Media Bill

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Committee stage
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Media Act 2024 View all Media Act 2024 Debates Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Amendment Paper: HL Bill 44-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (21 May 2024)
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I can usually spot a cunning plan when there is one afoot, and I fancy that our debate this afternoon is going to be overshadowed by events outside this House as the lectern has already been rolled out. This is an eclectic group of amendments which raise some important issues on radio regulation. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, in Amendments 71, 73 and 74 seeks to establish a baseline of locally provided programmes. I suspect we all have some sympathy with this.

There was a time when local radio was genuinely that: local. I well remember, as a local government leader, a time when both commercial and public service broadcast—BBC—radio stations used to call me up to face a quizzical reporter or phone-in audiences on local issues. But it has been a while since those days, as less and less content is generated from a locality. Basically, “local” means anything but that, as the programmes can be made and broadcast anywhere, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, accurately described, and have no particular geographical audience.

Most commercial radio stations now work to the same format and are owned by fewer and fewer companies, with little or no community input. Sadly, they have contributed to the overall decline of local news as well. As we know, the BBC has much reduced its local services—several noble Lords have mentioned this—as part of its slimming down of local radio. It remains an open question as to how practical and workable the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, are in the current context, and that is a question for us to consider.

I turn to the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, particularly Amendment 72, which I think we would all accept hits on a very significant issue. If we want to look at radio coverage in the context of levelling up—and I think we should—we clearly have a long way to go, because there are definitely issues of access. Last year, we passed legislation that in theory should enable better coverage digitally, but it remains the case that rural areas are still significantly disadvantaged. In replying to the noble Baroness, can the Minister update the Committee today on progress and how the Government see, and are seeking, other means to redress this widely perceived imbalance? Are there, for instance, any government targets in place that are designed to move the UK towards a more universal quality of coverage that will take account of rural and local needs?

Turning to the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, on radio news impartiality, I say that, yes, of course there should be careful consideration by Ofcom, both for television and radio, when current affairs shows are on either news stations or channels, or stations that focus heavily on news and current affairs. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, seems to have introduced a new expression into our debate today: “opinionated news”. I thought that was a very good expression and not one I had heard before. I do not think that we can easily move away from challenging that. How we resolve the fact that politicians of a particular party host such shows in the face of regulations that are pretty clear on impartiality and balance is something we need now to seriously consider, and the noble Lord raises a telling question.

We must also ensure that Ofcom has the tools it needs to decide on impartiality when it comes to politically hosted shows. Perhaps the Minister could outline what discussions he and his department have had with Ofcom on this matter, because it is a matter of serious concern. We need considerable reassurance on this because, hand on heart, we cannot say that it is working as well as it should—despite what the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, says about Ofcom having a very good team covering radio. I am sure that is true and that great diligence is exhibited there, but we need to move on and ensure that Ofcom can get on with the job in a way that satisfies widespread public concern about impartiality rules.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased that we are now at the section of the Bill dealing with radio and able to say that the state of radio in the UK is in good health. The medium continues to be attractive to new generations of listeners, while the proportion of adults who listen each week is virtually unchanged from a decade ago. I imagine quite a few people are tuning in right now to their radios across the UK.

However, UK radio also faces many more challenges than it did in the past, with competition from technology platforms and online streaming providers, and it is vital that stations large and small are able to adapt their services in response to listeners’ preferences, which is why the measures in the Bill regarding radio are so important.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for his Amendments 71 and 73, which would require Ofcom to determine the licensing process for new local and restricted services licences within six months of the Bill’s completed passage. We would, however, consider such a requirement on Ofcom to be unduly prescriptive. As the UK’s independent regulator, not only for radio but also for spectrum management and specific frequency allocations, we believe that Ofcom should continue to have wide discretion in how it carries out its functions in respect of its regulation of radio services. We are not persuaded that overlaying new and prescriptive requirements on its duties is necessary.

My noble friend Lady Berridge, speaking to Amendment 72, referred to the meeting we had yesterday with my honourable friend Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Tourism and the Creative Industries. I was very grateful to my noble friend and to the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for giving up their time to join us to discuss it. Her amendment seeks to ensure that, in areas defined as rural or in those that present a topographical issue—hilly or mountainous terrain or other things that get in the way of radio broadcast and limit the availability of digital services—Ofcom would be required to grant an FM licence to the organisation applying. That would mark a departure from the present licensing system, as we discussed yesterday, and create legal uncertainties about when this requirement applies and who would judge whether a particular area is unsuitable for a digital radio service.

Since 2003, Ofcom has had responsibility to secure the optimal use of the spectrum in determining where and how to license FM and other radio services. This amendment would conflict with that responsibility, especially in the case of areas where Ofcom judges that there may not be spectrum available to license further FM services.

Since 2010, Ofcom has successfully focused on developing community radio. A number of noble Lords rightly pointed out that this is greatly valued by people across the UK, with 320 services, the majority of which are on FM, across the country bringing an important degree of local choice and diversity. Ofcom has also focused on developing digital radio. Ofcom is currently focusing on small-scale DAB, which is now in its sixth round of licence awards, with 59 areas currently licensed, giving cost-effective opportunities for small commercial and community stations to broadcast on DAB as well as online. A number of these new multiplexes are located in more rural areas of the country, bringing new stations on air in these locations.

My noble friend raised very eloquently some pertinent points about the lack of services in more rural areas, such as the Vale of Catmose in her territorial designation. Ofcom has offered FM community radio licences in the most recent licensing round between 2017 and 2020 to people interested in developing community services. Although the most recent licensing round was a successful exercise, with more than 70 new community radio stations launching, rural areas with smaller populations may have specific challenges in being able to bring together viable proposals for community radio services, as my noble friend outlined in her speech.

With Ofcom’s licensing of small-scale DAB coming to a natural break point, I can tell my noble friend that we plan to work with Ofcom to look at the case for supporting new radio services in rural and remote areas and to assess possible options for helping to support these services get on air. To that end, my honourable friend Julia Lopez is very happy to write to Ofcom, asking it to provide advice on this, and to publish a copy of her letter. That can be done swiftly and I hope that, with that commitment to ask Ofcom to look at the case for supporting new stations in rural and remote areas, my noble friend will be content not to press her amendment and perhaps to continue to discuss this with us.

I turn to Amendment 74 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Storey. Like many who spoke, I recognise the important contribution that commercial radio stations play in delivering local news and other local information. The noble Lord’s amendment, which seeks to put in legislation the current requirements on local production and news drawn from the current Ofcom guidance, would be a significant change to the radio deregulation measures. It would reinstate the requirements for maintaining local production, resulting in higher costs for commercial radio broadcasters. By putting the current Ofcom localness guidance on a statutory basis, it would also limit Ofcom’s flexibility to develop new guidance that will set the expectations to enable Ofcom to hold stations to account for their compliance with the new locally gathered news and to adapt the guidance in future. Fixing these requirements in this way would result in additional long-term costs, which may have an impact on the financial viability of the sector and its ability to invest in content. It is worth noting that there are no similar provisions for the BBC under its royal charter or agreement.

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Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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The Minister is missing the fundamental point. There is a simple question: does he believe, and is it the Government’s view, that the due impartiality regulations contained in Sections 319 and 320 of the Communications Act apply to both news and current affairs programmes?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I will happily write to the noble Lord with more detail on that, but we think the Bill strikes the right balance.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth Portrait Lord Grade of Yarmouth (Non-Afl)
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I do not wish to comment in any way, shape or form on the value or otherwise of any amendment to the Bill; I will just correct a statement. There is one code on due impartiality; the only difference between news and current affairs is that politicians are prohibited from being newscasters, if I can put it that way. The requirements for due impartiality are the same for news as for current affairs. The key word is “due”.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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Perhaps the Minister can help here. I am wondering what a newscaster is, having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Grade, said.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I will write on that point, having consulted the noble Lord, Lord Grade, to make sure that I give the correct definition.

I am afraid that, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, will have understood, I am not able to accept his amendments and hope that he will be content not to press them.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, I very much welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, which suggests that there should be a post-enactment review by the Secretary of State as to whether radio selection services should be extended to other devices. I fully support the case that he has made.

Amendment 81, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, gives us an example of some of the things that need to be done and included in the Bill. His amendment, which seeks to extend the protections outlined in the Bill, would help future-proof the legislation and ensure that it keeps pace with rapidly changing audio-consumption habits. It is worth pointing out that this change was a key recommendation from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee during its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Media Bill last year. Amendment 77, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, which seeks to expand the scope of the regulation to cover non-voice-activated in-car infotainment systems, is another very good example of something that should be done now.

There is another area that should be addressed in the Bill that is covered by my Amendments 79 and 80. Amendment 79 would require voice assistant platforms to share data with broadcasters on the use of their radio services, and Amendment 80 would prevent tech platforms charging broadcasters for that data. The free flow of data is crucial—for commercial radio, community radio and even the BBC—in order to create a direct relationship between the listener, broadcasters and, in the case of commercial organisations, advertisers, to help them exist and grow.

Tech platforms are currently not obliged to share data with radio broadcasters on the distribution of their audio services. Any personal data shared between tech platforms and broadcasters would of course need to be subject to user consent and compliant with data protection legislation. Following consent, better access to data can help drive innovation in radio and audio services, unlocking new levels of personalisation and curation for the benefit of audiences. It is also vital for commercial radio broadcasters, as they depend on advertising revenues for their survival. Increased data transparency will therefore support commercial broadcasters of all sizes in taking advantage of targeted advertising, which is more attractive to advertisers and can command a higher price. In the long term, that would help to support the sustainability of the commercial radio sector as it becomes more reliant on online listening.

Access to data is currently inconsistent between tech platforms. For example, while Google and Apple provide virtually no data at all to radio broadcasters, Amazon provides some limited data through its Radio Skills Kit platform. However, there are important user insights that are not provided—such as age, gender, location and other interests—which would support the development of more personalised content.

This amendment would ensure a minimum standard for consistent, high-quality data to be shared with radio broadcasters by regulated radio selection services. It would also secure a minimum level of data access for all broadcasters, ensuring that tech platforms cannot engage in gatekeeping behaviours by revoking data access and/or charging broadcasters for the provision of that data. Without intervention, broadcasters will be at a disadvantage compared with the tech platforms, which have access to all the data generated by the listeners of UK radio on their voice-activated devices. In the long term, there is a risk that that data asymmetry could undermine the clear benefits that the Bill brings in levelling the playing field between UK radio broad- casters and large tech platforms.

There is a clear benefit to including data provisions in media sector-specific legislation, as they provide the most relevant opportunity to legislate for the specific challenges facing the media sector, without placing disproportionate burdens on the platforms to make significant changes to their data policies across all aspects of their businesses. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response not only to these proposals but to the others we have already heard.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As noble Lords have recognised, the provisions in Part 6 of the Bill are designed to secure the ongoing availability to listeners of UK radio services and will help to maintain the huge public value that radio provides as online listening continues to grow.

Turning first to Amendment 77 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the Government fully recognise how important it is that radio continues to maintain its presence in the car. On the provisions in the Bill, I confirm that, where a radio selection service using an in-car device is voice-activated and connected to the internet, it will fall within the definition of a “radio selection service” for the purposes of Part 6. Indeed, that is further clarified by new Section 362BB(2), which ensures that the assessment of whether the use of a radio selection service is significant can take account of specific usages, including the level of radio listening via that platform that takes place in a vehicle. Therefore, should a selection service have significant usage among in-car listeners, it would be subject to potential designation under this part of the Bill.

However, it is correct that there are no requirements on car manufacturers more generally, as the measures are focused on designated platforms that provide a radio selection service. Amendment 77 would extend the definition of “radio selection service” to include services not connected to the internet but accessed via the in-car system provided by car manufacturers. We are not persuaded that it is necessary to extend specific regulatory protections further, given that the evolution of systems and their integration into cars is ongoing, and given the progress made by the radio industry in the UK and across Europe in securing partnerships with car manufacturers and platforms.

However, we recognise that ensuring continued access to radio in the car will be an important part of the review of the radio market in 2026—to which the Government committed in their response to the digital radio and audio review of April 2022—and we will continue to keep the matter under consideration. New Section 362BA also contains powers to amend the definition of a radio selection service, if needed in future, as listening habits change. While I thank the noble Baroness for the opportunity to set that all out, I hope she will be satisfied and willing to withdraw her amendment.

Turning to Amendment 78, tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, I agree with the sentiment that the definition of a radio selection service could change as technology evolves and listening habits change. New Section 362BA also contains powers to amend the definition of a radio selection service, if needed in future. That could include amending the definition to include different ways in which radio stations are selected if a clear need arises in future. As I mentioned earlier, in their response to the digital radio and audio review, the Government committed to a further review of the market in 2026, and the growth and direction of online listening will be an important part of that review. While I am happy to talk to the noble Viscount, if he wishes, I think he will have discerned our reservations about the need for what he proposes, and I hope he will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Colville of Culross Portrait Viscount Colville of Culross (CB)
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The Minister has not responded to my concern that there could be a stitch-up between the device manufacturers and the radio providers. Therefore, we should talk about whether there should be a “must offer” component in the Bill to ensure that the designated radio services actually offer their services. It is not just the device manufacturers that may need to be pushed, but, in a very competitive media world, the radio station providers.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As I said in relation to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, we are heartened by the progress made by the radio industry in the UK and in Europe in securing partnerships with car manufacturers and platforms. We considered representations for a “must carry” provision, including from aggregators, but we concluded that it was not necessary and best left to commercial discussions between radio station platforms and aggregators. If the noble Viscount wishes to speak further about that, I am happy to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, tabled Amendments 79 and 80, on access to user data. While I appreciate the intention behind his amendments and the support from both the BBC and Radiocentre for them, the Government consider that it would not be appropriate to include such provisions in the Bill. This part of the Bill contains provisions to address issues specific to radio, such as securing the continued ability of BBC-licensed and Ofcom-licensed commercial and community stations to access their listeners via voice-activated connected audio devices. By contrast, the issues raised in the noble Lord’s amendment are common across a wide range of sectors. The Government have been taking forward broader work on competition, including in digital markets. For example, the Competition and Markets Authority will gain powers under the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill which could, in certain circumstances, be used to tackle the unfair use of data by the most powerful technology firms.

I hope the noble Lord will also be reassured by the protections that the provisions in new Sections 362BI(3) and 362BI(4) will afford. These measures will allow radio stations to nominate a preferred route for their service to be delivered to listeners, provided that that route is not unduly burdensome for the platform to deliver. As such, they provide scope for routes through which—subject to a listener’s consent; for example, through logging in—a broadcaster may be able to access valuable data, enabling them to improve their service. I hope the noble Lord will appreciate why we cannot agree to his Amendments 79 and 80.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, for his Amendment 81, which seeks to extend provisions in Part 6 to cover a wider range of audio content that is accessible on connected devices by expressly including a power that would require Ministers to extend the provisions in Part 6 to online only and on-demand content. The amendment would require Ministers to bring forward secondary legislation within a specific timetable to broaden the scope of this legislation significantly, extending the regime to cover online radio and other audio content that is not currently regulated. This could include content that originated outside the UK and is available via the internet.

I have noted the points made about the need to future-proof the regime, and Part 6 includes a number of powers to enable the new regime to stay up to date to reflect market and listener behaviour. This includes the power to change the definition of a radio selection service. At the moment, the Government believe that there is no need for powers further to extend the scope to other on-demand audio content available online. That would significantly widen the scope of content covered and create additional uncertainty burdens on the platforms that might be designated without a clear reasoning or evidence that this was necessary on wider public value grounds. But the Government recognise that audio markets and listening habits will continue to evolve. That is why we have committed in our response to the Digital Radio and Audio Review to revisit in 2026 the issues raised in that review.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Bill sets out the ability for Ofcom to assess the state of the market with the Digital Radio and Audio Review. We will do our own assessment of it and, through the Bill’s secondary powers, that work can be updated.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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Is the Minister content that that point is covered by that? Is there sufficient flexibility in the legislation to enable that?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes. We recognise, and the provisions of the Bill acknowledge, that an increasing amount of listening is taking place online. It is not yet clear, however, what form the evolution is taking and, in particular, how the ongoing provision of radio’s public value, which has been fundamental to the strength of radio over the past century, will be retained. We have committed to that further review of the radio and audio market in 2026, and the growth and direction of online listening will be an important part of it. If it proves appropriate in due course, the provisions in new Section 362BA allow the definition of regulated radio selection service to be amended. The Bill provides for it in that way.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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I will study the Minister’s words carefully.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As the noble Lord always does.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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This has been an interesting debate because it is about future-proofing and the stage at which you need to undertake things. The Minister may need to think about taking powers that then may or may not be used. I thank him for his explanation and, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
82: Schedule 9, page 163, line 14, at end insert—
“1A In section 393 (general restrictions on disclosure of information), in subsection (6), in paragraph (a), after “362AW” (inserted by paragraph 1A of Schedule 3) insert “, 362BC(6)”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment adds a consequential amendment relating to Clause 48.
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This has been a richly illuminating debate, passionate and critical to the vitality of our democracy—a debate on a day when we have learned from the Prime Minister that we are to have a general election. No doubt the press will play its part in that, and I hope it plays a responsible one.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I turn first to Amendments 83 and 86 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, which, if taken together, would intend not only to keep Section 40 on the statute book but to amend its subsections (1) and (2), so that the protections offered by subsection (2) apply not only to relevant publishers but to individuals employed by relevant publishers. This would protect journalists employed by news publishers which are members of regulators recognised by the Press Recognition Panel from having costs awarded against them in legal claims based on news-related material published by that publisher, regardless of the outcome.

As I understand it, the noble Baroness’s intention is that Section 40(3), which would make publishers that are not members of a PRP-backed regulator liable for costs in claims made against them, should not apply in the case of claims made against individual journalists employed by such publishers. If subsection (3) were to apply to such journalists, they would be unfairly held liable for the costs of claims, in contrast to their counterparts employed by members of a PRP-backed regulator. This is likely further to exacerbate the risks to media freedom and quality journalism posed by commencing Section 40.

The noble Baroness spoke powerfully against strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, invited me to say more on. We know that they are used as a deterrent to pursuing stories which expose wrongdoing due to the high costs involved with these lawsuits, making defending the case beyond the reach of those targeted by this form of litigation. The intention of her amendment appears to be to provide protection for only the cost of claims awarded against journalists employed by publishers that are members of regulators backed by the Press Recognition Panel, where material subject to the claim is news-related material published by the relevant publisher. As only one regulator, Impress, has sought approval by the Press Recognition Panel thus far, if enacted as amended in this way, Section 40 would protect only a small number of news publishers and journalists for the time being.

The Government believe that all journalists should be protected from SLAPPs, which are a pernicious form of litigation. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, mentioned, the Government have supported the Private Member’s Bill introduced by Wayne David MP in another place, which had its Second Reading there on 23 February. Furthermore, it is why the Government have committed to protecting media freedom and the invaluable role of a free press in our society and democracy more broadly. As part of this, we are committed to independent self-regulation of the press. For this reason, we do not consider that measures penalising publishers which are not members of a Press Recognition Panel-approved regulator are necessary or proportionate. Their commencement would constitute an intrusion by the Government into the freedom of the press.

I turn to the other amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. Amendments 84 and 85 intend to remove only Section 40(3) of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and to commence the remainder of Section 40, including subsection (2). Subsection (2) would protect publishers which are members of regulators recognised by the Press Recognition Panel from being liable for court costs awarded against them in legal claims, regardless of the outcome. The amendment is to commence subsection (2) within two months of this Bill gaining Royal Assent. Accepting these amendments would be at odds with the Government’s clearly stated position to protect media freedoms and to repeal Section 40 in its entirety.

I turn to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Astor, whom I commiserate on his misfortune in the 5.30 pm race at Kempton Park. The Government have committed to a free and independent press and do not interfere with what the press can or cannot publish; that extends to endorsing regulators of which they should become members. Consulting on, with a view to creating, other incentives for the press to join a Press Recognition Panel-backed regulator that a consultation might identify would conflict with the Government’s position.

Indeed, the Government consulted on the repeal of Section 40 in its entirety in 2016 and the vast majority of respondents to that consultation backed repealing it. That was reflected in our last two manifestos. We therefore cannot delay repealing any part of the legislation that risks providing incentives for membership of an approved regulator. Incentivising a publisher to join specific regulators in any way is incompatible with protecting independent self-regulation of the press in the UK.

These amendments are unnecessary as the press regulation landscape has evolved since Section 40 was passed, as noble Lords have noted, with the establishment of two new press regulators and the decision of some publishers to use their own regulatory systems. In practice, as I say, the amendments would incentivise membership of Impress, as the sole UK regulator which has sought approval by the PRP. It is likely to lead to a chilling effect on publishers which choose not to join Impress. Accepting these amendments would not be compatible with the Government’s policy, so I cannot support them.

Amendment 87A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Wyre Forest, would introduce a requirement on publishers which are not members of a Press Recognition Panel-backed regulator to publish a reply or a correction where they have published information containing a “significant factual inaccuracy”. The requirement is triggered by a demand made by an individual to whom the information relates. If the individual seeking the reply or correction is not satisfied with the publisher’s response, he or she would have the right to apply to the High Court for a determination of whether the publisher has complied with relevant parts of the section. The court may order the publisher to print a reply or correction, or to make another order as appropriate.

In practice, this amendment would incentivise membership of Impress and, as with the commencement of Section 40, it could disadvantage publishers which choose not to join it. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendments brought by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, or my noble friend Lord Astor and hope that they will not press them.

Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Portrait Lord Watson of Wyre Forest (Lab)
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As this may be the final opportunity before a possible change of Government, can I thank the Minister for his service to the country? He enjoys the support of all political parties on the creative industries. His contribution is immense and is deeply appreciated, particularly his support for the music sector. Can I press him a little on my question about whether the conventions of the parliamentary wash-up will be respected when it comes to controversial legislation?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his kind words; he might be getting a little ahead of himself. It has been a pleasure to serve as Minister and I hope to continue to do so. I look forward to campaigning in defence of the arts and creative industries in the general election ahead. He will appreciate that I have been in the Chamber since the announcement was made, so I will have to disappoint him by saying that the discussions will be had in the usual channels and announcements will be made in the usual way.

Like other noble Lords, I was sorry to hear about the operation that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is having. I am sure we all wish him a speedy recovery, so that he can be on the campaign trail soon. His amendment, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, seeks to remove Clause 50 in its entirety. I refer noble Lords to the comments I made earlier on why the Government do not believe that an incentive to join a PRP-backed regulator is needed. The failure to repeal Section 40 in its entirety would be at odds with the Government’s manifesto commitment. For this reason, it is important that this clause stands part of the Bill.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Can the Minister deal with the question I raised on how poor people can pursue a case if they do not have the legal means to get satisfaction through the courts?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The landscape has changed a great deal since these debates were had. There are multiple routes for people to do it, and we think that that is right. The debate is one that has gone on for a great deal of time. Passionate though the contributions have been today, they have not significantly added to the debate that has gone on for a long time. I have little more to add.

Viscount Astor Portrait Viscount Astor (Con)
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My Lords, before the noble Baroness deals with her amendment, I ask that my noble friend the Minister, when he finishes this debate and the letter from Sir Brian Leveson is placed in the Library, might look at it carefully. He was asked whether a regulator recognised by the Press Recognition Panel must be regarded as a state regulator, with all that that implies about government interference and the powers of censorship. He points out that he simply does not understand how this assertion can be made, as the recognition panel simply does not regulate the press. He goes on to say that Section 40 does not force newspaper publications to pay costs when they win. I think the Minister would find it helpful if he read that document. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, would find it even more helpful because—who knows?—in July he might find himself dealing with that issue from this side of the House.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I will certainly read the correspondence. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for quoting from it. I think it bears reading in its entirety, which I will be glad to do.

To continue on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Watts, there now exists a strengthened independent self-regulatory system for the press. The majority of traditional publishers are members of IPSO. Despite Section 40 never having been commenced, both Impress and IPSO offer arbitration schemes for legal claims relating to defamation, privacy and harassment. These schemes are either free, through Impress, or low-cost, through IPSO, for claimants. We do not think it likely that the repeal of Section 40, to which we have long been committed, would have an impact on access to low-cost arbitration.

Baroness Hollins Portrait Baroness Hollins (CB)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has spoken in support of these amendments. The distraction of live election news during my speech probably contributed to me being misquoted by some noble Lords, so I repeat that my amendment would cause no detriment to the interests of the press. I am sad that the Minister has offered no options for protecting ordinary people. I trust that my arguments, and Sir Brian Leveson’s letter, will be read carefully, because a number of things that have been said are just not true. I hope that this will be reviewed carefully before proceeding to wash-up. It would be wise to remove Clause 50 before allowing an otherwise good Bill to pass. I hope that the Opposition have the courage to insist on this. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to my Amendment 91. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, outlined in his usual articulate manner the issues we are looking at in this group. We created Ofcom, and it is a hugely important regulator with a growing portfolio of responsibilities. This is a good time to look at whether it is being properly and adequately resourced, and supported in a way consistent with the enormous responsibilities it carries. In a way, that is what my amendment is about. There is a broader issue here than just Ofcom being accountable under this legislation. It is important that we have a good look at how Ofcom is supported to do its job properly. That might include looking at how the chair is appointed, or it may be a matter of resourcing.

We need to ask whether Ofcom is properly accountable to Parliament, in a way consistent with the important job it does. If we expect Ofcom to deliver robust regulation and protect our PSBs, viewers and listeners, we need to be sure that it is doing that job adequately and moving quickly when it needs to in order to deal with complaints and breaches of the regulatory framework for which it is responsible. So it is a question of confidence and accountability, and I want us to be confident that Ofcom is doing its job properly and has the right accountability to Parliament, given the growth in its work. I want to hear from the Minister that the Government are aware that this is not just business as usual for Ofcom now, because it is not.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. I will address Amendment 88 first. The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, brought up an important point about Ofcom’s impartiality and the process for appointing its chairman. I join him in commending the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, the current chairman, on his ongoing work to steer Ofcom through a time of great regulatory change—I acknowledge the change that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, alluded to in her closing remarks. As the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, he draws on his extensive expertise in the sector.

Given the trust we place in Ofcom to regulate our media sector, its independence and impartiality are of paramount importance. To that end, the existing processes ensure that the appointment of the Ofcom chairman is designed to give effect to just those objectives. The chairman is appointed by the Secretary of State following a fair and open competition. This appointment is regulated by the office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The chairman of Ofcom is designated as a significant appointment by the commissioner. This means that the advisory assessment panel, which advises the Secretary of State, must have a senior independent panel member to ensure its impartiality. This member must be independent of the appointing department and must not be politically active.

The parliamentary scrutiny of this process was enhanced in the update to the Governance Code on Public Appointments in February this year. The updated guidance specifies that, should the responsible Minister not follow the advice of the advisory assessment panel, she or he is required to write to the chairman of the Select Committee when she or he announces the chosen candidate, and must appear before the Select Committee if requested to do so.

Furthermore, the chosen candidate is required to appear before the Select Committee before he or she is appointed. These new processes, which I hope the noble Lord agrees will help to address many of the concerns he raised, will apply to all future appointments to the role. We believe that this process ensures robust scrutiny and promotes Ofcom’s independence. I appreciate the noble Lord’s intention in tabling this amendment and agree with him about the importance of the topic it covers, but, given that this process was updated as recently as February, I consider his amendment unnecessary and hope that he will be happy to withdraw it.

I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for Amendments 90 and 91 relating to Ofcom reporting. Ofcom has been regulating television and radio broadcasters since 2003, and we have confidence in its ability to continue to do so in the face of the changes brought about by the Bill. I appreciate what lies behind their amendments, which would ensure that the scope of the regulator’s functions, powers and duties—as well as its resources and capacity to deliver on its programme of work—is regularly reviewed. I am glad to say that there are already existing legislative requirements for Ofcom to report annually on how it carries out its functions. This information is published and laid before both Houses of Parliament, allowing the public and Parliament alike an opportunity for scrutiny.

In particular, Ofcom is already required to prepare a report on the carrying out of its functions each financial year, under paragraph 12 of the Schedule to the Office for Communications Act 2002. This includes reporting on its work, performance and finances, as well as any other matters requested by the Secretary of State. The last such report was published last July. This existing requirement combines some of the issues featured in the noble Lord’s and the noble Baroness’s amendments. More widely, it allows Ofcom to give a complete overview of its work. I hope that will reassure them.

On the noble Lord’s particular questions, the approach we have taken in the Bill is in line with that of other legislation. We have set out clearly defined principles that we want Ofcom to regulate against, and we have provided it with the tools it needs to do the job. On granular decision-making, it is right that Ofcom make these decisions. It has considerable sectoral expertise and is in the best place to judge the impact of its regulatory decisions. Off the back of the Bill, it will run 11 consultations, which will give a wide range of interested parties in the industry and beyond an opportunity to feed into its operational decision-making. Ultimately, Ofcom is in turn accountable to Parliament in the ways I set out earlier in Committee.

It is crucial that we protect Ofcom’s role as an independent regulator and give it the discretion to do its job. That is the approach we have taken in the Bill. We want to avoid a situation where a huge amount of parliamentary time is taken up making granular decisions about what is on our televisions. Rather, Parliament should set the direction and Ofcom can regulate accordingly, and broadcasters can continue to operate independently in their editorial decisions.

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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I am grateful for the Minister giving way, but I wonder whether he can answer the fundamental question that I asked him. Quite simply, if he is saying that the driving documents, if you like, are the royal charter and the licences, what is the mechanism by which Parliament has an opportunity to discuss and amend them, if it so chooses? I also point out that he may have an opportunity, since the noble Lord, Lord Grade, is now in his place, to reiterate the huge praise that has been heaped on the noble Lord’s head in his absence.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Certainly—to make the noble Lord, Lord Grade, blush. He will, I am sure, read the tiny portion of Hansard covering the part of the debate that he missed.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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He can frame it, indeed. I commend him for his presence in these debates and his occasional contributions, which have been very helpful. It has been extremely valuable to have him here for the passage of this Bill, just as it was for the passage of the Online Safety Act, which also gives a huge amount of new work to the regulator.

I had tried to address the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, by saying that what we have done is to allow Parliament to set the direction, but not to be so granular through parliamentary time. I will happily write to him to provide some more reassurance, if I am able.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I sense that this debate is coming rapidly to a close. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, has doggedly pursued this issue with others and I wholeheartedly congratulate her on her determination to ensure that we maintain a free and fair press without foreign intervention.

This amendment takes the noble Baroness’s critique of foreign state ownership a stage further by seeking to review the impact of the measure on UK broadcasters. Obviously, government should always keep under careful consideration and review the impact of particular policies. This will, I suspect, be a feature of debate from time to time. We need to consider the impact of foreign ownership on all news media outlets, not just the press, and we need to understand, and protect our press from, undue interference. We have made it clear on our Benches, throughout the debates on the future of the Telegraph Group, that we are fully committed to upholding press freedom and the independence of all news outlets.

We cannot tolerate external interference in the politics of our country; that does not really need underlining much more on a day like today. At a time when the media are often being attacked by the exercise of deepfakes, this vital principle takes on a new importance. We need to ensure in the future, as much as we can, that our democracy is protected. A free and independent press and broadcasting sector is key to that, so I hope the Minister will give a considered response to that point.

I particularly pick up on the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, about regulations relating to the amendments we recently passed to another Bill. I do not think they are otiose, despite the calling of an election. They will be important in the future, and she is right to insist that work should be carried on to ensure that they are properly and correctly drafted so that they can be reviewed when a new Government are in place. Her point on the Ofcom review of ownership rules, which is to commence in November, is an important insight and one that we clearly all need to concentrate on and give some thought to while we go through the electoral process.

I am going to go slightly off-piste here before we conclude this debate and thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for the time that he and I have spent together across the Dispatch Box and for the courtesies he has extended to me, my noble friend Lady Thornton and other colleagues during the passage of this legislation. I particularly enjoyed the contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and, although she is not in her place, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, for her continued and assiduous interest in this. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, who is a powerful and important voice in your Lordships’ Chamber.

I suspect we will not have much more debate on the Media Bill, wash-up being the vicious process that it is, but we on these Benches have been happy to support it in the main. I am sorry we will not have the opportunity to give it a bit more detailed scrutiny on Report, but that is the nature of how we do our business. I thank the Minister for his attention to this, and I look forward to listening to his response.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, an afternoon is certainly a long time in politics and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is probably right that this is a good moment to thank all noble Lords who have given detailed consideration to the Bill in Committee, and indeed during its pre-legislative scrutiny. It has been fortunate in the sense that it was scrutinised before it came to your Lordships’ House, it was improved by that process and we have had very good debates throughout this Committee. I too am grateful for the courtesies, the time and attention that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness opposite have given to the Bill, as well as the noble Lord and the noble Baroness on the Lib Dem Front Bench and noble Lords across the Chamber. I am glad we have been able to dedicate a lot of time to this, both in the Chamber and outside. It has been a pleasure working with them.

On the amendment, it is a delight to be able to join in the praise that was directed to my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston for her very careful consideration of matters not just in this Bill but on related issues in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

The Government are committed to a pluralistic media landscape in which the public can access a wide range of accurate, high-quality news, views and information. Maintaining a free and thriving press is both a government-wide commitment and a personal priority for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who recognises, as I know my noble friend does, that our free press is a key pillar of our healthy and vital democracy. We acknowledge that the acquisition of UK news organisations by foreign states would run the risk of eroding trust in those vital organisations. This concern was the driving factor behind the introduction of the new foreign state intervention regime for newspapers and periodical news magazines, for which my noble friend was a compelling advocate.

It is clear from my noble friend’s remarks that the same concerns that led to the creation of that regime are also the motivation for the amendment she has tabled on ownership of UK broadcasters, including their ownership by a foreign power. Let me start by making clear that the restrictions on foreign state ownership of newspapers are designed to meet concern about a very specific risk, and the same approach is not necessarily appropriate for broadcasters. Newspapers and news magazines have a primary function to provide news and information, and therefore play a targeted role in helping to shape opinions and contributing to wider political debate. While our television and radio broadcasters also play a crucial role in the news landscape, their role is considerably more diverse, and the holding of a broadcasting licence is already well regulated through existing legislation.

Television and radio broadcasters in the UK operate within a well-established licensing regime overseen by Ofcom. As the independent regulator, it ensures that persons who own or control a licence are “fit and proper” to hold that licence and follow Broadcasting Code rules. There are also limitations on the persons who may hold or control broadcasting licences. For example, any

“body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature”

cannot hold a licence.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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Perhaps the Minister will comment on whether this matter has been under active consideration, because I think that is important. There is a shared concern across the Chamber on this, and the noble Baroness has touched on a very good point.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I certainly think it would be prudent for Ofcom to consider that. It is a matter for Ofcom, and it is important that I do not put words in its mouth as an independent regulator, but it is important that it can do that and make its representations to the Government, to Parliament and publicly, in an independent way. On the extent to which it has done so to date, it is probably better if I set that out in writing so that I am able fully to account for what has been done so far. In brief, it is a matter for Ofcom as the independent regulator, and it has the means to set that out.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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I can advise the noble Lord that, during the period between now and the general election, he will be the Minister most watched and listened to.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Thank you. Let me turn to the questions posed by my noble friend Baroness Stowell. She asked when we should expect to see the regulations relating to online news. We will shortly consult on expanding the existing media measures regime and the foreign state ownership provisions to include online news websites. That will enable us to make changes which ensure that online news, whether from an established newspaper group or an online publisher, is covered by the media regime and the new measures we are introducing for foreign state media ownership.

My noble friend is right about civil servants’ ability to carry on working even during the election period. Judging from the activity in my private office, I can certainly say that they are already springing into action on a number of fronts in the best traditions of the Civil Service. Work will of course continue as it always does, notwithstanding an election. This is an opportunity for me to thank the officials who have been working on the Bill and who will continue to work on these areas—rather hastily—over the next few days, but also more broadly on an ongoing basis in the way we have set out.

My noble friend mentioned the review of media ownership rules. I confirm that Ofcom can look at whatever it would like to in its review of the rules. The Secretary of State does not have to issue instructions to Ofcom to do so. I am happy to clarify that and, I hope, assist with some of the confusion which my noble friend has pointed out.

On the timing of regulations for what we termed the “carve-out”, as my noble friend knows, we are currently undertaking a consultation on proposed regulations to follow the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill to ensure that the drafting achieves our stated policy objectives in terms of the partial carve- out of small minority stakes held by sovereign wealth funds. The regulations will be finalised when the consultation concludes. We hope then to align the timeline for the introduction of these regulations with the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I am grateful to both the noble Lords, Lord Foster and Lord Bassam, for their support for this amendment. Before I withdraw it, I want to check on a couple of things that my noble friend has just said.

On the media ownership rules review by Ofcom, my noble friend said that it is a matter for Ofcom and clarified that the Secretary of State does not need to issue an instruction. He emphasised that Ofcom is independent, and it is a matter for it. However, I am saying that Parliament wants it to look at the rules. I know that my erstwhile noble friend Lord Grade is listening, and it is fortuitous that the chairman of Ofcom is also a Member of your Lordships’ House. It would be reassuring to know that the Government, having listened to this debate today, will say to Ofcom that the media ownership rules review that it is about to conduct should look at foreign state ownership. I do not see how that in any way undermines or jeopardises its independence. I urge my noble friend to do that.

On the online news regulations and the work being done on that, the other issue was the category known as “online news creators”; that is, not just the news websites but this other, powerful force in news online. It does not necessarily involve a platform owning a news site but refers to just how much they are able to have an impact on the success, or otherwise, of other news organisations. It sounds like that is not part of what the officials are looking at. Perhaps the Minister can consider this and write to me. It would be helpful to get some clarity on that too.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am very happy to do that. In relation to Ofcom’s review, my noble friend draws a helpful distinction. It is clear from the debate—which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, has heard—what Parliament is keen for Ofcom to do. There is a material difference between Parliament sending a message and government sending a message. Ofcom is an independent regulator. I am sure that it will heed what is said in Parliament, but I think it is better that it hears it from Parliament and is not instructed by the Government. It is an independent regulator, and I am sure the noble Lord will have heard the debate and feed it back to his colleagues.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend. I withdraw my amendment.