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Broadcasting Sector White Paper

Volume 823: debated on Monday 11 July 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how their white paper Up Nextthe government’s vision for the broadcasting sector, published on 29 April, will support (1) original British content, and (2) the creative industries in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, as set out in the White Paper, the Government are taking action to support British broadcasters and our creative industries more widely. Among other things, we are supporting original British content by including it in a new and more focused public service remit for television. We will continue to support our highly skilled and innovative creative industries through world-leading creative sector tax reliefs and by protecting the UK’s hugely successful terms of trade regime.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Our PSBs are the backbone of our creative industries; they support original British content, talent, skills and exceptional journalism. Does the Minister agree that this will become increasingly difficult as BBC funding continues to be depleted, coupled with the commitment to sell Channel 4 off? This is something that the independent film, TV production and advertising sectors are against. Will the Minister accept that pursuing this is completely inappropriate, considering that it is deeply unpopular among the industry and the public—92% of those responding to the Government’s own consultation were against it—it is not a manifesto commitment, and the noble Lord is now a Minister in a caretaker Government? I see no mandate there.

My Lords, it remains the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that our public service broadcasters are equipped for the decades ahead. As we have discussed, although we may disagree on this issue, I hope all noble Lords agree that Channel 4 needs the investment to be able to compete with the American streaming giants. I look forward to debating this more with noble Lords.

The BBC will continue to receive around £3.7 billion in annual public funding, which allows it to deliver its mission and public purposes.

My Lords, does the present political interregnum not give the Government the opportunity to think again about their whole broadcasting policy—and not just for television? If they are pushing ahead, will the Minister say what the Government’s future policy is on supporting BBC Radio, which still has a massive audience in this country—and abroad, for that matter—and today serves us well in its reports on the Ukraine conflict?

The noble Lord is absolutely right about the vital role played by BBC Radio, including both national and local radio stations. I greatly enjoyed the programme last night celebrating the centenary of The Waste Land, which, like the BBC, turned 100 last year. That is the sort of distinctly British content that only the BBC can provide. I am sure that any incoming Prime Minister and Administration will see the same challenges that beset the BBC and Channel 4 in continuing to do their excellent work in an increasingly competitive field. They would want to address things such as the declining number of people paying the licence fee for the BBC and Channel 4’s reliance on live advertising to ensure that they continue to be sustainable in future.

I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on staying in his post; he is a sea of calm amid a frenzy of turbulence. I also congratulate the Government on the broadcasting White Paper; I know my noble friend the Minister had nothing to do with it, but it is a truly excellent piece of work. I thought I would be dramatically changing the subject, but the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, already raised the importance of radio. I point out that radio is one of our most successful creative industries, so can my noble friend the Minister update us on the progress of digital radio, where Britain leads the world?

I am conscious that I still have many years to go to equal my noble friend’s length of tenure in office. The Government remain committed to legislating to give effect to the conclusions of the 2017 consultation on radio deregulation as soon as parliamentary time allows. We are also very keen to continue the co-operation between the BBC and both commercial and community radio, as the digital radio and audio review encouraged.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Wales has a vibrant television and film industry and that back-to-back films have been exported to over 100 countries. Given that ministerial responsibility for the creative arts in Wales is devolved but that for television is not, will he ensure that S4C is adequately funded to maximise the benefit that comes from this sector?

The forthcoming media Bill will remove the current geographic broadcasting restrictions so that S4C can broaden its reach and offer its content on a range of new platforms throughout the UK and internationally. The recent funding settlement ensured that S4C was able to continue the work that is much valued in Wales and more widely.

My Lords, the Government’s Up Next policy paper claims that

“public service broadcasters … develop skills and talent, drive growth right across the creative industries”.

Will the Minister undertake to widen the Government’s vision for broadcasting to ensure that we also hear how skills and talents will be developed among pupils, students and young performers and designers when at present curriculum incentive and public investment are so often lacking in this area in our schools, colleges and universities?

The right reverend Prelate points to an important issue in talking of skills. The British Film Institute has looked at this very carefully and published its film and high-end TV skills review at the end of last month, which we strongly welcome and look forward to discussing with the industry to see how it engages with the findings. The Government are doing their bit by, for instance, the new pilots of flexible apprenticeships and through our regular support of more than £2 million a year to the National Film and Television School.

My Lords, given that the current cost of living crisis is problematic across all sectors and can have a particularly adverse impact on the creative industries, which are sensitive to changes in economic conditions even without the continued fallout from the pandemic, what assessment has the department made of the impact of inflation and energy price increases across the whole sector, whether on huge production companies, small venues or the dedicated workforce that keeps the show on the road?

We talk about inflation and energy bills with all the sectors and industries that the DCMS has the privilege of representing. I spoke about them this morning at the Imperial War Museum when I visited it. Our settlement for the BBC will, as I say, ensure that it continues to receive around £3.7 billion in annual public funding, which will allow it to deliver its mission and public purposes.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a television producer. The White Paper gives the public service broadcasters the right to move their content to less-watched digital channels. Can the Minister confirm that if Channel 4 is privatised, the new owners—and any other public service broadcaster—will have the right to move, say, “Channel 4 News” to a digital channel such as E4, or even a specially set up obscure digital channel?

These details and more will be set out in the media Bill, which I look forward to debating with noble Lords. Giving Channel 4 the freedom to diversify its revenue streams as well as to address issues such as the intellectual property of the content it provides are important in making sure that it can continue to compete in the years to come.

My Lords, very few people agree with the Minister’s analysis or the solutions he has put forward for either Channel 4 or the BBC. I put it to him again that it would be far better to withdraw this rather ill thought-out White Paper and allow the new Secretary of State coming into office in September to look at these matters afresh. If he does not think that there will be a new Secretary of State, would he like to take a bet on it?

My Lords, it remains the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to take forward the work that went into the White Paper.

My Lords, the independent television sector in Scotland is worth more than £300 million to our economy. I declare an interest as a board member of Creative Scotland. Why do a Conservative Government propose to undermine the successful and growing business model of entrepreneurial producers to create a bureaucratic, grant-giving, centrally directed levelling-up fund, and how would that fund support the regional production centres in any way more efficiently or successfully than the current ownership model of Channel 4?

My noble friend points to the success of independent production companies that are privately owned. We want to ensure that Channel 4, whose remit was to promote that important sector 40 years ago, is able to continue to commission from those companies at a time when costs are going up because of the greater budgets and commissioning spending of the American streaming giants.