Committee (6th Day)

Part of Digital Economy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:51 pm on 3rd February 2010.

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Photo of Lord Howard of Rising Lord Howard of Rising - Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for Treasury and Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Treasury), Culture, Media and Sport, - Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister 6:51 pm, 3rd February 2010

My Lords, this amendment would remove Ofcom's ability to pay the appointed person for the provision of regional and local news. This amendment goes to the heart of the opposition from these Benches to this clause. We do not believe that public subsidy should be used to prop up the current system of regional news. It grew up in the analogue age of broadcasting, and it seems to us on these Benches that when going into the digital age, it is a mistake to seek to maintain what is there, simply because it is there. There may be better, and possibly more radical, solutions. We should be looking at regulatory changes to enable improved models of regional and local news to grow up. In the internet era, people get their news from a wide variety of sources, so it seems strange to make the public pay to keep a half-hour slot on one particular channel.

There are a number of questions about this particular section of Clause 28, which allows the Government to pay independently financed news consortia, the so-called IFNCs. Is it still the Government's intention to use licence fee money to pay these consortia? I appreciate that the Bill makes no mention of the licence fee, but in the Digital Britain report, and in subsequent statements from Ministers, it seems to be the case that it will be the source of funding. If this is so, can the Minister confirm whether this clause allows the Government to top-slice the licence fee at some point in the future without any further parliamentary scrutiny? Alternatively, if there is some other source of funding in mind, it would be helpful if the Minister could highlight where the funding will come from.

One further aspect relating to the funding of these consortia makes little sense. If they are to be funded by the licence fee or from general taxation, then surely they are not "independently financed" but completely dependent on the Government. We do not believe that using public subsidy in this way will create a long-term, financially sustainable model. I beg to move.