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 Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 7:00 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. I have to warn the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that despite his very kind remarks I may not be so amenable. My speech may contain some upsetting content—we broadcasters have to issue warnings.

Amendment 226A would extend the prominence provisions that currently exist for linear channels to on-demand electronic programme services, which are the lists of on-demand services available for selection on television interfaces. This issue was debated at length in the other place, although I note that this amendment goes further in integrating new provisions into the existing statutory framework for both EPGs and the PSB prominence regime. But I believe that the key issue remains as it was.

The Minister reassured Members in the other place then—and I reassure the Committee today—that the Government gave this issue considerable thought during last year’s balance of payments consultation, the response to which was published in August last year. Our conclusion was—and we remain of the view—that we have not seen compelling evidence of harm to PSBs to date. Creating a new regulatory regime that defines the user interfaces or submenus that should be caught, particularly in a fast-moving technological landscape, is likely to be complex. At the time of consultation, Ministers were not convinced of the benefit of regulation that might extend to, for instance, smart TV manufacturers’ user interfaces, which are developed with a global market in mind. We therefore decided not to extend the EPG prominence regime for PSBs to on-demand.

When PSBs make excellent content, generally audiences will find that content. This is true of both catch-up and live content. For example, the BBC’s award-winning children’s services are much viewed by children throughout the UK. We do not believe that further protections are necessary to ensure that children find these services. A recurring theme in the debates on the Bill has been how much more competent children are than many adults in the digital world.

Furthermore, acting in this area is extremely complicated and the fact that the amendment spans more than a page demonstrates some of the difficulties inherent in legislating in this area. The technological landscape is shifting quickly and, with it, the business models of those who seek to cater to changing audience tastes. Detailed regulations about how exactly audiences need to be guided through menus cannot be the answer here. Regulations would be outdated as soon as they came into force.

Moreover, this amendment would give prominence to the PSBs’ on-demand programme services, which include not only the PSB content of the commercial PSBs, but also content originating from their non- PSB channels. If the intention was to put on-demand EPG prominence on the same footing as linear EPG prominence, this amendment goes far beyond what we have in place for linear TV. It is therefore, in our view, not justifiable.

With that explanation—and I appreciate that the noble Lord may not be happy—I hope that tonight he will withdraw his amendment.