Clause 1 - Reports on the fulfilment of the public service remit

Media Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:36 pm on 23 May 2024.

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Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

It was a proud moment to be in this Chamber—a moment of justice—as the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill passed its final stages. Coupling that with the return yesterday of our hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay, it feels a privilege to be able to stand at this Dispatch Box.

I rise to ask that all amendments to the Media Bill from the Lords be agreed to— namely, that we retain the Reithian principles of public service broadcast and include an explicit reference to children’s educational programmes in the public service broadcast remit. The Media Bill will enable viewers and listeners across our country to continue to access public service television and radio content as technology changes. The Bill will also deliver the manifesto commitment to repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which, if commenced, could have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press.

I am tremendously grateful to the very talented Bill team in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and everybody who has contributed to and worked on this piece of legislation. It is the first communications law in this country in two decades and I am proud, as Media Minister, finally to have delivered it.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

May I take this opportunity to say what an absolute delight, privilege and honour it was to be in the Chamber yesterday when Craig took his seat post his sepsis? I visited Craig in hospital every week that he was there, and I must say his resilience and positivity were an example to me. He really did raise my spirits and I am delighted that he was able to come back yesterday.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I associate myself with those comments, Mr Deputy Speaker, and echo the Minister’s comments about the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill.

I am pleased to be here tonight to see the final passage of the Media Bill. It has been 20 years since the last broadcasting laws were introduced, and in that time the media landscape has changed dramatically. This Bill ensures that our broadcasting sector can continue to thrive with regulation fit for the modern era. The measures in the Bill have been through several layers of scrutiny, from the White Paper to the pre-legislative inquiry conducted by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I thank the Committee for its work, and I will take this opportunity to say some other thank yous.

I thank the range of stakeholders, including those throughout our broadcasting sectors, who engaged so extensively with the content of the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, including of course our Labour Lords team, the civil servants and officials, and the ministerial team. I also thank my office, particularly Anna Clingan. While Labour would have added some further measures to future-proof and strengthen the Bill, I am pleased to welcome its passage this evening. Further to that, I am happy to support the amendments from the other place, which I believe will strengthen the position and purpose of our public service broadcasters.

First, it is right that the fundamental Reithian principles of public service broadcasting are reinstated, and it is important that educational programming for children and young people has an explicit basis in the Bill. Labour has spoken in detail at every stage of the Bill about the importance of children’s access to public service content, including educational content.

As we enter a general election, our media—be they our public service broadcasters, our commercial radio and television stations or our local media outlets, including my local paper, the Barnsley Chronicle—will play an incredibly important role in holding accountable all of us who stand for public office. Our media and broadcasting sector will, and always does, play a fundamental role in our society and democracy. I am pleased that this legislation, which will secure their future, will enter into statute.

As we enter the election period, I would like to wish colleagues across the House, especially those who are retiring, my very best, including of course my hon. Friend Holly Lynch and the Deputy Speakers who sit in your Chair, Mr Speaker: my right hon. Friend Dame Rosie Winterton, and Dame Eleanor Laing.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I will hold on to the thank-yous because I will probably be here again tomorrow, and can say them then.

We have supported the Media Bill throughout its passage and will continue to do so, but I must flag a few concerns that we still have about it, although we will not vote against the Lords amendments. There are some positives in the Bill, including the changes to radio services, particularly on-demand services such as those accessed through Alexa. The Government could have gone further on in-car broadcasting, for example. Local radio is so incredibly important. In Aberdeen, we have Northsound 1 and Original 106, which are absolutely fabulous—I get on very well with them most of the time. Those local radio stations are incredibly important when it comes to resilience. As the SNP Cabinet Office spokesperson, I know how much people rely on them, particularly when it comes to local events such as flooding, to learn what is happening in their area. I am really pleased that Ministers have recognised the importance of local radio throughout the Bill’s passage.

On the public service remit, I am pleased to echo the comments made by the shadow Minister, Stephanie Peacock, about education. We are happy to support the changes that involve the inclusion of educational content and programming quotas, although more could have been done on regional quotas—particularly those that just specify “outside the M25,” for example. We could go further to ensure that regional content is spread across the United Kingdom. I appreciate that a significant number of public sector broadcasters do that, but we could have legislated to keep to quotas in future.

Prominence in on-demand services is incredibly important, because those services are such a common way for people to watch television nowadays. I still have concerns about the fact that gaming consoles are not included. The provisions on giving prominence to public service broadcasters does not apply to those watching content on a PlayStation, for example; the provisions apply only to devices that are mainly for watching television. The Government may have to change that in the future.

I have concerns about listed events, in relation to Scottish football. Given that we have the Euros coming up, and Scotland is finally doing decently and getting to the finals of an event—it has been an awfully long time since we have had this optimism around football in Scotland—more could have been done on listed events, particularly those relating to Scottish football. Given the massive support in Scotland for football and our national team, that would have been a positive step forward. I would appreciate a commitment to changes in future to ensure that we have free-to-air football, so that we in Scotland are not the only ones excluded from seeing our national team on free-to-air TV.

The future of terrestrial broadcasting was mentioned a significant number of times throughout the Bill’s passage. I appreciate the Government’s ongoing commitment to the ability to access terrestrial services. I have concerns about this issue from the point of view of resilience and ensuring that people are not excluded from watching television if they do not have fast internet. My main concern is that we will accidentally end up with terrestrial broadcasting services being dismantled, or not invested in, because there is no commitment to keeping them. The next Government will have to make commitments to those services to ensure we have access to them post 2030.

My last, and probably biggest, concern is about the changes that clause 50 makes to section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Many promises were made to people after Leveson. There were many victims of press intrusion whose lives were devastated by journalists who were not acting ethically. Press regulation is not nearly as good as it could be. I appreciate the Government’s position that section 40 is inappropriate, and that they disagree with how it might be implemented, if it ever were to be implemented. I understand that, but nothing has been put in place to ensure proper regulation, and that when people contact the Independent Press Standards Organisation—the press regulator—they get proper redress.

There is a balance to be found between the Government’s position—they disagree with state-backed regulation of the press—and ours; we disagree with self-imposed regulation of the press, especially when it seems to be able to do what it wants, and IPSO upholds so few complaints. My biggest concern about the removal of section 40 of the 2013 Act is that promises were made to victims during and after the Leveson inquiry. They were promised that the system would improve, but it has not seen significant improvement, and the Government’s removal of section 40 with nothing proper and sensible to replace it means that we continue to face the risk of press intrusion. People could find themselves in the same position again, with no opportunity for redress. However, as I made clear at the beginning of my speech, I will not oppose the Bill; the SNP has been supportive of it throughout its passage.

My last point is personal. I led on the Media Bill because my colleague and hon. Friend John Nicolson, the culture spokesperson, was unavailable at the time. I had to learn a huge amount in a very short time to lead on this Bill for the SNP, and I am indebted to all the organisations that gave me briefings, sat down and spoke to me, and answered all the stupid questions that I brought to them. I am genuinely indebted to them for all the work they did to ensure I could speak in this Chamber and in Committee and not sound too stupid. Of course, any mistakes that I have made are mine, not theirs.

Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to speak on this Bill. We will support it, even though we have a number of reservations.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

East—apologies. I thank both Members for all the work that has gone into this legislation. Since we have discussed all these matters at length many times, I simply commend the Bill to the House; I am very glad that we have finally got to this stage.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 25 agreed to.