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Communications Act 2003: Public Service Broadcasters

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 22 March 2018

1. Whether he has made an assessment of the potential merits of extending the provisions of the Communications Act 2003 to give greater prominence to public service broadcasters; and if he will make a statement. (904521)

Before I answer the question, let me say that I am sure the whole House will want not only to mark the memory of those who passed away a year ago, as we have just done in the one-minute silence, but to thank once more the emergency services who keep us safe, and—especially on this day—those who put others’ safety ahead of their own. We remember those who have lost their lives defending democracy. They will not be forgotten.

We warmly welcome the high-quality programming of our public service broadcasters. It is important for public service broadcasting content to be widely accessible to UK audiences, and we strengthened provision for that in the Digital Economy Act 2017.

As one who somewhat unexpectedly returned to the House last June, I too want to thank all those who protect us on a daily basis to enable us to do our own job of giving voice to our constituents in the Chamber.

Does the Minister agree that Parliament needs to give updated powers to Ofcom so that it can ensure that public service content, such as “Newsround” on CBBC, is easier to find than, say, cartoon networks on the ever-increasing number of platforms that are available?

The rules require the provision of a programming guide to ensure that public service broadcasting is prominent in linear programming. Content is increasingly consumed not in a linear way in a programme, but across the internet and on smart TVs. We have required Ofcom to revise its code by 1 December 2020, and to report before then on how we can ensure that that prominence can work effectively in the digital age.

I raised the issue of the electronic programming guide with the right hon. Gentleman during the Committee stage of the Digital Economy Bill. It is vital for the guide to have prominence. Amazon, Netflix and all the other platforms have no electronic programming guides, and even Sky has reduced its guide. Although I raised the matter, the Government have done nothing. They are doing very little to protect public service broadcasters. When will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government act?

As I have said, we have already acted in the Digital Economy Act. The hon. Gentleman served on the Bill Committee—with great distinction, I might add. I made it clear during the debates on the Bill that if Ofcom’s report makes it clear there is a problem, and one that can only be fixed by legislation, we will introduce that legislation.

Creating equality for indigenous language programming takes political will. What will the Secretary of State do personally to bring about parity in funding and original broadcasting output for languages such as Scottish Gaelic and Welsh?

We are strong supporters of the other indigenous languages of the UK. We have strongly supported the Welsh-language channel S4C. However, I am keen to see what more we can do to support the Gaelic language, and I look forward to meeting the hon. Lady’s colleagues to discuss how we can make that work.

I know that—exceptionally—the shadow Secretary of State would like to echo the tributes articulated by the Secretary of State.

You are very kind, Mr Speaker. I would like to associate myself and the Labour party with the Secretary of State’s tributes, particularly to the very brave PC Keith Palmer, who gave his life protecting us in this place, and the five others who died in that terrible attack a year ago today.