Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 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 8:45 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, Amendment 229 addresses the important issue of children’s television, something that I know the House and this Committee rightly feel strongly about. I thank noble Lords for their speeches, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for pointing out some of the problems, particularly that of advertising revenue for commercial PSBs. Children’s programming has been and remains a very important aspect of the UK’s public service broadcasting system. The provision of a range of high-quality children’s programming must be a priority for public service broadcasting. Ofcom has an oversight role for the system as a whole, and indeed has found that more than eight in 10 people think that the PSB system,

“provides a wide range of high quality and UK made programmes for children”.

The BBC, as has been mentioned by many noble Lords, remains a particularly strong provider of UK-originated children’s content. That is why the new BBC charter and framework agreement make it clear that Ofcom must have particular regard to setting requirements for key public service genres like children’s programming. But as many parents will know, children now consume content via an increasing range of platforms and providers. Ofcom has found that children are watching 25% less broadcast TV than they did five years ago. The Government therefore want to support the provision and plurality of children’s content.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, has reminded us, we are going to pilot a contestable fund for underserved public service content, with children’s content a potential key area. We expect to see the commercial public service broadcasters work closely with the contestable fund and commission more children’s content. If this does not happen, the Government will be prepared to consider whether further action is needed. It is a pilot and we will have to see where it goes. Beyond that, the Government have also extended tax relief for animation and high-end TV programmes to UK children’s programmes because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, pointed out, we recognise the tremendous benefit to the economy of the creative industries. There are also other positive developments led by the market. An example which has been mentioned is that this year, Netflix will make its first British children’s programmes. I therefore believe that additional regulation in such a fast-developing area at this time is not in the interests of a diverse and vibrant children’s TV landscape in the UK.

With that explanation, I hope the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.