Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 7:00 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I appeal for some leeway from the Committee in that I am popping in to support this amendment and then leaving your Lordships to it. I support the spirit of the prominence regime and the amendment in particular, which I hope the Government will accept.

As we have heard, the prominence regime was originally intended to ensure that the high-quality programming of our public service broadcasters was easily accessible to everyone, especially in the case of the BBC, which of course is funded by the licence fee paid by the vast majority of households. Unfortunately, the legislation as it stands is more suited to an analogue age than the digital world in which we now live. Understandably, when the original television legislation was enacted in 2003 we did not imagine how our viewing habits would change over the following decade or how quickly the legislation would fall behind technological progress. Smart and connected televisions, with their instant access to on-demand content, were only a dream in 2003, while the iPlayer would not be launched for another four years.

I am concerned by how increasingly difficult it is, as has been said, to find some content on smart and connected television menus. The iPlayer in particular is watched by millions of people who pay their licence fee and it should be much more easily accessible. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Wigley, S4C produces some outstanding Welsh dramas, watched by people right across Wales, where I still live in the constituency that I once represented. Many viewers watch those Welsh programmes on the iPlayer. I am worried that, as smart and connected television menus increasingly promote their own and other commercial content, people are struggling to access the iPlayer and, therefore, these excellent Welsh programmes, which I find it very difficult to believe will be replicated by any other broadcaster or company. “Hinterland”, which my noble friend mentioned, among others, should be on network BBC. It really is an excellent and gripping drama, equivalent to “Silent Witness” or any of the other excellent network programmes. So I make that appeal to the BBC, if I may.

Even electronic programme guides are becoming harder to find and much harder to navigate. I believe that on one new connected television, getting to S4C takes 10 clicks on the remote control, while finding the BBC’s children’s channels, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, takes more than 20 clicks, forcing parents—and in my case, grandparents—to scroll through roughly a dozen commercial channels; most of them are rubbish, by the way. It is a problem for me to find CBeebies or CBBC when my six grandchildren are over. This surely does not fit within the spirit of the original legislation. Amendment 226A is simply technical in nature. It updates existing legislation for the digital world in which we now live, and I hope the Government will support it.