Lord Dunlop Portrait Lord Dunlop (Con)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support Amendments 16 and 17, introduced persuasively by my noble friend Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie, and, not least, to add another Scots voice to the many Welsh voices that we have heard already.

The independent production sector has naturally been concerned about the implications for Channel 4’s commissioning role of the removal of the existing publisher-broadcaster division. However, following the decision not to proceed with privatisation, providing Channel 4 with the flexibility to make its own content is a logical step that deserves support. As my noble friend made clear, one of the strengths of Channel 4 is its commitment to represent the whole of the UK in all its diversity. It would be a backward step if, in giving Channel 4 greater flexibility, its role as an innovator and investor, stimulating the production sector in all parts of the country, was compromised. We often question whether our news media organisations sufficiently reflect the full diversity of the UK, and the same concern exists for the making of programmes. That is why we ask the BBC to meet quotas for network programming outside England and in each of the home nations.

As we have heard, there is tremendous creative talent outside the M25, including a vibrant sector in Scotland. That is also why some of the biggest global brands commission programmes from independent producers in the nations and regions, as indeed Channel 4 has done historically. However, if in this new world producers in the nations and regions are to remain at the forefront of the minds of Channel 4 commissioners, quotas as proposed by my noble friend are a proven means of providing them with the right incentives without unduly constraining Channel 4’s future room for manoeuvre.

Channel 4, while commercially funded, is a public asset. I believe that quotas are a proportionate measure to reflect its special place in our media landscape. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to work with my noble friend Lady Fraser to provide the reassurance that the independent producers in the nations and regions are seeking.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, one of the great values of Committee stage for Ministers and regulators is that it gives them a warning of trouble ahead if they do not listen to what is said during it. This debate has been a very good example of that. I do not think Parliament is satisfied yet that we have the balance right in the ecology that we are trying to create.

It is interesting to remember that our broadcasting system is a child of Parliament and not of government or regulators. Over the last 100 years, Parliament has tweaked the market to do various good things. It created a national broadcaster under royal charter; most social historians would say that the BBC as created did much to unify the nation—it certainly brought certain accents to the fore, such as those of Wilfred Pickles and JB Priestley, which had not been heard before in London.

We are at a kind of turning point again. Of course, we are going through a revolution, the management of which is perilous for many in the major companies. As has been said in some of the briefings to us from ITV and others, the more we put demands and conditions on public service broadcasters, the more difficult it is for them to compete. It is about getting a balance right between the benefits we get and the benefits we give to PSBs and their ability to compete in this rapidly changing world.

I went to the meeting that the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, organised, and it was very interesting to hear the passionate interventions from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. However, as has also been said today, the development of talent outside London has also been significant. I still think of myself as coming from “Granadaland”; it is very difficult now to realise just what an impact Granada had on the north-west and on its confidence. In a way, there was no great plan, but it was a magnificent piece of genius to create ITV as a federation of regional companies, and from those regional companies came many benefits.

I am not sure how deeply Willie Whitelaw and others thought when they created Channel 4 and gave it that commissioning role, but it has certainly had a massive impact on the creative sector. I want us to make sure—this is the only intervention I make on this—that the Minister accepts the invitation from the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, and that Ofcom, if it is listening, also realises that there is deep concern in Parliament that what comes out of the Bill retains what has been one of the great benefits of our development of the media, which is that we have found, nurtured and developed talents in the regions. The real danger in saying that we are going to concentrate on big productions and so on is that we get the bland and the international, and not what has been the great benefit of the development of our television and our broadcasting—the talent and the voice of the regions.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, this debate has been a fascinating example of how the nations and regions are well represented in the Committee. We have heard contributions from Wales, Scotland, Newcastle and across the country.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, argued very persuasively that quotas work. These amendments are aimed in a targeted and precise way at the hours and expenditure on programmes broadcast that are made and produced outside London. Amendment 17 additionally reflects this by reference to

“the nations of the United Kingdom”.

Amendment 54, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, seeks to ensure that there is a proper evaluation of companies that claim to operate in the nations of the UK by reference to criteria based on staff numbers, a published commitment to remain and a background of time spent in that nation.

We on these Benches have a great deal of sympathy and offer our encouragement and support to the principle behind these amendments. The last 20 or so years have seen, as we touched on in earlier debates, the growth of production outside London. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, reminded us, regional production was a great strength of the federated ITV companies. Their big opportunity in the late 1950s and 1960s led to such great companies as Granada Television and Harlech Television. Surely the latter is the only time that a Lord has given his name to a TV company, but the grandfather of the noble Lord, Lord Harlech—who is in his place—was clearly a pioneer. Independent production companies now work from all over the country; although some of them are suffering the difficulties that have developed from the direction of travel for advertising revenue, that is one of the great strengths of our media landscape.

The Government have chosen to change the way in which the provider of a licensed public service channel delivers its regional production quotas. The key question for the Committee and the Government to consider is whether the percentages set out in the amendment are the right ones for Ofcom to work to and how best to ensure that the necessary flexibility is retained within the quota system. We see regional production in the context of reflecting the diversity of the nations that make up the UK—diversity in a wider sense—and the need to reflect better our rich regional cultural diaspora, which a number of noble Lords have made wonderful reference to this afternoon.

It is also important to ensure that we recognise the value that TV production can bring in levelling-up. Why should TV production be concentrated in the wealthier parts of the UK and overconcentrated in the south-east and London? There are big disparities in regional wealth in this country—some of the biggest, largest and most extensive across Europe—and TV can do much to address that. To their credit, the PSBs have all made attempts in the last decade or so to decentralise production and bring about a transformed media landscape—Channel 4 in Leeds and Glasgow, the BBC with its MediaCityUK, and ITV devolving some of its production and major locations. As legislators, surely our role is to strengthen and enhance this. For that reason and others, these amendments are very welcome. I hope that the Minister responds positively to the spirit of these amendments.

On the issue of regional TV and its importance to production, has the Minister given any thought to the future of the 34 hyperlocal TV services licensed by Ofcom? These small operators were enabled by Labour’s Communications Act 2003, but they are not included in the definition of public service channels. These small channels do an important job in local news production at a time when, as we all know, local news is diminishing. Collectively, their reach is considerable, with over half a million viewers. Is this omission an oversight by the Government? If it is, would the Minister agree to meet and discuss this with representatives of the local TV companies to see what can be done to reinstate their public service broadcasting designation? I appreciate that this is not an amendment before us this afternoon, as no such amendment has been tabled, but debates on the Bill might be the opportunity to give a little sunshine to local TV companies and for the Government to put that on record.