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 Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 8:45 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I also thank all noble Lords who have supported this amendment, or partly supported it. I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for putting their names to the amendment and supporting it so strongly. However, I am rather disappointed with the line the Minister has taken, as this is an opportunity to put in place a robust piece of legislation that would guarantee the future of original content made in Britain, not just on the BBC but on commercial PSBs. They are doing their bit, yes; but I want to see that being sustainable and this amendment would ensure that that happens.

We do not need more cartoons and imported programmes, which is what the majority of commercial broadcasters are offering. What we need, what the children need, are quality, UK-produced programmes. Children’s productions have always made a huge contribution to the UK economy from their international sales. We need that to continue. We are not looking for huge amounts of investment from the commercial PSBs, just what the broadcasters feel, after discussion, that they can afford. They are doing so; I want them to continue to feel that they can afford to invest in children. I want a guarantee from them, but there is no guarantee—there is no framework for them to guarantee such a thing. As I said, Ofcom often finds itself in an impossible position on this issue and can sometimes look ineffective and inadequate, because even though it proves through research that more provision for children is needed from commercial PSBs, they cannot do anything about it, as the legislation prevents them doing so.

Throughout the passage of the Bill we have talked about safeguarding and protection. Well, this amendment is about safeguarding and protecting our children’s production sector and ensuring that it continues. The sentiments behind the amendment, which I believe are sensible and reasonable, are transparency and trust—it was in that spirit that I kept the Minister regularly informed. I also engaged with Ofcom and the commercial PSBs to discuss my amendment and I have been waiting anxiously to see how the Government would respond. I am rather disappointed with what the Minister has just said.

We do not know who might own public service companies in the near future or whether they will feel obliged to provide British content for our children. Therefore, I feel that we cannot and must not leave anything to chance. Also we cannot afford to waste precious time waiting to see how the market beds in and develops, as the Minister said, because it is highly unlikely that there will be another opportunity like this to return PSB children’s programming to tier 2 where it belongs and secure homemade programming for our children in the foreseeable future, rather than leave it languishing in tier 3 where we have seen it continue to decline over the past 10 years.

Throughout my 40 years working in children’s television I have personally witnessed the lasting legacy that British-made programmes have had on the nation’s children, who discovered themselves and their world. They knew they were loved, they felt special, because the programmes reflected their lives. We owe it to the generations to come to feel and experience that same thing. I am passionate and determined not to abandon our nation’s children and I hope that the Minister and the Government will walk that path with me by rethinking and reconsidering my amendment in more depth, as I cannot give an undertaking that we will not return to this issue on Report. However, at this stage, with a heavy heart, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 229 withdrawn.