Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:21 pm on 8th December 2008.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Spokesperson in the Lords, Culture, Media & Sport 6:21 pm, 8th December 2008

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity today to raise a number of issues, mainly from the standpoint of the economic future of our creative industries and tourism. In that context, I welcome the new role for the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Barnes, as a Minister in both the DCMS and DBERR, which is a clear recognition that discussion of policy for the future of our creative industries must be shared by those two departments.

Inevitably, much of the discussion now in the creative and allied industries is dominated by the need to make policy in the context of a recession, whether this means the impact on ITV's PSB commitments of falling advertising revenue, the future of Channel 4 in a similar context, falling recorded music revenues, falling revenues for tourism and heritage or the significant adjustments that need to be made to Olympic planning to allow for the fall in sports sponsorship and the difficulty in raising commercial finance.

I turn first to the Queen's Speech. A looming recession did not necessarily mean that important legislation in the heritage field needed to be squeezed out of the parliamentary timetable. Is parliamentary time now rationed by the credit crunch? There is great disappointment in the heritage sector at the failure to bring forward the heritage protection Bill. We have had the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and the government response. After eight years of preparation, it was time to bring this forward. If and when the Bill does return, however, I hope that the Government will take on board many of the improvements that have been suggested by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, in particular the recommendation that the protection of historic ships should take a greater priority in the Bill. Many historic ships are fast disappearing into scrapyards because they lack proper protection.

The lack of the new heritage protection Bill is disappointing not only because of its intrinsic worth, but because of the importance of heritage protection, including world heritage sites, to our tourism industry. The Government need to better reflect in their policies the value of tourism and travel to the British economy. Tourism is one of the UK's largest industries. Measured by conventional accounting, it is the fifth largest industry in the UK. Over 2 million jobs are sustained by tourism activity in the UK and the industry employs more people than are employed in construction or transport.

However, there are some worrying indicators. The UK share of world tourism has declined in recent years. The tourism deficit—the UK balance of payments in tourism—continues to worsen. Domestic tourism is also declining and the latest figures in September show that inbound tourism has dropped heavily. Yet in the face of this the Government have drastically cut the budget of Visit Britain and of tourism promotion, even before the tourism framework review has been completed. Small and medium-sized companies, which the Government claim to be keen to help through this recession, make up 90 per cent of the tourism sector. Will the Government at last acknowledge that the budget for the promotional activities of Visit Britain must be increased if this vital sector of the economy and the small businesses within it are to survive and prosper?

Let us look at other aspects of economic activity more clearly related to the creative industries. Digital Britain will be the subject of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, due next spring, on which he has recently written to a number of noble Lords explaining the timetable. I welcome his intention to take a strategic look at how a creative digital UK economy can make a major contribution in the future, in terms, as he recently put it, of both the plumbing and the poetry—the technology and the content. I hope that he will take on board a few of the suggestions put forward by me today and by my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter in the debate on Thursday.

The take-up of new digital platforms is, by and large, faster in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. We are what might be called a nation of early adopters. What about the content for these platforms, particularly as they converge? Are all these new platforms going to give rise to the necessary critical investment in UK content? Do we simply let the content for the different platforms develop, subject only to existing copyright and competition law, or do we recognise that specific arrangements and incentives need to be put in place to encourage UK-originated creative content and that competition policy therefore needs to be modified?

Project Kangaroo, a proposed largely free online television platform created by the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV, is where many of us would part company with the Competition Commission, which gave it the thumbs-down in its interpretation of EU competition policy, for example. On the other hand, the BBC proposals for local video services, subject to an Ofcom market impact assessment, fall the other side of the line.

I was extremely interested by and agreed with many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in his maiden speech. He recognised that consolidation—what might be called critical mass—was sometimes necessary for UK producers to deliver high-quality content. Children's television is an important and immediate case in point. There are many dedicated channels, such as Nickelodeon and Nick Jr., which deliver high-quality US-originated programmes. However, parents tell us in surveys that they want more UK content for their children and not just on the BBC. Do we simply leave it to the market or do we try to stimulate UK programme content? One of the solutions put forward is for specific support through the tax system for children's television production in the UK. The UK games industry, recently highlighted by a NESTA report, is also an important case in point. If we can fashion a sensible, acceptable approach to film production in the UK, why not for other creative industries, such as games and children's television, which suffer the same issues of US cultural dominance?

There is too little time today to cover other important aspects of the creative industries, particularly the area of copyright and licensing. However, the Gowers review certainly did not get it completely right on copyright. We need to amend the UK Licensing Act 2003 to encourage more live music and there are many other aspects where we need to benefit artists.

The Government, too, need to be creative in the way in which they adopt solutions to difficult problems. I am sure that no lack of creativity can be laid at the door of the Secretary of State or the Minister—or, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Barnes. I do not expect them to respond in detail to these points today, but I hope that they will give them serious consideration as part of the process of drawing up the digital Britain report.