Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Gordon of Strathblane Lord Gordon of Strathblane Labour 6:00 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, Amendment 224A has the same objective as Amendment 224 but takes a marginally different approach. I will not go over the statistics because my noble friend Lord Wood has done that admirably, but I would add that PSBs are responsible for only 5% of sports output on television but 60% of the viewing. Their role in sports coverage is absolutely vital and I fully endorse the need to protect the listed events regime against the risk of becoming obsolete.

I must apologise to the Committee because the language I used in drafting Amendment 224A is more than sloppy. In an age that regards a majority of 52% in the EU referendum as overwhelming and a 55% majority in the Scottish referendum as equally overwhelming, the phrase “vast majority” is wholly inadequate to reflect what I really mean, which is as close to universal coverage as is humanly possible. However, the main point of my amendment seeks to get rid of fixed targets because they can become obsolete. My noble friend may be right when he says that it might happen to all five PSBs within the next Parliament, so why substitute 95% with 90% which may become equally obsolete in the ensuing two or three years? Why not leave it to the judgment of the regulator, Ofcom? It should reach a decision on which broadcasters could qualify.

The other point on which I slightly disagree with my noble friend is going for 90% in the preceding year. First, that could be overly restrictive, and secondly, it could lead to a situation where an organisation deliberately becomes free to air but hides its main sports coverage behind a paywall. It would be much better to leave this to the judgment of Ofcom. It can determine what coverage is going to be required and who can qualify as a free-to-air broadcaster. Apart from those points, I endorse entirely the need to protect the listed events regime and I beg to move.