.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I utterly appreciate what my right hon. Friend is saying, and I can see why the Government and Ofcom do not want to be overly prescriptive about how this regulation is done, as long as the content is well understood. Will he just reflect on the fact that this set of labels is well understood by the public? Everyone knows what a U is, and everyone knows what an 18 is. In that sense, it would be an effective vehicle to establish that people understand the content.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In determining whether the requirements are met, Ofcom will have to take into account whether the rating is easily understood by viewers. Even if that is not necessarily the BBFC’s triangles and particular age ratings, it will nevertheless need to meet those requirements and ensure that viewers can easily see what is an appropriate age for that particular content. I am a viewer of Disney+ along with the other services, and I agree with my hon. Friend. Disney+ has some content that is highly appropriate for children, but it has other content that is perhaps less so.

I move on to the repeal of section 40, which is of concern to a number of Members. I very much welcome the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who served with me on the Select Committee when we carried out the inquiries into phone hacking. I hope I am not being too immodest in saying that the Committee was responsible for exposing phone hacking, and none of the events that followed would have occurred had the Select Committee not persisted in our summoning of representatives of News International, as it was at that time, and pursuing that inquiry. It led to the police investigations and ultimately to the establishment of the Leveson inquiry.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) was right to set out the historical background to the establishment of the Leveson inquiry. However, the one thing that he did not cover, which I recall very well, is that the intention behind section 40 was to put pressure on one or two newspapers that might have been standing out against seeking the approval of the recognised regulator. What nobody anticipated when section 40 was established was that every single national publication would say that they were not willing to comply with that requirement. It was not just the tabloids or the red tops; it was The Guardian, The Independent and the Financial Times. No national newspaper was willing to comply with the Government’s proposals under the royal charter, and that did change things, because it made the system unworkable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) —to whom I am grateful for taking over the APPG on media freedom—is right to point out that campaigning organisations for press freedom such as Reporters Without Borders were equally critical of the Government’s proposals on section 40 and have been campaigning for its repeal. The Government reached the conclusion that the system had not worked and should be repealed, and we therefore put that in the Conservative party manifesto of 2017. It was repeated in the Conservative party manifesto of 2019, and I am delighted that we will now put that commitment into effect by repealing section 40.

I have seldom agreed with the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), but on this occasion, I thought he made one or two extremely good points. He is absolutely right to highlight the digital divide. We are very conscious that as more and more people access TV content through streaming services and via the internet, there is a group who have not done so. Several Members asked whether the Government can make a commitment to the continuation of Freeview beyond 2034. The Government would not consider switching off digital terrestrial television unless we had reached the point where the overwhelming majority were no longer using it to access TV. We are very conscious of that group in the population who still rely on traditional Freeview, and that will be in our thoughts.

The right hon. Member was also right to pay tribute to news reporting from around the world and to point out that it does not get enough attention. I was delighted to be able to attend the Society of Editors’ media freedom awards recently, where Sky received two awards for its reporter Stuart Ramsay’s reports from Myanmar about the civil war raging there. That is a terrible conflict that does not get enough attention. The right hon. Member is right that it is important that both PSBs and other providers continue to bring us reports from right around the world about things that we would otherwise be unaware of.

Lastly, I welcome the right hon. Member’s stressing the importance of local newspapers. I have been deeply concerned about the decline of local newspapers for many years. I am delighted that the BBC’s local democracy reporting service, which was established following the last charter, continues to support local newspapers, and we continue to look for other ways to support them.

This has been an excellent debate. I look forward to working with all Members and the Opposition as we take the Bill into Committee. I am delighted to commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Media Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Media Bill:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 14 December 2023.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Consideration and Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Mark Fletcher.)

Question agreed to.

Media Bill (Money)

King’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Media Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Mark Fletcher.)

Question agreed to.

Media Bill (Ways and Means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Media Bill, it is expedient to authorise:

(1) the charging of fees under the Act; and

(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Mark Fletcher.)

Question agreed to.

Media Bill (First sitting)

Committee stage
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Media Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 5 December 2023 - (5 Dec 2023)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Judith Cummins, † Martin Vickers
† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)
† Blackman, Kirsty (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
† Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)
† Butler, Rob (Aylesbury) (Con)
Carter, Andy (Warrington South) (Con)
† Collins, Damian (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
† Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
† Foster, Kevin (Torbay) (Con)
† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)
† Hunt, Tom (Ipswich) (Con)
† Owen, Sarah (Luton North) (Lab)
† Peacock, Stephanie (Barnsley East) (Lab)
† Tuckwell, Steve (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con)
† Western, Andrew (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
† Whittingdale, Sir John (Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries)
† Williams, Hywel (Arfon) (PC)
† Wood, Mike (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)
Huw Yardley, Kevin Candy, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 5 December 2023
(Morning)
[Martin Vickers in the Chair]
Media Bill
09:25
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We are now sitting in public and the proceedings are being broadcast. I have a few preliminary announcements. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members could email their speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk. Please switch electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during the sittings.

The selection list for today’s sittings is available in the room. It shows how the selected amendments have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same or similar issues. Please note that decisions on amendments take place in the order not in which they are debated, but in which they appear on the amendment paper. The selection and grouping list shows the order of debates. Decisions on each amendment are taken when we come to the clause to which the amendment relates. A Member who has put their name to the leading amendment in the group is called first. Other Members are then free to catch my eye to speak on all or any of the amendments in the group. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate. At the end of debate on a group of amendments, I shall call the Member who moved the leading amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to withdraw the amendment or seek a decision. If any Member wishes to press any other amendment in the group to a vote, they need to let me know.

John Whittingdale Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Sir John Whittingdale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That—

1. the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 5 December) meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 5 December;

(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 7 December;

(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 12 December;

(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 14 December;

2. the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 17; Schedule 1; Clauses 18 to 27; Schedule 2; Clause 28; Schedule 3; Clauses 29 to 36; Schedule 4; Clause 37; Schedules 5 to 7; Clauses 38 to 40; Schedule 8; Clauses 41 to 48; Schedule 9; Clause 49; Schedules 10 and 11; Clauses 50 and 51; Schedule 12; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

3. the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 14 December.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers, and to debate with the hon. Member for Barnsley East, reprising the enjoyable time we had in the Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill Committee not long ago. This Bill is important for the future of our public service broadcasters and the media in this country. It has been some time in the preparation. It has been through pre-legislative scrutiny, and has been amended considerably to reflect the views put forward to the Government. As a result, I hope that it is generally non-controversial, but it is obviously important that we scrutinise it in detail.

The Programming Sub-Committee met yesterday evening to debate the programme for consideration of the Bill. It was agreed that we should meet today at 9.25 am and 2 pm, again on Thursday, and then again on Tuesday and Thursday next week. That was the unanimous view of the Committee. On that basis, I commend the programme motion to the Committee.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you chairing the Committee today, Mr Vickers. It is a pleasure to stand opposite the Minister. The last work I did with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was on the Online Safety Bill, which took a significant time—significantly more than I expect this Bill will. I will talk more generally about the Bill later, when we have moved off the programme motion.

I have questions for the Minister about the lack of oral evidence for the Bill. There is no programme for taking oral evidence. That generally happens when the beginning of a Bill’s Committee stage is taken on the Floor of the House; for example, we have the first part of the Finance Bill Committee on the Floor of the House. The Government have been keen not to take oral evidence on the Finance Bill. It also happens when a Bill originates in the Lords; then no oral evidence is taken in the House of Commons.

I understand what the Minister said about there having been pre-legislative scrutiny. However, I spoke to an external organisation that is often called to give evidence on things related to media, and it assumed that it would be giving evidence this morning when it first saw the draft timetable for Committee during Second Reading. It did not expect that there would be no oral evidence sessions. Let me make it clear how useful oral evidence is. We are able to ask so many experts for their views on specific parts of the Bill. The Minister said that there is a large amount of agreement on much of the Bill, and I do not disagree, but there are significant points of contention, such as the use of the word “appropriate” as opposed to “significant” in relation to prominence. It would be helpful to have experts here who could explain why they believe that “appropriate” is not the appropriate word in the circumstances.

We have had a tight turnover from Second Reading. I very much appreciate all the organisations that have worked hard to put together their written evidence in such a short time, but I guarantee that not everybody in the room will have read all the written evidence, given the tight timescales.

I have two questions. First, why did the Minister decide not to schedule oral evidence sessions when programming the Bill? Will he be slightly ashamed if we do not meet on Thursday 14 December, and we would have had time for an oral evidence session? My second question relates to the timing of the Bill. It is fairly unusual for Committee to begin this quickly after Second Reading. There were two days after Second Reading to table amendments before the deadline. That is a fairly tight turnaround, especially given that we will probably discuss most of the Bill over a few days. I would appreciate it if the Minister let us know the Government’s thinking on the programming.

09:31
John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the hon. Lady says and understand her points. However, as I indicated, the Bill has been in gestation for a long time. I chaired the Culture, Media and Sport Committee until 2015, and it called for a number of the measures in the Bill, so certain parts have taken at least seven or eight years. As she rightly points out, the Government published the Bill in draft form, and that led to lengthy Select Committee hearings, in which a large range of stakeholders gave evidence. Indeed, there was the Select Committee’s report, and the Scottish Affairs and Welsh Affairs Committees also made recommendations. All those were taken into account by the Government, and published evidence was available.

Since that time, we have held a number of roundtables to hear from stakeholders. I obviously recognise that those were private meetings, so there is not a public record of them, but nevertheless, as the hon. Lady points out, there has been an opportunity for all stakeholders to submit written evidence. I am shocked at her suggestion that there could be members of the Committee who have not read all the written evidence submitted, but it is publicly available. Given the time spent consulting on the Bill, it was felt that a public oral evidence session in the Committee was not necessary. If anybody wishes to make further representations, we would gratefully receive them.

The Programming Sub-Committee felt yesterday that the timetable gave sufficient time, given the Bill’s non-controversial nature. Relatively fewer amendments have been tabled than were tabled to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which the hon. Member for Barnsley East and I took through Committee not that long ago. I hope that we will give the amendments proper scrutiny. I view the timetable with a certain amount of schadenfreude, in that I shall be stepping down from my position at the end of the year so that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) can return to her role. I am pleased that I shall have the opportunity to take the Bill through the whole of Committee, because it is one that I have spent quite a lot of time on. For those reasons, I think the programme motion and the amount of time allocated for consideration of the Bill are correct, although I join the hon. Member for Aberdeen North in hoping that anybody with further representations to make does make them, even if we are not having oral evidence sessions.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not vote against the programme motion, but I echo the Minister’s call to stakeholders on written evidence, and say to any stakeholders who are watching: “You have been wrong-footed by the very short timescales we were given for amendments, but there is the opportunity to make amendments on Report.” If they get in touch with us about any amendments they want before the deadline for Report, they could be debated then, even though we may not necessarily have had time to craft them before Committee proceedings.

Question put and agreed to.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

The Committee will therefore meet again at 2 pm this afternoon, and on every sitting Tuesday and Thursday until 14 December, unless we complete consideration of the Bill before then.

Ordered,

That the Bill be considered in the following order, namely, Clauses 1 to 17, Schedule 1, Clauses 18 to 27, Schedule 2, Clause 28, Schedule 3, Clauses 29 to 36, Schedule 4, Clause 37, Schedules 5 to 7, Clauses 38 to 40, Schedule 8, Clauses 41 to 48, Schedule 9, Clause 49, Schedules 10 and 11, Clauses 50 and 51, Schedule 12, new Clauses, new Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill.—(Sir John Whittingdale.)

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Sir John Whittingdale.)

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Copies of any written evidence received by the Committee will be circulated to Members by email and published on the Bill webpage. We now proceed to line-by-line consideration of the Bill.

Clause 1

Reports on the fulfilment of the public service remit

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 39, in clause 1, page 2, line 38, at end insert—

“(iii) at least ten hours’ transmission time per week in the Gaelic language as spoken in Scotland.”

This amendment would add a similar requirement for broadcast of programming in Scottish Gaelic as there is for Welsh language broadcasting.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 5—Gaelic language service—

“The Secretary of State must, within six months of the passage of this Act, review whether a Gaelic language service should be given a public service broadcast remit.”

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to take part in the Bill Committee, Mr Vickers. I am glad to see everybody here early on a Tuesday morning, either with or without coffee—I mean, definitely without coffee, as that is not allowed in Bill Committees.

Amendment 39 to clause 1 relates to Gaelic language programming. I hold my hand up: I am sorry that this is not a very good amendment. I have been pretty clear about the fact that there was an incredibly quick turnaround, and I could have done a significantly better job on this amendment. In fact, I am quite happy to support new clause 5 on this issue, which was put forward by Labour.

The Gaelic language and its preservation through public service broadcasting was debated at significant length on Second Reading. The subject is incredibly important. It exercises people in Scotland and across the rest of these islands. There is massive concern about the lack of a requirement for Gaelic language public service broadcasting. There is no requirement for a minimum amount, and no requirements relating to new content. There could, for example, have been a requirement in the Bill for the BBC to produce new Gaelic language content. The Minister is aware that MG ALBA and BBC Alba are involved in producing Gaelic language TV in Scotland, which is absolutely excellent and makes a massive difference to the use of the Gaelic language.

On Second Reading, we heard about the issues that there have historically been with Gaelic. There was the intention by authorities over a significant number of years to reduce the amount of Gaelic spoken in Scotland, and to stamp it out, and Gaelic is still slowly making a comeback. In Aberdeen, we have Gaelic-medium education; that provision is massively full at the moment, despite Aberdeen not being known as a centre for Gaelic, being on the east rather than the west coast. When I visited a Gaelic nursery in my constituency, I asked people whether they found it difficult to ensure that their children were brought up with enough Gaelic language in Aberdeen, where it is not nearly so prominent as it is in, say, the Western Isles. They talked incredibly positively about the impact of children’s TV in Gaelic. Children can watch that TV and learn Gaelic as a native language. Given that there is less Gaelic spoken by the population, public service broadcasting is even more important. Free-to-air public service broadcasting in Gaelic is vital to ensure the continuation of the language, particularly when many adults in the area are not speaking Gaelic regularly.

I would very much like the Minister to consider the lines about Gaelic in the Bill and whether they are sufficient, because I do not believe that they are. I do not believe that Gaelic is given enough of a footing in the Bill. It talks about having an “appropriate” level of provision in the indigenous languages of the UK, but it does not put Gaelic on the same footing as, for example, Welsh; it talks significantly more about quotas and minimum levels of new content for Welsh. That is incredibly important, and I do not at all want to take away from what is happening with Welsh, because that should be happening.

I am asking for parity for Gaelic, or an increase of it—or even an acknowledgement from the UK Government that Gaelic is important. It should not be mentioned as a small aside, and simply be included in a list of other languages. I would very much appreciate it if the Minister considered augmenting the provisions relating to Gaelic, to make it clear how important it is to people in Scotland and across these islands, as one of our indigenous languages. I will not push amendment 39 to a vote—I will return to the issue on Report—but I am happy to support new clause 5, put forward by Labour.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am delighted to be on this Committee. I support amendments 39 and 40 from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North. The one thing in clause 1 that I baulked at slightly was the term “regional language”. I would not say that Welsh is a regional language, though there are regions in Wales where language is used slightly differently; there is Welsh and Welsh English, if I may use that term.

I suppose I should confess that I was a participant in a campaign during the 1970s to establish S4C, the Welsh language channel. It was a very long time ago— 40 years ago—and perhaps it would be better to draw a veil over my activities then. If hon. Members are interested in the lessons from the last 40 years on how to build, sustain and improve a channel such as S4C, I refer them to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport document of 2018, “Building an S4C for the future”, by Euryn Ogwen Williams. It is a very interesting document that chronicles, to some extent, what has happened with Welsh in respect of the channel, and it has useful lessons for similar channels, and for Gaelic provision.

One of the outstanding successes of our campaign a very long time ago was ensuring minimum hours in Welsh, to refer to a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North made, and ensuring that programmes in Welsh on a specific channel should be broadcast at peak hours. That was a great success. It is now entirely unremarkable to have programmes in Welsh mid-afternoon, or late in the evening. The very fact that that is unremarkable is a measure of success.

The two sorts of lessons I will briefly refer to from our experience in Wales are, first, what one might call the economic and diversity arguments and, secondly, the cultural arguments. Certainly initially, the arguments for a Welsh channel, and perhaps for a Gaelic channel or Gaelic provision, are essentially cultural. To point to some of the economic features of the argument, an increase in hours in Gaelic would have the same sort of effect.

Initially, in Wales at least, there has been a greater diversity of providers. As with Channel 4, the intention—and the achievement—was to have a larger independent sector and to locate it outside Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor. In my area of Caernarfon, and in Arfon in general, that has led to a huge economic benefit in terms of not only the people employed in television production, but all the other work that has come our way because we have Welsh language television production in the north-west. Those independent producers have also diversified and now participate in international production that has nothing to do with the Welsh channel itself. As a result, we have greater growth in television production skills, and some people have graduated to working in other parts of the world. So there is that argument.

09:45
I was in Salford last weekend recording a programme, and there is now a large, successful centre of television production there, so that is an example of the value of regional diversification within England. I should also note that the “Today” programme came from Truro this morning, so even the “Today” programme is catching up with this argument.
As I said, the growth in production in Welsh has led to domestic and international productions. This is from a long time ago, but one instructive example—this is relevant to clauses we will discuss later—is that one of the channel’s early successes was a football programme called “Sgorio”. I am not a sports fan myself, but the channel spotted a gap in the market and broadcast football matches from across Europe when they were not available on the BBC or ITV. That led to people in the areas on the borders of Wales watching S4C, not because they understood Welsh or were interested in Welsh, but because they liked watching Italian football. I remember being at a pub in Liverpool where people were watching Italian matches or Spanish matches—I cannot remember which—in Welsh, which none of them understood.
Another early success was that the volume of production allowed S4C to produce feature films. Some hon. Members will know, for example, that a film called “Hedd Wyn” was an international success and an Oscar nominee early in the channel’s existence. Incidentally, Members will be interested to know that, when it was nominated, the Oscar committee was at pains to find a category in which to fit it, although it was from the UK. Usually, it would have been in the mainstream category, but the committee included it in the foreign language films category. It was a nominee, but it did not win. On all those counts—increasing hours, increasing diversity and increasing the location of producers—this proposal could have an extremely beneficial effect for our friends in Scotland.
Let me turn briefly to the cultural arguments. I have been a long-term campaigner in this field, and I would say that people have an absolute right to be able to speak to each other in the language they use—I think the term is “autochthonous language”, which means the language of the area where they live. One effect of that in Wales, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North referred to, is the growth of the language, which came as a surprise to some people at least. The age range of Welsh speakers is heavier towards the younger end; people usually assume that older people speak the language and that younger people do not bother, so it dies out. However, Welsh, at least, is more likely to be spoken by younger people than older people, and television production and provision are part of the reason for that. That is a very hopeful sign for my language and, I am sure, for my hon. Friend’s language as well. So there is also that function—a language-planning function, I suppose—rather than just the matter of television production. It legitimises the language and establishes it in a new area—a new pau, as we would say in Welsh.
Lastly, as I said earlier, this proposal allows a breadth of provision—more hours and a greater diversity. A long time ago, I discussed the issue at length with a fellow academic from the United States, and it got quite heated—it was quite late at night, if you take my meaning, Mr Vickers. She eventually broke off the argument by saying, “You are saying that if there is trash to be had, it should be in Welsh as well as in English.” Well, I would not put it that way, of course, but we do now have provision that goes from game shows to sports, to drama and feature films, and that also includes erudite late-night discussions on the virtues of 14th-century Welsh poetry, if necessary. Reflecting on all of that, it can only be good for the hours for Gaelic provision to be increased and for that to be stated on the face of the Bill.
Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have actually watched “Hedd Wyn” on YouTube. What analysis has the hon. Gentleman made of the distribution of Welsh language products on other digital platforms, rather than just on S4C?

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for that point, and I will refer to it if I am lucky enough to be called to talk on the relevant provision later. Welsh programmes are available on all kinds of platforms, but a large number of Welsh-speaking people in England, for example, cannot see programmes in Welsh, because those are not available digitally to the extent I would want. As one would imagine, people have found a way around that, but for the language to prosper and thrive and for provision to be right across the available platforms, we must move forward, and I will speak to that later.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Vickers, and to welcome the Media Bill as it enters a new stage in its passage. Before I begin, I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

As I said many times on Second Reading, I am supportive of the Bill on the whole; I only wish it could have been brought forward sooner after the Government U-turned on their decision to privatise Channel 4. Good progress has been made on the Bill thanks to the excellent work of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, whose recommendations the Government have largely taken on board. That is to the credit of the many interested stakeholders who provided detailed evidence.

It is with that in mind that I have tabled only focused amendments where I feel they are really needed, and I will not unduly dwell on areas where no concerns have been raised. I would like to make as much progress as possible, so that our creative industries can reap the benefits at the earliest opportunity. I look forward to having productive discussions with the Minister and with members of the Committee on both sides of the House in the coming days about how we can ensure that the Bill best achieves its aims and truly secures the future of UK television and radio for years to come.

It is with that in mind that I turn to amendment 39 and new clause 5 on Gaelic broadcasting. Language is a cornerstone of culture; it is not just a way of communicating. Languages are daily expressions of history, reflecting a way of life, values and heritage as they are spoken. The diversity of languages in our nations and regions is therefore a living, breathing expression of the rich identities and traditions that we are lucky to carry with us. Understanding that, however, also requires an understanding that, if we lost a language such as Gaelic or Welsh—if they are not nurtured and passed down through the generations—that rich culture would also be at risk of being lost. With that recognition in mind, I am pleased that we are explicitly discussing the importance of Gaelic at the top of the Bill.

According to the Scottish Government’s Gaelic language plan, census results in 2011 found that, of the population aged three and over in Scotland, 1.7%—just over 87,000 people—spoke, read, wrote or understood Gaelic. While that represented a decrease in the proportion of people able to speak Gaelic in most age groups since 2001, there was actually an increase among those under 20 years old. That is perhaps due in part to Scottish Government initiatives to encourage Gaelic education, including the Education (Scotland) Act 2016, which gives parents the right to ask their local authority to provide a Gaelic-medium education for their child.

In order to nurture a language, however, progress cannot be limited to education. There must be cultural opportunities surrounding the language too, and Gaelic broadcasting can and should play an important part in that. Indeed, BBC Alba—the Gaelic-language television service launched in 2008 as part of a partnership between MG ALBA and the BBC—is a huge asset to Gaelic culture, providing a wide range of high-quality Gaelic programming for speakers to enjoy. I was pleased to meet representatives over Zoom a few weeks ago.

MG Alba is also of economic importance, sustaining around 340 jobs, half of which are in economically fragile areas. The Government have acknowledged that contribution on multiple occasions, saying that MG ALBA makes a hugely valuable contribution to the lives and wellbeing of Gaelic speakers and recognising that certainty over the future is important for MG ALBA if it is to continue to deliver in that way. The fact that Gaelic broadcasting is recognised for the first time in the public service remit in clause 1 of the Bill is therefore welcome.

However, as was mentioned several times on Second Reading, the Bill, and legislation more broadly, seem not to recognise Gaelic-language broadcasters in the way they do S4C in the Welsh language, despite apparent cross-party support for doing so both here and in Scotland. That is not to dismiss the importance of the provisions made for S4C or to say that the situations of the Gaelic and Welsh languages are comparable—there is currently a much larger population of Welsh speakers than of Gaelic speakers—but it seems to be a disparity that MG ALBA, for example, is not mentioned in the legislation at all. Indeed, there is somewhat of a cycle of reinforcement here: if having fewer Gaelic speakers means there is less provision for Gaelic programming, then less Gaelic programming may in turn mean there are fewer Gaelic speakers. Conversely, a boost for Gaelic broadcasting could be hugely beneficial to the language as a whole. That is something new clause 5 and amendment 39 seek to highlight.

Amendment 39 tries to address the problem by directly rectifying disparities in quota requirements. Specifically, a quota requires the BBC to provide S4C with at least 10 hours of Welsh-language programming per week, but no such quota exists—not even at a lower level—for Gaelic broadcasting. The amendment tries to mirror that requirement with a similar measure for content in the Gaelic language. There is more to be done to understand how we can best incorporate quotas and support for Gaelic services in existing legislation, which is why the new clause I have tabled looks to review the status of Gaelic services in legislation in the round.

I want to be careful to make sure that there is enough flexibility in the legislation to ensure that any future changes and partnerships in the area of Gaelic broadcasting are accounted for. However, I am supportive in principle of the idea of ensuring that there are regulatory and legislative measures in place that give Gaelic broadcasting the status it deserves. That may well be the start of a minimum level of content being available in the Gaelic language.

I anticipate that some might say this particular measure is not necessary given that, for the first time, the public service remit now acknowledges the importance of providing content in minority languages, which I of course welcome. However, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North has argued, without a definition of “sufficient quantity” of content, there is a risk that that inclusion will not result in the kind of tangible change and assurance needed to ensure the growth or even maintenance of minority language content. I therefore support the idea that “sufficient” should be better defined, whether that be through legislation, Ofcom or elsewhere, so that the provision can be truly enforced and upheld.

New clause 5 takes a more holistic look at the ways in which the Bill fails to address Gaelic broadcasting and suggests an assessment be made on whether giving a Gaelic language service a remit as a public service broadcaster might be suitable. That would be an opportunity to look at how we can ensure the statute catches up with events—BBC Alba did not even exist when the Communications Act 2003 was passed—and would reflect Parliament’s will for there to be an enduring television service in both Welsh and Gaelic. Further, it would provide a chance for Government, Parliament and Ofcom to view the Gaelic service as something to be acknowledged in reference to its own needs, benefits and missions, rather than only being considered as a small part of the wider BBC portfolio.

For instance, just a few days ago Ofcom published its sixth review of BBC performance, and mentions of a Gaelic service totalled four lines in an 80-page report. That comes from the need to assess BBC Alba only as a BBC portfolio service, as that is what the BBC operating agreement does. Given, however, the importance of the service to Gaelic speakers, it would be appropriate to see it acknowledged and assessed as such, irrespective of whether the service remains tied to the BBC. Indeed, new clause 5 is not prescriptive, and recognises that although the partnership between BBC and MG ALBA has been working well, this may not always be the preferred set-up for either or both parties involved. Therefore, with future-proofing in mind, it simply looks to provide an opportunity for Gaelic broadcasting to be recognised in its own right, whatever form that might take.

I hope the Minister might be able to lend his support to the new clause, but if he chooses not to, I would like to hear from him on the measures the Department is taking to support Gaelic broadcasting in the way it deserves and needs. This should matter not only to those who speak Gaelic and will enjoy the content, but to our society as a whole, as we look to keep alive the unique culture and heritage of all our nations.

10:00
John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Members for Barnsley East and for Aberdeen North for speaking to their amendments and allowing us to debate the importance of the Gaelic language. It is something we spent a little bit of time on at Second Reading, but it is an important issue.

The Government absolutely share the view of the vital necessity of supporting the continuation and future of Gaelic, and recognise the important contribution that the Gaelic media service MG ALBA makes to the lives and wellbeing of Gaelic speakers across Scotland and the rest of the UK. It is for that reason that the Government embedded a duty to support regional and minority languages, although I take the point made by the hon. Member for Arfon about Welsh not being a “regional” language in that sense. It is, nevertheless, a minority language—as is Gaelic. There is a duty within the BBC’s general duties under the current charter arrangements. We want to help ensure that audiences are able to access this culturally important minority language content in the decades to come.

The Bill goes further than existing provisions. Clause 1 makes the importance of programmes broadcast in the UK’s indigenous languages, including the Gaelic language, clear in legislation, by including it in our new public service remit for television. That is a new addition, which puts on the face of the legislation the need to continue to support minority languages of this kind. We will debate later the way in which the public service broadcasters are required to contribute to the remit and are held accountable for doing so. The purpose of clause 1 is to place a requirement on Ofcom to consider how the public service remit has been fulfilled. It sets a high-level mission statement for public service broadcasters, and is underpinned by a more detailed system of quotas in later clauses. It is intended to be simpler and to provide PSBs with greater flexibility.

That point notwithstanding, I reassure the hon. Member for Barnsley East that the availability of Gaelic language content is provided for elsewhere. As she knows, the BBC has a specific responsibility in the framework to make arrangement to provide BBC Alba, which is a mixed-genre television channel for Gaelic speakers and those interested in the Gaelic language. Ofcom also places a number of more detailed responsibilities on BBC Alba in the BBC’s operating licence. For example, it must provide music of particular relevance to audiences in Scotland, live news programmes each weekday evening—including during peak viewing time—and a longer news review at the weekends.

It is for Ofcom to determine whether these requirements remain appropriate, including on the basis of feedback. It is the case, however, in terms of the amount of Gaelic language broadcasting that takes place, that at the moment BBC Alba broadcasts in Gaelic from 5 pm until midnight. That is seven hours each day, starting an hour later at weekends. When not broadcasting television programmes in Gaelic, it plays—forgive me if I pronounce this wrong—BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, which is the Gaelic language radio station. That is broadcast with static graphics during the periods when television programmes are not being aired. That means that there is a total of something like 2,579 hours of Gaelic television content, certainly in the course of last year.

I think that the amount of Gaelic language already being broadcast meets the ambition set out in the amendment from the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, and it is now contained in the public service remit, serving all channels, and the BBC charter agreement. For that reason, I think there is already considerable provision to ensure the continuation of Gaelic language.

I want to turn to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Barnsley East in new clause 5, which refers specifically to the manner in which Gaelic is delivered. BBC Alba is a requirement as part of the charter, and we will again consider how it is delivered by the BBC when the charter renewal takes place. The charter review starts in 2025 and has to be completed by 2027, and we will set out further details in due course on precisely how it is to be carried out.

In the more immediate term, we have recently brought together BBC and Scottish Government officials to discuss the co-ordination of funding decisions for Gaelic language broadcasting between the two organisations. In that respect, I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeen North and the hon. Member for Barnsley East will recognise that the intention behind their amendment and new clause is already delivered by the Bill and on that basis will be willing to withdraw their amendments.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his response and colleagues for their comments on the amendment and the new clause. I am pleased to hear the Minister talk about the co-ordination of funding decisions and the group that has been brought together to discuss future co-ordination on these decisions and how that may work.

There is a significant asymmetry between the funding settlements for the Welsh language and for Gaelic, particularly with the amount that comes from the licence fee and comparing, for example, Gaelic-speaking broadcasting to Welsh-speaking broadcasting. As I have acknowledged, there are significantly more Welsh speakers, and I am not trying to say that those two things should be directly comparable, but looking at the percentage required from the Scottish Government compared with the amount provided by the licence fee, there is a significant difference between that and what is provided for Welsh. I am glad to hear that the Minister has recognised that decisions are required to be made about the future of funding going forward, and is ensuring that discussions take place.

I am not a Gaelic speaker, but I think my pronunciation of nan Gàidheal would be more accurate than the Minister’s—it does sound like it has a lot more letters than that. I am, however, a native Scots speaker and grew up speaking Doric as my first language. In fact, I think I am the only MP ever to have sworn in to this place in Doric. I have done so twice.

I appreciate that Scots is also mentioned as one of the recognised regional minority languages, and I want to back the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon and the hon. Member for Barnsley East about the number of young speakers. There has been a significant increase in the number of young people speaking Scots. Even when I was at school, which is some time ago now, we were very much discouraged from speaking Scots, but anyone standing at a bus stop in Aberdeen nowadays will hear young people arguing and bantering with each other in the broad Doric. That just would not have happened in the same way 25 or 30 years ago, when I was at bus stops bantering with my pals.

It is good to see that increase, but we have not seen a commensurate increase in the amount of Scots language TV. There is some Scots language programming, but it is very unusual for us to hear somebody speaking in an Aberdeen accent, for example. A significant proportion of those in the north-east of Scotland would be able to speak Doric, or at least understand it were it on our TVs. Doric is a dialect of Scots, which is a recognised language, and it is spoken in the north-east.

The Minister talked about the BBC provision and the licence conditions in the charter. I appreciate all that, but the safeguarding of that in this legislation would have shown Gaelic speakers and people who care about the Gaelic language that it is important to have this at this level. It is important to have it not just as part of the BBC charter and of the potential BBC charter negotiations, but as a recognised part of public sector broadcasting. Gaelic should not be playing second fiddle; it should not be down the list of priorities. It is important, and we should not just say, “It is included in the charter, so that’s okay.” That is not exactly what the Minister said, but it was angling in that direction. Such an approach does not provide that safeguarding we need, and it does not provide the requirement for Ofcom to monitor this. He mentioned that Ofcom has to check whether or not there is an appropriate level of Gaelic programming because of the conditions in the Bill. However, what Ofcom has to check is whether there is a

“sufficient quantity of audiovisual content”,

and, as the shadow Minister said, no clear definition of “sufficient” is provided.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that Ofcom has a duty under the Bill to monitor the delivery of the public service remit, but she will be aware that in addition Ofcom has the duty to oversee the BBC’s delivery of its requirements under the charter and the agreement. To that extent, Ofcom will be monitoring whether or not the BBC is meeting is obligations.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate that Ofcom will be doing that right now, but, as the Minister says, the charter negotiations are about to open; 2025 possibly seems slightly further away to me than it does to him, but those negotiations are about to begin again and there is no guarantee that that duty will continue to be part of the charter. If the Media Bill provides that this is a required part of public sector broadcasting, it would make it easier for that to be included in the charter and to be part of the licensing conditions, and for Ofcom to ensure that the BBC or any other public sector broadcaster was delivering it.

The last point I wish to make on this is about BBC Alba. Later, we will be discussing the appropriate placement of public sector broadcasters on on-demand services, be it on Sky or wherever else one happens to watch TV. There is a requirement for public sector broadcasters to be given an appropriate level of significance. If we ensure in the Bill that Gaelic-language broadcasting is part of the public sector remit, we increase the likelihood of these broadcasters being given that level of prominence on those on-demand services and digital viewing platforms. We have a requirement for them to be given prominence but at the moment BBC Alba is not included in that, because it is just considered part of the BBC, rather than as a relevant service in its own right. I appreciate that the Minister is unlikely to accept amendment 39 and I am not going to press it to vote, but if the shadow Minister does press new clause 5 to a vote, I fully intend to support it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 40, page 3, line 10, at end insert—

“(iv) an annual increase in the spend on content and combined content duration made in Scotland until they reach a population share.”

This amendment would add to Ofcom’s reporting requirements a requirement to report on the extent to which the public service broadcasters had made available audiovisual content including an annual increase in the spend on content and combined content duration made in Scotland until they reach a population share.

I promise that I do not have an amendment on every part of every clause—I am sure everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. Amendment 40 is about the proportion of content made in Scotland and the conditions in the Bill for content made outside the M25. It is important that more content is made outside the M25, and I am glad that the Government have recognised that and that there has been a move in public sector broadcasting to ensure that that happens. I recognise the work that broadcasters have done to ensure that that continues to be the case, and that much more content is produced outside the M25 than previously. That is positive and I am glad to see it.

10:15
However, Ofcom has produced state-of-the-nation reports on each individual part of the UK regarding broadcasting and viewing: how much television is watched, what kind of TV is watched, and how people are watching. As a strange aside, there is a significantly higher proportion of people in Scotland who watch TV through their gaming consoles compared with the other nations of the UK. I am not sure why, but that was an interesting read for me.
One thing included in the reports is the spend on production, and the number of hours of production and viewing in each of the countries. People in Scotland watch slightly more television than people in most of the rest of the UK. The average number of hours is slightly more, not significantly, but less content is made in Scotland and there is less spend based on population share. TV is really important, as in the case made by the hon. Member for Arfon, not culturally but economically.
The amendment would require Ofcom to look at the percentage of spend. It would requirement Ofcom to report on the extent to which the public service broadcasters had made available audio-visual content, including an annual increase in the spend on content and combined content duration made in Scotland, until they reach population share. Currently, 6% of spend is made in Scotland, despite the fact that Scotland has 8.5% of the UK’s population and a higher proportion of watching hours. It would ensure that we see an increase in the amount of broadcasting content created and money spent in our communities. That is incredibly important, particularly for some of the rural communities in Scotland. We have seen some amazing content, for example, the “Trawlermen” and “Landward” series, produced around Scotland, showcasing different places and accents in the country. There has been a growth of television series and films being created in Scotland.
We still have a fairly small number of people working in broadcasting in Scotland. It is still relatively difficult for newcomers to find their way into broadcasting in places such as BBC Aberdeen, whose representatives I am meeting again tomorrow. There is a very small turnover of staff, because it is a small office and people like their jobs there, which is great.
Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The rule here is that if there is facility for growth, growth will occur. There is an Irish saying that I like very much: “Live, horse, and ye shall have hay.” If it is there, it will grow. Perhaps the proof of that, in Wales at least, is that the Welsh-speaking population is equal to the size of Sheffield, but is able to sustain a full channel. I am sure that would happen in Scotland, as well.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. If there were a requirement for more broadcasting, not just outside the M25, and for looking at population share, even reporting on spend and population share, there would be clarity and transparency about that spend, and whether it is anywhere close to population share. I think that public sector broadcasters would have a look and think, “Actually, we could probably do better than this. We could produce more content that is more exciting and relevant to people across all of these islands, produced in places with incredibly diverse scenery and people taking part in it.”

As for the Government’s position on levelling up, a fairly general statement on content produced outside the M25 is not going to cut it. It will not bring about levelling up or an increase in broadcasting in places that do no currently see significant amounts. As I said, I appreciate that the Minister and his Government are trying with the outside-the-M25 quota, but it could be done better in order to encourage more content, or at least transparent reporting on the level of broadcasting, spend and content creation in various parts of the UK. As expected from an SNP MP, I have highlighted Scotland, but many parts of these islands could make a pitch for more content to be made in their area, or at least reporting on the level of spend and content created in each region.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Not too long ago, just after the Scottish Affairs Committee concluded its important inquiry into the topic, I was joined by colleagues in Westminster Hall to talk about Scottish broadcasting. One of the biggest takeaways from the debate was just how important the sector is to people.

Scottish broadcasting brings communities together. It promotes pride in place and strengthens local economies. For those reasons, and many more, I strongly believe that Scottish broadcasting can and must continue to form a vital piece of the puzzle in the UK’s creative sectors. Indeed, Scotland is already a popular destination for broadcasters. Not only is it home to Amazon, but the BBC and Channel 4 operate there alongside STV, which in 2021 reached 80% of Scottish people through its main channel. Content made in Scotland often represents Scottish people’s lives and the diversity within them. That sort of representation matters. I know, for example, that it was exciting for many when the first Scottish family finally appeared on “Gogglebox”.

I am very sympathetic towards the aspect of the amendment that looks to ensure that the level of content made in and for Scotland is proportionate to the number of people who live there. However, I have questions about the mechanism used to achieve that. For example, what are the implications of directly attaching spend to population? How would population be measured and how frequently, and how would that impact the legislative requirements to match it? I wonder whether this issue could be better addressed through individual channel remits. For example, both the BBC and Channel 4 have existing nation quotas. Perhaps it would be better to focus on that rather than insert a strict spend requirement, tied to population, on the wider remit.

I would like to show my support for Scottish broadcasting, but further investigation might be needed into how we can best ensure that there is a comprehensive and holistic package of regulation and legislation to secure its future.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I start by agreeing with both Opposition spokesmen about the importance of supporting the production sector outside London and across every region and nation of the United Kingdom. The growth of the independent production sector outside London has been a phenomenal success in recent years, and we now have very strong companies in all parts of the UK. That is shown by the fact that since 2010, PSBs’ production spend allocated to programmes outside London has increased from 39% to over 50%, with ambitions to go even further. For instance, the recent publication of the BBC’s “Across the UK” strategy commits it to increasing the proportion of its own TV production budget outside London to 60% by 2027.

The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North focuses on Scotland, where production spend is now worth over £266 million, supported by developments including the opening of a Channel 4 creative hub in Glasgow in 2019. As I say, the BBC’s “Across the UK” strategy includes commitments to expand its production studios within the city.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Screen Scotland has pointed out that the total production spend last year on film and television and audiovisual content in Scotland was more than £600 million, which is a 55% increase on the 2019 figures, which shows a substantial increase in production in Scotland. Does the Minister agree that that is to be welcomed?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just the public service broadcasters that are committing to spending money on production in Scotland; it is right across the range of broadcasters. That exemplifies the strength of Scottish independent production. Indeed, similar figures can be quoted for Wales; it is not unique to Scotland. Every part of the UK is benefiting. Of course, Scotland has its own broadcasting company in the form of STV, which has a production arm, STV Studios, which has an ambition to become a world-class content producer for global networks and streaming services.

The success of the production sector in Scotland and across the UK has been supported and underpinned by a regulatory system. The importance of programmes being made outside London is in the new public service remit. In addition, all public service broadcasters, with the exception of S4C, are subject to regional programme-making quotas for spend and hours of production outside London. Channel 4 has its own out-of-England quota; the BBC also has a specific quota for content made in Scotland. Those quotas are set by Ofcom, which has the power to amend them, where appropriate. One example of the success of that regulatory system is the “Made outside London programme titles register”, published by Ofcom, which, in 2022, had 811 entries, including 543 from English regions outside London, 53 from Northern Ireland, 117 from Scotland and 72 from Wales. In each case, broadcasters are exceeding the production quotas quite comfortably. The Government will continue to support screen industries across the UK through a system of tax reliefs, investment in studio infrastructure and the UK global screen fund.

In line with the Government’s broader ambition to level up the UK, we want the production sector in all areas of the UK to continue to thrive, and we believe that PSBs play a very important role in our meeting that ambition. Returning to comments made by the hon. Member for Arfon, which I did not address earlier, S4C plays an extremely important part in that. I have not had the opportunity to visit production facilities in Scotland, but I have been to visit both BBC Wales in Cardiff and S4C, where I went on the set of “Pobol y Cwm”, and production in Wales is thriving. The position for S4C is slightly different from that for Scotland, in that there is, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, a dedicated television channel for the Welsh language in the form of S4C. However, the Government are committed to supporting the production sector in all the nations of the UK.

I share the view of the hon. Member for Barnsley East that attempting to set quotas that are exactly in line with the population proportions would impose a constraint, which would be limiting and unnecessary. For that reason, I ask the hon. Member for Aberdeen North to withdraw her amendment.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I highlight that the focus on content made outside the M25 is not enough. There needs to be a focus on ensuring that the economic and cultural benefits, and the talent pool, are spread wider; “outside the M25” cannot just be Salford, for example. It is possible for “outside the M25” to mean “focused in a small place”, which means benefits are not spread as widely as they should be.

10:30
I appreciate the comments made about the increase in spend in Scotland, and I am pleased about that. People are recognising not only the glorious scenery of Scotland, but, for example, the brutalist architecture of the zoology building in Aberdeen; it is not just the hills and glens of Scotland being seen on the big screen, as well as the small screen.
The Minister said that public sector broadcasters are comfortably exceeding their quotas for spend in various nations. If a quota is being comfortably exceeded, it is probably not a good enough quota. I feel that we all agree that it would be better if the benefit was spread, so perhaps it would be useful to at least discuss with the broadcasters how to stretch that, and to see if there could be greater commitment to do more across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the far-flung reaches of England that are not within a couple of hours’ drive of the M25. However, I will not press the issue. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 19, in clause 1, page 3, line 13, at end insert—

“including education, entertainment, music, arts, science, sports, drama, comedy, religion and other beliefs, social issues, matters of international significance or interest and matters of specialist interest.”

This amendment would add detailed description of the range of genres which Ofcom must report on whether the public service broadcasters have made available.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Clauses 2 and 7 stand part.

New clause 1—Delivery of public service content on relevant television services

“After section 264A of the Communications Act 2003, insert—

‘264B Delivery of public service content on relevant television services

(1) Ofcom must monitor the extent to which the public service remit for television in the United Kingdom is met in respect of relevant television services.

(2) If Ofcom considers that the public service remit for television in the United Kingdom is not being met in respect of such services, it may set whatever programming quotas it considers necessary to ensure that the remit is met.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “relevant television services” means—

(a) the television broadcasting services provided by the BBC;

(b) the television programme services that are public services of the Welsh Authority (within the meaning of section 207);

(c) every Channel 3 service;

(d) Channel 4;

(e) Channel 5.’”

This new clause would give Ofcom powers to measure the delivery of public service content on the linear services of the public service broadcasters, and set quotas if it considered the current level to be unsatisfactory.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the whole, I am pleased to welcome the clause, which looks to simplify the public service remit, and to allow broadcasters to contribute to the remit with programmes that are made available on a wider range of services, including their on-demand service.

Clause 1 makes an important attempt to simplify the public service remit. Currently, the remit consists of a set of purposes that public service television must fulfil in accordance with a different set of public service objectives. The Bill condenses those requirements, so that the PSB remit is considered fulfilled when providers together make available a wide range of audiovisual content that meets the needs and satisfies the interests of as many different audiences as possible. A list is then provided, setting out the types of content that can form part of such a contribution.

That simplification is, on the whole, a welcome idea, and the inclusion of minority language services and children’s programming in the remit is is great to see. However, the Voice of the Listener & Viewer, the Media Reform Coalition, the International Broadcasting Trust and others have expressed concerns that the simplified format has been coupled with the removal of requirements for public service broadcasters to provide specific genres of content.

When the Government first released the “Up next” White Paper that preceded the Bill, it made no mention of references to genres such as entertainment, drama, science and religion being removed from the remit, as they have been in the Bill. Content from those genres is important to people, and has huge societal and cultural value. If we remove explicit reference to them in the remit, there is a risk of less programming in those areas, particularly where they might be of less immediate commercial benefit. That is surely contradictory to the aim of having a public service broadcaster, which is fundamentally to ensure that public benefit is balanced against purely commercial interests.

The change is especially concerning at a time when, commercially, there is more choice than ever before in popular genres such as entertainment and drama, and less choice when it comes to dramas that provide diversity and difference for UK audiences. This would not be the first time that a reduction in requirements for PSB content led to a decline in culturally valuable content. As the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport highlighted in its report on the draft Bill, Ofcom identified how provision of non-animation programming for children became limited outside the BBC after the quota for children’s programming was removed.

I am pleased that the public service broadcasters have issued reassurances that the new remit will not significantly impact programming in the removed areas, and I am glad that, since its draft version, a small protection has been added in the Bill to secure

“an appropriate range of genres”.

However, the removal of references to specific genres is still a concern, even after these reassurances and amendments. Indeed, if there is no clear specification of what counts as a “range of genres”, there is no guarantee that Ofcom will monitor the amount of content in each of the removed genres. Without such monitoring, falls in provision will be difficult to identify and rectify.

It is with that in mind that I proposed amendment 19, which would ensure that public service content continues to be provided across a range of genres, including entertainment, drama, science, and religion and other beliefs. Further to that, in combination with the powers in clause 10, the amendment would enable Ofcom to properly monitor those genres and make proper suggestions, where content is lacking.

I want to be clear that this addition is not intended to change the nature of the remit, so that the issue would be covered by the PSBs as a whole. I understand that it is not, and should not be, the responsibility of each and every individual public service broadcaster to hit each and every one of the remit requirements, and that is no different for the provision of genres. For example, ITV provides nations’ and regions’ news in a way that means it is not realistic for it to meet some of the other obligations; those are then covered by the likes of Channel 4 and Channel Five, which do not provide the same level of news coverage. That sort of balance works well, and I want to explicitly state that I do not propose that every genre would have to be addressed by every provider. I hope that, bearing that in mind, the Minister can take on board what amendment 19 proposes. Simplifying the remit is a good idea, but not if is done at the cost of the kind of content that sets our public service broadcasters apart.

I move on to the other major consequences of clause 1: the changes that allow content provided through a wider range of services to contribute to the remit. This change makes sense as viewing habits start to shift in a digital age. As the Government know, last year, the weekly reach of broadcast TV fell to 79%, down from 83% in 2021. That is the sharpest fall on record. Meanwhile, on-demand viewing increased, reaching 53 minutes a day this year. Having the flexibility to meet the remit through an on-demand programme service is reasonable, given that this pattern is likely to continue for years to come.

In the meantime, online content can also help to deliver content to niche audiences. Indeed, ITV estimates that 3.8 million households in the UK are online only, meaning that they have no traditional broadcast signal. However, it is important to note that, while habits are shifting, a number of households still do not have internet access. Having previously served as shadow Minister for Digital Infrastructure, I have engaged extensively with telecoms providers and organisations such as the Digital Poverty Alliance, all of which have shared their concern and acknowledged that not everyone has access to or can afford a broadband connection. There is a movement to ensure that social tariffs and lower-cost options are available, as well as to improve the roll-out of gigabit-capable technology, so that as many people as possible can be connected.

Regardless of those efforts, there has been and will remain a section of the population for whom broadcast signal is their sole connection to media, news, entertainment and information. It is incredibly important that those people, who are likely to be older citizens, families in rural areas and those struggling with bills as a result of the cost of living crisis, are able to access public service content as usual on linear channels, delivered through a broadcast signal. That case has been argued extensively by the campaign group Broadcast 2040+, which is made up of a number of concerned organisations. We recognise that the direction of travel is that people are watching content online more than ever, but that does not need to mean diminishing content on broadcast linear services, especially where that content caters to a local audience. That belief goes beyond this Bill and ties into wider worries about the impact that a digital-first strategy will have on traditional means of broadcasting, and, as a result, on audiences.

It has been four months, for example, since the BBC decided to replace some of its vital and unique local radio programming with an increase in online journalism, which has been to the detriment of local communities up and down the country. That decision was made without consulting the communities that would be impacted, and it could easily be repeated in other areas, since there is nothing to stop many more services being axed in favour of online services. This is not to say that there will be no decline in audiences in the years to come as the rise in online content consumption continues, but no co-ordinated effort has been made to ensure that our infrastructure is ready for a mass movement toward online broadcasting. That effort must be made before such a transition takes place. The consequences for the internet capacity that will be needed to cater for spikes, and the implications for national security in a world where TV and radio are no longer methods of communication between the Government and the public, have not been thought through. As long as that remains the case, we must think of those for whom internet connection is not an option. That is why I tabled a new clause to protect the provision of high-quality content on linear services.

The new clause would introduce a safeguard, so that if Ofcom believes that the delivery of PSB content on broadcast linear services is less than satisfactory, it will have the powers needed to set a quota—to ensure that a certain proportion of public service content remains available to linear audiences through a broadcast signal. In short, quality content should remain available to those families up and down the country who rely on their TV rather than watch online content. The new clause makes no prescriptive requirements on how that should be achieved; nor does it set a specific figure for how many programmes must be available to a certain percentage of people. It simply allows Ofcom to monitor the effect of the Bill, which allows PSB content to be delivered online, and allows Ofcom to intervene with such measures as it sees fit if the new remit has unintended negative outcomes.

As well as encouraging him to accept the new clause, I urge the Minister to update us on whether the Government intend to support linear broadcasting beyond 2034. If they do not, what plans are they putting in place to manage a possible transition away from linear services? We have simply not heard enough about this from the Government, and I would be grateful to hear today what the Department’s position is and what work it is already doing on this.

Finally, I come to the rules that state that for on-demand content to count toward the remit, it must be available for at least 30 days. In the draft Bill, public service broadcasters including ITV and the BBC raised concerns that that minimum period was not appropriate for every type of content, because on-demand rights in certain areas, especially sport, news and music, often mean that such programmes are available for limited periods. It is welcome that those concerns are recognised in the Bill, and that an exemption is being introduced for news programmes and coverage of sporting events. Did the Department consider adding programmes covering music events to the list of exemptions? If it did, why was the decision made not to do so? Overall, I support a simplified remit, and the change in clause 1 that allows online content to count toward the remit, but further safeguards around certain genres of content and linear television are needed to protect against unintended or negative consequences.

I am broadly happy with clauses 2 and 4, which are consequential to clause 1. Clause 2 updates Ofcom’s reporting requirements to reflect the changes being made; likewise, clause 7 makes consequential changes to section 271 of the Communications Act 2003. On those issues, I refer Members to my remarks on clause 1 as a whole.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to pick up a couple of points relating to clause 1 that I have not mentioned yet, but that the shadow Minister has mentioned.

I am happy to support the provision in new clause 1 that would ensure that public service content is available on linear TV, but I do not think it goes far enough, and it does not add much to Ofcom’s requirements. The same concerns arise around matters such as “significant prominence”. The Minister said from the Dispatch Box on Second Reading that the move away from broadcast terrestrial television would not be made until the overwhelming majority of people in the UK were able to access television by other means. I hope that is a fairly accurate version of what he said. I am concerned that the phrase “overwhelming majority” is also not specific enough, although I appreciate the direction of travel that the Minister was indicating with that remark. My concern, like the shadow Minister’s, about the potential removal of terrestrial TV and non-digital output is for the groups who would be significantly disadvantaged by that loss.

10:45
The people who are the most likely to be able to access television only through digital TV are those who are already marginalised, struggling or in more vulnerable groups. The impact is greater on rural communities throughout these islands, not just in Scotland, where access to fast enough broadband can be significantly more difficult. People who are struggling financially are less likely to be able to afford the broadband speeds required. Even with social tariffs, which are important, the ability to access fast broadband, so that people can actually stream a TV show to a reasonable quality at the same time as their child looks at Facebook is more difficult for families who are already financially vulnerable, and in the cost of living crisis, that struggle is unlikely to abate any time soon. The fact that there is no firm, clear quota commitment to the preservation of the ability to watch free-to-air on terrestrial television is therefore important. Will the Minister be more explicit about how he will ensure that “overwhelming majority” does not mean everybody except those living in extreme poverty or in rural communities, or who are at the older end of the age spectrum, or digitally excluded as a result of their lack of education and ability to access digital technology? The Minister is talking about an overwhelming majority, but if the 5% who are left unable to get access are in those marginalised groups, would that be a problem for him? Would he consider that the “overwhelming majority” remit or quota was filled if those groups were still excluded?
On that point, as one who grew up in a house where we had only terrestrial television but a lot of my friends had access to Sky and cable, children’s TV programmes on public service broadcasters were really important educationally. They are important for a lot of families. For some, that is the main way that children access educational TV shows and content. They may not have fast enough internet to be able to watch YouTube, for example—although YouTube itself is not very good. Things such as CBeebies and the kid’s TV shows on the main BBC channels viewable on Freeview are important and make a difference. If we end up moving away from terrestrial linear broadcasting and families are further disadvantaged as a result of the Government’s decision to withdraw provision, that will be increasing and entrenching inequalities.
I am still unclear about the 30 days. I appreciate the requirement, but are the 30 days consecutive? Is it 30 days from the day of broadcast or within a year of the day of broadcast? It may be clearer in the Bill, but if the Minister can explain it more clearly than I can understand it from reading the Bill as drafted, that would be incredibly helpful. I do not have the firmest of views on this; 30 consecutive days or 30 days within a certain period from the broadcast date would be the best option. If it is 30 days over the course of a year, for example, and you can view the programme only every second Tuesday, that is deeply unhelpful and will not do anybody any good. If the Minister can provide clarity, that will be helpful.
We are also debating clauses 2 and 7 stand part. Like the shadow Minister, I think it is reasonable that they follow on from the provisions in clause 1.
John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The past decade has seen a complete transformation in the way in which people access television. Ten years ago, streaming services barely existed; now, they are ubiquitous. That is why the Bill is so important in modernising our approach and, in particular, ensuring that the public service broadcasters continue to thrive in this new landscape.

Clause 1 amends section 264 of the Communications Act to create a modernised remit for public service broadcasting against which Ofcom must report at least every five years. The new remit replaces and simplifies the purposes and objectives of the current public service broadcasting system. That is set out in proposed new subsection (4), and it will be fulfilled when the public service broadcasters provide a range of content that satisfies the interests of different audiences and is delivered in a way that meets the needs of those audiences.

Proposed new subsection (5) identifies the principal types of public service content that should form part of the PSBs’ collective contribution to the remit, specifically news and current affairs, children’s content and distinctively British content, as well as original, independent and regional productions. For the first time, regional and minority language content—content in Gaelic, Welsh, Scots, Ulster Scots, Irish and Cornish—is specified as contributing to the public service remit.

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In that list of protected genres, I note the exception of music. Does the Minister agree that the BBC has an integral part to play in the UK’s cultural landscape as the biggest commissioner of music and the biggest employer of musicians in the country? It has a proud cultural record, from the discovery of new artists and the Proms to innovative, brilliant cultural BBC radio programming at home and abroad. It is vital that all that is protected under amendment 19.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While I completely share the hon. Lady’s love of music and recognition of the importance that broadcasters play in the promotion of music, the purpose of the new remit is to remove the specific naming of individual genres and instead put a requirement for them to be a “broad range”. In my view, that would certainly include music. Ofcom will have a duty to ensure that the broad range of different aspects of public service broadcasting is delivered, and there is a backstop power. If it is felt that broadcasters are failing to deliver sufficient quantities of the specific genre, it is possible for us to pass additional regulation to include a named additional genre. While music is no longer specifically mentioned in the remit, I am confident that that will not lead to any reduction. Indeed, the broadcasters have made clear that they have no intention of reining back on specific genres just because they do not appear in the legislation.

On how content is delivered, the Bill updates the present system so that on-demand provision contributes to the fulfilment of the remit, but to count towards the remit, as has been mentioned, it has to be online for at least 30 days. The only exceptions to the requirement are news and the coverage of live sports, which are regarded as being of instantaneous value, but value that perhaps diminishes over a short space of time. We thought about including music, but I think the value of music lasts beyond 30 days—I am as keen to see a performance from Glastonbury today as I was at the time it was broadcast. It would therefore not be appropriate to include it as one of the exemptions to the requirement. The Government recognise that it is valuable for audiences to be able to access news and current affairs in a traditional format, and the Bill accounts for that by ensuring our public service broadcasters are still subject to quotas that require them to deliver news via traditional linear television. Taken together, these changes will help ensure that our regulatory regime keeps up with modern viewing methods.

Clause 2 updates section 264A of the Communications Act in the light of the new public service remit for television. Section 264A describes how Ofcom, when undertaking a review under section 264, should consider the contribution that other media services, including those provided by commercial broadcasters, make to the remit. The changes made by the clause are needed to implement the new public service remit.

Clause 7 makes changes consequential to clause 1. In particular, it amends section 271 of the Communications Act to apply the existing delegated powers in the section to the new public service remit, as opposed to the old purposes and objectives. That will ensure that, should there be a need, the Secretary of State can by regulation modify the public service remit in clause 1, as I was suggesting to the hon. Member for Luton North. I therefore commend the clauses to the Committee.

I understand the intention behind amendment 19, which is to ensure that the range of content shown is broad. We want that too, but we feel that no longer specifying a large number of individual genres simplifies the current system of public service broadcasting. We want to set a clear and simple vision for the industry that narrows in on what it means to be a public service broadcaster, but we do not see that that need comes at the expense of breadth. We continue to want to see a wide range of genres, and we believe the clause achieves that.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister said it is possible by regulation to amend the list to add genres. Could he write to me with information about the process by which that could happen? How can amendments be made to add genres to the list, should that become necessary?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Ofcom has a duty to monitor the delivery of the remit, and that includes satisfying itself that there is a sufficient range of genres and that there has not been a diminution of a particular genre that would be considered part of the public service remit. If, however, it becomes clear that broadcasters are failing in any area, there is a backstop power that allows the Secretary of State to add a specific genre to the remit. We believe that safeguard is sufficient to ensure continued delivery of the range of genres that the hon. Lady and I want to see.

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way again; he is being very generous with his time. At what point would the backstop power be initiated? Is there a standard below which the Government believe the backstop should be initiated? If so, why not just lay it out on the face of the Bill?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The position is that Ofcom has a duty to monitor the delivery of genres, and it produces a report on that. If it becomes clear, and Ofcom states, that the public service broadcasters are failing to deliver aspects of the remit, section 271 of the Communications Act, which is amended by clause 7, provides a delegated power to amend the remit following the report by Ofcom. Proposed new section 278A allows for the creation of additional quotas for underserved content areas. Those powers are designed to address any underserved content areas that have been identified, and could be used to add a specific genre if that proved necessary.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On that point, for clarity in advance of the remaining stages of this Bill, it would be really helpful if the Minister wrote a letter explaining that. He has mentioned both that the Secretary of State would have the power to vary and to initiate the backstop, but also the power to create regulations, and I am not entirely clear about which it is. It would be great if he just laid that out to us in in a letter.

11:00
John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very happy to provide the hon. Lady with a written briefing on exactly how the powers can be used.

New clause 1 would put a specific duty on Ofcom to report on how public service broadcasters deliver the public service remit. We agree that that is very important, but we think that the Bill already achieves that. Clause 1 amends section 264 of the Communications Act to put a responsibility on Ofcom to review and report on the extent to which public service broadcasters fulfil the remit. Regarding the specific requirement of delivery of the remit on linear, I think that we are straying into the territory of debate on the next group, about how long viewers should be able still to rely on digital terrestrial television. I am very happy to debate that, but I think that discussion that is more appropriate to the next grouping.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North raised a specific question about how the measurement of the 30 days requirement should operate. I can assure her that the broadcaster would certainly not be able to pick out individual days and put them all together to make up that 30. It is 30 consecutive days starting from the day that the content is first made available.

I believe that the clauses that we are debating represent a modernisation that will ensure that public service content remains at the heart of our broadcasting landscape but is modernised to take account of the extraordinary transformations that are occurring. On that basis, I commend clauses 1, 2 and 7 to the Committee, but I would, I am afraid, be unable to support new clause 1 or, indeed, amendment 19.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the Minister’s comments on amendment 19, but it still remains the case that, without clear specifications as to what counts in the “range of genres”, there is no guarantee that Ofcom will monitor the levels of content in each of the removed genres. Without such monitoring, it will be very difficult to identify whether there is a reduction and to rectify that. With that in mind, I would like to press amendment 19 to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 1

Ayes: 7


Labour: 5
Scottish National Party: 1
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 9


Conservative: 9

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 3
Public service remits of licensed providers
Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 35, in clause 3, page 7, line 15, at end insert—

“(c) which is broadcast via UHF frequencies that can be received by a minimum of 98.5% of the population of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment would amend the definition of public service for Channel 3 services and Channel 5 to include an obligation to broadcast via digital terrestrial television.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 36, in clause 3, page 7, line 32, at end insert—

“(d) which is broadcast via UHF frequencies that can be received by a minimum of 98.5% of the population of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment would amend the definition of public service for Channel 4 to include an obligation to broadcast via digital terrestrial television.

Amendment 37, in clause 15, page 17, line 35, at end insert—

“(c) after paragraph (c), insert—

“(d) provide for the broadcast of programmes for or on behalf of a Channel 3 licensee using the MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 digital video broadcasting standard via UHF frequencies that can be received by a minimum of 98.5% of the population of the United Kingdom.””

This amendment would amend the definition of public service for Channel 3 licensees to include an obligation to broadcast via digital terrestrial television.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We covered a little of this in the last debate, in relation to access to terrestrial television services. As I said, there is still significant digital exclusion in our society when it comes to those who access television services and public service broadcasts through non-digital means.

It is possible to do what I do, which is to access television entirely through digital means—I have not had an aerial for a significant time. We moved into our house in 2016 and I am not aware that we have ever watched terrestrial television there, but we are lucky enough to have and be able to pay for a fast broadband connection and to live in a city where we can access one; we are not in any of the excluded and more vulnerable groups that find it more difficult to access television through on-demand means. A significant number of people can still access TV only through terrestrial services.

The amendments are about trying to pin the Minister down on what he means by “an overwhelming majority”. This is about looking at the numbers: is 98.5% of the population the kind of figure that the Minister was thinking about when he said “overwhelming majority”, or did he mean 60% or 70%? I am in debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), who, like me, has met Broadcast 2040+, which crafted these amendments. My hon. Friend is significantly more of a football fan than I am, and has specifically mentioned the fact that football viewing figures are higher for terrestrial TV than they are for subscription services. Removing access to terrestrial TV, which may happen at some point in the future and may need to happen at some point in the very distant future, will reduce the number of people able to access Scottish football. Therefore, in addition to the comments I was making about the educational provision available on television, I make the point that it is also important that there is the ability to view sport.

Yesterday in the Chamber, there was a ministerial update on the risk and resilience framework, which was published by the Government last year. Ministers have been at pains to state how much more transparency the framework enables than was the case previously. I appreciate the work that the Government are trying to do to update the national risk register, to ensure that it is as public as possible and that people are able to access this information. However, an incredibly important part of local resilience is being able to access up-to-date news, up-to-date and on-the-spot weather, and information when something significant happens.

I will give an example. Recently, there were significant floods in Brechin, which is just down the road from Aberdeen—although I am not sure that people in Brechin would want to be described in relation to Aberdeen; Brechin is a very lovely place in its own right and not just a neighbour of Aberdeen. People in Brechin saw really significant flooding, and a number of properties were evacuated. Without the ability to access information on what was happening through terrestrial TV or radio services, people would have been much less aware that the river was about to break its banks. If there is really significant wind—as there was, during the significant rain—accessing mobile phone masts, for example, is much more difficult. Terrestrial TV service masts, having been up for significantly longer, are significantly less likely to come down in the kinds of winds that we saw during Storm Arwen and Storm Babet, as weather events increase. In terms of resilience, it is important for people to be able to access that.

During the covid pandemic, people were glued to their television screens for updates about what was happening and the latest lockdown news. If some of our most vulnerable communities were struggling to access such content because, after the withdrawal of the terrestrial services, they did not have the broadband speeds necessary to watch television on demand, they would be less likely to be able to comply with and understand the law if another pandemic or national emergency happened.

It is important for the Government to know that they can reach the general population; that is how they could make the case for lockdown restrictions or ensure that people were aware of when the Queen sadly passed away last year. They can make those announcements and ensure people have the understanding and ability to know when significant national events have happened.

If people who are older, in poverty or otherwise digitally excluded are less likely to hear timeously about extreme weather or massive national events of incredible importance, then we further marginalise communities that are already struggling. As I said, I appreciate the Minister using the term “overwhelming majority” but I am just not confident enough that—

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady should recognise that such switchovers are possible only when the technology supports it, which is a question of changing the distribution mechanism at some point. That can lead to more choice.

Take the village in Kent where I live. When we had to do the switchover in 2012, the consequence of turning off the analogue signal and replacing it with a digital one was that we could get Channel 5, which people would otherwise not have been able to get at all. With the improvement in infrastructure, some people may see a significant improvement in services, but only where that infrastructure is ready.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate that and think it is important, but my point is about those who cannot get access and do not have the financial ability to do so. If we have a commitment to continue to provide terrestrial services and the legacy infrastructure, the providers of that infrastructure—the public service broadcasters—can continue to invest in it and not just say, “Well, the Government are going to allow us to turn it off in 2040 so there is no point in investing in it now. It has only got 17 years left to run, so we are just going to run the network down.” I am concerned that that may be the direction of travel.

Without a very clear commitment from the Government, I am worried that there will be a lack of investment in terrestrial services and that people will lose out. I would not want anybody to lose out on Channel 5 and I am very glad that people have access to it, but they need to have the choice. I would rather people had access to some public service broadcasting than none, which would be entirely possible if the digitally excluded could no longer access terrestrial TV services.

If the Minister made some really clear commitments today, that would be incredibly helpful. He may not be able to do that, in which case I may press some of the amendments. I will certainly be supporting the Labour party’s new clause. If the Minister cannot make more commitments, will he make clear the Government’s point of view about people likely to be excluded from taking part in a switchover, in relation to current investment in the network and investment to ensure that the network can last the next 15, 20, or 30 years? Would the Minister be happy to see that network diminish and for there to be a lack of investment so that services run down of their own accord or would he would prefer people to continue to be able to access them?

It would be great to have a little more clarity from the Government on the proposed direction of travel. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and also Broadcast 2040+ for all the work that they do to try to ensure that marginalised groups can continue to access public service broadcasting.

11:15
Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I outlined during the discussion about my new clause 1, it is incredibly important that we recognise the value of broadcast television services and ensure that they are available where needed, particularly when thinking about making public service content available to as many people as possible. Indeed, the Government have themselves highlighted that millions of households in the UK still rely on broadcast television as their form of access to visual content—a trend expected to continue over the next decade.

Furthermore, unlike internet streaming services, PSB content on terrestrial TV does not require a strong broadband connection or rely on monthly subscription fees. Such content is primarily relied on by those already marginalised in society—people on the lowest incomes, people of an older age and those in isolated rural areas. There is a higher population of such people in Scotland given its increased rurality, island communities and comparatively older population, so I understand and support the reasons why the amendment has been tabled. It wants to ensure the future of terrestrial services for those who need them. That is particularly important because, as we have discussed, under the Bill on-demand content can now contribute to public service remits. That is the right move but it should come with safeguards for content on terrestrial TV, which is what my new clause seeks to address.

A host of implications are not being properly considered when digital-first plans are put forward in the Bill for broadcasting. If we move away from broadcast services prematurely, there will be huge implications for telecoms operators, who will have to handle unprecedented surges in internet traffic. For example, if everyone watched the World cup final online rather than on their broadcast TV, the infrastructure would need to be strong enough to carry that. Without due preparation and regulation, questions may arise about how that would be funded without costs being passed on to consumers and without raising bigger questions on topics such as net neutrality.

As we have discussed, there are also national security implications to moving away from broadcast infrastructure in its entirety. How would local and national Government communicate with the public if the internet was down due to an emergency situation? With all that in mind, we need to consider the future of our broadcasting landscape and the important role that terrestrial television will continue to play in the years to come.

I am unsure, however, whether the amendment is right to be so prescriptive in legislation about the percentage of the population who must be reached through digital terrestrial television, particularly given the rapid advances in technology taking place around us. There are already statutory obligations in the Broadcasting Act 1996 that feed into broadcast and multiplex licences, which require the likes of ITV to use DDT on the UHF frequencies to broadcast. Those obligations mean that 98.5% of the population are able to receive broadcast television.

However, although the current infrastructure broadly allows for 98.5% reach, I do not believe that is a precise enough figure or a stable enough measurement to warrant requiring it specifically in legislation; if the Bill wants to be future-proofed and recognise the importance of terrestrial television, I am not sure that quite strikes the balance. I hope the Minister takes on board the strength of feeling on this issue and seeks to ensure that the public service content remains available up and down the country. I also hope the Department puts a future plan in place that really considers the importance of broadcast services and of the certainty over the future that that could provide these services and the people who rely on them.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want first to make it clear that the Government remain committed to the future of digital terrestrial television. We absolutely accept that millions continue to rely on it. We have already legislated, as hon. Members know, to secure its continuity until at least 2034 through the renewal of the multiplex licences. Obviously, I understand that the Opposition would like to go further and give a commitment going beyond 2034, and the amendments are tabled with that purpose in mind.

I said “overwhelming majority” on Second Reading, because I do not want to be tied down to a specific figure, particularly when we are now looking 10 years ahead, but I repeat that it would be a brave Government who switched off DTT while there was still a significant number—even a small number—of people relying on it.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Since the Minister is not willing to commit to going further than 2034, will he outline when he will make a decision on whether he will extend it past 2034? If not—this is quite important—what plans are the Department putting in place to ensure any future transition takes place effectively?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to say a little more about what the Department is doing. First, the hon. Member for Aberdeen North is absolutely right that broadband availability is one of the factors that would need to be taken into account. I also have ministerial responsibility at the moment for digital infrastructure, and I can confirm to her that the Government remain committed to the universal availability of gigabit broadband by 2030; if we achieve that target, that is one factor that will have been met. There is also the availability of low-cost tariffs, and I agree with her about the importance of those.

The hon. Lady also talked about resilience. Resilience is important, but it is worth bearing in mind that the Bilsdale transmitter fire was not that long ago—that took out DTT for a significant number of people for quite a few months. Every technology is subject to occasional risk, and that was a rather more dramatic one.

On getting vital messaging across, I gently say to Opposition Committee members that radio is, of course, available through a variety of different technologies as well as television.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The fire that the Minister referenced really outlined how important linear television is to many parts of the country. Actually, the further north we go, the more communities rely on it. In that particular case, I think that a prison was affected as well as a number of older people. It is a good example of how important terrestrial TV still is to many in the country.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We completely recognise that terrestrial TV is important to many in the country. I was in my second incarnation as a Minister at the time of the Bilsdale fire, and I talked to Arqiva about the importance of restoring services as rapidly as possible. A very large number of people were left without the ability to access information, entertainment and all the things that people rely on television to provide.

Looking forward, as hon. Members may be aware the Secretary of State recently announced that the Department is going to carry out a new programme of work on the future of television distribution. That includes a six-month research project working with a consortium led by the University of Exeter, looking at changing viewing habits and technologies. We have also asked Ofcom to undertake an early review on market changes that may affect the future of content distribution. I am very happy to keep the House updated on those. That will be looking at all the various factors that would need to be taken into account.

I make one final point about amendment 37. It puts a particular requirement on channel 3 licensees to use particular standards for compression technology. As with all technologies, the standards for television distribution will change over time. We want to ensure that there remains flexibility, so restricting channel 3 to a particular use of one technology would be severely limiting and actually be contrary to precisely what the Bill is designed to achieve.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On what the Minister just said about the report on the future of television provision being done and the timeline for decision making, does he recognise my point that the degradation of the technology is possible if the Government do not make fairly early decisions—I am not talking about in the next three months—on whether they are going to extend it beyond 2034? Does he understand the importance of making a decision in fairly short order to ensure that broadcasters, for example in Arqiva, keep the technology running so that it stays viable beyond 2034 if necessary?

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I say, we are committed to keeping the House updated about the research. I recognise the point, and my own expectation is that DTT will be around for quite some time to come. For the reasons I have explained, I am not able to accept the amendments. I hope that the Opposition will withdraw them.

11:25
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.(Mike Wood.)
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Media Bill (Second sitting)

Committee stage
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Media Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 5 December 2023 - (5 Dec 2023)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Judith Cummins, Martin Vickers
† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)
† Blackman, Kirsty (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
† Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)
† Butler, Rob (Aylesbury) (Con)
† Carter, Andy (Warrington South) (Con)
† Collins, Damian (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
† Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
† Foster, Kevin (Torbay) (Con)
† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)
Hunt, Tom (Ipswich) (Con)
† Owen, Sarah (Luton North) (Lab)
† Peacock, Stephanie (Barnsley East) (Lab)
† Tuckwell, Steve (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con)
† Western, Andrew (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
† Whittingdale, Sir John (Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries)
† Williams, Hywel (Arfon) (PC)
† Wood, Mike (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)
Huw Yardley, Kevin Candy, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 5 December 2023
(Afternoon)
[Judith Cummins in the Chair]
Media Bill
Clause 3
Public service remits of licensed providers
Amendment proposed (this day): 35, in clause 3, page 7, line 15, at end insert—
“(c) which is broadcast via UHF frequencies that can be received by a minimum of 98.5% of the population of the United Kingdom.”—(Kirsty Blackman.)
This amendment would amend the definition of public service for Channel 3 services and Channel 5 to include an obligation to broadcast via digital terrestrial television.
14:00
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment 36, in clause 3, page 7, line 32, at end insert—

“(d) which is broadcast via UHF frequencies that can be received by a minimum of 98.5% of the population of the United Kingdom.”

This amendment would amend the definition of public service for Channel 4 to include an obligation to broadcast via digital terrestrial television.

Amendment 37, in clause 15, page 17, line 35, at end insert—

“(c) after paragraph (c), insert—

‘(d) provide for the broadcast of programmes for or on behalf of a Channel 3 licensee using the MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 digital video broadcasting standard via UHF frequencies that can be received by a minimum of 98.5% of the population of the United Kingdom.’”

This amendment would amend the definition of public service for Channel 3 licensees to include an obligation to broadcast via digital terrestrial television.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

John Whittingdale Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Sir John Whittingdale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 3, page 7, line 33, at end insert—

“(5A) In this section, a reference to making available audiovisual content, in relation to a licensed public service channel, is a reference to the provider of that channel making available audiovisual content.”

This amendment describes how audiovisual content contributing to the fulfilment of the public service remit for a licensed public service channel is provided.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs Cummins. Clause 3 amends section 265 of the Communications Act 2003 to update public service remits of licensed public service channels to make clear that the high-quality and diverse programmes they make available must themselves contribute to the public service remit and together represent an adequate contribution. In line with the changes made by clause 1, it allows licensed public service channels to fulfil their remits by using a wider range of services.

Government amendment 1 ensures that when a public service broadcaster is required to fulfil the public service remit for a given channel, and that remit is to make available content, then it is the public service broadcaster that should be making that content available, either themselves or through others. That point of detail was arguably included in the Bill at its introduction, but we felt it necessary to bring forward the amendment in order to put this matter beyond doubt. It is a technical amendment, and I hope the Committee can support it.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I too welcome you to the Chair this afternoon, Mrs Cummins. As well as the remit covering all the public service broadcasters, there also exist separate remits covering the activity and content of each individual channel. The channel remits are important, as they ensure that the specific aims of each channel are clear in the context of the wider contribution these channels must make as a whole.

Section 265 of the Communications Act 2003 sets out the specific remit for channel 3, Channel 4 and Channel 5. As will become the theme in coming clauses, only channel 3, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are dealt with by this clause, with many of the same changes to the BBC and S4C made later on in the Bill due to their differing arrangements. In any case, section 265 ensures that channel 3 and Channel 5 must provide a range of high-quality and diverse programming. Meanwhile, Channel 4 has an extended remit that requires its programming to: be innovative, creative, experimental and distinctive; appeal to the tastes and interests of cultural diversity; include a significant contribution to meeting the need for education programmes; and exhibit a distinctive character.

The clause amends section 265 to update the remits. First, it makes clear that the high-quality and diverse programmes they make available must themselves make an adequate contribution to the wider public service remit. This is sensible, as it makes it explicitly clear how the individual channels will feed into the broader remit. Secondly, the clause allows public service broadcasters to fulfil their channel remits by means of any audio-visual service, echoing changes made in clause 1 that allow for on-demand programming to count toward the wider remit.

While I believe it is important we see public service programming on linear services protected, it makes sense that as on-demand viewership increases, channel remits should be given the same flexibility as was provided for the wider remit in clause 1. I therefore welcome the clause and the clarification it provides for each channel and the consistency it ensures for the new public service remit as a whole. I understand that amendment 1 is largely a technical clarification that specifies that audio-visual content contributing to a channel remit must be content made available by the provider of that channel. This seems to be a very sensible tidying up of phrasing.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Statements of programme policy

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 5 stand part.

John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Section 266 of the Communications Act 2003 puts a duty on Ofcom to require providers of licensed public service channels to prepare statements of their programme policies that set out how they intend to fulfil their individual channel remits. Currently, these statements must only be prepared in relation to the content provided by public service broadcasters on their traditional TV channels. Clause 4 amends section 266 of the 2003 Act. It expands these statements to reflect that the fulfilment of the public service remit could now include, as set out in clause 1, content delivered by on-demand services.

Going forward, the providers of licensed public service channels—channels 3, 4 and 5—must set out in their statement the services they are using to contribute to the fulfilment of the public service remit and explain how each service is contributing. The publication of these statements is important to allow proper scrutiny of our public service broadcasters.

Clause 5 of the Bill, which is grouped with clause 4, amends section 267 of the 2003 Act to update the definition of “a significant change”, so that it would apply if any of the services that a licensed public service broadcaster is using to deliver its remit—not just the main channel, as before—were to become “materially different in character”. For example, this will include on-demand services as well as the traditional TV channels. And like the previous clause, clause 5 will ensure that these statements continue to allow scrutiny of all the ways that the public service remit is fulfilled.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 4 amends requirements on channels 3, 4 and 5 to report on how they intend to fulfil their channel remit. Indeed, due to clause 3, these channels will now be able to meet this remit using qualifying audio-visual services, including both linear and on-demand programmes.

As a result, licensed PSBs will now have to set out in their statement of programme policy which audio-visual services they use to fulfil their channel remit, as well as the contributions that each service will make. This is a necessary change to ensure that reporting standards, and as a result the standards of public service TV, do not slip or falter as a result of the changes made by clause 3.

However, making this change will also be beneficial, as it will help Ofcom to build a clear picture of how the new rules are being used and whether they are working effectively to serve both linear and on-demand audiences. Therefore, as a result of both the necessity for and benefit of clause 4, I am happy to welcome it.

Similarly, clause 5 makes further updates to the reporting requirements on channels 3, 4 and 5. Currently, public service broadcasters must make changes to their statement of programme policy if their public service channel makes “a significant change”. “A significant change” is defined in the 2003 Act as the channel becoming

“materially different in character from in previous years.”

To reflect the new rules, which will mean channel remits can be met by services beyond the public service channel, clause 5 updates the definition of “a significant change”, so that it will apply if any of the services that a licensed public service broadcaster is using to deliver its remit becomes “materially different in character”.

Widening the scope of the 2003 Act to include more than just the public service channel is sensible and necessary in relation to the changes made in clause 3 and, as such, I welcome the inclusion of clause 5 in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Enforcement of public service remits

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 20, in clause 6, page 8, line 21, at end insert—

“(2A) In subsection (2)(a), after “serious”, insert “, or at risk of becoming serious””.

This amendment would lower the threshold for Ofcom’s intervention if it considers that a public service broadcaster has failed to fulfil its remit.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clause 6 is another example of necessary changes being made to the Communications Act 2003 to reflect the changes in clause 3. Indeed, since public service broadcasters can now use on-demand services to deliver their remit, Ofcom’s power to consider whether such a broadcaster has failed to fulfil its remit must be adjusted accordingly, so that on-demand services can be taken into account.

Likewise, it is right that Ofcom will be able to make directions and impose licence conditions that apply to audio-visual services, ensuring that its enforcement and monitoring now reflect the new flexibility in the remit. I therefore welcome the premise of this clause.

However, I want to speak briefly about Ofcom’s enforcement powers more generally with reference to amendment 20. Given the increased flexibility that public service broadcasters have been given in meeting their remit, concern has been raised about the strength of Ofcom’s position in being able to step in when things look as though they may go wrong. The British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials and Ofcom can step in only when failure to meet the remit is considered to be serious; and any failure is not excused by economic or market conditions. That seems to be an unreasonably high threshold for intervention that does not allow for preventive action to take place in order to stop an issue becoming serious in the first place.

As the Culture, Media and Sport Committee highlight in its comprehensive report on the Bill, enabling Ofcom to step in earlier if it perceives there is a risk of a breach becoming serious would not only protect the integrity of the new regime but increase public confidence that the new remit would not come with a decline in standards. Ofcom itself has also recognised that, saying in its submission to the Committee that,

“it is important that this flexibility is accompanied with appropriate ‘step in’ powers so the commercial and PSB incentives remain effectively balanced.”

Further, we will speak many times during the passage of the Bill about how important it is for Ofcom to be empowered as a result of it. Indeed, many of the new regimes in the Bill are reliant on Ofcom being able to act confidently in enforcement. As such, it must be given the tools to intervene where needed across the board. Therefore, my amendment proposes that section 270 of the Communications Act is updated to lower the threshold at which intervention can take place in the case of remit breaches. The phrase “is serious” will be adjusted to “is serious or at risk of becoming serious”, thus ensuring that Ofcom can remedy any failures efficiently and in good time. Indeed, it is not my hope that that power will have to be used on a regular basis; there is every reason to believe that the public service broadcasters will continue to do their best to deliver on their remit for UK audiences. However, should that not be the case, it is important that we do all we can to mitigate any failure. I ask for Committee members support for this amendment.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can the hon. Lady give the Committee any examples of when Ofcom has been unable to act with its current powers against public service broadcasters in the linear world? She talks about making changes for the digital world, but are there current examples where Ofcom is concerned?

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not believe so, no, but obviously the Bill is changing, and giving more powers to, Ofcom. Like any regulator, it needs to be able to enforce them properly; so it is really a preventive measure. We hope that the Minister will take the amendment in the spirit in which it is put forward.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman (Aberdeen North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise briefly to support the amendment. This changes the remit requirements on public service broadcasters. I do not think that anyone is disagreeing with some of the changes that are being made. It makes sense for the public sector remit to be able to be fulfilled on some of the on-demand services, for example, in a way that currently they are not. However, the concerns that were raised earlier around genres, for example, are not written into the Bill. There is a requirement for there to be a range of genres but those definitions are no longer included. The system will probably need to bed in; it will probably take a bit of time. I agree with the shadow Minister that we do not expect public service broadcasters actually to create serious risk or enter this situation. If they do, though, I believe it is better for everyone for Ofcom to be able to intervene at an earlier point, for a number of different reasons.

If Ofcom can intervene earlier and is empowered and asked to do so, it will be cheaper, easier and quicker to sort out the issue. If it can act only once the issue is serious enough, then undoing that harm is difficult. Stopping the harm is better for the general public, better for the broadcasters, better for the staff who work within those broadcasters, and better for Ofcom, which will have to spend less time clearing up a mess and ensuring that a mess can be cleared up.

On the empowerment that it gives to Ofcom, I agree with the shadow Minister that it will not be used terribly often, but it does give Ofcom sufficient power to say to the broadcaster, “Things are not going right here. We think there is a risk of things becoming serious, so we would like you to make some changes,” particularly when some of the quotas have been removed, for example, or some of the requirements for genres have been changed. It is going to take a while for the system to work as intended. The Government do intend it to work—I have no doubts that that is the case—but Ofcom needs to be empowered to ensure that it can do that.

14:14
Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It strikes me that a lot of what the hon. Lady is talking about is relevant to the broadcasting code. It is Ofcom’s job to issue guidance in relation to the code and to take action if a broadcaster fails to meet its obligations. If Ofcom feels that a broadcaster has no intention of keeping within the remit of the code, it can withdraw its licence. That is the ultimate sanction, and one that Ofcom has already.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is absolutely the case. However, on this section of the Bill, which is about enforcing the public sector remit—sorry, I keep saying “public sector” when I mean “public service”; I spent too much time in local government. It is about enforcing the public service remit and amending this section of the Communications Act. The shadow Minister has made the case to allow Ofcom the ability to step in with a lighter touch. We do not want Ofcom to have to take licences away. We want Ofcom to assess that, if things are not going in the right direction, it is better for everyone if it ensures the proper provision and that everybody has access to the public service broadcasting that we would expect. We want Ofcom to have that earlier opportunity to step in and say, “Guys, it’s time to make some changes before it gets to the point of being beyond repair.”