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Media Bill

Volume 838: debated on Monday 20 May 2024

Committee (2nd Day)

Clause 14: Regional Programme-making: Channels 3, 4 and 5

Amendment 16

Moved by

16: Clause 14, page 16, line 43, at end insert—

“(4A) After subsection (6) insert—“(6A) When determining the number of hours OFCOM consider appropriate under subsections (1) and (3), they must ensure that the number of hours would result in at least 50% of programmes broadcast, measured both by hours and expenditure, being made outside of London and 16% from the nations of the United Kingdom other than England, in proportion to their relative populations.””

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 16 and 17 in my name and in doing so I declare my interests as laid out in the register as a board member of Creative Scotland. The noble Baroness, Lady Foster of Aghadrumsee, who has added her name, has asked me to apologise to the House as she cannot be here in time today due to a prior engagement in Northern Ireland, but she wanted me to indicate that the points I will be making have her strong support from a Northern Irish perspective. I also thank the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle for their support, which is greatly appreciated.

Never before have I stood up in this House and felt such a weight of responsibility on my shoulders. My amendments have the backing of all three devolved Administrations, the screen agencies of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, industry bodies from across the nations and regions as well as countless numbers of independent production companies. The noise outside this Chamber and outside London is deafening, and it is united.

The Media Bill is to be welcomed, and I know the Minister and the Secretary of State—and, indeed, all of us—wish it to pass quickly. However, if it passes unamended, it will have ignored the vibrant but delicately balanced screen ecologies in the nations and regions of the UK, and it risks removing the foundations upon which those thriving screen sectors have been able to build: namely, commissions from PSBs, the very channels for whom representing the lives and experiences of the nations and regions of the UK should be at their heart.

According to the Office for National Statistics, around 68 million people currently live in the UK. About 10 million people live within the M25, but, like much of our politics, our media can often be seen as being too London-centric. My amendments seek to ensure that public service broadcasters provide a suitable range of programmes for the roughly 58 million people who do not live in London, and that a proportionate share of those programmes are made outside London by the talented people who live and work all across the UK. That these should be measured by both hours and expenditure would ensure that PSBs did not simply fulfil their regional quotas with low-value daytime live discussions.

Section 287 of the Communications Act 2003 required Channel 3 to provide a sufficient amount and a suitable range of regional programmes, including news and current affairs, regulated by Ofcom quotas obligated by its licence. If it were not for those quotas then the plurality of news in the nations and regions provided by ITV and STV, in addition to that of the BBC, would be lost. Equivalent requirements and national and regional quotas apply to the BBC under the BBC framework agreement.

The BBC and Channel 4 have already responded to criticism that they do not reflect the public they serve by moving part of their workforce outside of London to regional centres in Salford, Leeds, Bristol and Glasgow. During the debate around the proposed privatisation of Channel 4, its chief executive, Alex Mahon, speaking at the opening of the channel’s new studios in Leeds, argued that privatisation would inhibit the channel’s plans to expand outside London and help the levelling-up agenda. Ms Mahon led a campaign against privatisation by declaring that Channel 4 was “for all the UK”, and regional producers in the nations and regions stepped up to support it. However, as soon as privatisation was taken off the table, Channel 4 abruptly stopped developing its commissioning capacity outside London, recently making its most senior commissioner in Leeds redundant and losing one of its small Glasgow-based commissioning team.

Ofcom requires that the BBC must ensure that in each calendar year at least 16% of the hours of network programmes made in the UK are made outside England, and at least 16% of the BBC’s expenditure on new network programmes is applied across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which is in line with the three home nations’ share of the population. My amendments would simply extend those requirements to all public service broadcasters, ensuring that these public assets deliver fairly for all the UK.

If we do not have such regional quotas then we risk not having any of the production centres of which we are so rightly proud, and in that case Amendment 54 from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, becomes somewhat academic. As much as I wish to support him in requiring Ofcom to ensure that the out of London nations and regions production criteria support inward investment in regional production centres, while encouraging the pipeline of talent from across the UK to thrive, without national and regional quotas the only option to fulfil any regional out of London production would be by brass-plating.

Channel 4 is a commercially funded but publicly owned PSB. It does not produce regional news content as ITV and STV do, but to date it has played an extremely important role in the success of the UK’s creative industries, pioneering innovation in, investing in and stimulating the production sector and acting as a world-leading accelerator. However, despite Channel 4’s “for all the UK” campaign, it has had to be dragged kicking and screaming by Ofcom into accepting the rise of its out of England quota to only 9% in 2020, and it has recently argued for that 9% minimum to sustain across the next decade, on the basis that producers outside London are too small.

This Bill will remove the existing publisher/broadcaster restriction and give Channel 4 valuable new flexibility to make some of its own content. While I understand the Government’s desire to ensure that Channel 4 is able to grow and better compete in the age of streaming giants, they are giving away the very thing that makes Channel 4 unique among PSBs, at no cost to the taxpayer but of considerable importance to the regional creative economy and independent production sectors. They are doing so without demanding anything in return. As a publicly owned PSB with its own stated strong commitment to represent the whole of the UK and to stand up for diversity across the UK, surely the Government must ensure that Channel 4 fulfils this remit for the benefit of the UK as a whole, supporting the sustainable growth of the industry outside London and across all four home nations.

My amendments do nothing other than echo the voluntary commitments that Channel 4’s chairman and chief executive have already made. In November last year, Sir Ian Cheshire issued a statement saying:

“Channel 4 remains entirely committed to its presence, programme-making and impact across the Nations and Regions. This includes its commitment to regional producers, voluntary investing 50% of its commissioning budget outside of London”.

I am asking the Minister therefore to write this voluntary commitment into the Bill, along with a separate nations’ quota in line with that of the BBC. According to the independent producers’ industry body, PACT, increasing these quotas to 50% outside London and 16% outside England would cost Channel 4 only an additional £136 million over 10 years—just over 2% of its anticipated budget for new programmes across the next decade. The benefit to the creative economy across all the UK, to British audiences and to Channel 4 itself would be significantly higher.

Channel 4’s resistance to increasing national and regional quotas to match the BBC’s has caused what I can only describe as a real stushie among the independent producers, the freelance TV talent, the devolved Administrations and the screen agencies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of whom have written to Ofcom—and I am delighted to see its chairman in his place—and made public their desire for national and regional quotas and their support of my amendments. I am grateful to the three screen agencies—Screen Scotland, Northern Ireland Screen and Creative Wales—and PACT, as well as the many independent producers who have engaged with me and many other noble Lords in preparation for this debate, and who recently felt so strongly about this that they made the effort to come to the House to brief us in person. I can only apologise to them that voting on the safety of Rwanda rather truncated our discussions on that day.

The independent producers who recently wrote a public letter to Ofcom, urging it to reconsider the lifting of the current production 91% “made in England” production quota for Channel 4, are long-term, trusted suppliers of Channel 4, ITV and the BBC, as well as Netflix, Disney+, Sky, Amazon and National Geographic among many others. They cannot be dismissed as being “too small” for the PSB broadcasters to work with. The key to fostering and safeguarding the regional TV production sector lies in securing network commissions, not just ad hoc regional talent and skills schemes.

Quotas work. Both the BBC and Channel 4 have met them regularly and this has fostered significant economic and creative growth across the UK since 2003. Quotas are critical to ensuring that the infrastructure of the thriving creative industries that have been so successfully built up over the last two decades is maintained and not jettisoned. Quotas are essential to ensuring that our PSBs truly reflect, on-screen, the voices and stories of the people they serve throughout the different parts of our United Kingdom. This is in the best long-term interests of those broadcasters. If the Minister is not minded to accept my amendments as tabled today, I ask him and his team to work with me and the regional agencies to ensure that the commitment to representation throughout the UK for public service broadcasting is reflected robustly within the provisions of this Bill.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser. I agree with very many of the points she made, particularly the emphasis that she has. I wish to speak to my Amendment 54, which stands in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Smith of Llanfaes and the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, whose support I welcome. It proposes a new clause entitled “Evaluation of nations-based production”, and was tabled by my colleague Hywel Williams MP in Committee in the other place but did not get debated.

Over the past two generations, television broadcasters from Wales have made a significant mark on the world of broadcasting, in these islands and further afield. From the days of Huw Wheldon back in the 1950s to today, BBC television programmes with a Welsh dimension have contributed to cultural diversity within a UK setting and, within Wales, the BBC has contributed to our ability to speak to ourselves in both languages and to report on our national life. Since the advent in 1982 of S4C, there has been a considerable contribution by the BBC to that as well.

A range of broadcasting leaders from Wales have helped to mould the BBC centrally into what it is today: one thinks of the contribution of Elan Closs Stephens over the past 12 months, in particularly difficult times. The BBC has opened an impressive new Broadcasting House bang in the middle of Cardiff, with state-of-the-art technology and facilities. That has helped Cardiff to become a significant broadcasting hub, with programmes ranging from “Doctor Who” to “Keeping Faith” and “Tree on a Hill” produced in Wales. Independent television has also had significant roots in Wales, from the early days of TWW, through the golden era of HTV—Harlech Television, which I see being acknowledged from the Government Front Bench—and more recently ITV Wales.

By now, a plethora of small production companies make a contribution to these high-profile platforms, both in Wales for Wales, and from Wales to the UK and the wider world. Some of these have enjoyed huge success: one has only to think of the “Hinterland” series, which has been sold to dozens of countries around the globe, and currently new productions have every promise of emulating that success. There are also smaller Wales-based companies which have grown significantly—companies such as Rondo Media, Telesgop, Wildflame Productions, Tinopolis, Vox Pictures and Cwmni Da are all Welsh-grown businesses. The label “made in Wales” on television and radio output has acquired, to some degree, a resonance that “made in England” once had in motor manufacturing—I hope it does not have the same fate—so it is hardly surprising that there are people who take advantage of this through success by association.

This is all to the good if they come and generate their programmes in Wales, contributing to the Welsh economy, helping to give new experiences to Welsh participants and increasing the skills and facilities base within our country. However, as always, there is a real danger of people cashing in on the opportunities that the Welsh brand offers. There are also some who are driven to Wales by the quota approach but want to use us only for their own narrow purposes and do not try to maximize any contribution to the Welsh economy. In other words, they brass-plate Wales, using their links to Wales for their own benefit but contributing only a minimal amount to our economy.

The new clause that I propose is intended to deal with this abuse of the system. TAC—Teledwyr Annibynnol Cymru—represents 50 companies in Wales which employ, train and develop local skills in that sector. They make shows for all the UK public sector broadcasters including Channel 4, the BBC, ITV, Channel 5 and, of course, S4C. In 2021, the Welsh screen sector had a turnover of £575 million, an increase of 36% on the previous year.

TAC tells us that there is now a growing phenomenon of television companies from outside Wales setting up satellite presence in Wales to win network PSB commissions. TAC told the Welsh Affairs Committee in the Commons last June that, of 71 productions it studied that qualified under current rules as justifying the “made in Wales” designation, no fewer than 41 had their headquarters elsewhere. TAC is concerned because the profits from such productions disappear from Wales. Talent is brought from outside Wales, limiting the benefits to local participants. The intellectual property is held outside Wales, which means that Wales will benefit less, if at all, from future monetisation. The Welsh profile is weakened, thus losing marketing opportunities.

TAC feels that the rules laid down by Ofcom are too weak, so much so that by now a majority of the companies claiming to have a presence in Wales fall into the brass-plating category. The demands made by TAC in the context of this Bill are very reasonable. The first is that Ofcom’s reporting system should be contemporaneous and not based on dated historic information, which makes it next to impossible to verify. Secondly, it asks for a tightening of Ofcom’s guidance—in particular, that a company should be based in a qualifying location for a defined threshold period of time before it can be allowed to claim that it has a “substantive presence” in that region, with an exception for start-up companies rooted in that region. The amendments provide a means of evaluation of “nations-based production” in order to close this loophole. The proposed new clause would place firmer restrictions on companies undertaking commissions aimed at fulfilling regional quotas in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It would require Ofcom to ensure that the applicant company had a substantial base in the relevant nation and had had a presence within that nation for at least 36 months, with an exception for new start-ups that could demonstrate that they were rooted in that nation and/or had a commitment to remaining there.

The current rules are that to qualify for out of London status or as making products specifically produced in a nation—that is the terminology—the company must, first, have a substantive production base in the UK outside the M25, with the production being managed from there. Secondly, at least 70% of the production spend must be outside the M25. Thirdly, at least 50% by cost of the production talent must have their usual place of employment within the UK outside the M25. Currently, while the letter of such stipulations may be technically followed, their spirit certainly is not. The purpose of these quotas is to encourage development of regional production centres, better reflect the lives and perspectives of people across the UK, and to provide economic, social and cultural benefits to those areas.

In its Broadcasting in Wales report, the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place recommended clamping down on brass-plating and specifically called for the Bill to be the avenue by which this could be achieved. I hope that the Minister replying to this debate will take it on himself to give very serious consideration to this issue. It would gain the Government a resonance in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—and I suspect in the northern regions of England—which they very much need at this point in time.

My Lords, I declare my interests in the register. I am also an officer of the Channel 4 APPG.

I am pleased to have put down my name to Amendments 16 and 17 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie. I very much support the principal aim of these amendments, which is to push content commissioning towards the regions and nations. I will also focus my comments on the publicly owned Channel 4.

These amendments complement my amendments in the previous group, which demanded more support for small independent television producers. The majority of SMEs are in the regions and nations, which Channel 4 should support. In doing so, it will support SMEs. These small companies are the lifeblood of the television production industry. They are often in areas where stories and lives are not covered by the mainstream media. It is in these places that the untold stories from an underserved audience will spring. After all, fresh ideas and stories from places overlooked by the metropolitan-based companies are surely central to the PSBs’ remit.

The production base in the nations and regions has come a long way in the last 20 years. With the growth of STV and the establishment of a Channel 4 lifestyle programmes production base in Glasgow, there has been a big increase in the number of people employed in the industry in Scotland, but the regional hubs in Cardiff and Scotland are struggling in the present climate. Now is the time for Channel 4 to play its part in the continued expansion of production talent across the industry.

It is a long-held view by many in the industry that it is expensive to commission from the nations. They say that staff have to be sent up from London, with all the extra costs that incurs. Surely, the response to that is to ensure that Scottish and Welsh independent companies are commissioned. They will employ producers and talent they know and trust, who will most probably be local. They will carry out post-production locally and employ indigenous Scots, Welsh or Yorkshire editors, graders and sound engineers in facilities houses based near them. The aim of these amendments is to build a big enough indigenous talent base that local staff can be employed and their work can go some way to reflect the parts of the United Kingdom they live in.

The present crisis of commissioning in the industry, for both scripted and unscripted programmes, has meant that not just small companies but medium-sized companies are closing. As a result, the Scots, Welsh and regional facilities houses are also closing and struggling. The lack of work has meant that people are leaving the industry, and the promises of expanding production bases in the regions and nations are dying. At this rate, the naysayers in the industry will be right: it will be too expensive to produce programmes in the nations and regions, because talent will have to come from London and the south-east, if not from abroad.

In my speech on the first day in Committee on the need for Channel 4 to focus on commissioning from SMEs, I read out the channel’s submission to Ofcom for licence renewal, which claimed that the smaller scale of the production sector outside London meant that the companies in the regions and nations were not able to develop or realise big ideas. This statement reflects badly on Channel 4’s view of television production in the parts of the country affected by Amendments 16 and 17. Not surprisingly, Scots indies responded that, far from being unable to develop and deliver big ideas, they were capable of making programmes for the biggest streamers and broadcasters in the world. I can say from personal experience of working with American commissioners that they are very demanding. If a company can supply a streamer or an American broadcaster, it can almost certainly supply Channel 4.

However, unfortunately, while those international commissions prove that the indies in the nations have talent and capacity, the revenues generated from them are not sufficient to sustain the production bases. They often pay a straight production fee with little back end, unlike the terms of trade that British channels use when dealing with indies, guaranteeing them the back-end revenue to build their businesses.

The letter by the Scots production companies continued:

“As a publicly owned public service broadcaster with a stated ‘strong commitment to represent the whole of the UK’ and ‘to stand up for diversity across the UK’, Channel 4 must fulfil its remit for the benefit of the UK as a whole and support the sustainable growth of the industry outside of London”.

The CEO of Channel 4, Alex Mahon, responded shortly afterwards, in April this year, when she told the Creative Cities Convention in Bristol that there had been questions about making the quota bigger. She said:

“We will try and do more because we need to think more carefully about how we represent people on air. It is time to make that shift to support companies more sustainably”.

Since then, Channel 4 has issued a statement to me, saying that

“we are announcing that we would support, in principle, a managed timely and carefully considered increase in our commitment to programme making in the nations”.

However, Channel 4 did not go any further on the detail of this proposal, or reveal by how much it would increase its spend in the nations and regions. It is leaving it up to Ofcom to decide the appropriate quota.

Once again, Parliament is leaving an important decision to be made by Ofcom. As Bills pass through this House giving Ofcom increasing power, it is beholden on us parliamentarians to give the regulator guidance. Parliament, not Ofcom, should decide the national and regional quotas for content commissioning. We must do what we can to encourage one of our great public service broadcasters to stand by its chief executive’s words, to support companies more sustainably and to increase the quota to the nations beyond 9%. I ask the Minister to support the figure of a 16% quota in the nations and 50% outside London.

Channel 4 reset itself in 2020, with the slogan “4 All the UK”. At the time, Ofcom increased its quota for the nations from 3% to 9%. However, now is the time to go further. Channel 4 aims its commissioning strategy at fewer, bigger, better programmes. I ask noble Lords to consider where that leaves the middle ground—the hundreds of hours of television annually filled by content with a medium spend. These companies are the backbone of the industry outside London and are suffering from the present commissioning strategy. As one of the leading figures in Scottish television, Alan Clements, who runs the independent production company Two Rivers Media, said:

“If you make your corporate slogan 4 All The UK, then you really need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk”.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 16 and 17, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie, to which I am pleased to have added my name in support.

Our country is one of diversity. The four nations that make up the UK include many regions, each with its own culture, sense of humour, accent, concerns and interests. As public service broadcasters are owned by the whole of the UK public, it is important that they truly reflect the public they serve in all their regional diversity.

I regrettably could not be present for the first day in Committee to support the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, seeking to ensure that our PSBs reflect the diversity of this nation through the protection of Gaelic broadcasting, which is part of the wider landscape that these amendments speak to. I hope that I will be present to express my support on Report.

With Channel 4’s current quotas, 91% of its production is reserved for England and 65% for London. Its London-centric attitude to production is confirmed through its claim that

“the UK production sector continues to be significantly smaller outside London … there are fewer production companies, often smaller in scale, and therefore with less capacity to develop creative ideas and produce them”.

Along with independent production companies across the country, I dispute this. The BBC has not faced difficulties adhering to its higher regional quotas, and indeed demonstrates that significantly expanding production networks outside London is possible and yields positive results that attract interest and further investment.

Ensuring support for the creative sector outside London requires intentionality. New and smaller production companies cannot grow without regular and sustained employment. Implementing quotas would ensure that these businesses receive regular income in the longer term, allowing them to grow while nurturing local talent and skills.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, outlined in her excellent speech, quotas work. The BBC now aims for 60% of its TV production to take place outside London by 2027-28, and its production bases in cities throughout the country demonstrate how the industry is capable of diversifying its production locations, employing staff from local economies. These amendments would simply place the same quotas on other public service broadcasters.

In March the Government confirmed funding towards the development of Crown Works Studios in Sunderland—a very welcome investment. The potential for the north-east in this sector is at last gaining recognition. It should be partnered with legislation to ensure that studios outside London, such as Crown Works, are fully utilised by public service broadcasters. With Northumbria University ranking second in the Guardian’s latest university league table for film production, our region is not lacking in talented, skilled and creative minds in this sector; what is lacking is opportunity. Those who want to pursue a career in broadcasting are being pulled away from the region to London, taking their skills with them. Those who remain in the region face a lack of opportunity. For many, their talent and potential are left unfulfilled. These amendments seek to change this narrative.

By placing a requirement on Ofcom to ensure that PSBs produce 50% of their programmes outside London and 16% outside England, in proportion to each UK nation’s relative population and measured by both hours broadcast and expenditure, these amendments would equitably spread opportunity across the country’s regions. The different regions and nations throughout the UK are rich in creative skills, and we are all left poorer if we continue to neglect them.

My Lords, this group of amendments is of great importance to the independent television production sector in Wales. Amendments 16 and 17 relate to how much commissioning is done outside of London by channels 3, 4 and 5. Amendment 54 relates to the issue of brass plating. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for tabling these amendments. I have added my name to Amendment 54 and support all three amendments, as do my colleagues on these Benches.

Teledwyr Annibynnol Cymru represents the independent sector of Wales and is made up of some 50 companies of varying sizes. They produce content for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky. They also produce almost all the original television and online media content for S4C. Their continued success helps the Welsh and UK economies. They do, however, rely on the continued support of our UK public service broadcasters, including Channel 4, which has brought greater resource to working with TV production companies throughout the UK in recent years. Over the last five years, the resource from Channel 4 has never fallen below 54% in the commissioning of out of London hours, and never below 45% in spend. Channel 4 has committed to a future level of 50% of spend and hours outside of London against the 35% requirement in its licence, and has created hubs throughout the UK to enable this. There is nothing to indicate that it will deviate from this commitment.

I can understand the disappointment felt by many in the sector who have learned that Ofcom has not opted to raise the out-of-London quota from its present level of 35% in its proposed new licence for Channel 4. It appears that Ofcom perhaps does not recognise that Channel 4 has changed its commissioning structure and approach. This failure to recognise the reality of Channel 4’s current out-of-London commissioning commitments leaves the independent television production sector in Wales in a quandary. It believes that the 35% quota level set by Ofcom is not fit for purpose.

The reality is that Channel 4 has, over the last five years, achieved a level of out-of-London hours commissioned of between 54% and 66%. To retain the 35% level within the new licence is very much in direct contrast to the current reality. Amendments 16 and 17 would put a commitment in the Bill to the 50% figure for hours and spend by Channel 4.

Amendment 54, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, deals with brass plating and calls for a new clause to be inserted after Clause 36. This new clause would protect Wales’s production companies. These companies are set up by local production and business talent, have their headquarters in Wales, employ locally and spend in their communities. However, the present situation allows a TV company from outside Wales, or any of the devolved nations, to establish a small satellite presence in the nation in order to win a network PSB commission and qualify for the out-of-London commissioning quota. This, of course, is what is referred to as brass plating.

Welsh independent production companies acknowledge that the aim of the present system is to grow production services around the UK and that, in so doing, it seeks to ensure that a wide range of voices, stories, talent and perspective is delivered to UK audiences. But there are concerns within the sector in Wales that brass-plating has a number of downsides, which have already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. First, the profits from the production flow back out of Wales, leading to less investment in the sector in Wales. Secondly, talent ends up being recruited from outside Wales, limiting the opportunities for Welsh production talent to work on UK-wide and international shows. Thirdly, in some cases, the programme will have less of a Welsh identity or even make factual errors.

Amendment 54 ensures that there are clearer guidelines as to what constitutes a substantive base in a devolved nation, that there is a commitment by a production company to remain in the nation for a specified amount of time and whether a production company has had a presence in the nation for at least 36 months. The independent television production sector in Wales is clear that these amendments are not a deterrent to inward investment. That inward investment is welcome, but on its present basis it encourages a hit-and-run approach by companies from outside Wales and puts Welsh independent production at a disadvantage.

Taken together, these amendments seek to regularise how much commissioning is done outside London and seek to create a more level playing field for those independent production companies operating in the devolved nations.

I support all three amendments in this group, particularly Amendment 54 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and agree with almost all that has been said already. I apologise to the Committee for having been unable to speak at Second Reading, so I shall be brief.

This amendment seeks to ensure that production companies which claim to have a base in Northern Ireland, Scotland—and of course Wales—in order to win their share of out-of-London commission, do genuinely have a base in wherever they claim to be. Naturally, the focus of my concern is for the impressive TV and film production sector in Wales, although my comments could apply equally to the other devolved nations.

There are some 50 TV production companies in Wales active at any one time, making shows for all the UK public service broadcasters, including the Welsh language channel, S4C, so very useful for us Welsh learners, with or without its subtitles. Some are also involved in international coproduction and commissions. Indeed, Cardiff is the third-largest production base in the UK.

Indigenous TV production companies invest heavily in the Welsh sector, spending in the local economy, training and developing staff as well as investing in facilities. For example, Rondo Media recently partnered with S4C and Creative Wales to set up the Aria Film Studios in north Wales. We also have Wolf, Dragon, Swansea’s Bay Studios and Gorilla—there is a theme here—Wales’s largest post-production company, based in Cardiff Bay. This makes it all the more the important that brass-plating—that is, as we have heard, companies setting up a small satellite presence specifically to win a PSB commission—is prevented.

Although Ofcom already publishes guidelines which set out three criteria, any two of which should be met to qualify, it is felt that although the letter of the guidelines might be being followed, perhaps the spirit of them not so much. This amendment is not intended in any way to inhibit inward investment. It is more designed to ensure that there is a clearer guideline as to what constitutes a substantive base in terms of the company being well established in Wales. This means not only that more talent can be homegrown, but that the profits from Welsh productions may flow back into the sector in Wales, providing a virtuous circle. It might also have the additional benefit of ensuring that mistakes are not made in relation to Welsh culture, nor stereotypes reinforced. I wholeheartedly support all these amendments.

My Lords, I support Amendments 16 and 17 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie. I will not repeat the excellent arguments that she and her co-signatories and indeed others around the Committee have already made. I would like to briefly underscore one important aspect of her amendments: the importance of regional production and commissioning in levelling up opportunities for creatives and communities.

On the first day in Committee, I spoke to my Amendment 2, which aimed to recognise and enshrine the symbiotic relationship between public service broadcasting and the broader stimulation of a thriving creative economy across the UK. What gets shown on screen is a very important part of that, and Amendments 16 and 17 would help to ensure that programmes indeed reflected the lives and concerns of communities across the UK, as the first clause requires.

The impact of the amendments goes beyond what is seen on screen; they would also impact what we see on the ground—marked regional inequality in the creative industries, which has worsened since the pandemic. The policy and evidence centre’s 2023 report, Geographies of Creativity, revealed that the concentration of the UK’s creative industries in London and the south-east remained unvaried throughout the pandemic. The same cannot be said about the creative industries outside that area. The north-east presents a particularly worrying picture, as it experienced a growth rate of 81% between 2011 and 2019, the highest across the country, but the most severe decline during the pandemic. The region’s share of the UK’s creative economy was 1.9% in 2011, rising to 2.7% in 2019 but falling back to 2% in 2022. The pictures in other regions outside London and the south-east are not dissimilar. That data tells us something compelling: while the creative industries hold immense economic potential across the UK, that economic potential is at risk without adequate support and protection.

As we have heard, regional production quotas for PSBs have played a vital role in the emergence and development of the UK’s independent TV production sector across the nations and regions. They have been key to the development of creative industries and creative clusters in regions outside London. In doing so, they have helped to change attitudes towards creative careers. Research commissioned by Channel 4 in 2021 showed that the establishment of Channel 4’s headquarters in Leeds was impacting young people’s views of the industry, helping them to believe that it is possible to pursue a career in the sector without having to relocate to London. As we have heard, current trends are less rosy, and Channel 4’s recent redundancies mean that there are no longer any senior positions held in Leeds. That sends a terrible message that perhaps Dick Whittington was right all along that successful career paths will, eventually and inevitably, lead to London.

These amendments would see Ofcom held accountable for ensuring that PSBs met their regional commitments and that there was no further sliding back to a London-centric focus. Specifying the quotas would build in longer-term protection against further regression, which risks further damaging the creative sector outside London and the south-east. The amendments would support the growth of regional representation and equity on-screen and off-screen, helping to level up opportunities in, and access to, creative industries careers. That is why I strongly support Amendments 16 and 17 and look forward to the Minister’s response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“the nations of the United Kingdom”.

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

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

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

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

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

We have had an impressive and wide-ranging debate. I know that the Minister has been busying away this weekend, and I hope he is sufficiently recovered to rise to the occasion and give us some positive views on the Government’s approach to regionalisation.

My Lords, I hear often talk about how we need an assembly of the nations and regions, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said, we have had a great display of that today from your Lordships’ Committee, with contributions from across the United Kingdom.

As I set out on our first day in Committee, His Majesty’s Government are committed to stimulating growth in our world-leading production sector throughout the length and breadth of the UK. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, pointed out, there is a long and proud tradition of that happening across the UK; he gave many examples from Wales, understandably, and pointed to the north of England as well. We have this month lost Gudrun Ure, who played the eponymous Super Gran—a production I enjoyed in my childhood, made by Tyne Tees Television and filmed along the north-east coast in Whitley Bay, Cullercoats, Tynemouth and many other places. It was a powerful example of the emotional pull of TV production in inspiring tourism and encouraging people to visit but also in bringing production closer and, I hope, awakening sparks in people wherever it is made.

As noble Lords have alluded to, it is important to point out that the picture at the moment is a strong one. In 2022, all of our public service broadcasters exceeded their regional production quotas, and some significantly so. We have seen good and significant growth in production outside England and outside our capital. Production spending in Scotland is now worth over £266 million, supported by developments including Channel 4 opening one of its creative hubs in Glasgow in 2019. Television production in Wales continues to make impressive strides forward, with the proportion of hours of BBC content produced in Wales increasing year on year, in part thanks to major productions such as “Wolf” and the rest of the menagerie of animals that my noble friend Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist mentioned. Northern Ireland’s production industry is making a significant contribution, as shown by the rise in hours of content produced there and broadcast on public service broadcasters, which has increased consistently over the past five years. The BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5 all increased their production expenditure in Northern Ireland in 2022. The growth in production outside London in recent years is a great success story, and our public service broadcasters have been one of the significant contributors to that growth.

We are also encouraged by commitments to go further, such as the BBC’s pledge in its BBC Across the UK strategy to increase its production expenditure outside the capital to 60% by 2027, and Channel 4’s pledge to continue to spend 50% of its main channel commissioning budget outside London. However, it is right that we keep this progress under review, and I welcome the opportunity we have had to debate these issues this afternoon, thanks to the amendments that have been tabled in this group.

Let me start by addressing Amendments 16 and 17 in the name of my noble friend Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie and acknowledge the support that she expressed on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Foster of Aghadrumsee, with whom I have had the opportunity to discuss some aspects of the Bill outside the Chamber. The regulatory system proposed in the Bill will continue to support the success of the industry in several ways. The Bill is explicit in Clause 1 of its intention to recognise the need for programmes produced outside London through our new public service remit. Underpinning this is the detailed system of quotas on which this amendment focuses. This system already creates the mechanisms to hold public service broadcasters to account, and the success of the UK production sector demonstrates this.

The level of these quotas is set by Ofcom, which has broad powers to amend them as it sees appropriate. Should the success of the UK production sector not continue, Ofcom has the power to take action. It could, for example, increase regional production quotas over time, in much the same way as envisaged by the amendments that my noble friend has proposed, or it could tie the quotas to population shares. I can see why it might be tempting to pre-empt or constrain Ofcom’s consideration of these matters and to legislate directly as these amendments suggest and as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, set out in his contribution.

I agree with the noble Viscount that there is an important role for Parliament. We are all grateful that the chairman of Ofcom, the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, is in your Lordships’ House and is in his place to hear these debates. Even if he were not a Member of your Lordships House, Parliament has the opportunity to express its views directly and indirectly through the Select Committees and through my department. I hope the noble Viscount would agree that it is also important that Ofcom can act with agility in this dynamic and often fast-changing sector.

It is essential that Ofcom has the flexibility to calculate regional quotas on broadcasters independently, weighing the evidence and balancing the different equities in the sector. That approach allows Ofcom to alter quotas smoothly over time to react to developments that it sees. As the financial position of both the public service broadcasters and the sector more broadly changes over time, we want Ofcom to be able to take this into account and adjust quotas accordingly, without the need for primary legislation on each occasion.

However, I reassure noble Lords that I, and my colleagues in DCMS, have heard the strength of feeling on this issue from the sector, particularly in relation to Channel 4’s “out of England” quota, which is set at 9% of eligible programmes and expenditure. I note that Ofcom is currently consulting on the terms of Channel 4’s next licence, which will come into force from 1 January next year, and also that Channel 4 has said that it would support a managed and carefully considered increase to its programme-making commitments in the other home nations. His Majesty’s Government look forward to the outcome of the licence renewal process and seeing how the sector’s concerns have been addressed.

For our part, the Government will continue our broad support for the screen industries across the United Kingdom through generous tax reliefs, as we saw in the last Budget and previous ones, through investment in studios such as the Crown Works Studios, which the right Reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle rightly reminded us of, supporting innovation and promoting independent content through the UK Global Screen Fund.

We want to see the production sector continue to thrive. When it comes to our public service broadcasters’ contribution to that goal, we believe that the existing system of regional production quotas, which, as I say, our public service broadcasters can and do exceed—some of them significantly—remains the best way to continue to drive the growth that we have seen in recent years in every part of the UK.

For these reasons, I am not able to accept the amendments that my noble friend Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie has set out, but I accept the invitation that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, reiterated on her behalf and, if I may, I extend it to the noble Lord, Lord Grade, or one of his colleagues at Ofcom, so that we can talk in more detail and, I hope, seek to reassure her further about how the existing system provides for the concerns that she has set out.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, made a good point about Parliament being consulted. I wonder if the noble Lord could say something about how both Houses—and Select Committees—could be consulted and considered in the question of quotas and the distribution of regional production. I do think that is an important element of this debate, and I am sure noble Lords around the Committee will want to hear something positive on that.

I hope the meeting I have just indicated I am very happy to hold will be an opportunity to do that, with representatives of both the Government and Ofcom present, and an opportunity for noble Lords to ask questions on the issues of quotas, and not just in relation to the Bill that is before us. As the noble Lord says, Select Committees on an ongoing basis allow for the scrutiny of Ofcom’s work.

Turning to Amendment 54, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I recognise the intention behind his amendment, which seeks to address concerns about the programmes that our public service broadcasters are counting towards their regional programme-making quotas. As he and my noble friend Lady Bloomfield said, this has been referred to as “brass plating”, and I am grateful in particular to the Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place for exploring this issue in its recent report, Broadcasting in Wales. As he noted, the trade association TAC has also raised this issue and has done so with my department directly.

My officials have raised the matter with Ofcom again following the publication of the Select Committee’s report. Ofcom has confirmed that, in order to qualify as a regional production, relevant productions must meet two of three criteria. These include the “substantive base” criterion, which is one of the focuses of the noble Lord’s amendment. However, productions are not able to rely on this criterion alone; they must also meet one of the two other criteria relating to production spending. Ofcom has also confirmed that it strengthened and clarified the requirements associated with the “substantive base” criterion when it updated its guidance on regional productions for public service broadcasters in 2019. This guidance came into effect for productions broadcast from 1 January 2021.

Having reflected on this advice, we remain of the view that Ofcom has the necessary powers to identify, examine and, if necessary, close any loopholes related to the regulatory regime for regional programme making. We do not, therefore, see the need to legislate in the area of the noble Lord’s amendment.

I am grateful to the Minister for the consideration he and his officials have given and the discussions that have taken place. Would he, however, accept that those at the sharp end have perhaps the most detailed knowledge of the problems that arise and the means used by some people using brass plating to get around regulations? Would he be prepared to meet some of these people to understand more directly the exact nature of this problem and some of the ideas they have that might be useful in overcoming them?

Perhaps if the noble Lord has some examples, he might like to bring them to the discussion with Ofcom that I mentioned. It would be helpful for the regulator to hear, as well as for us in government as policymakers to understand and see, whether it is on the enforcement and assessment side or the policy-making side that we need to consider this further. I hope he will be able to join us for that.

On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, assuming there are a few scraps left for the rest of us, could the Minister tell us what infrastructure role is played when the quotas are being assessed? Some infrastructure needs to be on a massive scale, even a national scale. To what extent is that taken into account when the quotas are being assessed?

To qualify as a regional production, at least two of the following three criteria must be met: a production company must have a substantive business and production base in the UK outside the M25; at least 70% of the production budget, excluding some specific costs, must be spent in the UK outside the M25; or at least 50% of the production talent, by cost, must have their usual place of employment in the UK outside the M25. Two of those three criteria have to be met for the assessment to qualify.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, rightly used the opportunity to point to the importance of local television providers. The Government recognise the important role that they play, such as Latest TV in his home city of Brighton, in providing excellent local news and content, often to viewers who are digitally excluded. That is why we introduced secondary legislation earlier this month to give Ofcom powers to renew the licences for the local TV multiplex and local TV services. This legislation was informed by the results of a public consultation and will ensure that local TV services continue to receive the valuable regulatory benefits they have received since 2013. That includes not only access to and prominence on Freeview but prominence on regulated electronic programme guides for simulcast satellite, cable and internet protocol television services. I am grateful to him for the opportunity to raise that in the context of the Bill.

Yes, either I or, I am sure, my colleague in another place who has direct responsibility for this, not just in relation to the Bill but more broadly, will be happy to speak to them further.

My Lord, I thank everybody from around the Committee who contributed to this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, I think we have given due warning of trouble ahead to the Minister. I am grateful for that. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, reminded the Minister of the very strong feelings in the sector across the nations and the regions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, despite the rosy picture we may be able to paint, there are marked inequalities in the system. To ensure that this moves in the right direction we need intentionality, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned.

I note that the Minister mentioned figures up to 2022 and the creative hubs in the regions, but they are no good if the commissioning relationships are not made from those hubs. I put to my noble friend that that is what the sector has been concerned about since 2022. Frankly, Channel 4 sees quotas as a target, not as a minimum—the figures from PACT show that it is just making it, year on year—so they do work and it is important that we build on what is there and do not jettison it.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his offer of further discussions with us and Ofcom, but I am mindful of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam: where is the parliamentary scrutiny and where are we setting this? We have heard the strength of feeling. Do we really want to leave it to Ofcom yet again? As many Peers said, we need to ensure that the spirit, not just the letter, is setting the right direction. I thank the Minister for his offer of further talks. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 16 withdrawn.

Amendment 17 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clauses 15 to 17 agreed.

Schedule 1 agreed.

Clause 18 agreed.

Clause 19: Amount of financial penalties: qualifying revenue

Amendment 18

Moved by

18: Clause 19, page 21, line 37, at end insert “or a non-UK on-demand programme service”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment secures that section 368J(4), (5) and (7) of the Communications Act 2003 applies for determining the qualifying revenue derived from a non-UK on-demand programme service.

Amendment 18 agreed.

Clause 19, as amended, agreed.

Clause 20: Categories of relevant service

Amendment 19

Moved by

19: Clause 20, page 24, line 3, at end insert—

“(aa) where it is a service that forms part of a designated internet programme service, it satisfies the conditions in subsection (2AA), and”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and my amendment to Clause 20 at page 24, line 5, add to the requirements for a relevant service which is part of a multi-service designated internet programme service (see section 362AA(10)(c), inserted by Clause 28).

My Lords, I rise briefly to address the government amendments which I have tabled in this group: Amendments 19 to 24, 27 and 28, and 36 to 41. These, although numerous, are all minor technical amendments to provide Ofcom with the necessary tools to ensure that the regime delivers for audiences. The amendments will close off any opportunity for non-public service broadcaster services to qualify. They will update the provisions on contract voiding and provide consistency in definitions, in line with changes that were made to the Bill in another place. They will enable Ofcom to specify that audiences should be able to continue to watch events from the beginning or to rewind while an event is in progress—perhaps including debates in your Lordships’ House—in its adequate live coverage regulations; and they will ensure that Ofcom has appropriate flexibility to determine any penalties. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords can support these amendments and I look forward to noble Lords making the case for the other amendments that they have tabled in this group. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 25, 26 and 30, which are in my name. I draw attention to my interests in the register: I am also a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Media Group.

Whether it is Wimbledon, the Olympic 100 metre final, the Euros joy and World Cup despair of the Lionesses, or the optimism of the FA Cup, listed events have a special place in people’s hearts and memories—but how and when we watch these big sporting moments that can unite nations and encourage participation, social cohesion and pride is changing. Thanks to the listed events regime, devised in the mid-1990s, major sporting events are freely available to all audiences, especially those who cannot afford to watch sport behind a paywall—great if you can watch in real time on your TV, but currently there is no protection for digital on-demand coverage of these much-loved events. If no action is taken, anyone who wants to watch, say, Team GB on their tablet or smartphone or see the highlights could miss out, especially with events taking place in different time zones.

At Tokyo 2020, the gold medal-winning performance by BMX specialist Charlotte Worthington was watched by just 400,000 people at the time, as it happened overnight, but in the days that followed different forms of short-form coverage of the race generated nearly a tenfold increase in views; and, while the TV reach to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was about 20% lower than for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, there were around six times more on-demand views of digital clips. Soon, digital and on-demand viewing will be the norm for watching legends being made. Looking beyond Los Angeles 2028 and Brisbane 2032, could Great Britain’s medal successes be behind a paywall?

Now is the time to not miss the opportunity. The Media Bill offers a once-in-a-generation chance to protect these moments for all of us, however, whenever and wherever we watch, and I am seeking to bring the regime up to date to safeguard the future of listed events for the next generation. The new clause will give enhanced regulatory protection so that these shared national moments are available to us all, making sure the benefits of watching on your TV in real time are afforded to clips and highlights, and will allow for time-shifted viewing, enabling people to watch on tablets and smartphones; and it would secure, where possible, adequate digital on-demand coverage of listed events made available free of charge to us here in the United Kingdom.

Audiences are changing. For Wimbledon in 2023, BBC coverage was streamed 54.3 million times on iPlayer and BBC Sport online—a new record. The men’s singles final peaked at 11.3 million on BBC1, with streams up by 58% on iPlayer, and the women’s singles final peaked at 4.5 million on BBC1, with streams up by 85% on iPlayer. For the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, 12 million watched England’s Lionesses versus Spain on BBC1, with an additional 3.9 million streams on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport online. There were 25.7 million streams on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport online across the tournament—a 75% increase on the 2019 World Cup.

It is not just the BBC that wants to see this. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently concluded that

“digital rights should be included as part of the listed events”

and an independent report commissioned by Ofcom last year concluded that

“as expectations about the availability of live and secondary coverage of sporting events of national interest changes, we think that the current linear TV-centred regime risks failing to take into account the increasing popularity of secondary coverage”.

We know the Government recognise the issue and consulted industry a year ago, yet nothing has been done. Please do not let this opportunity pass. The time to act is now.

My Lords, this is a large group, as the Minister said in his opening comments, dominated mainly by government amendments. We are grateful to him for his explanation of the effects of the amendments, which we broadly welcome, although we have some questions about them. In particular, I would like a more precise understanding of the meaning of the Minister’s Amendment 19; I had hoped it might make our Amendment 29 irrelevant, but I do not think it does. All of us in the Committee are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for tabling Amendments 25, 26 and 30, and I look forward to hearing something positive about them from the Minister.

We on these Benches have two amendments in this group: Amendments 29 and 31A. Amendment 29 would have one simple effect: it is designed to make provision for the coverage of listed events, which is not the same as live coverage. As the noble Baroness has explained, the position regarding the Olympics is, frankly, ludicrous: unless you are able to catch the live coverage of an event, you cannot view the same event on catch-up TV or in an edited highlights programme. Where the Olympics, a World Cup or similar events are in time zones that are 12 or 13 hours different from the UK’s, the position is even more ridiculous: sports fans are forced to become insomniacs—and worse—to watch blue-ribbon events within the Olympics programme. I am sure that was never the intention when the listed events regime was created, and I hope that we will hear from the Minister today that this peculiar state of affairs will be put right.

Amendment 31A seeks to insert a new clause. This reflects the concerns brought up by internet providers about the quality of listed events in the face of competing demands on our internet system. As we consider these changes to listed events, it is important that we also consider the audiovisual quality of digital delivery. Our frameworks must ensure good reliability to support a viewing experience worthy of the importance of these live events. Can the Minister answer the question that the new clause asks about how we ensure that listed events get their fair share of internet infrastructure as we see the digital share of television viewing rise further? That is especially true for listed events but it is worth asking more generally as well.

In the same vein, Amendment 30, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is of course one that we support, although it seems to be a more belt-and-braces version of our own. I am not wedded to a particular form of words, and if the noble Baroness has spotted a deficiency that requires plugging and her amendment achieves the same end as ours, we will happily support it at a later stage.

We are sympathetic to Amendment 31 from the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Cricket misses out in terms of coverage, and that is surely the minimum that we should expect for this much underrated summer game. Test and one-day format cricket have the ability to capture the national mood and imagination, and the nature and rhythm of cricket, with its rolling narrative, is surely worthy of a more advanced listed billing. I have never understood why test matches are not listed; the Ashes series, with its long national rivalry involving Australia, certainly should be. As a devoted cricket fan and participant in 60-plus seasons, I make a strong plea to your Lordships’ Committee to listen to this argument. I appreciate that my case is highly subjective but the recent Ashes series in the last 15 to 20 years have been compelling, and there is a compelling case for this event to be listed as well.

My Lords, this is a series of issues around the importance of sporting events being listed as cultural assets. If you do not do it in a way that holds the full panoply of technology as it stands today, you are going to miss out on the principle. As somebody who lost quite a lot of sleep trying to follow the Tokyo Games, et cetera, I am slightly annoyed that I did not add my name to all the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on the importance of overnight digital and highlight coverage. Live is usually preferable but you will not be able to see everything. For events that have multiple sports, you should not be able to see everything; it is a chance to see sports you do not otherwise see. It is a chance to see the panoply of sporting events going on.

We really need an undertaking from the Government that they are going to take this seriously. Is it a step back to try to get your video recorder set for the right time? I do not know, but that is the alternative. You either make sure that this is available or you accept that people will miss out. Once you have legislated to say that they do not, you will make sure they do. Can we have an undertaking here? I prefer my amendment to the one from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on this, but his amendment certainly would be better than nothing. However, I much prefer the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

As to the one on cricket, I wondered whether the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, would be containable, and it was not. I think that probably tells you why cricket should be there. Cricket is a major sporting event in this country. When the cricket team does well, the whole country has a lift. It is something unique; it is that bit of cultural capital that we keep. Anybody who doubts that, just go and watch what happens when we do well or badly. It is there; it fits into that structure. Other sports may do it, but I think cricket has a special place in the summer for this. Can the Government undertake to say how we are going to start to address this?

These are genuine issues, raised to make something that the Government have agreed to work. If we can get some firm commitment that they are going to take all these concerns and put them into something solid, I for one will have to withdraw on this; if not, we will be going back to it. We have no real choice. You are talking about sport’s place in our society as a cultural activity and something that touches the whole nation. If we are not going to do this properly, why are we doing it at all?

My Lords, I intervene briefly to express my support for Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I think she has captured, very importantly, how the character of watching major sporting events has changed over recent years, certainly a great deal since the Communications Act 2003, when I had the pleasure of working with Lord Puttnam and others in another place on that Act—the Standing Committee and the Puttnam commission—back then. Of course, when we are looking at listed events, people were understandably focused on the live coverage in those days because that was predominantly how people watched sporting events. That has changed and we must adapt the structure of the legislation to match that.

I will come on, if I may, to the difference between Amendments 29 and 30. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred kindly to Amendment 30 and I think there are advantages. I note that Amendment 29 somewhat suggests that the noble Lord and the Opposition Front Bench have started to write amendments a bit as a Government in waiting in a way in which we tend to see the Government thinking it a very good idea for Ministers to have the powers to do things however they wish. I think now the Opposition Front Bench wants to have similar sorts of powers—

I know that the noble Lord is sticking to the line to take, and nothing is being taken for granted. I completely understand. However, he will understand why I favour the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson: because it incorporates the structure of this proper legislative reform in relation to on-demand services. It does not apply where somebody has access to on-demand rights and makes them available in a number of places to unconnected persons. That would not necessarily fall to be regulated because it is not exclusive, and the use of exclusivity is really important. It reflects what is done in relation to existing live events. Equally, if it is made available free to air or free of charge, it would likewise not need Ofcom’s permission; again, that is like live events.

The amendment very carefully addresses itself to the listed events—major events of national importance—where they are intended to be available on demand, exclusively by those rights holders only and by nobody else, and behind a paywall. This means, in effect, they are not available as most people would expect to see national events in the catch-up and on-demand world of broadcasting that we now live in. It is an excellent amendment and demands close attention by the Government. I urge my noble friend to consider whether this is now the time to make this additional change to the structure of the regulation of listed events.

My Lords, surely at a time when we want children to get away from the telly and actually do sports, it is right that they be confronted by sports that they may know nothing about. Was it not curling, whatever that is, which became very popular and captured the imagination? Most of us could not believe that there was a sport where you push something along in that way.

There is a serious point about how children and young people know what sports are there. It is a bit like the inscription by Orwell’s statue outside the BBC:

“If liberty means anything … it means the right”

to be confronted by opinions you do not like, or something like that. That must go for sports as well, but I really need to make a confession. I live in Headingley; I have never been. Cricket is one of those sports that I suppose some people like. I have never understood it, but I would rather go to curling.

The House was stunned into silence by the revelation from the right reverend Prelate.

I thank noble Lords for the contributions they have made and the points raised on the other amendments in this group. We, of course, had a bit of a pre-match friendly during our debate on sport led by the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, on Thursday. Let me start with Amendments 25 and 26 from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

The Government recognise the intent behind the noble Baroness’s amendments, and I know that she has had concerns about in particular the necessity of the new multisport provisions, whether “adequate live coverage” will meet the mark, and whether public service broadcasters will have the freedom to choose what they cover in the interests of their audiences. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to seek to offer her and other noble Lords reassurance on these questions.

First, on whether these provisions are necessary, the Bill introduces the concept of adequate live coverage for multisport events to ensure that partnerships between broadcasters which deliver for UK audiences can still go ahead in an age where dozens of sporting events can be taking place concurrently. We do not want inadvertently to create a regime which would prevent deals like the one currently in place between Warner Bros. Discovery and the BBC. Expansion of the scope of services covered by the regime to resolve the streaming loophole poses risks to these mutually beneficial partnerships between public service broadcasters and commercial broadcasters for multisport events. That is because the existing requirement for both parties to have the same coverage does not reflect the way that coverage is actually shared between them across different types of services.

There is no intention to weaken the public service broadcasters’ hand in negotiations, simply to ensure that partnerships between them and commercial broadcasters can function effectively to deliver the best outcomes for audiences and rights holders.

On whether “adequate live coverage” will hit the mark for audiences, it will be for Ofcom to make new regulations setting out what will be considered adequate. Following scrutiny and debate in another place, the Government amended to the Bill to set out the matters that Ofcom must take into account when defining adequate live coverage in its regulations. This is an example of Parliament giving direction to the regulator through legislation. This includes the forms of live coverage that would satisfy the interests of the public, and the desirability of facilitating arrangements which result in live coverage of listed events being shown on both public service and non-public service broadcasters.

To protect audiences’ interests, and in keeping with deals we have seen before, any partnership of this nature will require at least two live broadcasts on public service broadcasters. Ofcom is given the power to require more than two streams if it deems it necessary or appropriate, and it could also set requirements regarding the percentage of coverage or other considerations.

Finally, I think the noble Baroness, like me and others who have spoken, believes that it is vital that public service broadcasters continue to have the flexibility and editorial freedom to show the most incredible moments of these multisport events to public audiences. I reassure her and other noble Lords that the Bill enables Ofcom to require that “adequate live coverage” must allow the broadcaster involved to select what parts of the proceedings it wishes to show. It is vital that public service broadcasters maintain complete editorial control of live broadcasts when they enter partnerships so that they have the freedom to make decisions about what events to screen for the British public, and the Bill makes provisions for this.

For those reasons, I do not think that we need the amendments the noble Baroness has brought before us. However, I hope my words have provided reassurance about the checks and balances in place to deliver for audiences in the way she seeks.

Is the Minister, in effect, saying that he is convinced that, under the current regime, catch up and clips will continue to be available, certainly when multiple sports are happening at different times? Will we get slightly better guidance on that? Will it be available for us to look it up and check on it—certainly before the next stage of this Bill?

Yes, the Bill caters for the concerns that have been set out, but I will happily discuss that further with the noble Lord if on reflection he disagrees with the reasons I have set out.

I turn now to the noble Lord’s Amendment 31. The Government are keen to ensure that sporting events are made available to the public as widely as possible. That is why we have the listed events regime. We acknowledge the interest that fans have in watching the sports teams of our home nations compete. As noble Lords will appreciate, however, sports rights holders use income from the sale of broadcast rights for the benefit of the sporting sector more generally, so it is important that the regime continues to strike the right balance between accessibility and the ability of sporting organisations to generate revenues which they can invest in their sports at all levels.

The Government believe that the current list of events works to deliver the best outcome and strikes an appropriate balance. We therefore have no plans to review the list at this time. I know that will disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Addington, but it is why I cannot accept his Amendment 31.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked me to say a bit more about Amendment 19. We have taken the opportunity, as recommended during the pre-legislative scrutiny process for the Bill, to take steps to ensure that the streamer loophole is closed. This was a major flaw in the current regime which allowed for unregulated online services to acquire listed sports rights, while leaving Ofcom powerless to do anything. The current drafting therefore ensures that all TV-like services providing live content to UK audiences are in scope of the regime. Amendment 19, and Amendments 20 to 22, are technical amendments to future-proof the regime by closing off an opportunity for non-public service broadcaster services to qualify through the back door. The amendments tie qualification for the listed events regime to the way in which qualification for prominence is decided.

The noble Lord may find that his Amendment 29 does not do quite what he seeks to do, to be candid. I shall turn to that and Amendment 30 now. The Government recognise the intent behind the noble Lord’s Amendment 29; namely, allowing the Secretary of State to implement the conclusion of the digital rights review in the event that it concludes that the listed events regime should be extended to include digital rights. This is a recommendation made by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in another place, and although there is a great deal of support in Parliament for it, it is not a straightforward matter.

Above all, it is important that we maintain the right balance between access for audiences and the commercial freedoms that allow rights-holders to reinvest, as I have set out. The Government’s priority when striking that balance is the impact on the public. It is of course important that audiences are able to watch and celebrate major sporting moments; at the same time, broadcasting rights provide essential income to the national governing bodies, which they reinvest, whether that is at elite level or grass-roots level, through better facilities for spectators, hiring great coaches or distributing new equipment.

Noble Lords have seen how technical the government amendments are in order simply to ensure that the streamer loophole is closed. If we were to add digital rights, that would provide a much bigger challenge, bringing much more complexity. Even an amendment to add a power could have unintended consequences if it were not done carefully.

I reassure noble Lords that this is an issue under careful consideration and that the Government have not made a decision, However, for the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendment tabled by the noble Lord today.

Linked to that amendment, the approach taken in Amendment 30 seeks to bring digital rights within scope of the regime. Again, it is important that we maintain the right balance between access and allowing rights-holders to reinvest in their sports at all levels. I think it would be more appropriate to allow the Government to evaluate the issue fully, including how it could best be delivered, before we consider legislation that enacts any particular conclusion.

I get the sense that the Minister is sympathetic to the point we have made here and that it is more a question of timescale. If the Government are looking at this, what sort of timescale do they think would be right for them to ponder the question more widely?

I am loath to set out a precise timescale, but the noble Lord is right: it is a matter of looking at this more fully, as well as considering the complexities of how it could be borne out if it were concluded that that were necessary.

I hope noble Lords will see, through the government amendments in this group, that we have worked with parliamentary counsel to respond to the points that were raised by the Select Committee and Members in another place about the scope of services to be captured by the regime. We have now closed the streaming loophole, which could otherwise have seen live coverage intended for UK audiences disappearing behind a paywall without the protections that the regime offers. However, as I have set out, it is a complex matter that needs a bit more thought. I am happy to set out some of that thinking and to allow officials to do so with the noble Lord if he would find that useful. For those reasons, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, will understand that we cannot support her Amendment 30.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has tabled Amendment 31A. I agree with him that it is crucial that audiences are able to view their favourite sports live in whatever way works for them, whether that is on a traditional TV platform or over the internet. However, as new technologies such as internet protocol television—IPTV—become more prevalent, we need to ensure that they continue to serve audiences. This amendment would ask Ofcom to review the delivery of listed events and other audiovisual content online, with a focus on how internet service providers can work with broadcasters to deliver IPTV. As I have said in previous debates, my department has an ongoing programme of work on the future of TV distribution. As part of this, we are working closely with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to consider many of the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has raised today, including the reliability and quality of content provision on IPTV. That work is also ongoing.

Ultimately, while I agree that the issues that noble Lords have raised are important ones, this is not a Bill which is focused on the UK’s digital infrastructure. By considering the issue with regard to only one internet service—namely, television—we risk taking a piecemeal approach to what is an important and broader policy issue. For that reason, I am afraid I cannot accept the noble Lord’s Amendment 31A either. I commend Amendment 19 to the Committee.

Amendment 19 agreed.

Amendments 20 to 22

Moved by

20: Clause 20, page 24, line 5, at end insert—

“(2AA) The conditions are—(a) that the relevant service is provided by—(i) the BBC or a person associated with the BBC otherwise than with a view to generating a profit,(ii) the provider of a Channel 3 service, Channel 4 or Channel 5,(iii) S4C, or(iv) a person associated with a broadcaster mentioned in sub-paragraph (ii) or (iii);(b) that, where it is provided by the BBC or a person associated with the BBC, the service contributes to the promotion of one or more of the BBC’s public purposes;(c) that, where it is provided by a broadcaster referred to in paragraph (a)(ii) or (iii) or a person associated with such a broadcaster, the broadcaster’s latest statement of programme policy under— (i) section 266 or 267 of the Communications Act 2003, or(ii) paragraph 4 of Schedule 12 to that Act,states that the service will be used to fulfil the public service remit for the Channel 3 service, Channel 4 or Channel 5 or (as the case may be) S4C’s public service remit.”Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for my amendment to Clause 20 at page 24, line 3.

21: Clause 20, page 24, line 13, at end insert—

“(2C) Section 362AZ12(6) of the Communications Act 2003 (meaning of references to a person associated with a public service broadcaster) applies for the purposes of subsection (2AA) as it applies for the purposes of Part 3A of that Act.””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on my amendment to Clause 20 at page 24, line 5.

22: Clause 20, page 24, line 36, at end insert—

“(vii) it is not a service of the kind described in section 362AA(10)(c) of the Communications Act 2003 (internet programme services which provide programmes by means of an on-demand programme service or non-UK on-demand programme service and at least one other service).”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment secures that “relevant service” does not include a service falling within section 362AA(10)(c) of the Communications Act 2003, inserted by Clause 28 (multi-service internet programme services that contain at least one relevant service).

Amendments 20 to 22 agreed.

Clause 20, as amended, agreed.

Clause 21: Contracts relating to coverage of listed events

Amendments 23 and 24

Moved by

23: Clause 21, page 25, line 16, after “service” insert “(“the first service”)”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and my amendment to Clause 21 at page 25, line 21, alter the definition of exclusively granting rights to include live coverage of a Group A event.

24: Clause 21, page 25, line 21, leave out from “granted” to “and” in line 28 and insert “such rights to include live coverage of the whole or, as the case may be, that part of the event in one or more other relevant services as are sufficient to authorise, in accordance with section 101(2) or (3) or, as the case may be, section 101(4), the inclusion in the first service of the live coverage in question,”

Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for my amendment to Clause 21 at page 25, line 16.

Amendments 23 and 24 agreed.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed.

Clause 22: Restriction on showing live coverage of listed events

Amendments 25 and 26 not moved.

Amendment 27

Moved by

27: Clause 22, page 27, line 13, leave out from beginning to “and” in line 14 and insert—

“(d) at least two of the second and further services are television programme services,”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment allows relevant services which are not television programme services to be part of the adequate live coverage of a listed event.

Amendment 27 agreed.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed.

Clause 23: Regulations about coverage of listed events

Amendment 28

Moved by

28: Clause 23, page 28, line 31, leave out from “the” to “or” in line 32 and insert “numbers of relevant services of particular descriptions in which the live coverage is included (subject to section 101(4)(d)),”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on my amendment to Clause 22 at page 27, line 13.

Amendment 28 agreed.

Clause 23, as amended, agreed.

Amendments 29 and 30 not moved.

Clause 24 agreed.

Clause 25: Sections 20 to 24: further provision

Amendment 31 not moved.

Clause 25 agreed.

Amendment 31A not moved.

Clause 26 agreed.

Amendments 32 to 34 not moved.

Clause 27: Further amendments relating to public service television

Amendment 35

Moved by

35: Clause 27, page 32, line 17, leave out “public service broadcasters” and insert “this Part”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment corrects a drafting error.

Amendment 35 agreed.

Clause 27, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 35A

Moved by

35A: After Clause 27, insert the following new Clause—

“Review of broadcast content and Children’s literacyWithin six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must prepare and publish a report on how audiovisual content providers are supporting children’s literacy.”Member's explanatory statement

This new clause aims to probe the Government’s intentions regarding proposals around automatic subtitling.

My Lords, I hope the Minister clocked the reluctant withdrawing of amendments. Perhaps there is further discussion to be had.

I rise to move Amendment 35A in my name; I will address the other amendments when I have heard the discussion that takes place. This is a probing amendment, and the reason we have submitted it is that, during the course of this future-proofing Bill that we are discussing, while we are addressing the issues of young people and children and the changes in their viewing habits and what that might mean for their development and learning, a discussion about subtitling seems appropriate.

The context for this question is twofold. First, a recent study from YPulse found that more than half of young people prefer using subtitles. According to the survey, more than half of Generation Z and millennial media consumers prefer subtitles. Through anecdotal evidence, having millennial and Generation Z living in my household, I can say that this is certainly true. If you are scrolling through TikTok or watching Netflix with a young person, you might notice more words on the screen. The use of subtitles is on the rise.

Secondly, researchers posed the question, “How does turning on subtitles help reading?” Studies have shown that turning them on supports various reading skills, including building on children’s knowledge of words, acquisition of vocabulary, reading comprehension, fluency and speed, and decoding skills. There is a campaign, which has been running for several years, that advocates for automatic subtitling on children’s television shows in order to promote literacy. That is why we would like to probe this further and raise those questions.

I understand the Government have considered this previously, and I want to probe further the Minister’s thinking on the subject and whether the department has considered alternative or related schemes to promote literacy in children and increase their vocabulary at an early stage. There has been research that strongly suggests that having automatic subtitling on children’s television helps to turn children into more proficient readers.

Young people—although not as young as I am talking about here—prefer to watch television with subtitles. A YouGov survey found last year that 61% of young adults use subtitles while watching television. Although an older audience may find it an odd way to consume television for those without hearing difficulties or who are learning a language, it does not appear to be something that young people are opposed to.

Have the Government considered targeting specific age groups who would benefit most from the change—for example, children who are just learning to read? Although we often talk about children’s television as a monolith, “Bluey” targets a very different audience from, say, “Blue Peter”. Would having subtitles for those at the early stage of reading be more appropriate than mandating the change across all ages? Is the Minister aware of any broadcaster or on-demand providers who have plans to implement such changes to their platforms?

If the Government come to the conclusion that it is not workable to make subtitles automatic, would they consider doing more to effectively promote awareness among families of the potential power of switching to subtitles? For example, has the DCMS or the Department for Education considered working with on-demand video providers to promote automatic subtitles on children’s shows in app, as part of their settings? I am thinking of an option that parents could turn on as part of parental controls. Could the DCMS work closely with the DfE to ensure that educators know the benefits and could pass them on to parents? Of course, watching television or films would never be a substitute for reading, but evidence shows it can be a useful and effective way to supplement it.

As so often with areas of policy that impact children, we need to think cross-departmentally about how best to promote their well-being and learning. I look forward to the Minister’s response on this point. On these Benches, we are simply interested in the department’s thinking at this stage. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to speak to four amendments in my name in this group. Although there are four amendments grouped together, they cover three separate subjects, and I hope the Committee will forgive me if I go carefully through each of those three subjects.

The first is in relation principally to Amendment 44. Noble Lords will note that Amendment 44 puts a reference to

“in the case of Tier 1 services, those set out in section 368HF”

into the existing Ofcom standards code, to be found in Section 319 of the Communications Act 2003—I refer again to my involvement in the 2003 legislation with the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and others. Noble Lords will recall that Section 368HF in the Bill is the tier 1 standards code. It means that, in so far as Section 319 leads the standards code debate, the tier 1 standards code is linked in with Section 319 of the Communications Act.

In my view, we should do this because there is a relationship between Section 319 of the Communications Act and Section 58 of the Enterprise Act. Section 58 of the Enterprise Act includes provisions relating to a media public interest test. Where there is a potential change of ownership or control in relation to a media enterprise—which for these purposes is defined as a newspaper, or a broadcaster holding a licence under the Broadcasting Acts—the media public interest test can address, among other issues, whether the potential ownership of that media enterprise can demonstrate a genuine commitment to the standards as set out in Section 319 of the Communications Act 2003.

Incorporating this reference to the tier 1 standards code will have the effect of including the question of whether a tier 1 broadcaster—it must be somebody who has a broadcasting licence, so it does not affect every kind of on-demand programme provider—has a genuine commitment to the standards set out in the tier 1 standards code. My contention is very simple: if we are in the business of assessing the potential ownership of a broadcaster in this country and are looking at whether they adhere to the broadcasting code, we should also look at whether they adhere to a commitment to the tier 1 standards code, otherwise, in my view, we have a gap; that is, we have a standards code for tier 1 providers, but where they are a media enterprise that is covered by the Enterprise Act, we would not have any right to look at whether they were committed to those standards under the tier 1 standards code. I hope that Amendment 44 might commend itself to Ministers as closing what might otherwise be a rather embarrassing loophole at some point in the future.

Amendments 43 and 59 relate to a different question. Amendment 59 says that included in the tier 1 standards code would be

“that advertising that contravenes the prohibition on political advertising set out in Section 321(2) is not included in Tier 1 services”.

First, the tier 1 standards code and the broadcasting code are not the same: there are significant differences. Amendment 70 from the noble Lord, Lord Foster, in effect, says that they should be the same. For my part, all I sought to do was to isolate a ban on political advertising—one of the two things that are in the broadcasting code and ought to be in the tier 1 standards code; I shall come on to the other. Funnily enough, in my research, I noted that James Waterson, the media editor of the Guardian, had noted the exact same thing back on 14 April and that there was the risk of a loophole. In his article—which I assume is correct—he noted that many on-demand programme services, such as Sky’s Now TV or Channel 4, or Netflix and Amazon Prime for that matter, have said that they will ban political advertising. But that is not every tier 1 service. The article particularly noted that ITVX, as a tier 1 service provided by a broadcaster, would be able to take political advertising and had not yet excluded that possibility.

I do not think that we need to have an argument or even a debate about whether political advertising on our broadcast programmes is a good or a bad thing. I happen to think that it is undesirable that we change from our present position. Nobody seems to be proposing that we should allow political advertising on public service broadcasting, but what about public service broadcasters who provide on-demand programme services on which there is advertising? Should they be allowed to take political advertising? By extension, it seems to be a pretty straightforward argument that they should not, but at the moment, there is nothing in the Bill that would prevent that happening.

The Government might say, as they do generally in relation to online advertising, that it is not in the Bill because there is a consultation, commenced in 2021, on the online advertising programme. I looked at my former right honourable friend John Whittingdale’s response given back in July 2023. He said that there was an online advertising programme consultation to which the Government would respond, and that there was a need for legislative reform “when parliamentary time allows”. I wonder when this parliamentary time might arise, since we are dealing with a Media Bill here and now. In this instance, I feel quite strongly that if we are going to close the potential loophole on political advertising, we should do it now. That is the second aspect. Amendment 43 is just consequential to Amendment 59 and enables them to be looped back together in the structure of the Bill.

I confess that the final amendment is merely a probing amendment, after having noted that there was a difference between the broadcast standards code and the tier 1 standards code where the former includes a ban on subliminal programming or advertising. The tier 1 standards code does not include the same language, and I want to know from my noble friend why that is the case. Even though it might be that the broadcasting code provision has never been used, as it prohibits harmful broadcasting and therefore it is all okay, I am slightly worried that anybody looking at the legislation might say that it is included in the broadcast code but not in the tier 1 standards code and therefore there must be some statutory distinction made between the two codes. I do not think that should be the case. If subliminal material, programming and advertising are prohibited on broadcasting, they should be prohibited on tier 1 services as well. Amendment 58 merely asks that question of my noble friend.

My Lords, I begin by saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that I am very supportive of her Amendment 35. Perhaps like her, I have had communications over several years from the campaign, Turn On The Subtitles, which is doing extremely good work in drawing attention to the way in which putting subtitles on by default and allowing people to be able to turn them off if they wish has been shown to provide huge benefit to children’s learning of reading.

I also say a huge thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. He and I had a brief chat the other day about his amendments. I went away and had to put a wet towel over my head in a darkened room to try to understand them, and I did not get very far. I am enormously grateful that, today, I understood the arguments that he is making. They are very much in support of my Amendment 70.

My amendment seeks to apply the Ofcom standards code—which, as we have heard, is described in Section 319 of the Communications Act—to all on-demand programme services, to ensure that there is a consistency in standards objectives across all platforms. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that we need to find ways to bring the Broadcasting Code and the current tier 1 standards code into unison. The problem is that Schedule 7, as currently drafted, will apply those standards only to tier 1 services, leaving a wide range of on-demand services entirely unregulated. It is worth recalling that the senior executive in charge of implementing the first system of VOD regulation at Ofcom, Trevor Barnes, warned last month:

“The Culture Secretary is given very wide discretion to decide who is, and who is not, caught in the Tier 1 net”.

The amendment removes that discretion and, therefore, offers far greater public protection.

As we have heard, Section 319 encompasses a broad range of standards objectives, including protection for children and protection from material that might cause harm and offence, but I will focus on Sections 319(2)(c) and 319(2)(d), which require that news be

“presented with due impartiality and … due accuracy”,

and, further, that the special

“impartiality requirements of section 320”

be applied—namely, that every TV and radio service must preserve due impartiality on

“matters of political or industrial controversy; and … matters relating to current public policy”.

Those requirements date back to the very beginning of commercial TV in 1954 and have ensured that we have had a highly trusted broadcast media environment that has, so far, resisted the kinds of disinformation and polarisation that is so prevalent in online information services. Preserving that trusted environment not only depends on Parliament legislating for impartiality but requires a regulator that is prepared to do its job robustly and to implement that legislation without fear or favour. For most of its 20 years in regulating the linear world, Ofcom has done just that.

But here there is a spoiler alert—I note that the current chairman of Ofcom, the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, is in his place, and I suspect that he will not be particularly comfortable with the view that I hold. I think it is a matter of concern that, more recently, Ofcom does not seem to apply those rules with the rigour that Parliament has required, particularly in respect of GB News. Two examples will illustrate the problem, but there are many that I could have given.

On 13 January, the GB News presenter Neil Oliver used his programme to link Covid vaccines to the non-existent disease of “turbo cancer”, a wholly fictitious medical condition beloved by conspiracy theorists. That kind of dangerous disinformation, which went entirely unopposed on the GB News programme, should have been a slam dunk for a regulator charged with ensuring both accuracy and impartiality on licensed broadcasters. A month later, after multiple complaints, Ofcom delivered its verdict:

“In line with freedom of expression, our rules allow broadcasters to cover controversial themes and topics … We recognise that these brief comments were the presenter’s personal view and did not materially mislead the audience. We therefore will not be pursuing this further”.

It did not even bother with an investigation.

Last month, the same presenter hosted a journalist, Jasmine Birtles, who suggested that action against climate change was part of a “depopulation agenda” designed to

“remove 7.5 billion people from the world”.

There was no contrary view from either the presenter or other guests on the show. What was Ofcom’s response? It simply announced on its website that the programme

“did not raise issues warranting investigation”.

When challenged, it responded that the views expressed on the show

“were clearly presented as a personal opinion, consistent with the right to freedom of expression”.

I suspect that we all support the idea of freedom of expression—it is an Article 10 right—but there is no conflict between that right and an impartiality regime that ensures that all sides of any controversial matter are freely presented. That is the law of the land, and it needs to be upheld in both the linear and on-demand worlds.

More experienced industry figures than me have been raising serious concerns for some time. Writing in the Guardian two months ago, two very senior former Ofcom executives, Stewart Purvis and Chris Banatvala, expressed their fears in stark terms. They said that

“Ofcom has repeatedly failed to quickly conclude many of its investigations, and is apparently unwilling to uphold impartiality … These failures seem to be compromising its statutory duty to act as an independent regulator and ensure a bias-free broadcast environment”.

If anyone believes that this is woolly liberal thinking, it is worth remembering that, only a few weeks ago, the eminent journalist and co-founder of GB News, Andrew Neil, attended the Communications and Digital Committee and said that he was

“surprised how tolerant Ofcom has been of GB News”,

and that

“Ofcom needs to find a backbone—and quick”.

Only this morning, Ofcom reported a further breach of impartiality rules by GB News, and that it will therefore

“consider this breach for the imposition of a statutory sanction”.

I await to find out what will happen.

As I said, we have a trusted broadcast environment, which is the result of decades of commitment to both accuracy and impartiality. We look at media environments elsewhere, particularly in the US, which have slipped almost silently into a partisan and polarised approach, where lies and conspiracy theories proliferate. We do not want nakedly partial news and information on our licensed broadcast channels, and we do not want them through the back door via on-demand services or weakened regulation. As Purvis and Banatvala concluded in their article:

“It is not for Ofcom but parliament to decide whether impartiality rules should be weakened, changed or abandoned”.

I hope that my amendment demonstrates that we wish not only to retain those rules, and to extend them to on-demand services beyond tier 1, but to see them upheld by a regulator doing its job properly.

I was not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, wanted to say anything further on the other amendments, but I am happy to come in now.

As noble Lords know, following extensive public consultation on the topic, the Government set out their intention to legislate to give Ofcom powers to draft and enforce a new video on demand code similar to the Broadcasting Code, to ensure that TV-like content, no matter how audiences choose to watch it, will be subject to similar standards. Many of the amendments in this group touch on that. In particular, all tier 1 services will have to comply with the new code. The Bill has been drafted to ensure that the mainstream on-demand services will be under similar obligations as traditional broadcasters, while simultaneously ensuring proportionality in these requirements.

I will address Amendment 70, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, which would bring all UK on-demand programme services under Ofcom’s current Broadcasting Code, including special impartiality requirements for

“matters of political or industrial controversy; and … matters relating to current public policy”.

The Government have been clear about the importance of ensuring that new regulations for video on demand services are proportionate and fit for purpose, and that they take into account the unique characteristics of an on-demand environment, which the Broadcasting Code does not. There are some key differences between linear and on-demand television, and there are some specific elements of the Broadcasting Code that would be less practical to apply to video on demand services. For example, the watershed, which limits material that is more appropriate for adults to be broadcast after 9 pm, would not be effective for regulating streaming services, because its content can be chosen on demand by audiences, rather than being broadcast live at a particular time.

That is why we are giving Ofcom powers to design a new video on demand code rather than simply bringing these services under the existing Broadcasting Code. Importantly, the Bill also sets out a proportionate and practical approach to bringing on-demand services under the new code, capturing mainstream streaming services which target and profit from UK audiences. There are already over 270 video on demand services notified to Ofcom, and many of these simply do not provide TV-like content or are not widely accessible. It is essential that we balance audience protection with freedom of expression.

Extensive public and industry consultation shows us that the smallest and niche services, such as an on-demand service for a particular football team, could be unfairly and unnecessarily penalised by a blanket approach, with little or no benefit to audience protection and at a risk to the service’s sustainability. The Bill has been designed to ensure that regulation can be updated to add further, or even all, video on demand services into tier 1, if that is considered appropriate.

I hope that this explanation reassures the noble Lord, Lord Foster, that the video on demand code will have similar objectives to the existing Broadcasting Code but will be tailored to take into account the particular circumstances of audiences accessing content in an on-demand context.

I turn next to Amendment 58 from my noble friend Lord Lansley, regarding protecting audiences from being exploited by subliminal messaging—I wonder if he was trying to tell us something.

I thank your Lordships.

I thank my noble friend for raising this issue, as it gives me the opportunity to clarify on the record that the legislation as drafted will already enable Ofcom to draft the video on demand code to protect audiences from this type of harm. Ofcom is given an overarching duty to protect audiences from harm. The legislation does not need to list each and every potential type, although we are grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue for our consideration today. In addition, to further reassure him, on-demand programme service rules already specifically prohibit advertising which uses techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message subliminally or surreptitiously. These rules will continue to apply following Royal Assent to the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, began our debate on this group with her Amendment 35A regarding children’s literacy. The Government are committed to continuing to raise literacy standards, ensuring that all children, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, can read fluently and with understanding. We are very proud of the leaps and bounds that we have made on this over the last decade and a half in government. By ensuring high-quality phonics teaching, the Government want to improve literacy levels to give all children a solid base on which to build as they progress through school, and help children develop the habit of reading widely and often, both for pleasure and for information.

My portfolio covers libraries, and I had the pleasure of asking my noble friend Lady Sanderson of Welton to conduct an independent review of public libraries, which of course begins with the importance of reading and literacy. We know that one of the most powerful engines of social mobility is reading for pleasure; I echo many of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, set out in her speech. We are currently refreshing the Government’s strategy for libraries, drawing on some of the recommendations that my noble friend Lady Sanderson made in her independent review, based on the consultation, round tables and discussion that she had with people across the country, from the sector and beyond.

The Department for Education recently made an assessment of the evidence behind the Turn on the Subtitles campaign, which the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Foster, mentioned. That assessment by the Department for Education concluded that the current evidence is inconclusive as to whether turning on the subtitles improves children’s reading. As the noble Baroness is aware, the Bill will look to improve subtitles provision on mainstream video on demand services. However, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, we believe it should be the choice of parents and guardians whether their child watches television programming with the subtitles on.

We have discussed this with providers, which have been clear that the technology simply is not there in many cases to turn the subtitles on by default for specific programming, even for certain ages, as the noble Baroness suggests. Short of embedding the content with subtitles—in which case viewers would not be able to turn it off—and without the absence of conclusive evidence about the benefits, we do not think that would be appropriate. However, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the opportunity to talk about the campaign and the analysis which we have made so far.

On my noble friend Lord Lansley’s Amendments 43 and 59, on prohibiting political advertising on tier 1 video on demand services, political advertising is a fundamental part of any democratic system and is an established way for political parties and campaigners to connect with the public and have their message heard in a cost-effective manner, thus contributing to a level playing field among campaigners of different sizes and financial means. Paid political advertising on digital platforms such as YouTube and Instagram has been used by campaigners and political parties of all colours for some time, and is not objected to by the majority of those who campaign in that way.

In contrast, the legal ban on paid political advertising on television and radio, currently regulated by the Communications Act 2003, stems from a long-standing tradition which continues to be supported across the political spectrum. In considering any changes to the rules governing political advertising, the Government think it essential to consult political parties and to achieve cross-party consensus on an issue which directly affects campaigners from all parties and other campaigning groups. Regulation must be balanced with the rights of freedom of expression and public debate, which are both crucial to a thriving democracy, and no such consultation has yet been undertaken.

Can I ask my noble friend two quick questions? First, have the Government engaged in any such consultation with the political parties in anticipation of this Bill, with a view to inquiring whether the ban on political advertising for broadcasters should be included for tier 1 services? Secondly, did he not tell us that the tier 1 standards code is for mainstream on-demand programme services, which are in that sense comparable with what we see in the broadcasting environment, not the more peripheral and digital access providers such as YouTube and so on?

It is similar but different. We have not consulted the other parties on this issue, not least because my department does not have direct responsibility for the regulation of political advertising—that falls to others. Of course, we work across government on these issues, but the simple answer to my noble friend’s question is that we have not had that that consultation. On a matter such as this, it is important to do that on a cross-party basis and to try to seek consensus before bringing forward proposals, particularly in an election year.

To clarify that, does that mean that the Government intend to have this consultation with the political parties about paid political advertising; in other words, are the Government thinking that they would like to change the rules and regulations?

No, although if the other parties wish to talk about the matter which my noble friend has raised through his amendment, I am sure we would be happy to do so. However, without that consultation and cross-party conversation on it taking place, I would be wary of proceeding with it in the Bill.

I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend again but as we are in Committee, perhaps I might be allowed just to press the point. Time is of the essence here. This is the Media Bill, and we anticipate that it should be enacted before the election. It could be brought into force before an election. We know that ITVX is in this position of providing what will be tier 1 services under the Bill, and that it has not excluded that it might take paid political advertising. That is quite a significant place for a public service broadcaster operating an on-demand programme service to place itself in. Is my noble friend saying that the Government are happy for this to happen, they are content for this to happen, or that they are simply not willing to do anything to stop it happening?

My noble friend’s second interjection allows me to clarify an important point on timing. If he intends for this amendment to be in effect before the next general election, I must say to him that that is highly unlikely. Even if cross-party consensus were reached swiftly and changes were made to the Bill, the provisions in Schedule 5 would come into force only following the drafting and implementation of the video-on-demand code, which is unlikely to happen before the next general election. He has raised an important issue, on which there needs to be cross-party consultation and consideration before anything is brought forward but, even if that happened very swiftly, it would be unlikely to be in place before the next general election. It is important to remember also that, during regulated election periods, campaigners are subject to campaign expenditure limits when promoting paid political adverts, which further protects the level playing field between campaigners, both online and offline.

Finally, Amendment 44, also in the name of my noble friend, would allow the Secretary of State to consider the purchaser’s commitment to the video-on-demand standards code in a media merger case involving a broadcaster. While I agree with his intentions of ensuring sufficient protections for audiences, I hope that I can reassure him that this is already sufficiently covered in the Bill, in particular and elsewhere. The Secretary of State already has powers under the Enterprise Act 2002 to intervene in media mergers on the basis of a need for high-quality broadcasting and a commitment to broadcasting standards more widely. In addition, the Bill gives Ofcom the necessary tools to regulate video-on-demand services, including information-gathering and enforcement powers. Similar statutory sanctions such as financial penalties that can be applied to linear broadcasters by Ofcom will also be available to apply to on-demand services. So, for these reasons, I do not think his Amendment 44 is needed.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answer. I am quite glad that I waited to make my comments until I had heard what the Minister and other noble Lords had to say when speaking to their amendments, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Foster.

Let us first dispose of the probing amendment that leads this group. We have here a moving scenario about subtitles and we are just going to have to keep watch on that, because clearly the generations to come like subtitles on their television sets or whatever devices they are using. That is interesting, and I look forward to further research into how that might support educational purposes. I think we would all want that to happen. Some of the stakeholders have explained to me that the technology does not exist to do it easily.

Regarding the other amendments in this group, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has surfaced several very important questions. In terms of political advertising, on this side we are not looking to have any consultation on this, but we were seeking some clarity about whether there was a loophole in this Bill—the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, used those words—for the future. That question is still not answered, so we will need to watch that.

The main issue that these amendments, particularly Amendment 70, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, brought forward concerns robust regulators and scrutiny. What I am taking away from this debate is that there are questions about how Ofcom has conducted itself in recent times. Questions have been raised about how robust it is being, and about impartiality and those sorts of issues, and therefore the confidence that we need to have in Ofcom as we move forward with this piece of legislation. However, we will be coming on to that in later groups. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, put the case extremely well. We thought that his amendment, on the face of it, seemed a rather sensible move, so I suspect that we will return to discuss this issue in due course. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 35A withdrawn.

Schedule 2: Part 1: further amendments

Amendments 36 to 41

Moved by

36: Schedule 2, page 123, line 22, leave out “for “televise” substitute “show”” and insert “after “means” insert “—

(i) in relation to a financial penalty imposed under subsection (A1) or (B1), an amount determined by OFCOM to be the value of the rights to include coverage of the event in question in the relevant service at the time when the rights are acquired, and(ii) in relation to a financial penalty imposed under subsection (1) or (2),””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment specifies the method for determining the maximum financial penalty that OFCOM may impose under section 102(A1) or (B1) of the Broadcasting Act 1996.

37: Schedule 2, page 123, line 31, leave out “(b),” and insert “(b)—

(i) for “section 102(1)” substitute “section 102(A1) or (1)”;”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a consequential amendment relating to paragraph 16 of Schedule 2.

38: Schedule 2, page 124, line 2, after first “coverage”” insert “, “adequate live coverage””

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential upon Clause 23.

39: Schedule 2, page 124, line 7, leave out sub-paragraph (4)

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and my amendments to Schedule 2 at page 124, line 14, and at page 124, line 20, remove definitions of terms and are further to amendments made in the House of Commons.

40: Schedule 2, page 124, line 14, after “service”” insert “and “television broadcasting service””

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for my amendment to Schedule 2 at page 124, line 7.

41: Schedule 2, page 124, leave out lines 20 and 21

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for my amendment to Schedule 2 at page 124, line 7.

Amendments 36 to 41 agreed.

Amendment 42

Moved by

42: Schedule 2, page 128, line 3, leave out paragraph 54 and insert—

“54 “(1) Section 310 (code of practice for electronic programme guides), is amended as follows.(2) After subsection (3), insert—“(3A) Where a user interface gives access to one or more electronic programme guides, the practices required by the code must include the giving, in the manner provided for in the code, of such degree of prominence as OFCOM consider appropriate to electronic programme guides within the user interface (whether such guides are provided by the person providing the user interface or by other persons).(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), OFCOM may consider that different degrees of prominence are appropriate in relation to different electronic programme guides.”(3) Omit subsection (4)(f).(4) After subsection (8), insert—“(8A) In this section—(a) “user interface” means an electronic programme guide that, in addition to the facilities mentioned in subsection (8), includes a facility by which a user may find, select or access electronic programme guides;(b) for the purpose of the definition of user interface in paragraph (a), the description of a service in subsection (8) includes such services provided by means of apparatus.””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to secure that OFCOM’s Code of Practice for Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs) gives EPGs prominence. Subsection (8A) defines a user interface as an EPG that – in addition to a traditional linear EPG –includes access to EPGs. This definition would include the means of accessing EPGs, such as remote controls. This amendment requires one short consequential amendment to the definition of “television licensable content service” in section 232 of the Communications Act 2003.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 42, 50 and 51 in this group. I again draw your Lordships’ attention to my registered interests.

The UK’s public service broadcasters—the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5—and national broadcasters S4C, STV, and MG Alba, play an essential cultural, economic and social role, supporting British democratic values and underpinning the UK’s creative economy. They produce high-quality, distinctive content, informing, educating and entertaining audiences across the UK. Audiences support this. Seven in 10 UK adults want to see UK life and culture represented on screen. A similar number think that PSBs deliver well on programmes made for UK audiences. Six hours and nine minutes is spent watching BBC TV/iPlayer on average per person per week, which is more than Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video combined.

Currently, prominence is one of the main regulatory benefits provided to the PSBs, but the existing regime has not kept pace with technological change. It applies only to linear channels—for example, BBC One—delivered through the channel menu, also known as the electronic programme guide or EPG. The Media Bill updates the rules so that they will apply not just to PSB linear channels but to on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer. This is hugely welcome, but there is further opportunity to ensure that PSB prominence arrangements are future-proofed and watertight, protecting access to the content that people love and enjoy for future generations.

Amendment 42 is on the prominence of the EPG. While the Media Bill seeks to ensure that PSB on-demand services will appear prominently on regulated TV platforms, and PSB linear services within the EPG will continue to benefit from the existing prominence regime, there are no protections for the EPG itself. A growing number of IP-only households watch videos via a broadband connection. This is expected to exceed 50% of total households by the end of this decade. All this has led to more people watching content on demand. It does not mean the end of linear, which remains the single biggest way that people watch video content and delivers 82% of audiences’ consumption of BBC TV content. The familiarity of linear TV will continue to make it a popular discovery route for audiences, even as they move away from digital terrestrial television.

The PSBs have responded to the continuing need for live TV by investing in an online linear solution freely, but linear TV is being eroded. The EPG has been downgraded within TV user interfaces and the linear schedule hidden away. This comes at the expense of PSB. In internet-only homes, without a linear programme guide, the BBC gets just 22% of our normal consumption. The current rules do not enable Ofcom to support audiences by safeguarding this popular and familiar way of watching TV. The Government should use the Media Bill to update the Communications Act 2003 to safeguard linear TV, an important and familiar viewing route. This would also support audiences as the digital transition continues. The amendment would require Ofcom to give the EPG itself the degree of prominence that it considers appropriate. This is in keeping with the existing linear prominence framework, with high-level legislation underpinned by Ofcom guidance and codes. This is a flexible and future-proofed approach.

Amendments 50 and 51 concern the definition of “appropriate prominence”. The Media Bill gives PSB on-demands appropriate prominence but does not define what this means, leaving it open to interpretation. Ofcom will be the regulator of the prominence regime and sufficient direction and clarity about the outcomes that Parliament wishes to see is crucial in order to allow Ofcom to implement the rules robustly. As recommended by the CMS Select Committee, the PSBs should receive “significant” rather than “appropriate” prominence. The best way to secure this is for the Bill to set out explicitly what “appropriate” means. A further amendment to the Media Bill should also set out more concretely the areas of Ofcom guidance that the application of appropriate prominence should cover: for example, search, recommendations and personalisation, acting as a further safeguard. I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendments 46 and 47 are in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter. We had a bit of a knock-around on “prominence” at Second Reading—was it “appropriate”, “significant” or, as the right reverend Prelate ventured, neither? Indeed, he was right; the word itself should be enough, for the Oxford English dictionary defines it as

“the state of being important, well known, or easy to notice”.

We want the PSBs, on any screen that offers choices between PSBs and streamers, to be important, well-known, and very easy to notice. It is vital, as commercial operators do not always want us to choose the PSB, because their gods are commercial. As we know, things can get very small and difficult on-screen when customers choosing it means less income—think about how hard it is to find that tiny “unsubscribe” notice when we want to get out of emails from some commercial arrangement we no longer want. It is not in commercial entities’ interests to make life easy for us; that is why we have to mandate and prescribe “prominence”. We on these Benches do not believe it is sufficient to leave it to Ofcom to define. I have heard the arguments about “appropriate” being perfectly adequate, and we beg to disagree.

For clarity, I am trying to get across that we on these Benches believe that prominence must be defined in legislation to guide Ofcom, and not be left open-ended for it. That definition should be crystal clear: that in every and any situation where channel choice is being offered, the PSB logo or whatever should be of equal or greater prominence to any other choice offered on the electronic programme guides.

The dangers of not specifying what prominence means or seeks to achieve in the Bill could include a loss of funding. PSBs often rely on public funding or subsidies to fulfil their mandate of providing programming that serves the public interest; without prominence, they may struggle to attract viewership and advertising revenue, leading to financial difficulties that could jeopardise their ability to produce the sort of high-quality content we want them to. PSBs may find it challenging to reach a wide audience, particularly in a crowded media landscape where viewers have numerous options for their entertainment; that could lead to a decline in their influence and relevance, making it harder for them to fulfil their role as a source of impartial news, educational programming and cultural content.

The public service mandate could be undermined, as PSBs are tasked with providing programming that serves the public interest, including news, current affairs and educational content. Without prominence, they may struggle, and their content may be overshadowed by commercial broadcasters or streaming services prioritising profit. It could also be a threat to media diversity and cause a loss of trust and accountability. Lastly, if public service broadcasters are not given prominence in a democratic society, there are issues around this that could arise: an erosion of media pluralism, a threat to freedom of information, diminished public discourse, a loss of accountability, and the undermining of democratic values, social cohesion, education and lifelong learning, and cultural preservation.

As this is a probing amendment, I encourage the Minister to think about bringing back his own amendment as an instruction to Ofcom in dealing with prominence, to say that, however it writes it regulations, PSBs must have equal or greater prominence than any other offer on the screen.

My Lords, summing up from these Benches on the amendments in this group, I congratulate those who have spoken, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. It crossed my mind as I was about to stand up that on the first day in Committee I was congratulating and following a prima ballerina and today it is an Olympian—which rather reduces my sense of myself. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is a remarkable example of what the Department for Culture, Media and Sport produces that we have as great legislators these great sportsmen and artists.

The Government have listened to our incredibly important public service broadcasters and heard their plea about future-proofing prominence, and made it prominent in this Bill. For British audiences to lose easy access to our PSBs would be a very bad idea. How lucky we are to have them, and what a vital role they play in underpinning not just our creative economy but our culture and democracy. That is why we must ensure that all PSB content and services are available on all major TV-connected platforms, and that they are easy to find. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said, UK audiences have demonstrated time and again, through their viewing and listening habits, that they want to watch this material—in fact, more time is spent watching BBC iPlayer on average per person per week than Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video combined.

The streamers love the UK because of its trailblazing R&D, led by the BBC, as well as the skills and infrastructure of the PSBs as a whole, but they cannot become the cuckoo in the nest, and that is the challenge. Amending the prominence clauses of the Communications Act 2003 is essential, which is what this Bill sets out to do. Some 20 years ago, we carefully constructed a linear broadcasting system to ensure that the benefits of PSBs would be easily accessible to everyone. However, with apologies to the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Lansley, 2003 was a very long time ago, and the media landscape today is very different.

The fact that the Media Bill updates the rules to embrace the PSBs’ on-demand services, such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX, is hugely welcome, and we want to see it passed into law as soon as possible. However, as my noble friend Lady Featherstone said, we do not think it goes far enough. The Bill mandates only “appropriate” prominence, thereby allowing too much discretion to the regulator, Ofcom, which will no doubt be lobbied vigorously by powerful platforms. More direction from Parliament, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said earlier, is critical to ensuring that neither Ofcom nor the platforms are left with any doubt as to the importance of prioritising PSB content.

We discussed the use of the word “appropriate” during the first day in Committee, in the context of genres. The same arguments made then—lack of a proper definition—apply to prominence. Amendments 46 and 47 would provide greater clarity by replacing “appropriate” with “significant”. This was also recommended by the CMS Select Committee report on its pre-legislative scrutiny, which said:

“The current position, that PSBs are given ‘appropriate’ prominence … has determined that they have the top spots. However, this does not work in the advanced user interfaces of today and so we recommend that the threshold for PSB prominence should be raised to ‘significant’”.

Amendment 50 continues on this theme, and would ask Ofcom to ensure a strong degree of prominence for the PSBs when issuing its new code of practice. This is also in line with the CMS Select Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny report. Amendment 51 adds to this by specifying that the new code should ensure that prominence applies to other functions currently available on digital and on-demand platforms, including search functions, recommendations and personalised functions—in other words, that algorithms owned by the streamers do not promote their own content at the expense of the PSBs and do not make the viewers’ choices for them.

Finally, as we heard earlier, Amendment 42 is designed to ensure that the linear electronic programme guides on which many of us still rely for accessing the PSBs do not disappear as households move from Freeview or Freesat delivery to broadband. Some 82% of BBC content is currently delivered via linear programme guides, but the Bill places no requirement on TV manufacturers or other platforms to guarantee easy access to that linear guide, which could, for example, disappear completely from remote controls for smart TVs. Platforms that want to prioritise their own services could easily relegate the linear guide, making it difficult or impossible to find, while promoting their own services on their TV interface. The amendment will address this loophole.

The UK has a proud history of public service broadcasting, which has enriched this country for over 100 years. It has been the cornerstone of a thriving creative economy, of British stories for British people, and of a dynamic and informed British democracy. That is what we are seeking to future-proof today, and it has never been more important.

My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Baroness has said apart from the language point. Why is “significant” an improvement on “appropriate”, when neither of them are defined? “Significant” has to mean significant of something—we might think that it just means “a lot”, but it does not. It is as meaningless as “appropriate”, indefinable and cannot be quantified.

To my mind, “significant” is very different from “appropriate”, which is a wishy-washy, woolly term, whereas “significant” is a specific term.

My Lords, it is not. If we went around the room and asked, “Please quantify it, or tell us what it means”, I think we would—

I have struggled with it, but “substantial” or “substantive” might get us somewhere, rather than something that does not actually mean anything. The General Synod of the Church of England has a similar problem; it put “collegiate” in some recent legislation when it meant “collegial”—it had nothing to do with colleges. I worry about putting things in legislation that cannot be defined.

The right reverend Prelate is nothing if not consistent. He has been raising what “appropriate” means in the Bill from the word go.

This group of amendments, and the debate which we have just had, is in many ways at the heart of the Bill. At its heart is the issue of our public service broadcasters as the cornerstone of our broadcasting sector in the UK, investing, as they do, billions of pounds in original productions and creating content that is trusted, valuable and entertaining for UK audiences. In return for the high standard of programming and investment that public service broadcasters provide, their channels have been made easy to find on linear television sets—to the benefit of audiences across the country. However, amid rapid changes in how viewers access television and content more generally, the prominence regime, which has not been updated for decades, is at increasing risk of becoming diluted and outdated.

It seems there are two major issues. First, public service broadcasters are in danger of being cut out of view, as noble Lords have said in this short debate, as global content players and platforms strike international deals with online platforms for prominence. Secondly, as a result, our public service broadcasters are at risk of being forced to concede increasingly material percentages of their revenue to those platforms simply to appear on them.

In this situation, it seems that almost everybody loses out—from audiences to the wider UK production economy, even the platforms themselves, which might find themselves in a position where they cannot promote the content that UK viewers most want to see. A new prominence framework for the digital era, therefore, was always going to be crucial. These amendments address how prescriptive such a new regime should be in legislation.

We on these Benches welcome that the Government have avoided explicitly spelling out what prominence looks like in the Bill or making primary legislation restrictive or resistant to future changes in technology and behaviour. Instead, we endorse a principles-based approach based on finding mutually beneficial carriage deals between what are branded “designated internet programme services” and “regulated television selection services”, with Ofcom able to provide a framework in which those negotiations can operate. Ofcom must show that it can and will undertake this important duty as a regulator. There must be strong dispute resolution and enforcement powers for Ofcom, including the ability to impose significant penalties as a result of non-compliance. That allows for maximum flexibility in both legislation and negotiations, as well as proper protections where agreements cannot be reached. It also allows for the regime to be expanded where necessary to capture new technology via which people might be watching television content. Platforms and PSBs have a history of successful negotiations, creating mutually beneficial deals and partnerships that it would be counterintuitive for the prominence regime to undermine.

We support the drafting, but we seek some clarity on the requirement to secure “appropriate” prominence. This was a major topic of discussion during the pre-legislative scrutiny process, with the majority of PSBs calling for this to be upgraded to “significant” prominence. The arguments were based mostly on the differences between linear and digital streaming landscapes.

I invite the Minister to provide a full response to the legitimate argument for “significant” prominence, and to outline the reasons why the prominence requirement has not been upgraded. What conversations have been had with Ofcom on how the detail of the regime will be set out in the code of practice to ensure that it meets its aims? We will need a strongly empowered Ofcom if the Bill is to succeed.

The BBC has consistently called for the possibility of including remote controls and multi-use devices in the prominence regime. I know that its latest thinking is that electronic programme guides could be given prominent buttons on remotes, rather than one PSB in particular. Though we are all keen to see this legislation on the statute book, our aim is that we fully seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that public service content is easily findable in the digital age. The Minister must assure us that that can be achieved and tell us how.

My Lords, the introduction of the new online prominence framework is arguably the most important change that the Bill brings about in terms of ensuring that high-quality public service content remains available and easy to find online, and in helping to secure the future sustainability of the public service broadcasting system in the UK, of which we are so proud.

I will speak briefly about government Amendments 48 and 49 together. These amendments are to ensure consistency with Part 3A of the Communications Act 2003 in how the Bill describes the content and channels contained within the internet programme services that may be designated by Ofcom. These are technical amendments and I hope noble Lords will support them.

I now turn to the other amendments in this group that noble Lords have spoken to. The duty on regulated television selection services to give prominence to designated services goes to the very heart of the regime, so I understand why many noble Lords have strong views on this—as we heard today and at Second Reading—and why they are keen to ensure that the drafting delivers sufficient prominence for our public service broadcasters.

Amendments 46 and 47 seek to amend the duty on platforms to give designated services “appropriate” prominence to “significant” prominence. I can reassure noble Lords that a lot of careful consideration has gone into the exact wording used in relation to this duty on discoverability. We have consciously designed the new online prominence framework to ensure that it strikes the right balance between ensuring that important public service content is easy to find online and ensuring that regulation is operable and proportionate.

As I made clear on Second Reading, there is a reason why we chose to use “appropriate”—it is a well understood term that has been delivering effective prominence for our public service broadcasters in relation to linear broadcasting for two decades now. It is the term used in the Communications Act so is understood in this context, even if etymologically—lexicographically—we may continue the debate. We remain of the view that “appropriate” is the right descriptor for prominence and that any amendments to the drafting—including removing “appropriate” or changing it to “significant”—could have unintended consequences for the overall user experience. It is not the intention of the new framework to restrict innovation or undermine customer choice or personalisation, for instance.

The Government agree with the intention behind Amendment 50 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. That is why, on Second Reading, I confirmed that public service broadcaster applications and the content they provide should be among the most prominent on the platform, whether that is on the homepage, in search results, or through recommendation lists. However, we also need to make sure that the framework is not excessively prescriptive and that it does not compromise service delivery or customer personalisation. That is why we took the decision not to set out what is an “appropriate” level of prominence on the face of the Bill. Rather, we have delegated discretion to Ofcom to set out various ways in which a regulated television selection service could deliver this across its user interface. This is in recognition of the fact that “appropriate” prominence could look different, and indeed will look different, on different platforms.

Although the details of the code are still to be developed, I am happy to clarify the Government’s expectations in terms of Ofcom’s assessment of appropriate prominence, particularly in light of Amendment 51, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. It is our expectation that Ofcom’s code would look at things such as: the presence of the applications in high-traffic areas such as the homepage and relevant recommendations lists; how the applications should generally appear consecutively; and how much a user has to scroll or how many clicks are required to access designated internet programme services. Ofcom may also choose to consider the initial set-up choice once “out of the box” in its own guidance.

Given that the code of practice will be a core component of the prominence regime, it is right that Ofcom first consults the industry ahead of developing and publishing that document. I encourage public service broadcasters and television platforms to continue engaging with Ofcom as there will still be ample opportunity to inform and shape its approach.

Let me also address Amendment 42 from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, which relates to the accessibility of public service broadcasting services, including via electronic programme guides. I should make it clear that the online prominence regime is a standalone and bespoke regime. Clause 28 does not propose any changes to the existing linear prominence framework under Section 310 of the Communications Act. We agree that linear channels will continue to be a popular way of consuming television in the years to come.

Fortunately, the linear prominence regime under Section 310 of the Communications Act applies to designated public service broadcasters’ channels which appear on a “regulated” electronic programme guide, in the context of both digital terrestrial and internet protocol television distribution. The Government already have separate work under way looking at the designation of additional electronic programme guides for regulation, which raises the prospect of public service channels—including IPTV simulcasts—being given appropriate prominence on a wider range of electronic programme guides in the future. We also, however, understand that the route to livestream channels is not always a traditional, regulated programme guide. That is why we took the policy decision to include public service livestream channels in the new prominence regime.

Under the new framework, if the public service broadcaster offers a livestream version of its main channel as part of a designated internet programme service, and that livestream version already receives prominence in the linear space, then a regulated television selection service must give that livestream version appropriate prominence where it appears separately in the user interface. Ofcom will ultimately set out various ways in which a regulated television selection service provider can deliver this appropriate prominence for designated services. There is certainly nothing stopping a service provider ensuring that the route to the TV guide—and thus public service channels—is easy to find on their service. Indeed, that would seem a simple way to deliver that duty.

Overall, we believe the current drafting of this new prominence framework works and that it strikes the right balance. This is testament to the extensive engagement we have carried out during its development, following its publication in draft and the pre-legislative scrutiny that the Bill received from the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the other place. We have listened to interested parties and very consciously made changes to the Bill before introduction where necessary. For those reasons, I am not able to accept Amendments 42, 46, 47, 50 and 51, but I am grateful for the opportunity to set out again today the reasons for that and the changes we have made in developing the Bill.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke on this grouping. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for giving us a different set of words we can use. I am sorry my noble friend Lord Colville is not in his place; I am merely an occasional TV and radio presenter as opposed to someone who works in the industry. “Appropriate” and “significant” are part of the language of the media, which is rather like the language of your Lordships’ Chamber; it is quite subtle and not always easily understood by people who work elsewhere.

I also thank the number of broadcasters that got in touch with me once I had tabled the amendments, particularly ITV, which spent some time with me pointing out why it did not think my amendment would necessarily work. It is not opposed to strengthening the language to “significant” prominence, and none of us wants any unintended consequences from these amendments, but strengthening that might be something to look at. No doubt the strength of the regime will depend on Ofcom’s implementation regardless of the change. There is plenty more to discuss on finding the right terminology for this. I am slightly disappointed but not surprised that my enthusiasm for these amendments is not shared by the Minister, but I am likely to come back again at the next stage. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 42 withdrawn.

Amendments 43 and 44 not moved.

Amendment 45

Moved by

45: Schedule 2, page 128, line 8, at end insert—

“55A In section 324 (setting and publication of standards), in subsection (2)(a), for “teletext services”, substitute “news content, where it is provided by broadcasters in any format”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would place an obligation on OFCOM to consult those using news content provided by broadcasters, in place of users of teletext services, when preparing the Standards Code.

My Lords, Amendment 45 is unrelated to the other amendments in the group, which is described as “miscellaneous”. I might be allowed not to venture any comment on the Government’s technical amendments and confine myself just to say something on Amendment 54A. In light of all the things we have heard about the changing nature of access to television and televisual material—and radio, I suspect—the reliance on digital access and the limitations on access to the wide range of programmes we presently enjoy for those who lack digital connectivity is an issue certainly worth exploring. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on tabling Amendment 54A.

My Amendment 45 is really just a probing amendment to find out about the process by which a consultation is to take place before Ofcom conducts its standards code. Noble Lords will recall that in Clause 26 we brought the legislation into line with reality and the public teletext services disappeared, so asking Ofcom to consult those who use it would be unnecessary—pointless.

Strictly speaking, consulting those who use television programmes and radio services is perfectly sufficient for the standards code. However, given the standards code and the requirements relating to news impartiality and news accuracy, the special impartiality requirements in Section 320 of the Communications Act, and the fact that the consultation on teletext was about, in a sense, the ways in which broadcasters give the public access to news, I thought it might be helpful to suggest that it might be a good idea for the consultation on the standards code, whenever it happens, to take particular account of how public service broadcasters, by whatever format, set out to give the public access to news, in line with the standards objectives. I am hoping that Ministers would commend that, whether we need to write it into the Bill or not, and that it might be given special attention rather than simply being ignored when we lose teletext and its reference to news in the standards code. I beg to move Amendment 45.

I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said about the group being “miscellaneous”. It suggests it is a bit of a hotchpotch when, in fact, the noble Lord has already asked some very pertinent questions, which my noble friend’s Amendment 54A asks as well. It intends to probe the Government’s intentions to address digital exclusion relating to access to television. Quite a few of the stakeholders raised this issue with us as we prepared for this Bill; I think they will have done with other noble Lords as well.

The amendment asks the Secretary of State to

“prepare and lay before Parliament a report on the impact on the UK economy of addressing digital exclusion”,


“an assessment of the impact of current and future levels of digital exclusion”


“an assessment of the likely costs of delivering a programme to … drive uptake of internet connectivity”—

an issue we have discussed in the House on many occasions—

“and digital devices to support access to television and … provide suitable support for skills development for those who need it in order to access television services”.

If the Bill is about the future and what might happen, we also have to address the fact that there will be millions of our fellow citizens who will not have access in different ways. We need to take account of that and work out how best we can approach it. That is what the amendment is about.

With his Amendment 45, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raises issues about how we look to the future to ensure that the Bill is comprehensive and covers the issues that need to be covered when preparing the standards code.

My Lords, “miscellaneous” is certainly one of those words that we use in your Lordships’ House and mean all manner of things by it.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for his Amendment 45, which probes the Bill by seeking to amend the Communications Act 2003 to require Ofcom to consult those interested in news content provided by broadcasters in any format before setting broadcasting standards. As he set out, this aims to reflect the shifts we have seen in recent years towards digital news consumption. However, the Government do not believe it is necessary to make changes such as these to the requirements on Ofcom, which would blur the lines between the regulation of television on the one hand and the regulation of the press on the other. That is because we do not intend to amend the regulation of the press or of broadcast news content.

We are committed to protecting media freedom and the invaluable role of a free press in our society and democracy. As part of this, we are committed to upholding independence of the press and taking steps to preserve the existing system of self-regulation. That is why we are repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, and why we acted, through the Online Safety Act, to preserve the ability of readers to access recognised news publishers’ content online. The world of television is naturally different. For almost a century, what we have seen on the small screen has been underpinned by a clear set of broadcasting standards. This is something that UK audiences have come to know and value.

In a sense, this amendment addresses one potential boundary issue: the treatment of news websites, and in particular those run by broadcasters themselves—into which category are they to fall? Our considered view is that, in general, such websites are the digital extension not of television but of newspapers. A number of factors point towards this, not least that they are text-based and, in sharp contrast to teletext, rarely accessed from a television set. Viewed in this way, it is clearly inappropriate to apply the Broadcasting Code to them. I thank my noble friend for his probing amendment, but I hope I have reassured him why we do not need to add it to the Bill.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for Amendment 54A, and for starting an important debate on digital inclusion as it relates to television. I agree with them that it is essential that access to high-quality television is universal and should not be dependent on having a high level of digital skills. In previous debates on this Bill, we have already discussed the importance of ensuring that nobody is left behind. I hope I was able to reassure noble Lords that the Government have guaranteed the provision of digital terrestrial television until 2034 at least, and that to turn off this technology would require primary legislation. We know that a key benefit of this technology is how easy it is to use, and we will continue to protect the millions of households that rely on it.

At the same time, many people are choosing to watch some or all of their television via the internet as it allows them more choice and functionality than traditional ways of watching. Currently, almost 98% of premises across the UK have access to a superfast connection—over 30 megabits per second—which is normally sufficient to watch or listen online. Ofcom data suggests that almost three-quarters of us have chosen to take up such a service. In addition, 82% of homes now have access to gigabit broadband, and the Government’s target is to connect over 99% of the UK by 2030. We want to ensure that as many people as possible take up these broadband services, and we are glad to see increased take-up rates. We would expect to see more and more people take advantage of these speeds over time.

Our current work on the future of TV distribution has audiences at its heart, and will need carefully to consider the important issues the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raise through their amendment. I am glad to say that last week my honourable friend Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Tourism and the Creative Industries, announced an audience engagement project, which will directly engage audience members to understand what drives viewer decisions and any challenges they may have in accessing television. I will be happy to update your Lordships’ House on this work in due course.

This is an important debate, but given that it is ongoing, as is the work on it, I hope the noble Lord and noble Baroness will be content not to press their amendment. I thank them for sparking the debate with it.

I turn to the government amendments in my name in this miscellaneous group; namely, Amendments 52, 55, 56, 68 and 82. Again, this is a technical group of amendments. Amendments 52, 68 and 82 will ensure that general restrictions on disclosure of information can continue to function as intended in the Communications Act. These are three consequential amendments to ensure consistency across Section 393 of the Communications Act, which covers the general restrictions on disclosure of information relating to an individual business.

Government Amendments 55 and 56 correct references to S4C in relation to the digital terrestrial television and listed events regimes. In updating the way that S4C and its services are described better to reflect its position today, the Bill removes some definitions of S4C contained in the Broadcasting Act 1990 and the Communications Act 2003. The new amendments remove two cross-references to those definitions. That removal is necessary to ensure clarity and consistency across our legislative framework, and to remove any uncertainty. I hope noble Lords will support those amendments.

My Lords, I am most grateful to those who participated in this short debate. I thought they raised some useful points.

I think my noble friend may have slightly misinterpreted Amendment 45. I was not in any way trying to extend the standards code to the online activity or websites of the press. I am not interested in that. If anything, what I am really interested in is that we have a number of broadcasters—the BBC, Sky, ITV—each of which has, in addition to its broadcast activity, significant online news presentations. This has not happened, and I am not accusing anybody of doing anything, but I know from past experience just how important it is who chooses what is regarded as the most important news at any given time.

The essence of many of these news online websites is that they are determining what the public are being told are the lead news stories at this moment. To that extent, although they are technically on demand because you can pull down the video clips from Sky News or from ITV or wherever, actually the presentation of those choices is important. I hope those broadcasters will continue to make responsible, impartial and accurate decisions, but if they were not to do so and they are broadcasters, I do not think the standards code would apply to them because this is not covered by their broadcast activity. However, I think it ought to: public service broadcasters, in so far as they are active in news promotion and presentation, should be accountable through the standards code for what they do.

I know my noble friend will recognise that this debate is part of a broader issue, which I want to pursue when I can, relating to the structure of the media public interest test and the importance of these tests in the standards code in relation to news generally and extending the media public interest to those who are responsible for the agglomeration and selection of content for news presentations on a wider set of platforms. I cannot do it in this Bill or in this amendment, but I hope to have the chance to do it sometime. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 45.

Amendment 45 withdrawn.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed.

Clause 28: Prominence on television selection services

Amendments 46 and 47 not moved.

Amendments 48 and 49

Moved by

48: Clause 28, page 43, line 12, leave out “provided by” and insert “included in”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and my amendment to Clause 28 at page 44, line 13, are minor drafting changes.

49: Clause 28, page 44, line 13, leave out “provided by” and insert “included in”

Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for my amendment to Clause 28 at page 43, line 12.

Amendments 48 and 49 agreed.

Amendments 50 and 51 not moved.

Clause 28, as amended, agreed.

Schedule 3: Part 2: further amendments

Amendment 52

Moved by

52: Schedule 3, page 130, line 16, at end insert—

“1A In section 393 (general restrictions on disclosure of information), in subsection (6), in paragraph (a), after “137A” insert “, 362AG(7), 362AW”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment adds a consequential amendment relating to Clause 28.

Amendment 52 agreed.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 29 and 30 agreed.

Clause 31: Involvement of C4C in programme-making

Debate on whether Clause 31 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I declare an interest that I was a TV journalist and executive and worked for the BBC and ITV and made programmes for Channel 4.

We on these Benches are pleased that this Government’s attempt to privatise Channel 4 failed. However, one of the conditions of that attempt, removing its publisher-broadcasting status and allowing it to make its own programmes, has made it into this Bill as Clause 31, which we oppose.

As has been pointed out often to the Minister from these Benches, Channel 4 was created in 1982 by a Government led by Margaret Thatcher. Channel 4 certainly succeeded in fulfilling her business and economic philosophy, in that our world-beating independent production sector owes a huge debt to its creation. As for whether Mrs Thatcher was quite so happy with its creative content, I suspect not.

Channel 4 was conceived as a publisher-broadcaster, not like the BBC/ITV duopoly which existed at that time and made its own programmes in its own studios, but commissioning entirely from what was then a small and innovative band of producers. As a consequence, the television industry in this country diversified as it provided new and exciting opportunities to creative entrepreneurs throughout the UK. In the TV world, it empowered and nurtured small independent producers and start-ups—the companies we were talking about in our first debate today. It played a pivotal role in driving the growth, competitiveness and creative diversity of UK indies. These companies were one of the UK creative industries’ greatest success stories.

Channel 4 invests a greater proportion of its revenue in independent UK commissions than any other PSB or commercial broadcaster, and its publisher-broadcaster status has also meant that Channel 4’s commercial revenues are reinvested in UK content production. As well as being the incubator of our thriving independent production sector, Channel 4 is also the broadcaster of “Channel 4 News”. One hour of in-depth news and current affairs at the heart of peak time on a commercial channel is unheard of anywhere else.

And then, of course, there is its pioneering coverage of the Paralympics. I believe that Channel 4’s championing of this event has led to a worldwide change in the attitude towards disability—a view confirmed by Dame Sarah Storey on Radio 4’s “Desert Island Discs” this weekend about her experience at the Beijing Olympics. She revisited Beijing a year after the Olympics and went to a disabled sports club where she was told that the transformation in the way the disabled were treated in Chinese society was immeasurable.

Due to its expansion of digital channels, Channel 4’s viewing demographic is young and diverse. We believe the cost of establishing a new in-house production outfit would disrupt its business plan—these things that it has achieved—and take money away from commissioning from others.

I do not think we should change Channel 4. It was conceived for a reason: to grow the UK independent TV sector and to represent the voice of minorities. It has done that spectacularly. Channel 4 is a vital part of our creative economy, providing invaluable support to smaller independent production companies throughout the nations and regions, although, as mentioned earlier, this needs to be underpinned. It is a platform for exciting new programming, quality news and current affairs, and pioneering coverage of the Paralympics. Why change its remit?

My Lords, I too oppose Clause 31. Channel 4—what a brilliant initiative, how extraordinary, and what a success. It is a cauldron of innovative and original talent, fundamental to our brilliant, creative country, providing a stream of talent for use by all the others, streaming, literally, into our country. It was created to foster competition and innovation in the broadcast sector, and it did. The approach allowed independent production companies to compete for contracts to create programmes rather than relying on in-house production by the channel itself—an approach the Government now seem to want it to adopt. In that independence, it still had to maintain high editorial standards, ensuring accuracy and impartiality and fairness. It had to reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom and to fulfil certain public service obligations to educate, inform and entertain with social responsibility. That model, rather than an in-house production facility and staff, enabled Channel 4 to operate efficiently.

Of course there are challenges. Channel 4 itself had become a bit reliant on production companies that have now grown big, but it is a cauldron of creative opportunity. Right now it is not having the easiest of times, but if it was producing in-house, cuts would be swingeing and challenging. As a commissioning body, it can better cut its cloth to meet the vagaries and ups and downs of its and our economy.

If the Government’s desired change were to take place, it would reduce the opportunities for independent producers, impacting the diversity and range of voices represented. It would risk creative stagnation. It would have financial implications and require investment in additional production facilities, staff and resources at a time when it is cash poor. And any shift in its programming strategy would impact its ability to attract and retain audiences. There would also be an impact on the independent production sector if this significant source of commissioning independent production companies were to be reduced, particularly the smaller ones and the ones producing risky and innovative content.

My Lords, the clause stand part debate tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, for whom I have immense respect, is, I am sure, well intentioned. As she said, it relates to the primary purpose of Channel 4, which is to be a commissioning public service broadcaster.

The Government’s desire to enable Channel 4 to produce programmes in-house as well as through its tried and tested commissioning route is undoubtedly novel and a new departure for the channel, but it is not without risk. As I recall, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, reminded us, it was announced as part of the Government’s decision not to privatise the channel. We all cheered that, but we were left uncertain as to the real intent behind the announcement.

I am sure that it is in part designed to broaden the economic opportunities for Channel 4 and to assist it in finding new revenue streams. I recall that, when the Minister was defending Channel 4’s privatisation, he argued that the channel needed to find a broader base for its revenue so that its future could be secured. On the one hand, it is welcome that this opportunity has been afforded it through the ability to make programmes in-house, but, on the other, I wonder if it can really achieve that objective without damaging the whole ecosystem of independent production.

I am going to be kind to the Government and presume that they must have done some financial modelling before determining this policy position. I am hoping that the Minister can share some of the financial thinking with your Lordships’ House, because this is one of those areas where some tried and tested thought needs to be applied to a new departure for this public service broadcaster. How much of that modelling can the Government share with us? How much potential do they see for Channel 4 to become an in-house producer of content, and what impact do they think that might have on the rest of the public service broadcasters?

Another point worth exploring today is just how much consultation was undertaken with the sector before the announcement. Did the Government talk to the BBC, ITV and Channel 5? I do not recall soundings being taken, and I rather suspect that Channel 4 was somewhat surprised at the time about this new offer.

I have another concern. If this change to the ecosystem of an important and well-reputed public service broadcaster is to succeed, how do the Government see it being rolled out? What sort of timescales will be involved? What percentage of production will be in-house and what percentage left to independent producers?

Channel 4 has been a wonderful innovation. I was around when it was rolled out; I was sceptical at the time, I confess, but I cheered as it grew, became more challenging and produced content that was genuinely thought-provoking, as I think we all did. We on our side do not wish to fetter opportunity. We appreciate that this is a probing deletion of a clause, and I should make it clear that we would not support it, but we share some of what I described earlier as the well-meaning intentions behind it. I look forward to what the Minister has to say and to getting some more detail and flesh on the bones of what was a strange announcement in context that has given rise to some uncertainty in the sector.

My Lords, Clause 31 forms an essential component of our plans to support Channel 4’s long-term sustainability so that the channel remains an important and distinctive part of our broadcasting system for many years to come. It is always a pleasure to hear praise from the Benches opposite for the legacies of the Thatcher Governments.

The publisher-broadcaster restriction, as set out in Section 295 of the Communications Act, is unique to Channel 4 and prevents it from being involved in the making of programmes for the Channel 4 service, except to such an extent as Ofcom may allow. As a result, Channel 4 is significantly more dependent on advertising revenue than other commercial broadcasters—a point that we have touched on, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, rightly reminds us, in the debates that we have had on alternative means for securing money for the channel’s long-term sustainability. In particular, two-thirds of Channel 4’s revenue comes from linear television advertising, the market for which is both highly cyclical and in long-term structural decline because of the declining number of people watching linear television.

In response to these challenges, last year the Government announced a package of reforms that would help to support Channel 4’s long-term sustainability while retaining it in public ownership. The removal of the publisher-broadcaster restriction is a key element of that package that will open up opportunities for Channel 4 to further diversify its revenues away from advertising by making its own programmes, should it choose to do so. The Government undertook an assessment of the impact of that and published it on GOV.UK. We will happily direct the noble Lord and others to that so that they can see the assessment that we set out when bringing the package of mitigations forward.

I understand the concerns set out by the two noble Baronesses about how the change might affect Channel 4’s support for the independent production sector across the UK, which were also raised when this issue was discussed in the other place, and we touched on it in our first group of amendments today. That is why, when we announced our intention to remove the restriction, we were clear that we would work closely with the production sector to ensure that Channel 4’s important role of driving investment into the sector would be safeguarded. The outcome of that work was a substantial package of mitigations that we announced in November, some of which, such as the introduction of new Channel 4 commissioning duties and an Ofcom-led review, are included in the Bill. Those mitigations, which also include increasing the level of Channel 4’s independent production quota, will be implemented in the event that Channel 4 incorporates a production company.

Channel 4 itself has welcomed the removal of the restriction and has said that in-house production could offer good long-term support for financial sustainability, while reaffirming its commitment to continue to invest in and champion independent producers, as it has done for the last 40 years. Ultimately, a stronger and more resilient Channel 4 will be best placed to continue playing its integral role in our broadcasting ecosystem for many years to come. By contrast, failing to remove Channel 4’s publisher-broadcaster restriction would mean passing up an opportunity to help it to deliver on that important ambition. That is why Clause 31 is an important clause and should stand part of the Bill.

What sort of costs does the Minister anticipate the channel will face in setting up its own production company? Has any estimate been made of that? What discussions have the Government had with the company to ensure that it can secure that in the most cost-efficient way?

I have no estimate of my own, but I will happily find out and provide the noble Lord with any estimates that have been made.

Clause 31 agreed.

Clauses 32 to 36 agreed.

Amendment 53 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendments 54 and 54A not moved.

Schedule 4: Chapter 2 of Part 3: minor and consequential amendments

Amendments 55 and 56

Moved by

55: Schedule 4, page 134, line 8, at end insert—

“21A In section 39 (interpretation of Part 1), in subsection (1), in the definition of “S4C” and “S4C Digital”—(a) omit ““S4C” and”; and(b) omit “each”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and my amendment to Schedule 4 at page 134, line 18, add consequential amendments relating to Chapter 2 of Part 3.

56: Schedule 4, page 134, line 18, at end insert—

“23A In section 105 (interpretation of Part 4 and supplementary provisions), in subsection (1), omit the definition of “S4C”.”Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for my amendment to Schedule 4 at page 134, line 8.

Amendments 55 and 56 agreed.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed.

Clause 37 agreed.

Amendment 57

Moved by

57: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—

“Age rating standardsWhere Tier 1 providers use an age rating or other classification system to comply with the duties imposed on them by or under this Act for the protection of audiences from harm, they must—(a) apply the age rating or classification system used by the video works authority based on their classification guidelines, or(b) apply an age rating or classification system that is judged by OFCOM to be—(i) based on a transparent set of appropriate standards,(ii) applied consistently across content,(iii) informed by regular consultation with the UK public, and(iv) well understood and recognised by the public.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause seeks to ensure that, where age ratings are used by Video on Demand platforms, those ratings are the same as the ones used by the British Board of Film Classification or meet equivalent standards of rigour, transparency, and objectivity.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Storey and with his permission, I move Amendment 57. It seeks to ensure that, where age ratings are used by video on demand channels—and I of course acknowledge that some adopt a different approach to audience protection—the ratings are the same as the ones used by the British Board of Film Classification or meet equivalent standards of rigour, transparency and objectivity. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, who has worked tirelessly on this issue and whose amendments, while having the same effect as Amendment 57, provide much more detail on the procedures to be followed. We on these Benches support them, and the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton.

I welcome the Bill’s proposal to improve audience protection on streaming services through Ofcom reviews, but my concern is that the Bill does not specify on what basis Ofcom should consider measures to be adequate—echoing the point I made earlier on the need for Parliament to have a greater say in guiding Ofcom on the way it carries out its functions. This is a particular problem when it comes to age ratings, as not all age ratings are equally effective for child protection. The present lack of consistency risks undermining public confidence in age ratings in general and I know there is an unusual level of cross-party support on this particular issue.

In the ideal world—as I see it—all streaming content would carry a BBFC age rating. We expect this of cinema and DVD releases, so why not streaming? Netflix, Amazon, Apple and many others have demonstrated that this is achievable. However, in the interests of achieving consensus, at the very least there should be minimum standards to ensure greater consistency where services choose to use age ratings. This is essentially what all the amendments in this group seek to achieve. BBFC ratings are rightly trusted and valued by UK families. The BBFC is designated by the Government, accountable to Parliament and legally bound to take UK public opinion into account, which it does through extensive research. The BBFC is also fully transparent. It publishes its guidelines and provides detailed content advice to help families make informed choices. This is essential to the effectiveness of its ratings.

Streamers working with the BBFC automatically benefit from its transparency and consistency and from the massive public trust it enjoys. Netflix viewers understand what a 12 or a 15 means on Netflix because it means exactly the same thing as in cinemas or on DVD. I have looked at some of the services that do not use BBFC ratings, including Disney+, Paramount+ and Sky’s Now service. I did not find any information on their age rating criteria, nor any evidence of research underpinning their standards. The ratings these services apply are often misaligned with UK expectations. Even where films and series have a legally enforceable BBFC rating, they often choose to apply—bizarrely—a different rating. How can parents know which rating to trust when the BBFC says one thing and Disney says something different?

To give an example: “Beauty and the Beast”, the 2017 live action remake, was a PG in the cinemas and on DVD. It remains a PG online on those streamers that are working with the BBFC, including Amazon Prime and Apple TV, but on Disney+, for some reason, it has been reclassified as a 12+. Another example is “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the Freddie Mercury biopic. This has a BBFC rating of 12. Many families will have enjoyed it together at the cinema. It remains a 12 on Amazon, Apple and the other services that work with the BBFC, but on Disney+ it is 16+. This means that, if a parent wants to let their 12 year-old watch a film that is entirely appropriate for them, they need to set the child’s Disney+ profile to access 16+ content—but that would include many titles with a BBFC rating of 15 or 18.

At the same time, Disney classified a very sinister 2019 adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” involving graphic horror scenes and sexual exploitation as a 9+. While Disney subsequently took this title down, it was a serious compliance failure when it was released with this rating in the first place. But Disney+ is not the only offender. On Paramount+, titles rated BBFC 12 are routinely bumped up to 15+, putting them alongside much stronger material. Do family favourites such as “Mean Girls”, “Top Gun: Maverick” and various titles in the Transformers series really belong alongside violent thrillers and gory horror movies?

As the Bill is clearly not going to mandate BBFC age ratings—that is ideally what I would like, but I accept the Government have a different view—the very least it can do is set minimum standards to help Ofcom assess whether any age rating system is likely to be effective for child protection. This does not create double regulation, as I believe some streamers have been suggesting, and, in any case, Ofcom already references BBFC ratings in the Broadcasting Code. This amendment and the others in this group propose common-sense standards that are not a high bar to expect companies to meet. Principles such as transparency, clarity and alignment with UK cultural expectations are the bare minimum for effective age ratings and should be set out on the face of the Bill.

My Lords, it is a great honour to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Foster, who put the case for this group of amendments incredibly well. I do not want to go over the ground he has already covered, but I would just like to endorse three key points behind them.

First, children should be afforded the same protections against inappropriate content, whatever channel they are on. As my noble friend the Minister will remember well, what goes on in the real world should apply also to the digital world and vice versa. Secondly, it is the role of Parliament—no one else—to set out the rules when it comes to issues as important as the safety of children. Thirdly, companies that wilfully and knowingly fail to take steps to protect children should face the consequences. Those are the three principles behind this group of amendments and I thank the noble Lord for putting them so well.

I also thank some of the companies and stakeholders with whom I have engaged in the drafting of these amendments. As noble Lords may have noticed, the amendments have changed quite a lot between Second Reading and our meeting today. The reason is that companies have made good points and we have adjusted the amendments to reflect some of those: I thank in particular Disney and Sky for the engaging, positive and constructive way in which they have conducted these conversations.

Amendment 60 is incredibly straightforward. It is to include the British Board of Film Classification as a statutory consultee when Ofcom is drafting new video on demand codes. Statutory consultees are very common. The Children’s Commission was added during the Online Safety Bill and the BBFC is highly respected. So I hope very much that that could be waved through by my noble friend the Minister.

Amendment 61 is really the main focus of my remarks today. It would bring in a minimum standard across all ratings across tier 1 services. It would allow providers to either use the BBFC’s world-class and highly robust system or—and this is a very important “or”—a system of their own that meets equivalent standards. That is the gap that this amendment seeks to fill.

Following discussions with the providers, it also includes a provision for services provided by linear broadcasters to use a system based on the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. If I can, I will briefly explain that point. Many broadcasters have a linear service that is quite reasonably overseen by Ofcom and have a Broadcasting Code arrangement. It seems sensible—to me at least—that those standards should apply to their VOD broadcasts as well. That was one of the changes we were pleased to make to the amendments we have laid.

Amendment 61 sets out the process by which Ofcom can assess the ratings systems that are not based on the BBFC’s and, following the discussions I mentioned, the ability for Ofcom to designate some content, such as news or live events, as exempt from age ratings. That seems like a sensible exemption to me. Amendments 62 to 66 are consequential on Amendment 61 and would extend Ofcom’s enforcement powers to cover breaches related to the minimum standards for age-ratings requirements.

During Second Reading, there were some concerns raised that it would be inappropriate to mandate a particular solution and that these amendments might go against the tech-neutral approach of the overall Bill. If that were the case then I would share those concerns, but I reassure noble Lords, who will see this from the text, that those concerns are based on a misunderstanding of both the intent and substance of these amendments. The provisions would apply only to tier 1 services that choose to use age ratings as part of their overall audience protection duties. No service would be forced to use age ratings against its will and the requirements would not apply to any service that finds a different or better audience protection measure, whether that is tomorrow or in 50 years’ time. Nor would it mandate a specific age-ratings system, such as the BBFC’s. In fact, my amendment provides a clear choice of three different approaches, one including a bespoke service to them, provided it meets the minimum standards.

That is what my amendments are really about. They aim to ensure that, in the same way parents know what PG and 12A mean when they go to the cinema or buy a DVD, they can trust the age ratings that pop up on their TV at home or on the basis of their parental controls. For that reason, I hope very much indeed that my noble friend the Minister will embrace this set of amendments.

My Lords, Amendments 67 and 69 are in my name on the Marshalled List. Amendment 67 would add signposting measures to the audience protection measures which Ofcom must review under new Section 368OB of the Communications Act 2003. Amendment 69, in common with the amendments that have already been spoken to, would require Ofcom to consider whether age-rating systems used by a tier 1 service meet a set of minimum standards.

My amendments are very similar to those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. The key to our amendments and those of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, is the need for us to be consistent in the way that we deal with children and age rating, so that systems are easily understood by parents and fulfil the standards that we have in this country about child protection, wherever it is. The Minister will be aware of all this, since he lived through the Bill that is now on the statute book as the Online Safety Act.

I was slightly surprised when I received a briefing which was signed by many of the stakeholders in this area—a number of companies, but it also included the PSBs. It made an argument against the three sets of amendments that have been put down. I was rather struck by this—I think they were a bit naughty in this briefing, in my view. For example, they included the public service broadcasters, which are not affected by this; this is absolutely not relevant to them. I would like the Minister to confirm that that is absolutely the case: this is not about their content at all.

The briefing also makes various statements about the commitment that many of the companies have to collaborating with Ofcom during the passage of the Bill, but that they want to take into consideration “audience research Ofcom conducts”. If it is the case that these companies are all committed to this then I can think of no reason why they would object to the minimum standards that we have put in our amendments being in the Bill. We are not saying that they should necessarily adopt the BBFC standards; what we are saying is that they need to show that their age ratings are comprehensive, understandable and sensible.

Some of these big beasts, if I might call them that, which have objected to this are doing it because they are big beasts. Frankly, I am unimpressed by that. We know, for example, that the same thing happened when New Zealand was dealing with this issue. But guess what? They are all complying with minimum standards there and it does not seem to have been a problem. If they can do it in New Zealand, I cannot see any reason why we would not be able to do it in this country.

My Lords, I am in complete agreement with the noble Lords who have spoken about the need to protect children and vulnerable audiences from the harmful and inappropriate video on demand content to which they might be exposed. We are aware of the strength of feeling in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere on the need to ensure that the protection measures used by on-demand services are robust, and that providers are rightly held to a high standard when delivering them.

This is a key issue that the Bill will address by bringing mainstream, TV-like on-demand services in scope of a new video on demand code. The code will be drafted and enforced by Ofcom, which has a long track record of regulating broadcast television to ensure that it is age-appropriate and protects the most vulnerable. Ofcom will also be required to conduct reviews of the audience protection measures being taken by all on-demand services, whether or not they are subject to the new code. I can reassure noble Lords that the concerns raised today are already well covered by the Bill as drafted. Ofcom will be given extensive powers to set standards, assess video on demand services’ audience protection measures, and take action that it considers appropriate. If audiences are concerned, they can complain to Ofcom and the regulator can, in the most serious cases, apply sanctions, such as financial penalties, or even restrict access to that service in the UK.

Amendment 67 would add

“information about where viewers can seek help and further resources if they have been affected by content”

to the non-exhaustive list set out in new Section 368OB(4), a subsection which provides examples of audience protection measures. I agree that signposting audiences in this way is an important measure that all services should consider using where appropriate. I am pleased to say that many already do. However, the Bill already fully enables Ofcom to review or provide guidance on any such measures. The Bill, as drafted, purposely provides only a non-exhaustive list of measures that Ofcom can consider. As a result, it enables Ofcom to take into account anything it considers appropriate, which can of course include signposting.

Amendments 57 and 69 look to set specific standards for services that use age ratings—namely, that age ratings are consistent, recognised by UK audiences, based on transparent standards and

“informed by regular consultation with the … public”.

Let me be clear: the Bill already gives Ofcom the power to set these standards, and others, through its new video on demand code. It will rightly do that through consultation with audiences, providers and interested organisations such as the British Board of Film Classification. Ofcom must keep those rules under constant review, so that they can be adapted to take into account changes in audience expectation and technological change. In our view, the important thing is to ensure that effective protection is in place, rather than necessarily specifying as a matter of statute that systems have to be provided in a certain way or by any single or specific organisation.

Amendments 61 to 66 take this quite a few steps further by proposing an Ofcom certification scheme for those services which want to use age ratings but choose not to use the BBFC’s system. My concern is not only that this puts another responsibility on Ofcom but that it could actively discourage providers from using age ratings at all to avoid the need to get such measures certified.

I appreciate, as my noble friend Lord Bethell set out, that he has updated his amendment following dialogue with a number of companies to provide a new option for existing linear broadcasters: reliance on the Broadcasting Code when age-rating their content. This creates challenges of its own, given that the Broadcasting Code contains very little information on age ratings as they are rarely used on linear television. It is also unclear why, if the aim is for a consistent set of standards, some tier 1 providers should be treated differently from others in this way.

Finally, Amendment 60 places an obligation on Ofcom to consult the BBFC every time Ofcom considers a revision of the video on demand code. Such an obligation would be unnecessary and potentially inappropriate. While the BBFC has some interest in the issue of age classification, the scope of this amendment would include areas where it has little or no expertise—to give a topical example, it would include due impartiality in news. I reassure noble Lords that Ofcom is already obliged to consult widely with appropriate organisations. We are satisfied that Ofcom and the BBFC already have regular conversations on a number of issues.

The Government are proposing effective and proportionate regulation. That is why the Bill gives Ofcom an enhanced ongoing duty to assess all on-demand providers’ audience protection measures—not just age ratings—to ensure that the systems put in place are effective and fit for purpose. Ofcom will have the powers it needs to provide guidance, report, and deal with any providers it considers are not providing appropriate audience protections. We believe that this holistic approach will be more effective than any individual age-rating system or focus. We want to encourage innovation and flexibility to adapt to audiences, but prescribing a top-down approach would put that at risk.

I am pleased to say that the reforms proposed in the Bill are already having an effect. A broad coalition of providers, broadcasters and representatives of most of the mainstream services in the UK, including Disney and Paramount, have already come together and committed to ensuring that their on-demand services use appropriate and effective tools and technologies to meet the expectations of UK audiences, to protect children and give reassurance to British parents and carers. The industry is supportive of the Government’s goals, as set out in the Bill, and has committed to collaborating with Ofcom following its passage to ensure that its systems provide consistent outcomes.

By contrast, these amendments risk putting unnecessary restrictions on Ofcom and could, in effect, preclude change or any new forms of age rating entering the market, undermining the good progress that has already been made. I am sure that is not what my noble friend or other noble Lords would want to see. However, I appreciate the concerns that lie behind the amendments they have put forward; those are weighty concerns indeed. We have committed to listen to the interested parties on this debate, and we will continue to do that as the Bill progresses.

My Lords, I am enormously grateful to the Minister for his detailed response. Clearly, this is an issue we are very likely to return to on Report.

I have a couple of quick points the Minister might ponder on. He told us that Ofcom will be responsible for drafting the video on demand code. He said that will lead to Ofcom having extensive powers. But I am still left wondering how Ofcom is going to be made aware of the views of Parliament as it comes to draw up the code. How will we have any say in that code before it is finally put into place?

I confess that there were a couple of things the Minister said that slightly worried me. In response to a very simple amendment, which asked that one of Ofcom’s statutory consultees would be the BBFC, the Minister said, “We have discovered that Ofcom and the BBFC meet regularly”. I am sure they do, and I am delighted, but this Bill is meant to be future-proof and things could change later. I cannot understand why, if they meet regularly anyway, the BBFC cannot be listed as a statutory consultee.

Finally, it was slightly odd, given all the powers Ofcom has and how it will be able to do all this work, that when it comes to accrediting those who choose not to use an age-rating system, the Minister’s response appeared to be that Ofcom has too much on to take on that responsibility. I thought that was slightly odd. As I said, we are grateful to the Minister for his response, and I am certain we will be returning to this issue at a later date.

Amendment 57 withdrawn.

Schedule 5: Tier 1 services: Chapter to be inserted as Chapter 3 of Part 4A of the 2003 Act

Amendments 58 to 61 not moved.

Schedule 5 agreed.

Schedule 6: Tier 1 services: Further amendments of Part 4A of the 2003 Act

Amendments 62 to 66 not moved.

Schedule 6 agreed.

Schedule 7 agreed.

Clause 38: Audience protection reviews

Amendment 67 not moved.

Amendment 68

Moved by

68: Clause 38, page 81, line 27, at end insert—

“(2) In section 393 of that Act (general restrictions on disclosure of information), in subsection (6), after paragraph (aa) insert—“(ab) limits the information that may be published by OFCOM under section 368OB;”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a consequential amendment relating to Clause 38.

Amendment 68 agreed.

Clause 38, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 69 not moved.

Clauses 39 and 40 agreed.

Amendment 70 not moved.

Schedule 8 agreed.

Clause 41 agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 7.37 pm.