Children: Television — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 1st July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 2:37 pm, 1st July 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have given any consideration to the introduction of a tax credit for live action children’s television productions.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a children’s television practitioner.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting the creative industries and have introduced three new tax reliefs for animation, video games and high-end television. A fourth relief for theatre production is due to be implemented in September. Any proposal for a new relief must be assessed for its effectiveness, wider economic impact, ability to stand up against abuse and the cost to the Exchequer.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Children’s television is not part of the success story of the creative industries because, despite the fact that there are about 30 dedicated children’s channels, only 1% of new children’s programmes are made here in the UK; the rest come from abroad. Producers cannot fully fund their UK productions. Children’s television is in terrible need of assistance; it is struggling. Does my noble friend not think that to have a tax credit for children’s live action productions would boost the economy, boost the industry, help with exports and encourage international investment, as it has done successfully for film, drama and animation?

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am sure that all those arguments will be deployed forcibly by my noble friend and the industry body, which is about to begin discussions with the Treasury to make its case. The reliefs that we have introduced have led to at least one children’s TV programme—an animation in Wales called “Llan-ar-goll-en”—being granted relief, so the beginnings of relief are already in place.

Photo of Viscount Colville of Culross Viscount Colville of Culross Crossbench

I declare an interest as a producer at the BBC. Investment by commercial public service broadcasters in original British children’s television has collapsed by 97% in the past decade to a mere £2 million. Is the Minister not concerned by the lack of competition in the market that this is producing and the dilatory effect that it is having on our exports?

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, obviously there has been a considerable reduction in original children’s television production in the UK. There are a number of reasons for this: for instance, the ability of the independent television companies to generate income from children’s television has reduced as a result of restrictions on advertising during children’s television programmes. However, these issues will be put by the industry and considered by the Treasury.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, do the Government think that it is appropriate that the BBC, a public service broadcaster, is the largest buyer of children’s live action TV?

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

When I look back to my own childhood—it was a long time ago, although I am not that old—the BBC had a pre-eminent role in terms of children's television. It has continued in that capacity and in that role for many decades.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, the Minister was in self-congratulatory mood in response to the first Question. Does he accept that the Government’s television tax relief scheme is based on the hugely successful film tax relief introduced by the previous Labour Government? We would now like to know what is the impact so far of the measures that he is commenting on?

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we changed the basis of film tax relief. But as far as last year is concerned, some £868 million was generated by 37 major international firms making the UK their production base. As far as TV is concerned, the reliefs that we introduced last year—we have figures for only nine months—show that some £276 million worth of production has benefited from the reliefs, of which some 58% is from inward investment.

Photo of Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my noble friend said a moment ago that animation tax breaks had already seen benefits in children’s TV, so is it not self-evident that this should be extended to live children’s TV?

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the slight problem with that line of argument is that it would open the way to tax breaks on virtually every kind of expenditure. At the moment, as noble Lords will be aware, the Government’s ability to make tax cuts is severely constrained by the overall financial situation.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that that is a counsel of despair? The children’s television that is produced in this country is, generally speaking, of a very high quality. He mentioned earlier that the problem for that sector of the industry is in finding a market. If there were more of it, there might be a bigger market for it overseas as well as in the UK. Some encouragement to what is a widely respected part of the industry might not come amiss and would certainly help to encourage our exports.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a strong point. Again, this is the point that the industry is making and that the Treasury will listen to and consider over the coming months.

Photo of Lord Christopher Lord Christopher Labour

My Lords, nobody so far has mentioned the regulator. To assist the Minister in the matter of age, I would like to cast noble Lords’ minds back to 1981, which certainly the noble Lord, Lord Grade, will recall, when the Independent Broadcasting Authority was interviewing candidates for franchises in independent television. The chairperson, Lady Plowden, always reserved to herself the question of children’s programmes. The regulator has, of late, fallen behind in addressing a number of issues, certainly children’s programmes appearing on television. Will the Minister approach the regulator to see whether some studies should not be made about what children today would like to see?

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, that is an extremely interesting point and I will definitely take it back. One of the key points to make about the difference between now and the period the noble Lord was talking about is that, paradoxically, there are now a lot more children’s TV channels and routes by which children get their entertainment.