Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am privileged and pleased to introduce the Liberal Democrat debate on the importance of broadcast media. I thank all noble Lords who are taking part, particularly those who are making their maiden speeches today. Unfortunately, I can no longer declare an interest as I no longer work in television, which is a great sadness to me because I had many happy and, I hope, creative years there.
British broadcast media have been around in one form or another since the creation of the British Broadcasting Company in 1922. Since then there have been many forks in the road, all of which were initially met with portents of gloom and predictions of doom. That will not be the nature of my speech today. It is proving to be a remarkably agile and resilient industry. First, there was the BBC. Next came the creation of Independent Television in 1955, and that first introduction of competition had a profound impact on broadcasting. Not only did the British public lose Grace Archer—the fact that “The Archers” still exists shows the resilience of the genre—but the BBC lost its captive audience and large numbers of viewers deserted it. It had to learn to connect and it did. It did not change its values, but it did change.
Meanwhile the Independent Broadcasting Authority decided that independent TV companies—in those days raking in the money—should spend a proportion on public service broadcasting, so that was enhanced. BBC2 was increased and Channel 4, with its mission to speak for minorities and minority tastes, in parallel with the independent production sector, was created—such a successful part of our creative industries and now worth £2.5 billion a year. At that point, we entered a wonderful world of plurality and diversity. Of course, the window of competition that the BBC now has means that 25% of its programmes have to be commissioned from independent production companies. This purely terrestrial world was further enhanced by the advent of subscription channels such as Sky, and then came the internet and the transition from one age to another: analogue to digital.
As I said earlier, many of those innovations seemed to suggest the end of what had come before. I sat on a House of Lords committee looking at the review of the BBC charter when we were told by endless experts that terrestrial channels were doomed, the viewing of live telly was over and that the future was all catch-up and on demand. Last Saturday—I have to admit I was one of them—an average of 10.2 million people watched “Doctor Who” on the BBC, and 7.7 million tuned into “The X Factor” on ITV. New media—the social networks—have led to a return to live viewing and people watch and interact with each other at the same time. There is a premium on watching not when you choose but when everyone else is. As the RTS Cambridge Convention concluded earlier this year, we are seeing, as we always have, a process of evolution rather than revolution, or indeed outright transformation.
Our broadcast media make their contribution to the economy both directly and indirectly. They invest in home-grown content—£3.3 billion-worth last year—and while non-PSBs have increased their output by a great deal, the PSBs are responsible for 85% of this investment. The BBC generates for the UK economy the equivalent of £2 of economic value for every £1 of licence fee it receives. In other words, it doubles its money.
The effect of initial BBC spending is multiplied as it ripples through the economy, from region to region and sector to sector. For example, the BBC’s move to MediaCity in Salford and its commitment to developing the media industry in the north of England has been of massive benefit to the economy of that area and to the further regeneration of that part of Greater Manchester. Indeed, what is happening at Salford Quays through ITV, BBC and various start-up digital companies, is helping Manchester to become the biggest digital hub in Europe outside London.
In 2012, Pact, the body which represents the independent production companies, estimates that the sector grew by 16.5% compared with 2011. How many other sectors can claim that? I am sure the Minister will agree that the introduction of tax breaks by the coalition Government for high-end TV and animation has enhanced the potential for economic growth in these sectors. Indeed, Aardman, the creators of Wallace and Gromit, says that it believes that the tax credit for UK animation will be transformational—that it will create thousands of UK jobs and that there will be a long-term financial gain for the UK.
UK programmes and TV formats are increasingly in demand abroad, with television export sales growing to £1.2 billion in 2012, and there are huge prospects for more growth. I was speaking to the chief executive of Pact yesterday. He had just come back from China, where he signed an agreement with Chinese television. However, the thing he was most excited about was being, as he put it, treated like royalty because one of his delegation was the producer of “Sherlock”. More surprisingly, apparently “Downton” is a big hit in China, but there we go.
Our television industries have another effect: they are also valuable as a means of bringing Britain to the world—so-called soft power. Our exported television programmes help deepen knowledge and understanding of the UK, as well as championing British creativity and culture. As the Secretary of State, Maria Miller, said:
“TV reaches the parts that our ambassadors don’t”.
I could not help repeating that joke. According to the Institute for Governance-Monocle soft power index, the UK currently holds the top spot, due in large part to the global reach of British media. I was in Mexico a couple of weeks ago, leading a creative industries delegation. The Mexicans were much more interested in the fact that I worked in British television than my being a Member of this House.
As well as showcasing British culture and creativity, the broadcast media also function as a catalyst for the creative industries as a whole and, as such, is a major contributor to our creative economy. It is an increasingly important sector and is forecast to grow by 31% by 2020. However, for this to happen, it needs the right support. One of the most important things is that we continue to create the creators. In this area, we face not a jobs problem but a skills problem. In a recent report, Creative Skillset identified significant skill shortages across all forms of production and concluded that the competitive future of the UK’s creative industries will be secured only by the industries themselves supporting skills and talent development.
Broadcasters are doing their bit and there are good new schemes—the Sky Academy, for instance—but in hard times, historically, training budgets are too often the first to be cut. The BBC’s investment in the BBC Academy, the branch of its operations through which all training funds are distributed, is a case in point. It is to be cut by 35%. These are not only efficiency savings but a deep cut. It will affect the freelancers that the academy trains as well as BBC staff. Those of us who know the business, know that freelancers are the life-blood of the broadcasting industry. It is also a bad signal to other television companies. I fear the response will be: “The BBC is cutting; so can we”. Therefore, does the Minister not agree with Creative Skillset that investment and training should be an obligation, particularly for PSBs?
Another area in which the industry disappoints is diversity. I am not just referring to Harriet Harman’s very well made point about the lack of older women on television. The broadcast media simply does not reflect diverse, 21st-century Britain on or off the screens. As Julian Fellowes—the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, I should say—recently said:
“We have got to turn that corner. In 10 years nobody will know what we are talking about. That is what I hope”.
So do I.
There is, however, one area in which great strides forward have been taken, and that is the area of disability. For this we have Channel 4 to thank. It has admirably fulfilled its remit, not least through its spectacular coverage of the Paralympics. Some 11 million people watched the opening ceremony, which was almost a record for them.
Now I come to what cannot have escaped anyone’s notice: the BBC is under attack. It is under attack by the Home Secretary and the chairman of the Conservative Party; even a Dimbleby suggests that the BBC is too big. I prefer the view of another veteran David, Sir David Attenborough, a man who, in my opinion, exemplifies what our broadcasting system—at the heart of which sits the BBC—has allowed to flourish. He recently said:
“The BBC is, in my view, one of the most important strands in the cultural life of this country … and it is going through a bad patch. I just hope that it will emerge from the bad patch ... There are plenty of people with interests which conflict with those of the BBC and will be glad to see the BBC diminished … But what could happen is that it is diminished, or it is so starved of money that it has to abandon many of its public service responsibilities. If it did that, it would no longer be the BBC and that would be a catastrophe for the country”.
These are strong words, but ones with which I agree.
However, what cannot be disputed is that the BBC has been going through a bad patch. There were revelations about unacceptable severance pay-offs to senior executives and £100 million wasted on digital media initiatives. I was an employee of the BBC for 10 years; I know how hard the people who make the programmes work, and for relatively modest salaries. I know how angry they are at the waste of licence fee money, which should be enhancing their budgets, not lining the pockets of those who, in my day at Television Centre, inhabited the sixth floor.
As the Secretary of State has said, however, the problem is about governance, not about the integral worth of the BBC. Under the leadership of director-general Tony Hall—the noble Lord, Lord Hall of Birkenhead—I believe this is being addressed. It is correct that it is he who should be addressing it. The biggest threat to the BBC is interference by government; it belongs to the licence fee payer—the public, not politicians.
The old joke—which noble Lords may not know—that the BBC would be an efficient, well oiled machine if it were not for the pesky programme-makers was always a joke. Events of the past year have proved just what a bad joke it was. The value of the media industry rests on the talents, ideas and achievements of creative individuals. The officer class—as the noble Lord, Lord Hall, recently referred to it—has indeed got out of step and this is not just about remuneration. There are too many layers of management between creator and screen.
To conclude, the broadcast media are a jewel in our crown and arguably the best broadcasting system in the world. Many distinguished contributors to this success story are taking part in today’s debate, and I thank them. A report about to be published by Inflection Point Media on the impact of PSBs on commercial media investment concludes what we can see on our screens. It states:
“The UK broadcast market works. The public and private sectors are competing for audiences but not for funding sources. The result has not led to lower standards and a race to the bottom, but a race to the top—better programmes, creative innovation and growth of the overall economic pie. But it is British creators who underpin the industry”.
Danny Cohen, director of television at the BBC, said:
“Up until now, seniority and status have been related to management and I want to break that link and give greater status to creative people”.
David Abraham, chief executive of Channel 4, has said that the “suits vs creatives” division is effectively “redundant” in television. The noble Lord, Lord Hall, director-general of the BBC, has said:
“I want to build a ladder of opportunity for the talented. I want to open up the BBC to more people—to people from every part of the country—to people from a greater variety of backgrounds”.
They all seem to get it, and now they must act on their words. When the noble Lord, Lord Hall, says he wants to build a ladder of opportunity for the talented, it strikes me that the most important point is that the word “ladder” is singular. We must also, of course, successfully banish the snakes. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, for securing this important debate on the media and the economy. Her own contribution in this area was considerable and at the coalface. I declare an interest in that I work for the BBC and Sky Arts, although as an independent and not an employee, and in the recent past I was employed by ITV. I intend to concentrate on those three organisations. Some of what I say will overlap with what the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, said and what others will say. A feature of these debates is that we tend to share the same statistics.
Overall, I suggest that any fair observer would agree that the UK’s broadcasting media are in very good shape. Their contribution to the economy, across the waterfront, is strong and widely enriching, and there is no sign of a retreat. Perhaps it would not be too bold to suggest that their combination of skills, talent, traditions, grasp of modern technological developments, and success both national and global, sets something of an example to the rest. Broadcasters—part of the creative economy—are big hitters now.
In 2012, the UK television industry generated, directly, £12.3 billion in revenue, with a further £1.2 billion from radio. The sector employs 132,000 people, often with highly specialised skills which are in demand all over the world. More tens of thousands work in dependent industries. Broadcasting alone accounts for more than 6% of the gross added value of the UK economy, and the figure is still growing—and that is without the arts, publishing and advertising.
ITV invests about £1 billion a year in programming, most of it on original UK content. It is understandably at pains to point out that its programmes are provided free to viewers. It is expanding impressively at the moment and, in the global market, is now one of the five biggest indie producers in the United States. ITV has concerns about a legislative framework that it sees as overregulated and overburdening. However, its main story is strong and progressive. Despite the difficult competitive market in the USA and in the UK, where the two big beasts—the BBC and Sky—exercise such a powerful presence, ITV has shrugged off the critics who recently wrote its obituary and is steaming ahead in commercial terms, while still holding to some of its public service values and producing fine television; lately, for instance, outstanding drama.
The BBC is a different case, and so it should be. It is our national template and is in the grain of the country. Despite its current turbulence, it shows good signs under the noble Lord, Lord Hall, of rediscovering its values and its equilibrium, which promises well for its long-term future. I certainly hope so and intend to support it in seeking a secure future. It is not easy to fit the BBC into the framework suggested by the title of this Motion. Profit and public service are not always happy bedfellows, and the BBC is not there to act like a City bank or a FTSE 100 company. The BBC is there to serve the country, which, at its best, it still does superbly well.
It also offers figures that can inform this debate. In 2011-12, the BBC invested more than £1.1 billion of its £2.5 billion content spend in the UK creative sector, including almost £0.5 billion with independent production companies. Almost half of that investment was outside London. I was very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, referred to the Salford experiment, which is already an enormous success.
The BBC is the largest commissioner of new music and new writing in the UK. The corporation plausibly claims that its global services substantially increase the positive feeling that people around the world enjoy of this country. To underline that, BBC Worldwide grew faster than India, with a 5.4% revenue growth in 2011-12. While not strictly comparable with commercial companies, its economic impact is still substantial.
So we come to Sky. Oxford Economics estimates that in 2012-13, Sky contributed a total of £5.9 billion to UK GDP, and that 76% of this revenue was retained in the UK. Sky is one of the country’s largest employers, with more than 24,000 employees. Its activities support 120,000 jobs across the UK. There are 3,700 people in creative and production roles and 3,800 in technology.
From my own experience, I will mention the initiatives that Sky Arts is energetically pursuing on its two channels. It is remarkably ambitious to set up channels devoted solely to the arts, and in a country such as ours the prospects look good. This public service incentive continues in the building of skills studios in four UK cities for young people in our schools; in scholarship schemes to provide mentoring and substantial financial support for young talent in the arts as well as sport; and on television itself. The Sky Academy for sport and the arts, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, is now powering into literally thousands of schools, which benefit greatly from this direct contact with practitioners in the field, especially as it is happening in areas that are increasingly underresourced by government.
In short, broadcasting is one of the most serious, successful and ebullient businesses that we have. But behind all this, to make it happen, we have to nurture our start-up talent. At the moment we do: in many sports, as proved in the Olympics; in the sciences, where in the list of original contributions to world scientific papers we come second only to America and are comfortably ahead of China, which is third; and in the arts, where London vies with any other capital for the crown of the cultural cauldron of the world; and in the rest of the country, until very recently, a thousand flowers bloomed.
In all these examples and more, we prove that we can act with intelligence and distinction. All of them are based on available early disciplines, opportunities and guidance. I would also suggest that the quality of many of the television and radio programmes that we make feeds on our consistently high standards in films, musicals, literature and all the other arts. There is at present a flourishing virtuous circle. It is tempting to think that this is because we have some God-given gift of creativity in the British genes. Not so, I am afraid. What we have had, and still just have, are exceptionally good traditional learning colleges, designated schools and teachers, and several ways of training young people to a high level so that, once well nurtured, their own nature and talent can and do enable them to compete with the best in the world and to prosper, as so many of them are doing.
However, this bedrock, this essential preparatory phase, is threatened by the recent diminution in funding for the arts and the cutting of broadcasting. This funding, initially ushered in by a Labour Government after the Second World War, given great depth by the introduction of the Open University by Jennie Lee in the 1960s and extended lavishly by Administrations both Tory and Labour—especially the previous Labour Government—is now in jeopardy. Grants are being slashed, especially locally, where they are seen as a soft cut. They are often the hardest cut of all. The great drive of music-making in schools has stalled. The pursuit of literature for its own sake among young people, from which so many of our writers benefited, is also at risk in the new curriculum.
We are currently chopping away at the roots and, if we are not careful, there will soon be less and less fruit on the trees. Various broadcasting initiatives, as I have indicated, are seeking to address this, but it is a change in the cast of thought of the Government that is most needed. Only by enabling imagination to be ready for take-off can the creative economy, in which the broadcasting economy plays such a major part, maintain the strong surge that has made it so successful over the past few decades. This has to be done quickly and with vigour. Without the teaching of fundamental techniques, this vibrant part of our economic, cultural and personal life will begin to deteriorate. We must not let that happen—we must not see another great British industry be allowed, for lack of fundamental attention, to sink into decline.
My Lords, it is an incredible privilege for me to stand here today, not least to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, who is without question a broadcasting colossus. It is incredible for someone of my background to arrive in your Lordships’ House but the warmth of the welcome and the advice and wisdom I have had since even before my introduction have been quite extraordinary. As well as the warmth of the welcome from Black Rod and his staff, from the Clerk of the Parliaments—a broadcasting “Mastermind” in his own right and a mine of tremendous information—and all staff, police and everybody around the House, there has been such advice and support, and more than just a little adoration of the Labrador.
I feel moved to speak on this area having been involved in broadcasting for many years through my involvement with the British swimming team, which started when I was still a young man. Having said that, my guide dog is furious that I did not make my maiden speech last week in the debate on cats and dogs.
I must also thank most sincerely my supporters, my noble friends Lord Baker and Lord Deighton, the former always an education, and the latter my boss at LOCOG who so supremely steered us to such a success at last summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games. I also thank noble friends for their wisdom. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to a noble friend and said, “It seems like we are in for a number of votes this evening”. He said, “No, don’t worry: I poked my head into the Chamber and do not think there will be any votes tonight”. I was left thinking, “How long will it take me to gain that wisdom and expertise, to just be able to poke my head in and know that there would be no votes?”. Minutes later, the ringing of the Division Bell gave me my answer.
As I said, when I was a young man I joined the Great Britain Paralympic swimming team and started my connection with UK broadcasters as an interviewee, interviewer and, later, as a presenter and sometime pundit. That started slowly. In Seoul in 1988, when I was 16, there was very little coverage by the broadcasters of the Paralympic Games. Four years later, in Barcelona, there was not much more: just a couple of highlights programmes long after we had come back to these shores. I remember a radio interview in Barcelona after my final race. I got out of the pool; the radio interviewer was in the studio in London so I put the headphones on and could hear him talking. He said, “We are going to Barcelona now to join Chris Holmes. So Chris, tell me what it is like competing in a wheelchair”. I had no time to think at all. I said, “Well, as I can’t see very much, pretty dangerous”.
Fortunately, in the intervening 20 years the expertise and broadcast coverage of the Paralympics has increased exponentially, culminating in last summer’s coverage by Channel 4, to which the noble Baroness has already alluded. That was quite sensational: 150 hours of coverage at Games time, pretty much all day, every day, and much of it live. What a difference that made. As a 16 year-old in Seoul, I could not have possibly imagined that all the UK broadcasters would vie to cover the Paralympic Games in London. It was a superb tender process to be involved with, alongside my noble friends Lord Coe and Lord Deighton. All of them would have done a great job. The reason Channel 4 got across the line was its commitment to promoting Paralympic values, Paralympic sport and the Paralympians, right from the moment it signed the contract. It was sensational, with the largest marketing campaign it had ever engaged in, larger than for More4 or the launch of Film4, and mainstreaming Paralympic coverage through all its flagship programmes, not least Jon Snow’s fantastic championing of the Games on “Channel 4 News”.
Then there was the 90-second film we made with Channel 4, “Meet the Superhumans”. It was absolutely sensational. It aired on 17 July last year simultaneously at 9 pm on 76 UK TV channels. I have to confess that I had no idea that there were 76 UK TV channels; apparently there are, and more; but what a moment for the broadcaster to blast into people’s consciousness. It did such a great job at Games time not just by coverage, but by enabling more people fully to experience the Games through innovations such as audio description, and by half of the on-screen talent being disabled people—ground-breaking stuff.
I knew that we had to sell all the tickets and get large broadcast deals right around the world if we were to put the Games on a new level. Although it would be lovely to have a ticket to sport, people largely consume it through the broadcasters. There were 15,000 lucky ticket-holders on Centre Court for Murray’s final at the All England Club earlier this year; there were 17 million of us on the edge of our sofas roaring him home to victory. The same goes for the Olympic and Paralympic Games: the number consuming sport by the broadcasters was 40 million on Channel 4, 51 million for the Olympic Games on the Beeb. That is the key. Sport has such potential. When it is put through the lens of sports broadcasts, that potential is multiplied by the millions. Take the World Cup in 1966, Wimbledon 2013 and the Olympic Games 2012. What magical moments our sporting memories brought to us by the broadcasters, with the power to inspire, excite, delight and sometimes, just sometimes, with the power—Jesse Owens in 1936, the Paralympic Games 2012—to change us as individuals, as communities, as a country, for the better.
Sport broadcast matters. It matters socially; it matters economically; and sometimes, yes, it matters politically. It has been an unparalleled privilege for me to make my first broadcast to your Lordships’ House. I hope and trust that no noble Lords have had cause to switch channels or turn off. Thank you.
My Lords, it is a great privilege and honour to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on his maiden speech. When I heard that he was coming here, I was not surprised, not only because of his great prowess as a Paralympian and international sportsman but because of his work as a commissioner for the Disability Rights Commission, where I first met him. I recognised then that he was somebody capable of taking issues and driving something forward.
As for his sporting triumphs, if he wore all his medals, he would sink in a pool, he has been so successful. It is quite remarkable. However, I will set a new precedent: I will tell him off slightly while paying tribute to him. Where was he when the Lords were against the Commons swimming last night? My noble friend Lord Paddick won, but he might not have had the noble Lord been there. The noble Lord made a wonderful maiden speech and will make a great contribution in future. He has a grounding in many of the fields that we need in this Chamber. We can look forward to many great contributions from him. I am glad to say that he is my noble friend—certainly at the moment—and I look forward to many of his other speeches. We have a good’un there.
When I turn to the subject of the importance of the broadcasting media to our economy, I have one problem. What part of life in our society is not affected by the broadcast media? None. It is difficult to remove the broadcast media from other parts of our economy. The way we market, the way we access, the way we inform and the way we discuss comes through the media. It is now almost impossible in our society to remove yourself from the broadcast media. Increasingly, they take over virtually all the roles that the newspapers used to have. Indeed, the newspapers are also rapidly becoming part of the broadcast media. How do we define or separate those media in themselves? I come to the conclusion that we cannot.
When we talk about the media, what do we expect to get from them? What contribution do we expect them to make? Once again, those questions run into each other because the entertainment world, which they represent, and the information world are so integrated in everything else. How do we maintain that? As other noble Lords have pointed out—the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, made a great point of this— we must look to the investment in the fundamentals, such as people and technology. The Government clearly have a role here, if only in providing the right training and skills base to be able to invest. If you do not have that skills base and training at all levels, how will we get the technician level—the graduates and trainees—in place to be used? We have another debate on apprenticeships later and we could actually discuss this then. The BBC has been mentioned, and probably will be mentioned again a lot in this debate. How do we have the infrastructure in which there is, for example, that great driving engine to ensure that we have a standard up to which our media have to come?
I cannot see any way in which we could describe the BBC other than as the setter of standards for the broadcast media in this country. It is the control— the thing which we are balanced by. We find ourselves saying, “Yes, this is something to which you must aspire at least to match in terms of quality”. If the BBC is to take on that work, how are we going to encourage the other public service broadcasters, and those pay-per-view broadcasters, to continue to match the investment there and not to live at the sides of it?
The BBC may be under threat. It seems quite fashionable to have a go at it. I would say that it is quite a compliment to the BBC that it has found itself being criticised by Governments of all colours for as long as I have been old enough to remember. Indeed, it is probably the function of the BBC to annoy all Governments. After a period of time, I am sure that it will start to have a go at my own party with even greater vigour. It is primarily a body dealing with news and current affairs. The Government generate, or at least are a key part of, the news and current affairs. If you have 18 years in power, or 13 years in power, you will get criticism from this body. This unique thing that we have created with public money, effectively as a public activity, is going to criticise the Government. We should accept and embrace this. It is a form of self-chastisement that we should be encouraging because it is undoubtedly something that sets us up as a nation and defines us. It allows our economy and our whole society to operate in the way it does, and is a key part of what we do.
When I was preparing things to say for this debate, I thought, “Maybe I will be able to comment on what other people have said and should do some preparation for myself”. I did not realise, coming in at number four, that the three speakers in front of me would strip away so much of what I had prepared to say. I was going to mention sport but the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has managed to arrive in grand style and take away much of what I was going to say about the Paralympics and Channel 4. However, I say this about the broadcast media and sport: when we talk about sport and the economy, it is a huge part of the entertainment economy. It also has a huge effect on the rest of our economy, potentially, in terms of health. There is, for instance, the role of sport in encouraging and embracing participation in sport, both by example—that is, via those who achieve and are the great gods of sport, by getting the medals and the praise in public—and by making it accessible.
At the moment the media have a challenge to try to take all the bits of our sporting culture more seriously. The current battleground seems to be drawn around women’s football, in which the BBC must both take credit for doing stuff and a little blame for being slow. Football is a universal game. As a devotee of rugby union, my having to say that association football is the “universal game” smarts slightly, but it is the truth. If the universal game does not reach that other half of our population we shall always have a bit of a problem in encouraging people to be healthy and active.
Unless we can report women’s football in a manner that gives equal kudos and status and encourages people to get out there, we will not get the investment in the sport that will allow elite performance. This investment would allow athletes to come forward and be at their absolute best in public. We must make sure that comments that they are not taking it seriously enough, that they are not doing this or that, that they are not good enough yet, or that this investment cannot be made, are not taken on board. These athletes are at the top of their game. The media and particularly the public service broadcast media must get in there and encourage others too to make sure that there is no excuse for not allowing that investment. If we make sure that this goes forward, we will start to address that factor in our society and encourage all parts of the media to take this seriously.
The public service broadcasters have the greatest duty. When my noble friend replies, I hope that he will have something to say on this. Women’s football is just the first main example. Other sports will hit other bits of our society. Unless we encourage universal coverage of all aspects of sport, we are not going to get the full benefits from a healthy society. This is one part of the jigsaw and I hope that we will embrace bringing this forward.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, for securing this debate, and I join my noble friend Lord Bragg in saying that she has already covered some of the things that I wish to go over. I am sure that most of your Lordships are aware that I host a programme for the BBC. I do not understand why, but I had best declare an interest before continuing, as part of my speech will focus on the concerns that I have about the BBC.
In order to talk about the future of broadcasting, I wish to visit what has occurred in the past 30 years. In May 1987 I took a phone call from Rupert Murdoch. That phone call resulted in one of the biggest shake-ups in the history of British TV broadcasting. In February 1988, between my then company and News Corporation, the Sky satellite television service was launched. Prior to that, my company was invited to join a satellite consortium known as BSB. I decided against it because I felt that its technical solution of the “squarial” was doomed. After millions were injected into BSB by shareholders, it had to concede defeat. Reluctantly, it amalgamated with Sky, winning one concession only: the new company going forward would be named BSkyB.
From then on, decisions by Murdoch continued to upset the industry applecart by not conforming to established business models. Matters appeared quite alien to the then cosy status of the three main broadcasters. Not the least of these matters was the purchase of the Premier League rights in 1992. Again, it is on the historical record that I played a significant role in BSkyB getting those rights. Since those days we have witnessed the transition of terrestrial broadcasting to digital. We have also seen the failure of ONdigital, an initiative of ITV. We have seen the introduction of digital video reorders that allow consumers effectively to make up their own TV channels and view programmes when they want to.
I apologise if my speech is starting to sound like a potted history of my past involvement, but knowing the background will help noble Lords understand why in 2010 the then director-general of the BBC contacted me to draw down on my experience to salvage the renamed Project Canvas—YouView—a system to deliver live TV via the internet. This company is made up of seven shareholders: the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva. To make a long story short, this important and futuristic venture was a rudderless ship, technically and commercially. After banging a few heads together and managing the expectations of high-profile shareholders, YouView was finally launched in May 2012. Had commercial rationale and realistic technical thought not been applied to YouView, it would have joined the scrap heap of BSB, ONdigital and other failed initiatives.
The BBC, of course, has the technical capability to keep up with technology, but I fear it is unable to compete with the ruthlessness of the commercial market and its competitors, particularly those in the general pay-TV market. It seems hamstrung by external critics constantly referring to the £3.65 billion of licence fee payers’ funds being spent correctly so that consumers get fair value for money. Some of the management and the BBC Trust are fixated on cost cutting to try to appease the critics. In adopting this posture, they will fall behind by taking their eye off the ball and forgetting what their remit is: to provide high-quality, innovative content and entertainment for the British public. The BBC needs to be there at the forefront, competing for content instead of being complacent in accepting that its hands are financially tied.
BT, a newcomer to the TV market, recently demonstrated what consumers need by outbidding ITV and BSkyB for Champions League football. The BBC did not even bother. It just stood there like an envious kid in a sweet-shop, watching the big boys buy the sweets. We are all currently paying approximately £12 per month for our TV licence: 40 pence a day. It will be news to the Deputy Prime Minister that I do pay for my TV licence. By comparison, one can pay up to £55 per month for a BSkyB or Virgin subscription, £25 a month for a mobile-phone subscription, or £20 a month for an internet service. We should look at what we get: 10 brilliant channels of TV, quality news coverage all over the country, a brilliant iPlayer service that delivers three billion downloads per year, a magnificent array of radio stations, and what I consider is the best-in-class informative website. This is exceptional value for money. Incidentally, for every £1 of licence fee income the BBC receives, it generates £2 for the wider economy.
Interestingly, Mr Murdoch once complained during his wooing of the coalition Government that the BBC website was, if you can believe it, “too good” and that it was unfairly affecting his business by using public funds. In other words, the BBC was doing a much better job than his organisation. This resulted in the right honourable Jeremy Hunt, who was then the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, foolishly making noises that the BBC should consider making its website less informative and not spend too much licence fee payers’ money on it. This is one example of the oppression coming from outside influences that has created an organisation whose managers are constantly looking over their shoulders and defending themselves against in some cases ridiculous criticism. For example, the Daily Mail complained that the licence fee payers paid towards a bottle of champagne or a cake to celebrate Sir Bruce Forsyth’s 80th birthday.
Having worked with the BBC for 10 years in my capacity as host of one of its shows, I have seen another side of it, apart from the aforementioned technical side. It is without doubt the best broadcaster in the world. It is very well respected in reaching out to more than 406 million households in its global footprint. It annually generates approximately £700 million of overseas revenue and has created great indirect economic return by enhancing the UK’s reputation overseas, which can stimulate trade and inward investment. We should all be very proud of it, but—I say this very respectfully—it is heavily overstaffed and there are too many jobsworths. The noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, has already mentioned those who used to reside on the sixth floor. I think they are now in the new glass palace in Portman Place. The organisation is not run in a manner in which a commercial organisation should be run.
The BBC Trust is a complete and utter waste of time and should be disbanded, and there is a need for a more commercial approach with an experienced board of directors who are ready to stand up and be counted—and, of course, some independent non-executive directors. Senior management should get bonuses if they perform, and should be fired if they do not. More importantly, government must not be allowed to interfere or to try to influence management. Layers of jobsworths need removing, and the money saved must be thrown into R&D, programming and the ability to bid in a competitive market for other entertainment content and talent. It should not be used to reduce the annual licence fee because, as I have already stated, that is great value for money. All viewing devices in homes are now digital. It is now possible for the BBC to encrypt pay-per-view programmes so that consumers can choose to buy, for example, football or the latest movies. Consider the basic cost of £12. Lots of consumers would be prepared to pay for extra stuff, as demonstrated by the commercial broadcasters.
Noble Lords will hear how passionate—or, perhaps, frustrated—I am about this great institution of ours. I have stated all the positive things that the BBC has achieved. Can you imagine if it ever got commercial? It has a lot to offer the culture of this country, as well as our economy. It must strive to ensure that it remains the main game-changer for the next big thing in television. My dream mission in life would be to commercialise the BBC. One thing I would promise is that there would not be an army of personnel whose sole purpose in life was to appease the BBC Trust, the Daily Mail or government.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a producer/director who works at the BBC in its history and science departments. I thank my former colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, for having procured this debate, and add my congratulations on the splendid maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. I look forward to hearing much more from him.
I have just come back from America, where I have been filming a science special for BBC2 on a comet which, if we are lucky, is going to light up our skies next week. In the early hours one morning, I found myself sitting in an observatory in the hills of Arizona with one of the world’s leading comet watchers. As we sat waiting for the first glimpse of the comet Ison, we got talking. The comet watcher said, “It’s great to have you Brits here filming this great moment for me. Thanks to BBC America, I’m able to watch my news from you guys. I prefer its international agenda but, above all, I like to hear a balance of views on a subject. Everything here is so polarised”. That is a rather self-serving story, but it makes the point I want to make.
Noble Lords have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, about the huge export success of British broadcasting, which is making great inroads into the American market and the emerging Asian markets. Much of that success has been based on the extraordinary creativity of our television industries, but I suggest to your Lordships that this success is also based on the trust in our products that we have built up across the world. That trust is worth its weight in gold—literally. It applies not just to the BBC but to all the main broadcast media in this country, including ITN and Sky, and at its heart is the mandate to be impartial. It means that our programmes can be broadcast across the world, carrying with them a balance of views. This balance resonates into documentaries, history and science programming.
The impartiality of our broadcast media is something that I, as a broadcast journalist, have always taken for granted—I feel it is in my working DNA—but this impartiality mandate is under threat both from technology and from those who say that in the interests of the free market, it is important to end the mandate and allow editorial freedom for our broadcast media. America used to have the fairness doctrine regulating it broadcasters. It required the holders of broadcast licences to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced. That doctrine was abandoned in 1987, apparently overwhelmed by the proliferation of cable television. The chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, Julius Genachowski, said, “The fairness doctrine holds the potential to chill free speech and the free flow of ideas and was properly abandoned over two decades ago”.
Since then, as anybody who goes to America will know, news information on the broadcast media has become increasingly polarised. Shock jocks from both sides of the political spectrum blast out extreme political bile on the radio airwaves, and Fox News gives a right-wing slant to its journalism, while left-wing talk shows, such as “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”, make endless fun of the right-wing agenda and its advocates. The internet allows a plethora of free opinion and voices that are fuelled by this polarised editorial news agenda.
What is the result? America is a land of conspiracy and distrust in any kind of broadcast information. You just have to look at the horrendous and widely believed conspiracy theories about what happened to flight UA93 on September 11, 2001, which claim that the United States Air Force shot down the plane, even though it has been proved repeatedly that the brave passengers overpowered the hijackers to prevent the plane being crashed into the White House. In my view, the polarisation of the media has exacerbated political divisions in that country, so it was no wonder that my comet-watching friend in Arizona paid the higher tariff on his cable package to ensure that he could watch BBC America and British programmes.
Trust must be a crucial cornerstone of our broadcast economy. It fuels our international reputation for excellence. The internet and cable television have allowed an extraordinary range of voices to be heard on numerous platforms. This technology has allowed China Central Television, Russian television and even Iran’s Press TV to be heard across our country. Critics of the impartiality mandate of our broadcast media say that in a new media landscape that allows these numerous other voices to be heard, our mainstream broadcast media should be unyoked from the impartiality constraints imposed on them.
I was at a very interesting seminar last week, attended by a number of noble Lords, discussing plurality in the media. Stephen Hornsby, who is one of this country’s leading experts on media mergers, raised the difficulty of assessing and imposing impartiality in the international broadcast climate of cable TV and access to TV on the internet. Our broadcast media are under attack from politicians, as has been mentioned, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and from free market advocates who claim that they are not impartial and should be open to free market forces. Of course, all journalism has a subjective element—after all, it is witnessed and written by human beings, all of whom have opinions—but the power of an impartiality mandate ensures that other views are heard and that broadcasters have to bear their views in mind when reporting. In a multichannel world, where opinion is easy and facts are hard to come by, never has this emphasis on impartiality and balance in our mainstream media been more important.
The Minister’s department has a consultation paper out at the moment to canvass views on plurality in the media, and one of the questions being investigated is whether the impartiality mandate on our broadcast media should be maintained. Many voices will call for it to be scrapped, but I urge the Minister to realise that in the new world of broadcast media, it has never been more important to maintain impartiality in mainstream broadcasting. It must be a gold standard against which others can be judged. Failing to do so will mean that the economic power of Britain’s broadcast media across the world will be greatly weakened.
My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury for introducing this debate. I would also like to thank so many noble Lords for their welcome. The warmth of the welcome is matched only by the warmth of the heating in this place. The advice and support from the staff has been magnificent, but no surprise for regular visitors over the years. Their politeness has always extended beyond the Members of this House, and for that I thank them.
I am honoured to be here, among so many I have admired for so long. In my years of advising others in the other place, and more recently at No. 10, it was never lost on me that the dirty laundry of legislation was often sent to this place only to be returned washed, starched and neatly pressed. It is a testament to a place where many take their public office and their legislative duties seriously. I share and echo that sentiment.
I would like to thank my two supporters. For me, they will always be friends first and noble Baronesses second. Their advice is invaluable. My noble friend Lady Parminter’s wisdom and steely determination belies her youthful looks; under her watchful eye the green agenda will always be strongly defended. Of course, my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester’s patient explanation of affirmative resolution procedures has been something to behold over the years and is an experience not to be missed by any noble Lord.
I would also like to thank my party, the Liberal Democrats. However often I tried to escape, I returned with one more project or task to complete, most recently as the Deputy Prime Minister’s director of communications, or in the 1990s as my noble friend Lord Ashdown’s. My party has given me a great career with fascinating work, inspirational people to work with, and achievements in government which make me proud.
I am sure, like me, most will have received a great deal of advice about when and how to do a maiden speech, most of it contradicting the previous piece of advice. Normally, Thursday seems like an excellent day—not too many people—but the names that are down to speak today are, to a new Peer, like the A-list of broadcasting, and suddenly a debate on a Thursday feels like something in the full glare of the media spotlight. But our UK broadcast media deserve that spotlight. They are unique in quality, partly because of the careful balance we have between our public service broadcasting and commercial—and also because of the expectation in law of impartiality, put so well recently by Alastair Stewart, referring to just one day’s controversial coverage being produced,
“as impartially and objectively as we could, with as much balance as we could muster. That, because we have to, in law; but, also, it was because that is how we, who work at ITV News, want to do it … It is our cause and our calling”.
As director of communications for Shelter I always understood the special role that broadcast media can play in holding those who are in power to account on behalf of those most left out of power, like homeless people. More recently, the “Question Time” I was on last week, with only three people on the panel, was described in the Daily Mail as the worst “Question Time” ever. Whether that makes me uniquely qualified is probably something best left. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, who was stuck on a train and answering questions on Twitter, was sorely missed on that panel.
This debate necessarily starts with the record we have in public service broadcasting, of which the cornerstone is the BBC. BBC Worldwide is the largest TV programme distributor outside the major US studios, and its impact on the reputation of the United Kingdom overseas is one which increases our ability to trade worldwide and way beyond broadcasting. My noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter’s timing for this debate is perfect, following the amazing weekend marking the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who”. Simulcast in 94 countries, setting a Guinness world record, with record-breaking figures in America, it was event TV drama at its best, delivered around the globe. That thrill of seeing all the Doctors saving Gallifrey is something my eight year-old son will remember until the 100th anniversary.
However, 50 years ago, even if all the noble Lords in this place had popped into the TARDIS—because, remember, it is much bigger on the inside—and travelled back in time and explained the revolution that was coming in broadcast, digital and online content, not even the first Time Lord would have believed it. Even the changes since this sector was last regulated 10 years ago have been revolutionary and the need to update that regulation, but with flexibility, must be coming soon. Thanks in part to that revolution, we now have a creative industry sector in the UK economy providing over 130,000 jobs and over £13 billion pounds in revenue from television and radio combined, delivering both jobs and growth.
In particular, broadcast media has had an effect on the growth of SMEs in the creative sector around the UK. In 2012, Channel 4 alone spent over £150 million on production companies outside London. Levels of innovation and investment are growing. With a publisher/broadcaster such as Channel 4 there to create and innovate, the UK’s independent production sector has grown from strength to strength. Where else in the world would there be a channel which has a statutory remit to experiment and innovate so that it comes up with a programme of people watching TV programmes, makes up a name like “Gogglebox” and then sells it to the Chinese?
Commercial radio, television and new media all add to the mix and create the maelstrom of diversity of ownership and strength of competition that guarantees a vibrant part of the UK economy. Unleashing broadband, especially in rural areas, investing in DAB, giving local radio access to the right kind of digital infrastructure and balancing up the competing needs of different broadcasters from different platforms are all urgent challenges in this area. Fifty years from now, when many more celebrate the 100th anniversary of “Doctor Who” with a new Time Lady, rather than Lord, in the TARDIS, I hope that we will be able to celebrate the continued unique balance of UK broadcasting.
My Lords, it is my very real privilege to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, as well as the amusing and assured earlier contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. The noble Baroness brings to this House wide experience of the charity and corporate sectors, but she is best known as a long-standing, dedicated and loyal servant of her party. All parties have their ups and downs and their trials and tribulations, but the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, has emerged unscathed and widely respected within her party and beyond, not least for her famous and skilful handling of her one-time party leader, the formidable noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. I recall that she was the head of communications for her party in 1997 when my task was to ensure that the general election coverage was properly fair and impartial to all parties; I can only hope that she brings no grudges to the House. The noble Baroness’s maiden speech today showed that she will bring to our deliberations real wisdom, knowledge and wit.
We thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, not for the first time, for her tireless championing of public service broadcasting and for her sage comments earlier today on the BBC. I also note the frank but loyal critique of the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, baring everything but his own tattoo, of the BBC. Today, however, I shall speak to the Motion more generally.
The contribution to the UK economy of our creative industries in general and of our broadcasters in particular is simply incalculable. Every nation must surely start with an equal measure of natural talent and many countries around the world excite, engage and entice us with their cultural endeavour. However, few, and perhaps none, reach our heights in so many different creative fields. Heston is a global kitemark for cutting-edge cuisine. Monty Python will shortly fill the O2 Stadium for five nights, launching their new venture this week with the characteristically cheeky slogan, “One dead, five to go”. Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Francis Bacon are collected the world over. James Bond and Harry Potter are global brands. ITV’s Mr Bean is instantly recognised in China. Our popular music has been among the world’s most inventive for 50 years and our classical music scene is unsurpassed. Our comic, eccentric and very British superhero, Doctor Who, who rightly has been much mentioned today, reached 50 last Saturday with a near-simultaneous broadcast in 94 different countries, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, mentioned. Nothing like that has ever happened before.
Our advertising industry has long led the field for imagination. No other country matches British theatre for consistent quality. Try the incredibly bold and ambitious “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” or Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”—a delicious treat that I strongly recommend for your Lordships’ grandchildren. Our designers and our architects, our arts craftsmen and craftswomen, attain extraordinary heights. Tech City thrives in east London. In west London last week I spent a wonderful half day as the guest of BBC Future Media. If there is any other large concentration of creative technologists working on such spellbinding, groundbreaking ventures on such a scale, anywhere else in the world, I would like to know about it.
We succeed creatively in the UK because we have developed over a century the right mix of funding, regulation and institutions—for example, our art colleges, the Arts Council, or our national theatre, opera and dance companies, and, of course, the triumph of the BBC, much mentioned today, whose proud director-general I once was. Every area of creativity in the UK feeds off every other. Each draws strength and inspiration from the vitality of every other part. Broadcasting is a vital, binding ingredient of that intoxicating mix. The sheer exuberance of the UK’s all-round creative endeavour is evident the world over and brings both direct and indirect economic benefits.
When I worked as Tony Blair’s strategy adviser at No. 10, I led inter alia a strategic study on London and the south-east, the very engine house of the UK economy. Our work identified, unsurprisingly, that London is a magnet for some of the world’s best talents, including in the powerful financial and business services sectors. Equally unsurprisingly, we uncovered a key factor that draws top talent to London: that city’s sheer cultural vitality. In critical ways our creativity is our national spark, which infuses and enriches the whole of our lives. We must do everything that we can to maintain it.
My Lords, it is a daunting task to follow the noble Lord, Lord Birt, in this debate. However, I crave the indulgence of your Lordships’ House to make my maiden speech. In doing so, I will perhaps draw the House’s attention north from London and the south-east towards the north of England and Scotland.
I am conscious that many maiden speeches have been made in recent weeks, including in this debate. I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and to my noble friend Lady Grender; I associate myself with the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Birt, in paying rich tribute to her maiden speech. I have been a poor pupil of media training by my noble friend Lady Grender; participation in this House was perhaps not a topic on our agenda. However, there is a perverse pleasure in seeing her now having to tackle the tough questions on behalf of her party.
The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, whose contribution I am greatly looking forward to, gave me a very kind gift of Welsh whisky this week. I am avoiding mentioning the topic of independence, which was raised in Questions earlier, but it is fair to say that, with my taste of a good Scottish lowland malt and with her kind gift of Welsh whisky, we are truly Wales and Scotland better together and less sociable apart.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this important debate and to speak for the positive impact that broadcasting has on the economy, culture, community and creativity of the borderland. The dedicated BBC office in Selkirk and the ITV franchise of Border Television may not have a national capacity, which has drawn the attention of many noble Lords in this debate today, but they have a fiercely loyal audience. Indeed, when considering share of audience for the early evening news bulletin, research in 2012 showed that Border News had a 38% share, higher than any other franchise across these islands. That is more than three times that of ITV in London, with its 12% share.
As a viewer of Border Television all my life, I know why. It is because the borderland area and its people, businesses, culture, history and communities are not easily represented by the large cities north or south of the border. Ofcom and ITV carried out research in advance of the renewal of the Channel 3 licence. In response to some, including the Scottish Government, who preferred an all-Scottish franchise, it concluded that news and coverage should,
“cover events with Border Scotland viewers at the heart of our thinking and would be rooted in the experiences and lives of people living in the border region. The programming would not view Scottish matters through a ‘Central Belt’ prism but rather from the perspective of people living in southern Scotland”.
I am glad that they made that decision. With further digital technological changes coming in January, we will look forward to a further enhancement of service.
Those of us who have had the very good fortune to have been born on the border, those wise enough to have made the borderland their home, or those, like my noble friend Lady Grender, canny enough to have married into it know that the border area is unique. I am sure that many noble Lords know it well and that they, as I, will appreciate north Northumberland and the Borders, with the crown of the Cheviot and Eildon Hills crossing the two kingdoms, adorned with jewels of towns. The silvery thread of the Tweed ties these two nations together, with many proud and distinct communities on its route. I was born at its mouth and had the honour to represent its source.
It has not always been easy to describe the intricacies of the names and places of our area. I was part of a delegation to Boston as the proud MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale. The Speaker of the Massachusetts State Assembly introduced me to that august body. He looked at my name and constituency, looked at me, looked at his colleagues and introduced me as “Jimmy Purve from Twiddle, Ettick and Louder”.
A former Member of your Lordships’ House and a fellow parliamentarian from the Borders had no such difficulty. Lord Tweedsmuir, known widely simply as John Buchan, gave perhaps the best description of the border folk. I am grateful to a good friend who gifted me his memoirs in advance of my taking my seat in your Lordships’ House. John Buchan described the men and women of the border as having the qualities that,
“I most admired in human nature—realism coloured by poetry, a stalwart independence sweetened by courtesy, a shrewd kindly wisdom”.
Border ballads in our turbulent history offer true witness to those qualities.
I reflect, given the topic of this debate, that when broadcasting is at its best, it also shows those characteristics. I join with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, in that regard and pay tribute to him as a former chairman of Border TV in its heyday and, indeed, to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, who is present, as a former director. In fact, I am fortunate that my supporters in this place know the area well and have a deep affinity with it. I respect and admire the personal and professional mobility of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. It is a particular honour for me to call them “my noble friend” and “my noble and learned friend” respectively. My mum and dad and those from the Borders who attended my introduction know, as do I, that we have much to contribute in this House. I will do no bad job if I follow their lead. Like me, they know that the vibrant broadcasting window in the border area has daily reporting of our news, trade, sport and culture through online and digital platforms. We report what we do in the borderland and reflect on why we do it.
I am conscious that I am the next-to-youngest Member of your Lordships’ House. Another good friend of mine suggested that I may not garner your Lordships’ favour if I presage my speeches in this place with the words, “In all my 39 years”. Indeed, on the day of my introduction, a waiter in one of our restaurants, in checking my pass and making sure that I was, indeed, a Peer, said, “But you are just a baby Lord”. It is a badge of honour that I will wear with pride. I express my sincerest appreciation to all the staff, especially the professional, firm but kindly doorkeepers and security staff. They have made this baby most welcome.
John Buchan was not only rightly proud of the borderland but was also proud of our craft as politicians. I have no better way of concluding than with his words:
“Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to young men”—
to that I add women—
“it is the worthiest ambition. Politics is still the greatest and the most honourable adventure”.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed and his admirable maiden speech. He listed the qualities that John Buchan admired, and we saw exhibited in his speech exactly those same qualities. In my noble friend Lord Purvis we have a formidable political talent in our midst. He started out his career in the office of my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood and went on to become the youngest Member of the Scottish Parliament. It is a tribute to this House that he no longer has such a claim to fame, which shows how things are changing. He worked tirelessly for the campaign to keep Scotland beautiful, clean and green and is now a campaigner for devo-max, although that should perhaps be a subject for another day. Given the speech that we have just heard, and the other maiden speeches we have heard, with one more to come, we can look forward to some very talented new Members of this House keeping us entertained and broadcasting well to the nation.
According to the late, great David Frost, television was an invention that allowed you to be entertained in your living room by people you would not have in your home. I would like to think that those who have tuned into this debate might view it slightly differently as they have heard such a variety of views already from people from very different walks of life who have a lot of interesting things to say. Therefore, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury on instituting such an interesting debate. I also congratulate the two maiden speakers from whom we heard before my noble friend Lord Purvis, as I mentioned.
I wish to concentrate my remarks on soft power, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, particularly the soft power exercised by the BBC World Service. The World Service reaches 192 million people weekly and broadcasts in 28 languages. It is the most phenomenal asset for any country to have, wins friends not just for the BBC but for Britain and is truly an example of soft power at its best. When Aung San Suu Kyi was here last year, she referred to the difference that the BBC World Service had made to her life in captivity. Her unfortunate obsession with Dave Lee Travis—as some might say—did perhaps engender more attention than it should have done, but it was the World Service which kept her going.
We should make the most of what the World Service has to offer. I am particularly keen that we should listen to a point of view put by Claire Bolderson, who spent 26 years working for the World Service and the BBC. She has come up with what I think is a brilliant idea. She wants to know why we do not take all those language services and put them on digital radio in this country. Why can we not reach out to those people who are not first-language English speakers and let them hear the news in their own languages? Not only would we endear them to the BBC but perhaps we might make them feel part of the UK. Perhaps we could infiltrate those communities rather more than we are doing now through the good offices of the BBC World Service. The content is there—it would not need to be altered very much. I would love to see some moves made in that direction. One BBC insider said, “The Swahili service will have to take its chances against ‘Strictly Come Dancing’”. I have to say that I do not think that the World Service should have to take its chances against “Strictly Come Dancing”. I would not perhaps put my views in entirely the same language as the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, but I think that public service broadcasting might do better by doing less.
We have so many different broadcast channels now. I am not convinced that the BBC needs to be deeply involved in reality TV any longer as plenty of others are more than capable of doing that. However, that is not at all to undermine the success of our programmers. We are very lucky to have some of the best programme makers in the country making their work here and enticing others to do so and, of course, that generates huge sales abroad. I gather that “Titanic”—the series made by my noble friend Lord Fellowes, who gave us the wonderful “Downton Abbey”—was sold to 86 countries before it had been broadcast anywhere. That tells you a lot about what reputation can do for you, and in particular the reputation of the programming that goes on here. Our TV exports now reach sales of £1.25 billion a year—a phenomenal contribution to the economy.
However, beyond that, broadcasting is now bringing us a very local economy, too. It is marvellous that another 56—I think—local TV channels are coming along. These will reinvigorate local democracy and will take over where local papers, in many cases, have failed to do what they used to do—that is, keep people up to date with what is going on in their locality. In London we are very lucky to be served by a daily paper that is a genuine newspaper, but in many parts of the country that is no longer the case, not even on a weekly basis. It is a danger to local democracy if local politics is not being covered properly. We should look to these new local television stations to fill that gap and I have every confidence that they will.
Broadcasting now covers such a vast range of media. YouTube did not exist a decade ago and yet today 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. It is hard to envisage what that really means. It is a part of the broadcasting media that no one could have imagined 10 years ago. As we have already heard, BT Sport has scooped the pool when it comes to football rights, yet a couple of years ago BT Sport meant nothing to anybody. I do not know whether the price that it paid for the relevant rights is the right one, but it will certainly shake up the world of sports viewing. However, I do know that in what used to be the International Media Centre down at the Olympic park, BT Sport now has the most phenomenal set of state-of-the-art studios with the best technology. It is in there working at least two years ahead of the schedule that the owners of the park thought would be possible. Broadcasting is a fast-evolving world.
There is one aspect of broadcasting which, however, has not yet featured in this debate. Taking a deep breath, I shall mention advertising. There are some who view the advertising as an opportunity to nip to the kitchen and put on the kettle. However not everybody shares that view. The attention that has been paid to the Christmas advertising from Marks & Spencer and John Lewis is an indication of the fact that advertising is an art form. In Britain, we have some of the best creative work in advertising anywhere in the world. Anybody who has watched American television for any length of time will know that the standard of advertising there leaves a lot to be desired.
The Advertising Association published research which shows that every pound spent on advertising benefits GDP by £6. Who am I to query statistics published by the Advertising Association,although it may have a certain axe to grind? Nevertheless, advertising is a very creative part of our economy, and when we look at broadcasting as a whole, we should not forget the contribution that advertising makes.
My Lords, I am delighted to join this debate and thank the noble Baroness for introducing it. She and I have spoken in broadcasting debates before and I did therefore wonder where we were going with this one and why. It did not take long for me to appreciate how important and timely such a debate is, because the broadcasting landscape is changing so fast and so significantly in a world obsessed, indeed saturated, with images and sounds. You cannot get away from the plethora of broadcasting. There is almost no arena of human activity that is not now available to be seen, recorded, distributed and repeated on a multitude of platforms, now including Netflix, which is transmitting on the internet. We shall be facing far more of that in the future. It is also interesting that the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, referred to my conducting “Question Time” on a train. Having been marooned in the Midlands by a fire on the track, I was unable to be present in the BBC studio and so, along with another colleague who was absent from the programme, we began tweeting our own “Question Time”. Broadcasting is everywhere.
I shall confine my observations to reports from particular corners of a broadcasting life—my own life—and allow other people to make broader deductions and generalisations. I am involved in programmes made by the independent sector, specifically Sky and Classic FM, and I am involved in television and radio programmes made by the BBC. At close range I can smell the difference, I can sense the mood and I can sense the panic, so I offer a few personal observations. Last night the Commercial Broadcasters Association, CoBA, published its report Building a Global TV Hub. This was an enormously buoyant, upbeat picture of commercial broadcasters’ achievements and gave some indication of the future of a more mixed global economy. The non-PSB sector now accounts for 18% of all investment in UK television commissions. It has doubled its UK employment offer over the past decade. It has increased commissioning of independent producers by nearly 50% in the past year, and this sector is now worth £5 billion in turnover per year. It now invests £623 million pounds a year in UK television content, up nearly 30% over the past three years. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the direction of travel. This is an enormously thrusting and confident sector, striking success after success, at least in its public records, in what it is aiming to achieve and has already achieved so swiftly in such a short time.
My own experience is at Sky, where I find a company committed to its burgeoning channel, Sky Arts. I cite the statistics mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bragg, because again it is the direction of travel that is so impressive. Sky makes a growing contribution to the country’s GDP, a total of £5.9 billion in 2012-13. It has 24,000 employees, 3,700 of whom are working in creative and production roles. That is the bedrock of the creative talent of which so many people have spoken. These enormously buoyant and confident statistics were, I think, compiled before the recent sport contract fell to BT, but there, in BT, is another eager and ambitious newcomer to the broadcasting scene. Sky invests £2.5 billion each year in programming news, sport, entertainment and movies. It is moving towards a target of spending £600 million annually on UK commissioning and production by the end of 2014, an increase of more than 50% since 2011. Again, we should notice the direction of travel.
This year Sky announced a new commitment to British drama, with 20 new plays to be aired before the end of 2014. Currently, I am taking part in a Sky Arts initiative to bring art into people’s lives by holding a series of competitions for the portrait artist of the year. That has travelled to cities around the country, inviting the public, who came in great numbers, to the recordings of the programmes.
However, audiences for Sky remain comparatively small—tiny by any BBC standard. Its most popular channel, Sky Sports, has or had an audience share of just 2%. Compare that to the audience share of the BBC’s most popular channel, BBC1, which is around 20%. My noble friend Lord Sugar drew attention to the fact that we get the BBC for 40p a day. Subscribers to Sky know how much they are paying for far less on offer.
In my experience of these two sectors, the BBC is different. It is a mighty giant of broadcasting, in this country and beyond. Many people have paid tribute to it; I should like to add my word. The sheer length of its existence, the depth of its tradition and the towering level of its achievements make it central to the country’s culture. Its skill base is a lodestar for the entire industry. It sets the benchmark for originality. It is a great beast, but a wounded beast. The BBC is living in a state of fear and anticipation of what the future will hold for it.
The BBC licence fee is £145.50, up by just £10 since 2007, and frozen until 2017. Its income in 2011 was just short of £5 billion: £3.5 billion from that licence fee and almost £1.5 billion from BBC Worldwide, an institution that, to many of us, seemed to take a long time to get going, but which is now, as a wholly owned commercial subsidiary, doing incredible things around the world. However the BBC is suffering the eighth consecutive year of cuts. By the end of the current BBC charter, a further 20% will have been taken from its budget. My experience is that Radio 3, which I know well, is suffering badly.
In the public’s eye, the BBC has been seriously damaged by three things: the wasted digital money, the Savile scandal and those excessive retirement payments. However, those are moving into the past. Not only has the BBC extended its own reach virtually to breaking point with the Salford experiment, BBC Three, BBC Four and many enterprises where the creative people who want to see the organisation expand are reaching out, but it is carrying the burden of many responsibilities that are government-imposed, making demands on its corporate capacity.
In 2010, it took on an extra £340 million of spending commitments, including the move to digital, the funding of the World Service, BBC Monitoring and the Welsh channel S4C. In creative circles within the BBC, budgets are being squeezed and squeezed. Researchers now find their time doled out in half days, working on one programme and then another. Producers draw from their own pockets to provide minimal hospitality, which, as we know, once used to be very generous in the BBC, although that is no longer so. First-class travel is over; chauffeur-driven cars hardly exist. That is fine, but the BBC faces huge decisions about its funding crisis and it needs friends. It has enemies, and those enemies are voluble. James Murdoch, in his MacTaggart lecture, called for the BBC to be dismantled. According to research carried out on behalf of BECTU and the NUJ, it is estimated that the cuts will reduce the BBC’s GVA—gross value added—by around £1.1 billion by 2016. The cuts are damaging.
The BBC is unrivalled as a world brand, it is woven into the identity of the country, and it is part of the flourishing culture that we see all around us and which others have mentioned. The BBC will need friends in the years ahead.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for initiating this debate and for allowing me the opportunity to make my first contribution to proceedings in your Lordships’ House, presenting me with the occasion to express, most sincerely, my thanks for the warmth of the welcome I have received from noble Lords on all sides of the House. I thank, in particular, my supporters, my noble friends Lord Roberts of Llandudno and Lady Randerson, for their friendship and guidance, and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Barker, for her unstinting patience. I also thank all members of staff, whose professionalism and attention to detail ensured that the day of my introduction was enjoyable and problem-free.
As someone who has always had the most appalling sense of direction, one of the greatest challenges that this place has posed for me is finding my way around its corridors. It will be no surprise, therefore, that my grateful thanks go to my noble friends, the doorkeepers, the police, the attendants and the security guards, who have all pointed me in the right direction with patience and humour on too many occasions.
It would be remiss of me to make my first speech in your Lordships’ House without reference to the area that I come from and the contribution that our small community in the rural part of Conwy county in north Wales has already made to these Benches. Many of your Lordships may recall Lord Thomas of Gwydir, who graced these Benches until his death in 2008. As a Member in the other place he became the first Conservative Secretary of State for Wales, and later made a significant contribution to the proceedings in your Lordships’ House.
Like Lord Thomas of Gwydir, my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno is immensely proud of the roots that his family has in my home town of Llanrwst. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, of Nant Conwy, who sits on your Lordships’ Cross Benches, was also born and brought up in that part of the Conwy Valley. Our small community is rightly proud of the sons it has sent to this Chamber, and I am privileged to tread, however lightly, in their footsteps.
As is customary in one’s maiden speech, my input into your Lordships’ debate on the contribution of the broadcast industries to the UK economy will be succinct, and I will restrict my comments to aspects of the broadcasting industries in Wales.
Noble Lords will have seen the report by Deloitte on the impact that spending by the BBC has on the economy. As is the case in other parts of the UK, this investment has a similar result in relation to gross added value in Wales. For every £157 spent by the BBC in Wales, there is a gross added value of £276.
During the past few years, the BBC has embarked on a strategy of moving out of London and investing in creating centres of excellence in other parts of the country. My noble friend has already referred to the investment made in Salford, but perhaps the investment by the BBC in Wales will be a little less well known. Programmes such as “Doctor Who”, “Merlin” and “Sherlock” and many others have been produced in Cardiff over a number of years but they are now produced in the BBC’s new drama facility in the recently built drama village at Roath Lock in the Porth Teigr, or Tiger Bay, area of Cardiff Bay. The drama studios there are the length of three football pitches, and more than 600 actors, camera operators and technicians are employed there—all, of course, contributing to the local economy.
In an innovative move, we have recently seen joint commissioning between BBC Wales, BBC Four and S4C of a new drama series, “Y Gwyll/Hinterland”, which has been filmed in both English and Welsh. It has just finished its first run on S4C in Welsh and will be seen on BBC Wales and BBC Four in English next year. The series has already been sold to Denmark.
I hope that noble Lords will allow me one more reference to rural Conwy as I seek to explain its relevance to this debate. Over 62% of the inhabitants of rural Conwy speak both English and Welsh. As well as the two languages giving us “two windows on the world”, they give us a number of choices: we choose which language we use for conversation, education and religion, and we choose which language we use to receive radio and television broadcasts.
Our main sources of Welsh language broadcasts are Radio Cymru and the Welsh television channel, S4C. About 100 members of staff are employed by the BBC in Bangor and Wrexham in north Wales and, through its role as a commissioner of programmes, S4C spends its £76 million of direct funding from the BBC through BBC Cymru and, most importantly, through independent producers. S4C, will, I believe, continue to be funded from the BBC licence fee, and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that.
I am sure that noble Lords will agree that S4C plays a vital role in broadcasting to Welsh-speaking communities. Along with all other aspects of broadcasting throughout the UK it contributes to cultural and creative activities, and provides educational, training and employment opportunities both in local communities and in a national context.
The BBC has undoubtedly been through a difficult period and it is right and proper that the questions it has faced have had to be answered. But I hope that that will not detract excessively from the positive impact that its work has on all of us in the UK, whichever language or languages we speak.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be the first Member of this House to be able to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, on her excellent maiden speech. She brings a characteristic lilt to her remarks, which simply enhances the basic sense and commitment of everything she says. She said that she suffered from an appalling sense of direction, but her career is the contradiction of that. She has been entirely consistent in her commitment to public service, both in the Welsh Assembly and in the Liberal Democrat party. We are delighted to see the noble Baroness in this House and her contribution will be invaluable.
We have heard other very good maiden speeches, which is important, but I shall mention one speaker in this debate who is far from being a maiden speaker—the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. He is a consummate broadcaster. I was listening to him dealing with a slightly difficult topic on Radio 4 this morning: the evolution of the microscope. He had a number of scientists in the studio with him and one of them insisted on conducting an experiment during the programme. It consisted largely of handing round a metal bar which people tried to twist in different directions. I could see the noble Lord dealing with the inherent challenge of this event—this was radio, not television. He fastened upon the most perfect phrase when he said to the scientist involved, “Hold it up to the microphone”, which was a wonderful combination of radio and television.
Like a number of Members of this House, I have had some difficulty in deciding what interests I should declare. Suffice to say that in one form or another I have been involved in broadcasting virtually from university to the present time—first, as a broadcaster myself. Given the subject of this debate, I recall my first programme on BBC television, which was the “Money Programme”. I was on it from its second edition and was taken aside and told that there was a problem with “money”—not the money that I would receive but the programme’s name: the fear of the governors that it was somehow unseemly to spend too much time discussing money. Other titles were suggested by the governors—one was the “Industry Programme” and the other was the “Export Programme”. Fortunately, neither was adopted and we settled for the “Money Programme”. Broadcasting certainly makes a huge amount of money for Britain.
My other involvements illustrate some of the diversity of this debate. I worked in the European Commission for five years, in charge of media, particularly broadcast media. I currently chair a digital television production company called CTN and Havas Media in the UK, where online advertising is now by far our fastest-growing sector. That demonstrates a central feature of our subject, and maybe a problem with it. Broadcasting is no longer a phrase which in itself adequately describes the diversity and creativity of the communications revolution. The most dramatic growth, for example, in the BBC’s global news audiences this year was in the number of young people around the world using mobile phones to receive programmes, and 1 billion page views of the BBC’s international website were achieved in one month. Looking at the overall picture, British consumers spend one in every 12 working hours online, and advertising on mobile phones exceeds £1 billion. That is just a part of the terrain.
I had a classic illustration of that last week. Archbishop Tutu of South Africa was in our CTN studios. It was not a broadcast in the formal sense of the word, but it was instantly transmitted to a conference audience of 10,000 in the United States and to several other conferences. It also immediately went on YouTube, where it has access to a potential audience of millions of people. How would we describe this? Of course, it is broadcasting, narrowcasting, webcasting and social media. We are at the start of a major revolution—only at the very start. I can see no real limitations on the way in which it will go. As we are having this debate, just down the road in Millbank, an interesting announcement was made by the Government about setting up a creative media sector task force, looking particularly at the role of SMEs in the creative industries. The figures given at that conference for the value of the creative industries as a whole are profound. Will the Minister comment on what the task force might achieve in the areas that we have been debating today?
I will make two final points, one about opportunity and the other about responsibility. First, on opportunity, I have spent a number of years involved with the cause of the English language abroad, particularly as chairman of the English-Speaking Union. To an astonishing extent our first language has become the world’s second language, which gives us a huge advantage. The BBC broadcasts in 27 languages, but by far its most powerful instrument is the English language itself, and the accessibility of the world to it. It is a great opportunity.
My second point is about responsibility. The BBC, as we all know, does not only sell programmes or indeed, services around the world; it stands for certain values, which have been referred to in the debate. They include impartiality, accuracy, credibility and freedom from government control. These are fundamental characteristics. When I joined the BBC in the early 1960s, in a very dilapidated office in what was Lime Grove Studios, I knew that I could pick up my telephone and ring virtually anyone I wanted around the world and get an interview with them simply because I represented the BBC. The power of the brand was immense. Today, that brand has been jeopardised, and the tragedy is that it is effectively an own goal. The jeopardy has come from scandal and, as other noble Lords have commented, from quite grotesque executive settlements and payouts.
A line has been drawn under that, and we all wish the noble Lord, Lord Hall, the very best in his new leadership of the corporation and in the challenges he faces. He and we must always remember that even in this multichannel, interactive, digital world, virtue remains the key licence for broadcasting.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter for initiating this debate today and I congratulate those who made their maiden speeches. They have all demonstrated a wealth of knowledge and a deep understanding of broadcasting across the United Kingdom. I declare that I am chair of Audio Visual Arts North East, which holds an international biennial audio-visual arts festival across the region.
We have heard today that the big picture is very impressive. Whatever measure we use, be it contribution to GVA, revenue raising, jobs created, export of programming or the success of BBC Worldwide, they all say the same thing—that a good job is being done, that quality is high and that our broadcast media justify the enormous degree of confidence that the general public has in them. It is all very evident.
I am not one of those who challenges the BBC licence fee, and for two reasons: the BBC gives excellent value for money, as we have heard, and almost everyone in the UK uses the BBC at some time or other during the year—some 96%. I cannot think of a better system which would preserve the BBC’s independence and guarantee the quality and reach of its programming.
A few weeks ago I took part in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the National Theatre on the South Bank. It was wonderful to be able to join in—even more so as I did it from my armchair in my sitting room, courtesy of the BBC. It was an occasion of national importance which used the power of television to bring it to a wider audience. Perhaps it was the camera angles, maybe it was the number of cameras, but viewers could feel that they were present, rather than just looking in on someone else’s event.
Over the summer I attended other cultural events. I attended the Proms a number of times this year—three in the Albert Hall and all the others in my sitting room—courtesy of the BBC, be it BBC4, BBC2, BBC1 or Radio 3. A couple of weeks ago I went to the cinema to see “Philomena”, a quite excellent film, and the credits on the film informed me that BBC Films had had an involvement in its financing. I went in August twice to the Edinburgh Festival and saw and heard many things—but I saw and heard more on BBC radio and television than I could in Edinburgh. My point is that the broadcast media can fill schedules with content from such a festival; the festival gains from the air time; and the broader public, who are unable to attend, can be part of it. That is what the BBC does so very well.
Returning to the National Theatre, while I was watching the 50th anniversary celebration I began to wonder why it was that I could be linked to it but not be linked from my home television to all the National Theatre’s stage productions. I understand that there are good commercial reasons why that should not be the case and that delay might be necessary. I attend the theatre a great deal but I have been to the National Theatre in London only a few times. I have attended many more National Theatre productions at the Theatre Royal Newcastle because that is where I live. That means, of course, that I miss most National Theatre productions.
I accept that I am limited by geography from attending, just as most people across the UK are. Obviously I am limited by time and cost as well, which is why I have been much encouraged by the success of National Theatre Live cinema broadcasts. These performances, not only by the National Theatre, are still limited in number and occasion. For example, although I would have liked to have seen the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Richard II” recently at the cinema, I have not been able to, but at least the RSC has other productions planned for 2014. The advantage of this system is that cinema seats are filled, audiences are created and audiences share the experience of the production even if they are not where the stage is. There is a process under way now which can only grow in scale and so make national productions of high quality more accessible to people the length and breadth of the UK.
That is right for publicly-funded national producing theatres but what about other publicly-funded producing theatres? There have been some examples of broadcasting in cinemas, which is encouraging, but living in Newcastle upon Tyne I often look at the programming in other parts of the country and wish I could see them. The impracticalities of doing so are obvious, but what is to stop the Arts Council working with the BBC to commission many performances from producing theatres outside London and Stratford for broadcast, either live in cinemas or on television, at a later date once live performances are over?
There is a next logical step in all of this. If the Arts Council and the BBC were to do this, it would help investment regionally; it would reduce a little the serious imbalance that exists in Arts Council funding between London and the rest of the country; and it would also bring quality productions to a much wider audience.
I am glad that by 2016 the BBC will have increased its network services programming spending outside of London to 50%. That is certainly progress and I pay tribute to Peter Salmon and his colleagues in BBC North for the work they are doing to broaden the reach of BBC commissioning and programming.
I recognise the work of other broadcasters. It is good that Channel 4 commissions all its content from the independent sector and now has a growth fund to develop that further. I hope a priority can be given in that to parts of the UK which are outside London. It is good, too, that ITV has 35% of its programming from outside the M25, and the higher it can get that through investment outside London the better it will be for the economic growth and vitality of the areas it invests in.
For that is what broadcasting is. It is a key part of our economy—130,000 jobs, £12 billion in revenue and 3% of our GVA. The trouble is that the GVA created by broadcasting is markedly different by UK nation or region. Let us take as an example BBC expenditure in 2011-12. According to the latest figures provided by the House of Lords Library, London has expenditure of £3 billion out of a total UK spending of £4.3 billion. We should note that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have £425 million, and all of England outside London only £656 million. English regions are, in truth, the poor relations in comparison to London. For example, the whole of the north—including Yorkshire, the north-east and the north-west—has expenditure of only £203 million. If we add to this the fact that Arts Council England spends most of its money in London, whichever way one looks at the figures, the truth is that there is an enormous imbalance in spending between London and the rest of England, be it Arts Council direct funding, the lottery, DCMS or private sponsorship. London’s gravitational pull is understandable as a national provider but it needs positive interventions to enable others areas, which may be more dependent on local government funding, to succeed as well.
The imbalance is recognised by the Arts Council, which has committed itself to spending more in the regions and has asked to be judged on outcomes in two years’ time. I welcome that commitment but I hope, too, that it might be possible for the BBC and the Arts Council to have a standard policy of commissioning more programmes from outside London, either to stream live or to broadcast productions and performances at a later date, as I have suggested.
I hope the Minister will take these suggestions on board and look at ways in which greater balance across the UK can be achieved in broadcasting investment in order that our cultural richness can be widely shared.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, for initiating the debate and for her constant and passionate support for the arts.
I do not know whether or not it was organised but it was interesting that the opening and closing speeches reflected two of the main ingredients of our debate. We started with a good description of the history and impact of the arts more generally, the creative economy and broadcasting from the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter; and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, described the other end of the spectrum and how these plans and ideas that we have for organising and constructing our creative industries impact when you are living outside London or are adrift from the main centres. Themes emerged throughout the debate which reflected both points and it is interesting to pick up on them.
Whatever the political spectrum involved in this debate, probably more joins us together on the issues being discussed than separates us. We should be pleased about that. As always, it is useful to reflect on the fact that there are few areas of public life within which you could have a discussion of this nature, which involves not only those who have practical experience—journalists, performers, executives and producers—but consumers as well. We will learn from the words that have been said today.
I also thank the noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches today. The whole House will recognise that there were four very good speeches; it signals well for the future of our interest in the arts and creative industries that we can attract that sort of maiden speech to our debates.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, made a witty and well constructed maiden speech in a real double act. I do not know he manages to get his dog to be so patient—not just when he speaks, but when everybody else is speaking. My dog would have been out the door several times if he had had to listen to the debate we had today, but his was still there and very peaceable about it. I thought it was very interesting the way he was able to pick up his experiences within both broadcasting and sport to show us how broadcasting has the power to change lives for the better.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, gave us a few insights on how the party on that side of the Chamber organises itself, particularly in terms of rehearsing and practising its appearances in the press, which is always very useful to know. It was good that she drew us to one of the sub-themes we have had today, namely the need to stress the impartiality and balance that currently exists in our broadcast media, particularly in our news output; and added to some of the thoughts about value, which also came up from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. There is an important sense—that we sometimes ignore at our peril—about the implied ability of our broadcast sector and our arts to reflect our values to a wider world.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, focused on an important issue, the needs of our sub-national regions. I was lucky to live in the Borders for a brief period and I recognise what he says about the particularity of that area, and how easy it is to speed over it up to the central belt and to leave it for the greater pastures of England. It is important to reflect that our creativity and culture starts in small places, and if we do not understand and recognise that, or engage with it, then we will all be losers.
That theme also came up from the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, who is interested in Conwy county, and the very large number of people who seemed to have emerged from there; there must be something in the water there that we do not know about. She also brought us back to language and how important it is that, when the media speak to the nation, they have to speak in all the aspects of the language that we use—not just the dialect but also the individual changes. There are issues there that we must reflect on.
We have had a very good history lesson on how broadcasting in this country has evolved. I thought it was very helpful to have that context. The interesting thing for me about the early days of television was how—possibly more by accident than by design—we ended up in the first phases with a series of channels that were all financed in different ways so that the competition that existed was a competition for quality, not for sources of funding. That, of course, has changed slightly, but it is still redolent in some areas, particularly—as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft—that of advertising. It is so important that ITV and, to some extent, other channels are free not because they are provided for by any state funding but because advertising pays for them. We ignore that at our peril.
Our conclusion on that historical link is that broadcasting broadly is in good shape. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, made an important point about this. I recall that there were voices of gloom and doom every time anything happened, saying that any new initiative was going to be a disaster, but we are still here and still consuming huge amounts of television. The extraordinary thing is the strength of the terrestrial channels, which underpins much of what we enjoy today.
It is a difficult area for policymakers because it is both art and culture. Obviously, the ability to create fantastic art forms within a broadcast medium is valuable in itself, but it only comes about because of the extraordinarily large economic apparatus that has to be there to surround it. Again, that is something to remember when one thinks about the creativity and investment required. Our ex-colleague—soon to be our colleague again, I hope—the current director-general of the BBC, the noble Lord, Lord Hall, put his finger on it when he said that we were ignoring, when looking at broadcasting, the very wide impact it has, not just because of the broadcast material of the programmes, but because of the buildings in Salford and in other places, the training, the innovation and the ability of those who have control of the commissioning buttons to introduce new work and new writing that results in activity that would not otherwise take place.
It has been said, and I think it is right, that if the BBC sneezes, it is the arts world that catches flu. It is important to recognise that contribution, which is often underrecognised and not reflected in what we say. Without the BBC and other broadcasters all investing and creating activity—local activity and jobs—we would not have what we have and enjoy in this country.
The soft power was mentioned—and it is important—as were the points of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, about the need to recognise that, in some senses, although we are not the major player, what happens in broadcasting in Britain, and by implication in the wider context of our arts, is a standard that would be the one that people would most reflect and most enjoy. Those of us who travel abroad and talk to others obviously understand that that happens.
With all that context, what are the remaining questions that we need to ask about these things? First—noble Lords have touched on this and I think it is very important to recognise—broadcasting, although a net contributor to our economy, also draws from the seed beds in our arts and culture. That largely depends on Arts Council and other spending, such as that from the BFI and other arts bodies. Will the Minister, when he comes to respond, reflect on whether he feels it is in the best interests of the sectors that have been raised today to have experienced yet another round of cuts in our arts world? I mention in particular the BFI, with an additional cut this year, its heritage changing significantly away from its previous model to one which is more about being privately supported; and, as has been mentioned, the incredible cuts in local authority support of the arts. There is a report in one of today’s papers that there may not be any cultural spending in a few years. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that.
We have also been reminded—and it is important—that broadcasting to a single television in a household that is watched in a group is not now the way we consume what is produced. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, mentioned that there was a great deal of interface across and between the various art forms now being reproduced and picked up. Indeed, one of the roles of television is to reflect that which is happening, not necessarily within broadcasting’s direct ambit, to a wider population. Where are we with the broadband rollout and where are we going to be for the people who need to pick up these things? What about the rural broadband scheme? Perhaps we could have a comment from the Minister on that.
The wider context to which I referred earlier also has implications for training, for the work of Skillset, which has been mentioned, and the need to think again about the contributions made across the whole of the broadcasting industry and more widely. Is it time to revisit the question of whether this should be an obligation? Broadcasting, and the creative world more generally, also impacts on the diversity that we see and seek to have in our society, and I would be grateful for a comment on whether he thinks that enough has been done in that area.
We have heard about the exports, but are they in the Minister’s view still appropriately configured in relation to UKTI, which often fails to include a cultural member on some of the trade visits? Are we now in a better position in regard to UKEF, which has had difficulties in finding the right contracts to support in moving image and creative industries wishing to have export finance in order to get their work sent abroad? There are huge returns for that if we can get this right; it is really important that they get support from government at the right time.
Finally, a number of noble Lords were worried that the BBC—although it is not the only player in this game, and much is done elsewhere, including at ITV and Sky—was under attack. Although we had a lot of support about this, notably from the noble Lords, Lord Sugar and Lord Birt, we worry that in the next few years the BBC will have to undergo its regular examination by those who support it, in terms of government, but also by those who fund it through the licence fee. Will the Minister perhaps give us a sense of where that debate has got to within government and what sort of consultations and other issues we will be likely to have on this?
The BBC is really important; it is not the only player in this area, but it is the one that sets standards and many people regard it as being the gold standard against which others compete. We want the BBC to be successful, but we need to know that the processes will be open and fair and transparent, and that the problems that the BBC has had—which were referred to by my noble friend Lady Bakewell in respect of absorbing the cost of the digital switchover, the cost of the World Service, the cost of BBC Monitoring and the cost of S4C—are not going to mean a reduction in the sort of quality that we have been hearing about today.
My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend on securing this debate. As I expected, it has been wide-ranging and thought-provoking and it has displayed a wealth of experience. It also provided noble Lords with the opportunity to hear four outstanding maiden speeches. My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond rightly drew attention to sport—a key element of the broadcast media and important to so many. My noble friend Lady Humphreys spoke up for S4C, media broadcast and her rural community. S4C of course has funding not only from the Exchequer but through the BBC. As long as the funding timespan is agreed, the Exchequer funding for S4C is confirmed at the current level into 2015-16 and there is, in addition, BBC licence fee money up to 2017. I am sure that that will all be part of the continuing discussions, but what a good job that channel does.
My noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed gave us an insight into the broadcast media in Scotland. His reflections on that glorious part of our nation, the Borders, were extremely important. My noble friend Lady Grender spoke of the reputation of broadcast media, about which many of your Lordships also spoke. I was struck by the words of my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, spoke about the importance of impartiality. I felt personal sympathy with my noble friend Lady Grender in her view of the A-list of broadcasting. I felt myself, as I looked at your Lordships and heard the speeches that noble Lords were delivering, that I had no direct experience. It has been a very interesting and important debate.
Broadcast media touch us all, directly and powerfully, through coverage of hugely popular and exceptional occasions such as the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. My noble friend Lord Holmes mentioned the Games and his journey from Seoul to London. I believe that we are in debt to him for the part that he played in enhancing the important and nation-changing element that the Paralympics in London represented for the nation. The media also touch us through the more routine enjoyment of listening to the news on the radio each morning.
Through these turbulent economic times, the UK has continued to benefit from what I have called a vibrant broadcast sector, which my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter referred to as “resilient”, the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, as “strong” and the noble Lord, Lord Birt, as having “exuberance”. The sector leads the way in the quality of its content and contributes to the country’s economic well-being.
As a number of your Lordships said, the UK television industry generated £12.3 billion in revenue last year. The UK broadcasting industry comprises a mixture of public service broadcasters—BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C—and commercial multichannel broadcasters such as Sky and Discovery. Because of parliamentary duties last night, I was unable to go to the global TV hub presentation but I am sure that it was particularly interesting and I would very much like to hear how it went from noble Lords who attended.
All this provides an environment where consumers are well served with a broad choice of content, including sports coverage, which made up 11 of the 15 most watched programmes in 2012. My noble friend Lord Addington rightly referred to that in terms of the impact that it should have, and I hope will have, on the health of our nation. That content also includes arts and culture programmes such as the BBC’s “Imagine” strand, digital radio stations such as Absolute Classic Rock and shows such as “Grand Designs”. There is abundant choice for the UK audience—I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, in that regard.
Multichannel broadcasters have doubled direct employment in the UK over the past decade and increased their turnover to £5 billion last year. The PSBs invested £2.6 billion last year in UK content. Non-PSBs have increased their investment, too, with Ofcom estimating it at £1.2 billion per year. The Government want to ensure that such investment in UK content is sustained and supported.
My noble friend Lady Wheatcroft spoke about international exports. The development and international sale of programming is remarkable. The UK is second only to the United States of America in TV content sales, which reached £1.7 billion last year. New markets in China, India and Indonesia present extraordinary opportunities; exports to China rose 90% last year. Sales to the United States of America were up 11% to £475 million, representing 39% of total sales. Digital rights are growing rapidly, as are co-productions. This sector is one of the fastest-growing sources of international business.
Formats such as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” have been sold to more than 100 countries worldwide. “Strictly Come Dancing” is licensed to 48 countries, with a worldwide audience of more than a quarter of a billion people. Dramas such as “Sherlock”, “Parade’s End” and “Downton Abbey” have bolstered Britain’s reputation and are attracting more international investment. Your Lordships have already mentioned “Doctor Who”. Its 50th anniversary special has just had a record-breaking global simultaneous broadcast—I am informed by officials that it is called a simulcast—that reached 94 countries across all the continents. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to Monty Python.
My noble friend Lord Shipley referred to the trio of theatre, cinema and television coming together and making all these great productions more accessible across the land, which is an increasing part of the cultural experience. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, used the term “the direction of travel”. The direction in which we are going is extraordinary, and the consumer, the viewer and the listener have a considerably enhanced experience.
The independent production sector, which a number of your Lordships mentioned, is also a major export success story. Independent producers are increasingly winning commissions direct from international broadcasters, as well as selling a greater number of finished programmes and formats to international buyers. Channel 4 commissions all its content from the independent production sector, supporting a wide range of SMEs across the United Kingdom. These commissions are a key part of the UK’s international sale of programmes and formats. My noble friend Lady Grender particularly referred to that.
We should not forget radio, which is also a major export. For example, talkSPORT broadcasts Premier League matches in eight languages—English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Malay, Indonesian, French and Vietnamese—from its base in London to 25 different markets in Europe and the rest of the world. I hope very much that my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft will approve of that. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, I should say that UKTI-led events and the GREAT campaign are very important in beating the drum for the sector. I have looked before at the various tours that have taken place and there are many examples of where the creative industries, quite rightly, are in the frame as part of those tours.
The economic contribution made by the sector is clear, but we should not forget that it plays an equally vital educational, social and cultural role. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, quite rightly stressed this. The noble Lord also mentioned the settlement in this sector. I think that it is fair to say, having looked at it again, that in many respects the endurance of cuts, which in an ideal climate many would regret, was a good settlement in the end for the sector compared with many other sectors, although I understand the issues that a number of your Lordships have mentioned.
I particularly want to mention the BBC World Service, which my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft spoke so powerfully about. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, that it is an important aspect of our collective identity. The BBC World Service has the largest audience of any international broadcaster, with a weekly reach of 192 million people; add BBC World global news and the figure becomes 256 million people.
The sector supports a host of highly skilled jobs in distribution, marketing and technical and support services. Overall, according to the Creative UK report, the sector supports more than 7,000 firms and 132,000 jobs. The talent of tomorrow must also be nurtured, as many of your Lordships said. I was interested that Channel 4’s 4Talent, for example, offers work experience placements, apprenticeships, workshops and master classes to people looking to gain entry into the creative industries, alongside funding and support for external skills bodies such as Creative Skillset and the National Film and Television School.
The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to Sky. Sky delivered more than 104,000 training days and 160,000 hours of e-learning across its business. Mention was also made of the Sky Academy, which has the ambition of creating new opportunities for up to 1 million young people by 2020. The BBC will be taking on an apprentice in every BBC local radio station across England and in stations across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by September 2014. ITV invested £50 million in enhancing facilities in Leeds and at MediaCityUK in Salford, which my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter referred to as the hub of Salford, which is important across the media area. Indeed, ITV’s investment in skills and development training to help the next generation of talent across the UK should be acknowledged. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, mentioned ITV in particular. It is remarkable that ITV is now in the top five biggest independent producers in the United States of America and one of the top three European programme distributors.
Radio is a valued source of entertainment, education and information for millions of people across the country. Every week, 90% of the adult UK population listens to the radio. It is a significant employer, with an estimated total workforce of 17,500 people, and total radio industry revenue last year was £1.2 billion. Some 65% of adults tune in to commercial radio at least once a week. BBC Radio 2 is the most popular radio station in the UK. BBC national and local radio, commercial radio and community radio are all part of the vibrant mix. Since 2010 there has been a further shift to digital listening, which now represents over 35% of all listening. Conscious of consumers, the Government are looking at how to support the long-term transition to digital radio. A more detailed announcement will be made at the end of the year.
I now turn to how the Government are playing and need to play a part in supporting the growth of UK broadcasting. As part of the Government’s wide-ranging review of the communications sector, our discussions with industry, regulators and consumer groups indicated that the present framework is broadly operating well, is generally working for the consumer and supports economic growth and innovation. However, where legislative changes are deemed necessary, the Government will act. An example is the prominence of public service broadcasters. We need to update electronic programme guide regulation, to keep pace with recent developments in TV technology, to provide flexibility to adapt to future technological changes and to preserve public service broadcasters’ prominence. We all value high-quality content, which the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, concentrated on, and we expect public service broadcasters in particular to adhere to this. The public must be able to continue to find and enjoy this in the future, so we expect to consult on these issues in the near future.
My noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond mentioned the wider creative industries. Indeed, the media broadcast sector cannot and does not function in isolation. I acknowledge the work of the wider creative industries. Collectively, the creative industries are worth more than £36 billion a year to the UK. The creative industries supporting the broadcast media include: craftsmen and craftswomen, fashion designers creating props and costumes, production crews, make-up artists, composers and musicians, and many more. My noble friend Lady Wheatcroft and others quite rightly mentioned the skill of advertising.
Again, the Government have an important role to fulfil. The Government helped to set up the Creative Industries Council in 2011. Led by industry, the council now works to ensure that barriers to growth can be removed. A sub-group of that council will look at access to finance skills, export markets, data collection and infrastructure. If I have more detailed information, I will certainly write to my noble friend Lord Watson of Richmond about these matters.
The Government have set up a range of creative content-targeted tax reliefs, such as tax breaks for British films. There are clearly strong links between the film world, which benefits from these tax incentives, and broadcasting. For example, Channel 4 is a major investor in UK film. Indeed, films supported by Channel 4 have won 14 Oscars in the past seven years. My noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter mentioned tax reliefs for animation and high-end TV. These came into force in April this year, to support innovation and the growth of the content for which the UK is renowned. These initiatives are already bringing more productions to our shores; for example, “Outlander” is being made in Cumbernauld and “Game of Thrones” has had a significant impact on the local economy and skills base in Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, as was announced earlier this week, local television has now started broadcasting in the UK, with Grimsby channel Estuary TV leading the way. Another 18 channels will be launched in the spring, with a further wave of channels to come. This was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, my noble friend Lord Shipley and others. It is an important feature and part of the direction of travel that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, that, as a countryman, I am passionately keen to ensure that broadband results are going to grow swiftly in this tail end of the process of establishing what I hope will be successful coverage for the overwhelming majority of if not the whole nation very soon.
The importance of the broadcast media in the UK and the contribution that they make has been outlined most eloquently by your Lordships today. The Government’s role must be to ensure that the environment is suitable for the sector to continue to flourish. There are undoubtedly challenges and opportunities in this increasingly converged world. The title of today’s debate specifically highlights the economic contribution of broadcast media. That is not in doubt. What is impossible to assess adequately or precisely is what this sector contributes to the social and cultural well-being of our nation. As noble Lords mentioned—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara—it is a prime example of how soft power operates across the globe in the British interest. The reputation of our nation abroad is in no small measure enhanced by the UK’s high standards for content—set by producers and regulators, and by the expectations of those who listen and watch. That reputation is secured by and because of the talented, hard-working people in the industry. We can be proud of the quality that they bring to the screen and to radio.
In this debate, the broadcast media have rightly been championed and their prospects encouraged and there has been openness about some of the problems that need to be addressed. All these matters could not have been better articulated by your Lordships, from all parts of the House.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in the debate. I also thank the many noble Lords who have contributed so greatly to making the broadcast media great, in all their different ways. That enriched the debate today. I particularly congratulate all the maiden speakers. I am pleased that so many of them chose this debate and look forward to them being champions of this area, not least my noble friend Lord Holmes. Finally, as “Doctor Who” has dominated the debate and I see my noble friend Lord Grade in his seat, I cannot resist wondering whether, had he known that Sylvester McCoy would regenerate into John Hurt, he would still have cancelled the programme.