Skip to main content

Brexit: Audio-visual Services

Volume 788: debated on Monday 29 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the ability of United Kingdom audiovisual services to take advantage of the European Union country of origin rules after Brexit.

My Lords, the broadcasting industry has continuously emphasised the significance of maintaining the country of origin principle. We are committed to working with the sector to ensure that those points are explored and considered as the UK develops its stance on exit negotiations as part of the overall effort to secure the best deal for the UK as a whole. The effect of leaving the EU will depend on the exit negotiations.

My Lords, there are hundreds of channels based here which are broadcast to the EU and get the benefit of a single regulator in the form of Ofcom. The Creative Industries Federation states, in its report today on global trade and Brexit:

“To ensure the UK remains a leading hub for international broadcasters, the continued mutual recognition of broadcasting licences between the UK and EU Member States is imperative”.

Does the Minister agree with that statement, and will the Government treat this as a priority in trade negotiations? Is this not another example of where the straightforward solution would be to stay in the single market?

My Lords, I am very pleased to confirm to the noble Lord that we will treat this as a priority. Of course he is right that the broadcasting industries are one of the UK’s success stories. In fact, 55% of the TV channels based in the UK mainly targeted the European market in 2016, and 53% of the video-on-demand services primarily targeted the EU. It is definitely one of the top priorities of my department, and we communicate regularly with the Department for Exiting the European Union to ensure that it is one of its.

My Lords, given that the multichannel sector is worth £4.2 billion a year to the UK economy, can the Minister explain how the Government intend to guarantee access to EU markets, given that EU rules will require broadcasters to make editorial decisions and deploy their workforce within the EU post Brexit?

The noble Lord has put his finger on the fact that it will be a challenge but, luckily, it is one we are up to. The point to bear in mind is that a European country which receives, on average, 45% of its channels from abroad—for some smaller countries, it is 75%—wants a respected regulator which will make sure that the channels it receives are up to standard, and that is exactly what the UK provides.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a series producer at ITN Productions who has just sold a series across the European Union. Are the Government planning to renegotiate the AVMS directive, which defines “European work”? If not, does the Minister recognise the damage that will be done to the UK television production sector if its productions cannot compete with a 50% European work quota?

My Lords, the Government are actively involved in the renegotiation of the AVMS directive, and I believe that the plan is for the trialogues to finish some time this year. I do not want to disagree with the noble Viscount, who is an expert in these things, but I think that the European work status is confirmed by the Council of Europe transfrontier television convention.

Do the Government agree with the recent recommendation of the DCMS Committee in the other place? The committee said:

“To address profound industry uncertainty … the Government must as an urgent priority state its negotiating intentions with respect to the Country of Origin rules framework and”,

more particularly,

“set out its contingency plan, should the rules cease to apply after Brexit”.

My Lords, the report to which the noble Lord refers was published last Thursday. Although we are quick in DCMS, we have not come to a considered opinion on it yet.

My Lords, one of the issues raised by the creative industries again and again has been about the ability of people to move to work across the EU. I have heard the same as the Minister said—that his department has been very open to talks with the creative industry. Unfortunately, his colleagues at the Home Office have not always been as open to hearing from them about their needs. On their behalf, could he talk to the Home Office about being able to engage in those demands?

My Lords, we agree that migration and key skills in the creative industries generally, and the audio-visual sector as well, are crucial. We have made that point very clear to the Home Office. We are liaising with the Migration Advisory Committee to make sure that we have up-to-date information. We have made it aware that in the audio-visual sector 5.7% of the workforce come from the EU. However, interestingly, the immigration system appears to be working for the audio-visual sector, because more than that—6.7%—come from outside the EU.

Would the Minister use the case in reverse and encourage Mezzo, probably the best music channel in the whole world, which is beamed only into Europe, to be available in the United Kingdom?

Has not the Minister noticed that, week after week, we have had question after question and report after report from our excellent committees showing that sector after sector is going to be really harmed by our withdrawal from the European Union—which he describes as a “challenge”? Is not it about time that the Government came to their senses and took the advice and indications from Mr Barnier and many others that an opportunity is there for us to think again and stay within the European Union?

I do not agree with that. The Government are carrying out the will of the British people and will continue to negotiate on behalf of the country to get the best deal that it can on leaving the EU.

My Lords, is not it obvious that, with our fantastic success and brilliance in creative industries, our future lies in free trade and a global market and not in being sucked into a protectionist racket?

The noble Lord is right to highlight the success of the creative industries. It is a world-leading example of what Britain does well, and we will continue to do that for the benefit not only of the EU after the negotiations but of the rest of the world as well.