Moved by Lord Best
32A: After Clause 81, insert the following new Clause—“BBC Licence Fee Commission(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulations made by statutory instrument, set up an independent body (“the BBC Licence Fee Commission”).(2) It is to be the duty of the BBC Licence Fee Commission to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State regarding the level of licence fee required to fund the BBC for the purposes set out in the Royal Charter and Agreement in respect of the settlement from
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 32B and 32C, which are also in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Inglewood and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury.
In Committee we discussed several amendments from different parts of the House which all aimed to secure an improved process for setting the BBC licence fee. Those amendments were a response to the universal condemnation of the way the licence fee was settled in 2010 and 2015. The problem has not been simply about the so-called “raids” on the BBC’s revenue to pay for other government priorities such as broadband rollout or free licences for the over-75s. Nor has the problem even been about the decisions reached, such as the seven-year freeze on the licence fee, which is now, thankfully, coming to an end. The problem is more fundamental. It is about the process itself.
This process has been variously described as “clandestine”, “behind locked doors”, “frantic”, “purely political” and “fixed over a weekend”. It gives the Secretary of State the power to impose a funding settlement on the BBC following secret talks and without any external checks and balances. No one believes that this is the best way to come to a considered, evidence-based, sensible decision on the vital question of a licence fee that millions of citizens will pay.
As the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in the other place, then chaired by John Whittingdale, MP, said:
“The 2010 settlement demonstrated that the BBC’s independence can be compromised by negotiations with the government of the day that lack transparency and public consultation”.
Your Lordships’ Select Committee on Communications, which I have the honour to chair, condemned the process in its well-received report for the BBC’s charter review, Reith not Revolution. Our report drew on the earlier work of the CMS Committee in the other place, which had concluded:
“No future licence fee negotiation must be conducted in the way of the 2010 settlement”.
However, the process remained unchanged and we noted, in respect of the 2015 settlement, that Rona Fairhead, the well-regarded chair of the BBC Trust, found it equally unsatisfactory. Indeed, I note that Ms Fairhead spoke in support of the amendments before us today in her speech at the Oxford Media Convention earlier this month.
So what form should a more transparent and informed process take? Amendments 32A, 32B and 32C bring together the earlier versions and provide the package of measures to achieve this. On a technical note, when the Minister responds, will he kindly indicate that he accepts that the amendments are in a linked group? That is, if the first goes to a vote, then, irrespective of the outcome of the vote, the next two amendments will be treated as consequential and will not be subject to further Divisions but will be accepted “in the voices”, as we say.
Amendment 32B proposes proper public consultation and debate by both Houses of Parliament. This sounds pretty uncontentious. However, we are told that, because the licence fee is regarded as a hypothecated tax, it cannot be subject to consultation: levels of tax, it is said, must be left to the Chancellor, who in this case delegates to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I note in passing that Chancellors can run into problems in setting taxes without prior consultation with interested parties—but, recent events aside, it is surely the case that when the licence fee is reset in 2020, the Secretary of State would be much helped by getting feedback from the wider public, as was the case with the helpful White Paper consultation on the charter itself. Certainly the organisation, Voice of the Listener and Viewer, which works in the interest of the public at large, favours this amendment. Whether a licence fee is a hypothecated tax or not, it seems sensible, when deciding on the tricky question of the licence fee, to know what those who will actually pay the fee think about it.
The other two amendments here, Amendments 32A and 32C, address the question of providing the Secretary of State with some clear, impartial and expert guidance. My committee proposed earlier that Ofcom should be given the responsibility to draw up a clear recommendation on the licence fee. The Secretary of State could reject it, but, if so, would be required to publish the reasons. In our Reith not Revolution report, the Communications Committee suggested that Ofcom should then reconsider the position and, if necessary, offer a second recommendation. After that, the Secretary of State’s decision would be final.
Several Members of your Lordships’ House, including the Minister, pointed to the weakness of asking Ofcom to take on this role. This excellent organisation already has a huge workload and will now be extending its regulatory duties in relation to the BBC. Moreover, the Minister pointed out that it is unusual—although, I would say, not unknown—for a regulator to express an opinion on the price to be paid by the consumer for the service being regulated. In response to these comments, the amendments before us do not impose another duty on Ofcom, but instead adopt the approach first mooted by the Opposition Benches for a new, independent body: a BBC licence fee commission.
This body would not decide on the licence fee—that task would remain squarely with the Secretary of State—but the Secretary of State would have to look carefully at a recommendation from the new commission and give clear reasons for rejecting it, if that was what the Secretary of State decided to do. The licence fee commission would be able to draw upon a comprehensive range of financial and professional expertise to provide the basis for sound judgment. It would consider carefully the costs involved for public service broadcasters in fulfilling their obligations—and, most particularly, for the BBC in fulfilling its own very special public service role. Drawing on this input would surely help the Government avoid accusations either of undermining the BBC by setting the licence fee too low or of failing to control wasteful spending by setting it too high.
Importantly, bringing these matters into the open, creating a proper, transparent process, would moderate the unfettered life-or-death authority of the Secretary of State over the BBC’s funding and therefore over its future. In doing so, the new process would reduce the chilling effect on the freedom of the BBC to act independently of government, which otherwise remains while the Secretary of State holds this sword of Damocles over the BBC’s board and management. The only argument I can see against the establishment of an independent new body with this single task is that it will cost more than if the Secretary of State simply relied on the Government’s own judgment. But the cost of a commission is surely insignificant when it is set against the several billions of pounds that the licence fee will raise over the years that follow this decision.
Indeed, I was heartened in our Committee debate by the Minister drawing attention to the commitment in the Government’s BBC White Paper last year to,
“consider taking independent advice at the next settlement”.—[
The aim of these amendments is to put some flesh on the bones of that commitment. I hope therefore that the Minister will respond positively to the constructive proposals in these amendments, which are supported by a range of organisations, from the Voice of the Listener and Viewer to the National Union of Journalists, and clearly commend themselves to all sides of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I regret that my ill health prevented me from being present on Monday
The noble Lord, Lord Ashton, accepted in his reply on
The modest purpose of Amendment 32E is to create a link between the BBC’s charter and the Bill. It requires the Secretary of State to ensure, in accordance with the BBC’s mission and purposes under the charter, that the BBC is funded so as to be able to function independently and effectively as a public service broadcaster. Unlike the amendment moved on
Do the Government accept that they have the duty to ensure, in accordance with the BBC’s mission and purposes under the charter, that the Secretary of State must ensure that the BBC is funded so as to be able to function independently and effectively as a public service broadcaster? If not—if the answer is no—what do they accept as their duty in this respect? Remembering that on
The amendments made to the Bill in this House will need to be considered by the House of Commons after it leaves here. I hope that at that stage, if not now—I would prefer now—the Government will respond positively with an amendment on the lines of Amendment 32E. I have in mind that by that time we will be coming near to the end of the Session, the Government will want the Bill to go through and that this will at the least be something that needs to be considered then, if not now.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, for having met me informally and suggesting that I might usefully meet the Culture Secretary. I would welcome that opportunity and would be grateful if the Minister could say whether that would be acceptable.
I refer briefly to our previous debate when the House was considering the Bill, when I raised my concern about the independence of the BBC and its relationship with the Government of the day, because there must be a relationship and it is important that it is both transparent and rules-based. That is why I have added my name to a number of the amendments; I do not want to elaborate further than that to explain clearly why I have done so.
I also owe an apology to my noble friend, because on that occasion I referred to the Government as behaving like Dick Turpin in respect of the licence fee. He picked me up on that point and said he thought that it was very wrong because a lot of money was being given back, so I apologise for suggesting that; instead, I should have said Robin Hood.
I support the amendments. As I mentioned in Committee, I am a Member of the House of Lords Communications Committee, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and I stand by our report, Reith not Revolution, although I accept the slight change in who should oversee the setting of the licence fee, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, mentioned.
The Minister referred more than once in Committee to the licence fee as a tax. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, it is a hypothecated tax, paid by the public to fund the BBC. As such, it is surely correct that in future there is clarity and public scrutiny and no more midnight raids, and that the licence fee is used to fund the BBC’s functions and public services, not those of the Government. These proposals would, rightly, leave an elected Government with the final say in determining the BBC’s revenue but would introduce an important element of accountability in the process, which is surely appropriate.
I have added my name to Amendment 32E from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and I agree with all the speeches that have been made in this debate. The process for setting the licence fee is manifestly inadequate; it lacks transparency, fails to identify—far less promote—any coherent principle, and allows and indeed encourages a last-minute political fix. Does the Minister really think that this is a satisfactory means of promoting the independence and efficacy of the BBC?
I am also a member of the Communications Committee. My noble friend Lord Best set out our position so well that I shall not repeat it, but I wanted to add one thing. I could not possibly exaggerate the feeling of those who came before us giving evidence that the BBC must not only be independent from the Government of the day but must be seen to be independent. That is really what these amendments are struggling to insist on—that it is truly seen by all parties to be seen as independent.
On a secondary point, while we did our review I was stuck by the huge number of duties that the BBC was given, many of which were very right-minded, about regions and nations and the types of programming that it must do, as well as about training. Those are all things with a cost, and a subset of the amendments is the suggestion that somebody independent gets to look at the duties of the BBC and set them against the cost of doing those duties. Perhaps we will have more reasonable conversations about what those duties ultimately are when we understand what they cost.
Can I just be marginally controversial? I accept the first amendment, which would establish a BBC licence fee commission, but the time has come when we have to look at the licence fee itself. We should remember that the licence fee was established way back in the days of Lord Reith—an awful man, but that is beside the point—based on the fact that you had one broadcasting unit in your house. The licence fee is for the house, not the individual, yet I stand here today with at least three devices in my pockets which allow me to view or listen to broadcasts by the BBC or, in fact, by any other organisation that cares to broadcast.
The time has really come when we must look at whether or not we have one licence fee for one household, which could include the very poorest single woman or man living alone in their house with one television or one radio to listen to. They pay exactly the same sum of money as another household with five people in it, all of whom have different devices. There are now four of us living in my household and each room has a television in it and a radio, we have radio in the cars, television on iPads and phones, radio on this, television on that—we have too many, maybe. But the same licence fee covers everything. It is the same licence fee for everybody, whatever—and I am not even talking about hotels or boarding houses or whatever else we can include with them. It is interesting to note that the Government themselves, when they looked at the licence fee, changed it to a live or nearly live licence fee. It is nearly live of course because if you watch television on your iPad, it is about 30 seconds behind, so it is not directly live. So this is the first thing that has to be said: it is time that this commission looked at the whole of the licence fee, not just the level of it.
Secondly, and lastly, this is a tax imposed upon everybody and we are entitled to know exactly how that money is spent by the BBC. I notice that an ex-director of the BBC is hoping to get into this debate —we know what his salary is and we know the salaries of every member of staff on the managerial side, but we do not know how much is paid to Mr John Humphrys, for instance, or to anybody else on the news side of it. I think that the BBC ought to be completely covered by the Freedom of Information Act, which is something that the commission could look at.
My Lords, it is hard to improve on the excellent summary by the noble Lord, Lord Best, of the glaring inadequacies of the last two licence fee settlements—the infamous midnight raids. I would add only one thing: it is important to recognise that in neither instance was the motive of the Government to do down the BBC, rather it was simply unscrupulous pragmatism, switching responsibility to the BBC for paying for services that had previously been funded by government. In both instances, the Government did this because they did not want to take the political hit of taking something away—the ill-considered gift of a previous Government of free licences for the over-75s, might I say—nor did they want to take the financial hit of continuing to fund the services for which they were switching responsibility.
In both instances, the Government were completely oblivious to the consequences for the funding of the BBC and the knock-on consequences for every kind of service. This is government at its worst, frankly. We all understand how it happened, but it was ill considered and Britain deserves better. There needs to be a proper, considered process to set the licence fee which takes, as others have said, every kind of circumstance into account before the licence fee is set. I strongly support this amendment.
My Lords, my media interests can be found in the register. As many other noble Lords have said, it seems to me that the run-up to the next licence fee deal must be the time to take politics out of the corporation’s funding arrangements. This amendment is very welcome in creating a body that will do just that. The criticism of similar sorts of bodies is that they have been ignored by successive Ministers. However, the noble Lord, Lord Best, has dealt with this by recommending that the proposed commission should be considered by the Secretary of State, who should then explain his reasons if he is going to ignore it. That would provide a gold standard against which the public and politicians can measure any discussions and subsequent spin on the BBC’s funding settlement. I ask the Minister to consider the idea very favourably.
As regards Amendment 32E, I add my admiration for the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in trying to put the BBC on a more independent footing. In Committee, I spoke in favour of statutory underpinning for the BBC. As the noble Lord said, this amendment is a watered-down version of that discussion. I understand that it will not be put to a vote but I hope that it will stir the Government to start a debate to free the corporation from ministerial diktat. That debate must involve all the stakeholders. I hope that the result will guarantee the corporation’s future. Its position as one of the most effective public service broadcasters in the world has never been more important at a time when “fake news” threatens to suffocate the truth.
My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lord Best, I point out that the reprehensible situation in which we found ourselves the last time that the licence fee was discussed discredited not only the Government but managed to discredit the BBC as it put the director-general in a very difficult position for which he received a great deal of criticism. Nobody came out of that process very well. We must be able to find a better system that is more transparent and gives the BBC the possibility to plan ahead, but it has to be one that is fair to all parties.
My Lords, I observe only that if you wish to access the BBC on iPlayer, for example, when you live outside the United Kingdom, you are asked whether you have a television licence. If you do not, you cannot access it. That seems an opportunity for revenue for the BBC to consider in the future.
It sounds obvious that the process of negotiating a charter and the process of setting a licence fee should be separated so that the licence fee is set at a level to ensure the BBC has the resources to do what the charter asks of it. However, those of us who have had some involvement in the process in the past know that this is not quite how it works. The connection between the two processes is indirect and shrouded in political pressures. As a result, the process of setting the licence fee is far too little about matching the funding of the BBC to its functions in the charter, and far too much about balancing a range of other considerations: the politics around the licence fee rate, interests of other broadcasters, and the temptation to smuggle government policy on to the BBC’s books—midnight raids et cetera. Governments of all varieties—Labour, Conservative, whatever—like to play the game of pumping up the tasks that go into the charter and clamping down on the licence fee needed to fund it. The result of all this is bad not just for the BBC but for all parties concerned. It is a bad deal for the BBC because it faces increasingly intolerable pressures to deliver what is expected of it, and threats to its operational autonomy and independence. It is bad for the Government because of a growing suspicion of unwarranted political interference in the BBC, and it is bad for licence fee payers because the process of allocating funds to charter functions is surrounded in opaqueness and devoid of transparency.
Therefore, we support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Best. We think they are based on sound principles—the independence of the process, consultation with the public, transparency of the contents of the deal and requiring the Secretary of State to be accountable for turning his back on or challenging the express will that comes out of consultation. We think this is a way of restoring the functionality and transparency of the licence fee setting process, and ensuring that the BBC can be funded to do what we all expect the foremost public service broadcaster to do.
My Lords, we return to an issue that I know interests a great many noble Lords: the funding of the BBC. I take this opportunity to remind noble Lords of what the Government have already committed to do to increase the transparency of the process whereby the funding of the BBC is decided. The BBC’s new charter regularises, for the first time, the timing of BBC’s next financial settlement, which will be in five years’ time. The BBC has certainty over its funding for the next five years, having agreed a settlement with the Government whereby the licence fee will rise with inflation each and every year for the next five years.
On the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best—in answer to his question, I accept that Amendments 32B and 32C are, if not consequential, linked—I make clear to the House how grateful the Government are for the contribution of the noble Lord and of your Lordships’ Communications Committee, which he chairs, throughout the charter review. Indeed, the Government accepted most of the committee’s recommendations for the new charter, such as making the next charter for a period of 11 years and the scope of the mid-term review.
The charter states that, in determining the funding settlement, the Secretary of State must assess the level of funding required for the effective fulfilment of the BBC’s mission and promotion of its public purposes, consider an assessment of the BBC’s commercial income and activities, and consult the BBC. For its part, the BBC is required to provide information and assistance to the Secretary of State ahead of the next licence fee settlement to inform the Secretary of State’s determination of that settlement. It is therefore explicit that the BBC will be able to make its case and the Government of the day will have to consider that case.
However, the Government also stated in their White Paper, published last May, that they would consider taking independent advice at the next settlement should it be appropriate. While that will be a matter for the Government of the day, the sentiment behind it is right and sensible. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, the licence fee itself may well be a question for the next charter renewal—in which I think I can say I will not be involved. Taking independent advice is an important factor, and I take this opportunity to set out what this may include. The Government may, for example, wish to seek independent advice to inform their assessment of the data the BBC will provide. They may commission experts to consider the BBC’s likely commercial income for the coming years; the effect of population growth on licence fee revenue; the impact of sector changes on BBC funding needs; and, in turn, the impact of BBC funding on the wider sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, suggests that there should be a BBC licence fee commission. This is a departure from his amendment in Committee, which sought to give Ofcom a similar power, and I appreciate the thought he and other noble Lords have given this. However, at the risk of repeating myself, the licence fee is a tax, and the Government do not seek advice in this way for any other type of taxation. On the question of the licence fee being a tax, I know that not all noble Lords like this designation. However, we rely on the definition provided by the European System of Accounts, which is the system of national accounts used by the European Union. I will spare your Lordships more detail on this, which I could give. I reiterate that taxation is a matter for the elected Government. Only the Government have oversight of the balance of taxes from different sources; rates of tax are set, taking into consideration a range of factors, including wider economic considerations and spending decisions. It would therefore not be possible for an independent body to have oversight of the interaction between this tax rate and other tax burdens that the same group face.
Next, on public consultation on the appropriate level of funding for the BBC, I have already made my reservations clear on this aspect of the noble Lord’s amendments in Committee. Funding a public service is not a straightforward topic for public consultation. The BBC’s funding needs are a complicated and technical issue, as we have seen at every licence fee settlement—
I do not quite know what the noble Lord means by taxes being covered by the Freedom of Information Act, but the BBC, as a public authority, is covered by that Act.
I take the noble Lord’s word for that because he knows more about it than I do.
The point that I made was that, when setting taxes, the Government have to take account of the overall revenue raising, and this is just one element of revenue raising. I agree that whether it is a hypothecated tax is another question, but the point is that it is a tax and the Government do not consult on taxes.
Perhaps I may continue. I was talking about public consultation. The BBC’s funding needs are complicated and technical, as we have seen with every licence fee settlement, and agreeing the overall package is a finely balanced act. The requirement to ask the BBC for information and seek external advice is a sensible way of ensuring that Ministers’ decisions are well informed.
Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Best, said about consultations, the recent charter review found that, although almost 75% of the public consider the BBC’s programming to be high-quality, just 20% said that they would like to see the licence fee rise even in line with inflation, thereby helping the BBC to maintain those high standards. At the same time, the BBC also needs to become more efficient from reducing layers of management and property costs.
Public consultation needs to be approached with due sensitivity. It is right that decisions that balance the funding needs of the BBC and pressures on family budgets are taken by Ministers, who are accountable for those decisions, and that they are not decisions strongly influenced by an unelected new body. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the Government’s view is that it should therefore remain for the elected Government of the day to decide how to approach reaching an appropriate level of BBC funding in a detailed and extensive negotiation with the BBC. Despite the difficulties associated with the last licence fee settlement, as I have said, it resulted in what the noble Lord, Lord Hall, has said is a strong deal for the BBC, giving it financial stability, and we can see that the licence fee will rise for the next five years.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, has tabled an amendment to put a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the BBC is funded to function effectively and independently as a public service broadcaster. I am pleased to see the noble Lord in the Chamber today—it was unfortunate that he was not able to participate in last week’s debate on his previous amendment. Without repeating myself unduly, I remind noble Lords that the Government remain of the view that the BBC is best governed through a royal charter. A statutory underpinning, however limited initially, would leave the BBC under a constant threat of change from what parliamentarians of the day might see as the “national interest”. Where a change might be genuinely required, the uncertain legislative timetable, party-political debate and pressure could all militate against resolving the issue at hand in an efficient manner.
The Minister has not answered my question, which was, quite simply, whether this Government—not one in five years’ time—accept that the Secretary of State has a duty, whether under the charter or otherwise, to ensure that the BBC is so funded as to function independently and effectively as a public service broadcaster.
What does that answer mean? The charter does not say what I have just asked the Minister. Is he saying that, in looking at the charter, the Government accept this obligation and that it is embodied in the charter? If so, I welcome that. However, I am not clear whether the Government accept this duty or not. My final question, which no doubt he will come to, is this: please can I come and see the Culture Secretary with him?
I think I can answer that to the noble Lord’s satisfaction. Yes, I will certainly talk to the Secretary of State and ask that the noble Lord can come and see him—with or without me, depending on his choice.
I do not want to dwell on this too much, but when we talk about sufficient funding and what the Secretary of State has a duty to do, of course the Secretary of State has a duty to abide by the royal charter in the same way that the BBC, the new unitary board and Ofcom do. I said:
“The Secretary of State, in determining a funding settlement, must … assess the level of funding required for effective fulfilment of the Mission and promotion of the Public Purposes”— which is what the charter says. I agree that the Secretary of State must do what the charter says. I hope that answers the noble Lord’s question.
“The BBC must be independent in all matters concerning the fulfilment of its Mission and the promotion of the Public Purposes, particularly as regards editorial and creative decisions, the times and manner in which its output and services are supplied, and in the management of its affairs”.
The question of enshrining parts of the BBC’s royal charter in statute should be a matter for the Government of the day to decide ahead of the next charter review. Given noble Lords’ ongoing interest and informed views, I am confident that the Government of the day will be minded to consider this carefully.
In summary, the Government have already increased the transparency of the way in which the BBC’s funding settlements are agreed. We have given the BBC stability by regularising the settlement period, which is now removed from the election cycle. The BBC will be required to provide information to the Secretary of State on its funding needs, and the Government of the day will consider taking independent advice. The licence fee is a tax and the Government do not consult on taxes. The amendments could have unintentional consequences in constraining the ability of the Government—
I am puzzled by what the Minister has said, because he is saying two incompatible things. He is telling the House that the Government are going to take advice, but on the other hand he is telling the House that, because this is a tax, it is not possible for the Government to take advice.
With respect, I did not say that. I said that the Government would not consult on taxes. Of course the Government can take advice. The Government take advice on taxes every day, whether they have asked for it or not.
The Minister said a moment ago that the Minister—in this case, the Secretary of State—must do as the charter says. I remind him that the charter before last said explicitly that the licence fee may not be used to fund the World Service. After the famous “night raid”, where the BBC was required to fund the World Service from the licence fee, the Secretary of State simply went to the Privy Council and changed the charter. He manifestly did not do what the charter required.
I do not completely follow the noble Lord. If the charter was changed, presumably the Secretary of State did follow the charter.
I agree that a retrospective change in legislation of the charter is never a happy process—but, in a purely technical sense, if the charter was changed then it was being followed. But I take the noble Lord’s point about that—and we will move on.
I have summarised the way that the funding deal has been changed to increase stability for the BBC. In light of all my remarks, I hope that noble Lords will allow the BBC to get on with its job under the agreed royal charter and therefore that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the 10 noble Lords who spoke in support of my amendment. The only moderating voice was from the noble Lord, Lord Maxton—but even that, I think, was with approval as well. I will not reiterate the arguments that everybody brought forward. I thank the Minister for his response and accept that most of the recommendations from your Lordships’ Select Committee on Communications were adopted by the Government, which we were pleased about, including the 11-year period for the charter. But there is only a five-year period for the funding of the BBC, and, although there is certainty for five years, this is not entirely new. We had certainty over the freeze in the BBC licence fee for seven years prior to that.
The Minister stressed that the Government will “consider taking advice” and “may consult experts” on the various aspects of this. I had hoped that the Minister might pull the rabbit out of the hat and that we might have something more to show for the debate tonight than we have. I understand that the Government do not consult on taxes—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, this is a particularly obscure kind of tax. It is 100% hypothecated and we do not have many of those. The Minister mentioned that it was a complicated issue. That is why an expert commission could be so useful. Public consultation might well produce an answer that there would be reluctance to increase the licence fee, but there would be better understanding if these matters were all out in the open and transparent before the public came to that view.
Although I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the position as is, it is not the position that these amendments would establish in the Bill and I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 268, Noes 201.
Moved by Baroness Benjamin
33ZZA: After Clause 82, insert the following new Clause—“Provision of children’s programmesAfter section 289 of the Communications Act 2003 insert—“Provision of children’s programmes289A Provision of children’s programmes(1) OFCOM may, if they think fit, publish criteria to be applied in accordance with this section to the provision of children’s programmes.(2) Where criteria are published by OFCOM, the regulatory regime for every licensed public service channel includes the conditions that OFCOM consider appropriate for securing that the provision of children’s programmes meets the criteria.(3) Any condition imposed by virtue of this section—(a) must relate only to the provision of children’s programmes on the licensed public service channel concerned;(b) must take into account OFCOM’s assessment of the provision of children’s programmes on all related services.(4) “Related services” in relation to a Channel 3 service means—(a) that service,(b) all other Channel 3 services, and(c) all services within subsection (6) that appear to OFCOM to have a sufficient connection with any Channel 3 service.(5) “Related services” in relation to any other licensed public service channel means—(a) that channel, and (b) all services within subsection (6) that appear to OFCOM to have a sufficient connection with that channel.(6) A service is within this subsection if—(a) it is available for reception in the United Kingdom, and(b) it is provided without any consideration being required for its reception, disregarding any requirement to pay sums in accordance with regulations under section 365.(7) For the purposes of an assessment under subsection (3)(b) no account is to be taken of whether a programme is provided on a licensed public service channel or on another service.(8) Any condition imposed by virtue of this section must be the same for all regional Channel 3 services.(9) Any criteria published under this section must be published by OFCOM in a statement setting out the criteria and how they propose to apply them.(10) OFCOM may from time to time review and revise or withdraw the criteria by publishing a further statement.(11) Where OFCOM revise or withdraw criteria, they must take any steps they consider necessary in consequence in relation to conditions imposed by virtue of this section.(12) OFCOM must—(a) carry out a public consultation for the purposes of any review under subsection (10);(b) where there are no published criteria for the time being, carry out a public consultation before publishing criteria under this section.(13) In this section “children’s programme” means a programme made—(a) for a television programme service or for an on-demand programme service, and(b) for viewing primarily by persons under the age of sixteen.””
My Lords, I declare an interest as per the register as I rise to speak to my Amendment 33ZZA, which is also in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Ashton and Lord Collins of Highbury, and my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter.
This is an amendment to secure and protect the future of quality children’s television. It is a safeguarding measure for years to come, which makes me so happy, as it is a legacy. I moved a similar amendment in Committee and since then, I have spent considerable time talking to the Government, the DCMS, broadcasters —including ITV and Channel 4—Ofcom and many noble Lords across this House. I am very grateful for the support that I have received in drawing attention to this vital issue, an issue which I have been highlighting for several years. I want especially to thank the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, or PACT, and the Save Kids’ Content campaign for the enormous pressure that they have applied in this important matter.
I am also grateful for the support of the Government, the Secretary of State, the Minister and the Bill team in producing and agreeing today’s amendment. I thank them for recognising the importance of the amendment and for realising that it was an issue that needed to be dealt with at this point. They should be congratulated on having the vision to do so, because this is a moment of great importance for the future of the children’s production industry and of quality British content for our children and our grandchildren. This amendment has the potential to revitalise the production sector and increase the amount of children’s content which can be exported globally, which Britain has been known for over the years.
As I have said in this House many times, children’s programming is in serious decline. Yes, some new platforms are coming to the marketplace and investing, but spending on the production of new British children’s programming has declined by almost half since 2003, with spending by the commercial public service broadcasters falling by a staggering 93%. Quite shockingly, less than 1% of television hours available for our children are new, first-run British programmes; the rest are imports and repeats. It is our responsibility to make sure that this does not continue. Our children and our grandchildren are entitled to the provision of quality programming that was there for us. In many ways, that is even more crucial for children today, as television has the power to educate and inspire them for the future. As I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime. Instead of driving children towards watching unsuitable and inappropriate adult content, we need to ensure that appropriate content is available for them to identify with and to help shape their development and their imaginations.
Ofcom has recognised that there is a problem. In its last review of PSBs, it was clear that there is a “substantive risk” that PSB requirements for children’s programming in this area will not be met. Despite this risk, Ofcom has repeatedly reported that it does not have the legislative tools to make changes.
We must recognise that nothing other than legislative change will lead public service broadcasters to commission more new British children’s content. Therefore, we need to give Ofcom the tools to require new children’s content to be commissioned and produced by public service broadcasters.
However, I have always understood and recognised throughout this process that PSBs may well have concerns about a legislative change. Through my many discussions, I also became aware that broadcasters had some reservations about the amendment that I tabled in Committee. I have also always been clear that my intention is not to place a huge additional burden on broadcasters. I know that there are pressures on PSBs for a variety of reasons and I understand that it is only by collaboration between all parts of the industry that we will achieve the change necessary to ensure that the level of new British children’s content does not reduce further and indeed increases.
It is in the spirit of collaboration that my amendment today has been arrived at. It will give Ofcom the power to issue criteria addressing the provision of children’s programming by broadcasters. It also allows Ofcom to take into account content broadcast on a main channel, a subsidiary channel or online. It gives flexibility. I do not want to dictate how, where or what programming children should watch. All I want, passionately, is to ensure that there is a range of quality British content available on all platforms that reflects our country’s diversity and the diversity of our children so that they grow up happy and contented, knowing they belong to a great nation.
This amendment also builds in a safeguard requiring Ofcom to conduct a public consultation before imposing any criteria on broadcasters. This is crucial. However, the amendment is just the start. The spirit of collaboration and flexibility built into the amendment means that it is essential that both Ofcom and the Government continue to stay focused on this issue. Given the state of play for new children’s programming, Ofcom would need to urgently use the powers in this amendment to halt and steadily reverse the decline we have seen since 2003. It is vital that this amendment is implemented in the spirit in which it was drafted. We must keep a close eye on its delivery.
I ask the Minister for clarification on how and when the Government would anticipate Ofcom using the new powers in this amendment. In particular, is it the Minister’s understanding that any criteria issued by Ofcom would be able to require a certain level of new British children’s programming? We cannot have a situation where these criteria are satisfied by importing cheap programming from abroad. We have enough of this type of content already.
Subject to receiving some clarification from the Minister, I am extremely relieved that the Government recognise that this matter needs urgently to be addressed. I am grateful to the broadcasters for working with me on this as it gives them the opportunity to make a difference. I know that if all parts of the industry work together and if we get this right, we can lift the lid on a huge well of untapped potential existing in our creative industries and once again create the world-renowned programming—and even more of it—that our children and grandchildren deserve. It is my mission in life to make children’s lives happy. It is with that commitment in mind that I beg to move.
My Lords, briefly, I very much support this amendment and above all salute the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for all she has done over many years in making the case for the production of more and very much better-quality television programmes for children, whether by the BBC or other programme-makers. It is very good to see the name of the Minister on this amendment and I hope I am not wrong that as a result the Government fully support it. I hope we shall hear that soon.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, on her continuous hard work on this issue. We also added a name to the amendment in Committee and here today. I very much share in her delight and happiness that progress has finally been made. As the noble Baroness said, this is effectively an enabling amendment for Ofcom. I hope that it will just sit on the statute book; we look now for action to follow it through. As the noble Baroness said, there is already sufficient evidence, which Ofcom has, of the huge decline and reduction in children’s TV. There is no need for a pause while Ofcom finds evidence as to whether it needs to act. The evidence is already there. I hope that when Ofcom comes to consider the new powers we are providing, it will feel able to act straightaway. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that she will encourage Ofcom to do just that, that this will not just sit there as an enabling power but is something the Government will encourage Ofcom to act upon. Again, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, Amendments 33ZZA and 35A concern the important issue of children’s television, which I know this House, rightly, feels strongly about. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, in particular for her passion and enthusiasm—and a great deal of energy—on this subject. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, who is always so strong on these issues and has been for many years.
The provision of a range of high-quality children’s programming must be a priority for the UK’s public service broadcasting system. The BBC remains a particularly strong provider of UK-originated children’s content. The new BBC charter requires the BBC to support learning for children, and the framework agreement makes it clear that Ofcom must have particular regard to setting requirements for key public service genres such as children’s programming.
However, the commercial public service broadcasters —ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5—have collectively been doing less and less since the Labour Government’s removal of children’s quotas in the Communications Act 2003. By 2014 the BBC accounted for 97% of total spending by PSB channels on children’s programmes. Clearly, this does not suggest a healthy market.
The Government share the view that this problem should be tackled, and we are committed to supporting the provision and plurality of children’s content to meet young audiences’ needs. To do this, the Government have extended the tax relief for animation and high-end TV programmes to UK children’s programmes. We have also consulted on a pilot contestable fund for underserved public service content, with children’s content as a potential area of focus. The consultation closed in February and we will publish our response in due course.
The Government hope that with this government support, the problem that the noble Baroness has identified over the past weeks and months will be resolved. Furthermore, we support the proposal to give Ofcom the power to look at this issue and, as a backstop, to introduce quotas on the commercial PSBs if it deems it necessary. The noble Baroness’s Amendment 33ZZA gives Ofcom the power to look at the provision of children’s content and impose quotas only if it believes there is inadequate provision. But, crucially, it does this in a way that works with PSBs’ commercial realities, and younger audiences’ needs.
As many parents will know, children now consume content on an increasing range of platforms, not just on the traditional PSB channels. Indeed, Ofcom has found that children watch a quarter less broadcast TV than they did five years ago, and that more than a quarter of children watch free on-demand services in a typical week. As a result, in giving Ofcom the power to consider imposing children’s quotas on the main PSB channels via their broadcasting licences, the amendment requires Ofcom to consider the provision of content across a PSB’s free-to-view UK portfolio, not just on its main channel. This means that Ofcom should consider children’s programming on a PSB’s main channel and its other UK free-to-view channels equally when assessing whether a quota may be necessary. Ofcom will also be able to take into account content on PSBs’ on-demand players.
Indeed, while the BBC is rightly considered to be the market leader in children’s TV content, its output is shown on its dedicated children’s channels: CBBC and CBeebies. Therefore, while the amendment does not apply to the BBC, we think it is right that any assessment of children’s TV provision by the commercial public service broadcasters is likewise able to take into account the provision on not only the main channels but their wider services, reflecting the changing nature of TV consumption for our young people and changing TV market dynamics.
Crucially, Ofcom will also be able to consider whichever criteria it deems appropriate in coming to a view on the provision of children’s content. Those criteria will be drawn up, where Ofcom deems them necessary, following public consultation. For example, Ofcom may choose to set as one of its criteria that an appropriate level of new UK children’s programming is available across the PSBs and their related services. This would help drive UK investment and ensure that younger audiences see themselves reflected in the programming that they watch.
“a reasonable opportunity of making representations”,
about a proposed variation of its broadcasting licence. It is also the policy intention that the amendment requires Ofcom to set the same licence condition in each of the Channel 3 regional licences to ensure that the regime does not impose disproportionate burdens on ITV.
We will gladly support amendments that protect and enhance the UK’s public service broadcasting system. That commitment from the Government will echo through this evening’s debate, with support for the BBC and commitments on listed events and children’s television. Again, I thank the noble Baroness for her vital contributions on this subject. The Government will support her amendments.
The noble Baroness asked about timings and content. It is very important that we leave the timings up to Ofcom. The content criteria are also a matter for Ofcom, subject to consultation, as I think I have already made clear. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that we hope that this will not just sit on the statute book. We hope that Ofcom has heard the message loud and clear but the onus is on Ofcom to take this further.
I should also say that Amendment 35A provides for commencement so that the Government cannot block Ofcom from acting. On that basis, we are pleased to accept Amendment 33ZZA.
My Lords, it is moments such as this that demonstrate the importance of this House, with everyone working together for the good of the nation, in this case especially our children. I thank the Minister for her support for the amendment, and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate—especially the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who I greatly admire—and previous debates. In particular, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for putting their names to the amendment. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for her support both in Committee and today, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for his support to date.
As I mentioned in my opening speech, this is a crucial moment for the future of British children’s television. If used properly, the amendment has the potential to halt and steadily reverse the decline of the children’s production sector. It has been a long journey of persuasion, perseverance and determination so I am thrilled that we have reached a consensus that it is vital for Ofcom to urgently use the powers that the amendment will give it to deliver real change and to focus on the production of imaginative and creative new British programming for our children and grandchildren. I and others will be keeping a very close eye on the use of these powers to make sure that real change is achieved. I thank the Minister for her assurance on this point.
I feel so optimistic about the future of our children’s programming industry, which I am so passionate about, and I look forward to seeing this industry deliver even more of the world-renowned programming it is capable of. I believe that if there are good programmes on PSBs, children will watch loyally and will not be driven away to other places. Content matters for children and they will stay with a channel and watch it. I hope that all the broadcasters will take ownership of this gift to our children and embrace this new legislation graciously and wholeheartedly. So it is with a joyful heart and a huge smile that I beg to move.
Amendment 33ZZA agreed.
Clause 85: On-demand programme services: accessibility for people with disabilities
My Lords, I apologise on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, and my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath. Neither noble Lord can make today’s proceedings, so I have been asked, as their inadequate first reserve, to move this amendment and to speak to the other amendments in this group.
The Minister will no doubt remember that in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, and I raised certain issues surrounding the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, which is now incorporated in the Bill as Clause 85. We supported it, and that broadly is the position of the broadcasters. However, they have certain issues surrounding the wording of the clause. I am delighted to see that the Government have taken on board the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s points and that the government amendments incorporate a number of changes to the clause to reflect what the DPRRC had to say.
The broadcasters wish certain other aspects to be aired today. It is a question of the difference between delivering access services on on-demand services and delivering them on linear. Virtually all programmes are now subtitled on the main linear channels. Our public service broadcasters more than exceed the targets set for access services by Ofcom. Linear broadcasting is a mature market with standardised technologies, and it is relatively straightforward and economic to provide access services, but there is a big contrast with delivering services on demand. On demand is much more challenging and fragmented, and there is a huge array of different online platforms. Each platform has its own technological underpinning, and there is no common standard for delivering access services. Accordingly, if this clause is interpreted too broadly there is a danger that a one-size-fits-all approach which takes no account of the revenue, size, usage or length of establishment of a service or online platform would result in fewer online services for everyone because of the disproportionate cost of requiring access services to be rolled out across every platform, regardless of how practical or economic that is.
With the current wording, it is possible for the Government to put in place somewhat disproportionate and onerous regulations that could inhibit the development of services for everyone. The broadcasters are calling for an amendment to the wording to reflect the need for proportionate and progressive measures that take account of factors such as revenue, size, usage and length of establishment in setting obligations on content services or online platforms. I hope that the Minister will agree, whether at this stage or at a subsequent stage, to review the wording so that a degree of proportionality is introduced into this clause. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his comments on the amendment I moved in Committee. The trouble with his amendment is in the meaning of “proportionate”. There will be quite a lot of consultation between all the parties about what will be required before the regulations are finally drafted, and adding “proportionate” would effectively add an extra layer of consultation in which people argue with each other about exactly what “proportionate” means in these circumstances. It would be much better if the clause was left as it is to make certain that, whatever the rules are, they are clear, having been discussed in the consultation. I must express my thanks to the originator of this clause as it came from a Labour Party proposal in another place, but we all support the right idea here, and I am sure it will help deaf people and blind people understand what is on television. This amendment, although no doubt worthy, is not necessary and will in practice get in the way of getting this change into law.
My Lords, I shall focus briefly on the principles shared by the amendments proposed by noble Lords and those suggested by the Government. They take a long-standing commitment to ensure accessibility and update the relevant rules for an age in which on-demand services are becoming more essential to viewers. It is an approach we can all endorse, and I am sure the Government will be keen to take these principles forward when it comes to other issues, such as ensuring PSB prominence in on-demand services, which is in the next group.
I turn to another element of this group, which is the Government’s concession on listed events, Amendments 33ZH and 36. This is another example of taking a long-standing commitment to ensuring access and taking steps to update regulations to respond to changing viewing habits. We are delighted that the Government have responded to the concerns we and other noble Lords raised in Committee. Lowering the threshold for qualification for screening listed events below the current standard is crucial if we are to prevent the development of the extraordinary situation forecast by all PSB broadcasters of not one channel qualifying on existing criteria in the listed events regime by the end of this Parliament. Giving the Secretary of State power to respond seems a very sensible move to allow the Government to respond in the light of the evidence in a quick and minimally disruptive way.
Without being churlish, I hope the Government will bear two considerations in mind as they think further about how to develop the new criteria for the existing regime. First, we need to bear in mind that the threshold must be lowered enough to enable channels to continue to qualify, but not so much as to threaten the idea that events that bring the country together should be available to as wide an audience as possible. Secondly, I hope the Government remain open to the idea discussed extensively in Committee that alternative measures of reach and access may be appropriate in an age in which increasing numbers of viewers access programmes online. Having an open mind about regulatory flexibility in this area, as in other areas, is crucial to achieve the purpose of the listed events rules, which are supported by us all.
I shall be very brief. I thank the Government about listed events. They are important for sporting culture and sharing sport. Taking that on board and making sure that we maintain the link in a manageable way is important, not only because it builds a sense of community but because it is an important link with the casual observer of sport, which helps in encouraging people to take part, mass participation and all those things. It is an important link in that chain, and if we lose it, we will damage part of our sporting culture. .
My Lords, I apologise to the House: I should have declared my interest as a long-standing trustee of the Ewing Foundation for deaf children, which is relevant to my speech earlier.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. Government Amendments 33ZD and 33ZF relate to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommendations on the accessibility of on-demand programme services for people with disabilities. I once again thank the DPRRC for its recommendations. We have accepted the recommendation that the affirmative resolution procedure should be used instead of the negative procedure for regulations made under the clause, and Amendment 33ZF actions this.
With regard to the second recommendation, we have shared with the DPRRC the rationale for not identifying the appropriate regulatory authority in the Bill. We hope it is reassured by the explanation I have provided that we are following the existing drafting in Part 4A of the Communications Act 2003, which uses the phrase “appropriate regulatory authority”, and defines that as Ofcom unless it has appointed another body as regulator. Ofcom has not currently appointed any such body and accordingly is the regulator of on-demand programme services in the UK. I am happy to clarify that to the House.
On the third recommendation, that the Government consult with on-demand programme services providers and other stakeholders, Amendment 33ZD places a duty on the appropriate regulatory authority—Ofcom—to undertake this consultation and then report to the Secretary of State on the outcome, along with any other matters it thinks the Secretary of State should take into account in drafting the regulations.
At both Second Reading and in Committee we heard concerns from a number of noble Lords that the listed events regime is under threat. I am pleased that noble Lords have welcomed government Amendment 33ZH, which will confer a power on the Secretary of State to amend the qualifying conditions for television programme services to which rights to broadcast listed events are made available. In the UK, the listed events regime operates to protect free-to-view access to the coverage of sports events with a national significance. Sport is a key element in our national identity, part of the glue that binds us together as a society, and we want to ensure that as far as possible everyone across the country is able to watch live broadcasts of the sporting events that matter most to society.
To be clear, the listed events regime is not under any immediate threat. However, modern viewing trends mean that the requirement for a television service to be received by at least 95% of the population may, depending on how this is interpreted in the future, become increasingly hard to meet—the noble Lord, Lord Wood, just alluded to this in his comments. With everyone’s changing viewing habits, this has to remain under review and as flexible as possible. As more people, especially the young—and the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, of course—watch television content on phones and other streaming services, this could put the regime at risk in the future.
We want to safeguard against this and ensure the ongoing viability of the listed events regime. This clause will confer a power on the Secretary of State to ensure that, as media consumption habits change, the Government’s policy objective to ensure that listed events are widely available on free-to-view services continues to be met. The clause confers a power on the Secretary of State to amend the percentage of the population by which a channel must be received in order to qualify. I hope that answers the questions of a number of noble Lords on this. It will enable the Secretary of State to lower the relevant percentage to ensure that there continues to be a list of channels which meet the qualifying conditions. It also provides that any amendment to the percentage does not affect the validity of any existing contract to broadcast a listed event. Any amendment is not intended to invalidate existing agreements to broadcast listed events, which can last for a number of years. There is no intention at this stage to review or revise the list of events itself.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, in his absence, for his amendments on the proportionality of accessibility requirements for on-demand programme services. I am sympathetic to their aims. I also assure noble Lords that the Secretary of State will already be considering the proportionality of the requirements that will be placed on such providers. The consultation that Ofcom is required to complete will provide the opportunity to ascertain the proportionality of the provision of accessible services and then report this back to the Secretary of State, so it can be considered when imposing requirements on providers. Furthermore, the SI will contain a review clause on the burdens on business, which will allow a post-implementation analysis of the burdens imposed, to assess whether they are proportionate.
The Government recognise that a balance must be struck between the interests of on-demand services and the interests of those with disabilities that affect hearing and sight being able to enjoy as much content on demand as possible. Achieving this balance will be at the heart of Ofcom’s consultation. Service providers will be able to set out what they consider proportionate. I thank my noble friend Lord Borwick for his contribution to the effect that we should leave this part of the Bill alone. I also reassure the House that Ofcom has a good deal of experience now in the area of accessibility of services. It already publishes a code of practice for such services on linear channels and has a good record in ensuring requirements are ambitious yet not unduly burdensome.
I hope with that explanation that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, will kindly withdraw his amendment. I will move government Amendments 33ZD, 33ZF and 33ZH when the time comes.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, first, for the introduction to her very welcome amendments. I join the noble Lord, Lord Wood, and my noble friend Lord Addington in welcoming in particular the new ability to adjust the listing requirements, because that builds in, as the noble Lord, Lord Wood, said, the flexibility for the future that is very much needed, and may be needed rather more quickly than many of us anticipate.
I particularly thank the Minister for her very careful reply to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, on proportionality. She gave a very full answer to the amendments, particularly on how Ofcom will consult and in saying that balance will be at the heart of its consultation and that the SI will contain a review clause on burdens on business. I do not think one can say fairer than that and, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 33ZA withdrawn.
Amendments 33ZB and 33ZC not moved.
Moved by Lord Ashton of Hyde
33ZD: Clause 85, page 89, leave out lines 15 to 19 and insert—“(3) The steps set out in subsections (4) to (6) must be taken before regulations are made under this section.(4) The Secretary of State must ask the appropriate regulatory authority to consult such persons as appear to the authority likely to be affected by regulations under this section, including—(a) providers of on-demand programme services, and(b) representatives of people with disabilities affecting their sight or hearing or both.(5) The appropriate regulatory authority must inform the Secretary of State of—(a) the outcome of the consultation, and(b) any other matters that they think should be taken into account by the Secretary of State for the purposes of the regulations.(6) Where OFCOM are not the appropriate regulatory authority, the Secretary of State must consult OFCOM.(7) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
Amendment 33ZD agreed.
Amendment 33ZE not moved.
Moved by Lord Wood of Anfield
33ZG: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—“Public sector broadcasting prominence(1) The Communications Act 2003 is amended as follows.(2) In the title of section 232, at end insert “and “electronic programme guide””.(3) After section 232(5) insert—“(5A) In this section “electronic programme guide” means a service which consists of a—(a) linear electronic programme guide; or(b) qualifying connected electronic programme guide.”(4) In section 232(6) before “electronic” insert “linear”.(5) In section 232(6)(b) after “for” insert “finding, selecting or”.(6) After section 232(6) insert— “(7) In this section “qualifying connected electronic programme guide” means a “connected electronic programming guide” which is used by a significant number of its intended audiences as a means of receiving television programmes or TV-like content.(8) In this section “connected electronic programming guide” means a service which consists of—(a) the listing or promotion, or both the listing and the promotion, of some or all of the programmes included in any one or more programme services the providers of which are or include persons other than the provider of the guide; and(b) the listing or promotion, or both the listing and the promotion, of—(i) some or all of the programmes included in any one or more on-demand programme services, or(ii) some or all of the on-demand programme services, the providers of which are or include persons other than the provider of the guide; and(c) the facility for finding, selecting or obtaining access, in whole or in part, to the programme service or services and the on-demand programme service or services listed or promoted in the guide.(9) The Secretary of State may by order amend the definition of an electronic programme guide in this section.(10) Before making an order under subsection 9 the Secretary of State must consult OFCOM.”(7) In section 310(1) for “from time to time” substitute “on
My Lords, Amendment 33ZG has a simple purpose: to ensure that high-quality public service broadcasting content, paid for by licence fee payers, continues to be accessible and prominent to viewers as viewing habits change. PSB programming is not only a staple of cultural life in our country but one of the jewels of our world-leading creative industries. A crucial component of the regime surrounding PSB is the regulations to ensure that these programmes are widely available and easy to find. The current rules, established over a decade ago in a code of practice, ensure this by requiring that the main PSB channels—BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5—appear at the top of channel listings or electronic programme guides, EPGs, on all TV platforms. The code works well for traditional TV viewing, where it is watched in real time, but we live in a world in which viewing habits are rapidly changing and the platforms for providing programmes to viewers are multiplying and diversifying.
In the past decade, digital channels have proliferated, and viewing habits have moved on towards on-demand and online viewing. Three-quarters of adults now watch programmes through catch-up services, and about 16% of all programme watching is now time shifted rather than in real time. The problem is that in the face of this behavioural and technological change, it is becoming much harder to find the PSB content that viewers both like and pay for. On-demand players such as BBC iPlayer and All 4 are outside the scope of the prominence rules. New means for accessing these programmes apart from traditional channel listings, such as menus for catch-up and on-demand TV, are also not covered by the rules. In newer TV platforms, the prominence of PSB channels is being marginalised by new graphics and menus. On the new Sky box, Sky Q, you are greeted, when you turn your telly on, by a large box advertising top picks chosen by Sky, more than three-quarters of which is content broadcast by Sky channels.
What is the result of this failure of regulation surrounding PSB prominence to keep up with changing technological developments and viewer behaviour? It means that programmes such as Welsh and Gaelic language programmes are hidden in the digital weeds, often requiring many more than 10 clicks and a sophisticated knowledge of online platforms to reach. It means that the world-leading BBC children’s channels, CBeebies and CBBC, are now below 12 US channels in the channel listing of the leading pay-TV platform, Sky. It means that viewers are increasingly being led to programmes whose prominence is paid for by commercial competitors to PSB channels rather than to PSB content.
Yet viewers’ preference for PSB remains incredibly strong. Ten times more viewers want the TV guide at the top of their screen, in which PSB has preferred prominence, rather than the recommendations of the platform operator. More and more, viewers are not getting what they want.
There is widespread recognition that the rules need updating. In its 2015 PSB review, Ofcom concluded unambiguously:
“The current rules on schedule prominence for the PSBs were designed for an analogue broadcasting era. They need to be reformed to match changes in technology and ensure that public service content remains available and easy to find, in whatever way it is viewed”.
This House’s Communications Committee suggested extending the prominence rules to on-demand services and online menus. The TV licensing laws have already been updated to cover BBC on-demand services; the amendment simply demands that the same work be done for PSB prominence rules.
The amendment responds to the holes in the code in four ways: first, by adding PSB on-demand services to the list of services entitled to prominence; secondly, by extending the definition of an EPG beyond traditional channel listings to include connected and on-demand menus used by a significant number of consumers to access TV content. Note that the concept of “a significant number” is a robust one already in use under the 2003 Act, serving as a threshold test applying to Ofcom’s powers under the must-carry regime, so it has precedent, it is workable and means that it would apply to a few major platforms and not serve as an impediment to emerging innovators in the TV platform market.
Thirdly, it strengthens the requirement for prominence of PSB children’s channels specifically, so that parents and children can find the content they like and trust the most more easily, however they watch television. Fourthly, rather than seeking a legislative definition of prominence, it enables Ofcom to set prominence principles which the platforms would adapt as appropriate to their EPGs.
Some have argued that this proposal is unnecessary because the programmes and on-demand platforms that carry them prominently, such as BBC iPlayer, are thriving. This would be complacency of a high order, as well as ignoring the evidence of changes over time. Usage of iPlayer is indeed growing, but iPlayer’s market share is reducing: Netflix and YouTube are now the market leaders. Pressure on iPlayer and All 4 will increase in line with the amount that US companies are increasingly prepared to pay to support prominence for their commercial product on UK TV platforms. Similarly, children’s PSB programmes are indeed trusted and popular, but we know that platforms that display them prominently generate greater audiences than those, such as Sky, that do so less, so ensuring that the prominence rules cover those platforms is crucial to their sustainability.
What is at stake with the amendment is not an optional add-on to the regulatory regime around PSB, it is an updating of the prominence rules that is indispensable to the long-term sustainability of PSB in the face of changing technology. It is not just what consumers want, it is doing justice to the millions spent by licence fee payers on quality programming, to ensure that these programmes are not just made but watched.
Public service broadcasting cannot fulfil a public service if it is impossible to find or if it is crowded out by the sponsored content of wealthy and powerful commercial rivals. The amendment extends a principle that enjoys universal support for traditional TV viewing of the 2003 era, when the most recent Communications Act was written, to the more exciting, varied and complex world of TV viewing of 2017 and the years ahead. If we want PSB to flourish and remain at the centre of our national cultural life, rather than withering on the vine, we should support the amendment. I beg to move.
“we have not seen compelling evidence of harm to PSBs to date”.—[
“To date”: key words. What is needed is for them to be made up to date, to ensure that public service content will continue to be available and easy to find in whatever way it is viewed in a future-proofed way. The current rules on the prominence of PSBs have not kept pace with technological and market development. I shall be very brief because, as usual, the noble Lord, Lord Wood, has said all that I was going to say, and I do not want to be a parrot. The impact of PSB depends not just on producing high-quality, distinctive UK content but on providing easy access for people to consume it. It is still the case, as mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, that the main and most trusted source of news is on TV. Given the rise of fake news, PSB content—impartial, well regulated, fact based—is more important than ever.
Prominence is one of the few sources of regulatory benefit to PSB providers, and we believe that in an increasingly complicated and fragmented digital world, its importance increases. As viewing habits change, reform is critical to preserve PSB in a digital age and sustain the creative powerhouse and global success that is UK broadcasting.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment because it is important to future-proof the prominence on the EPG of our public service broadcasters at a time, as the noble Lord, Lord Wood, said, of extraordinary change in the media.
In Committee, the Minister said that anybody could find the PSB digitally connected channels if they wanted to: the channels’ very success showed that they did not need any boost to their prominence. However, one of the aims of the amendment is to push back on BSkyB’s unique position in our media environment of being both a content provider and, via its satellite and broadcast services, a distributor. This means that it is in its interest to ensure that its content is more easily accessible than other companies’ content. As the noble Lord, Lord Wood, said, on many of the new Sky boxes, its content is made as prominent as possible, while making the PSB channels—in particular the BBC’s children’s channels—more difficult to find. After the great success of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, we should do everything we can to encourage access to PSB children’s channels.
The Minister said that children can easily find their way around the channel controller—we all know how adept children are with technology—but I hope that he is not suggesting that children are given free rein with the channel controller to access anything they want. It needs to be carefully controlled and, I thought, given top prominence.
It is also clear from research by BARB, the audience research company, that prominence—or lack of it—affects consumption of programs. A like-for-like comparison shows that CBeebies secures a lower target audience share on Sky, at 28%, where it is more difficult to find, than on Virgin, at 33%, where it is listed in the top three children’s channels.
I also understand that some noble Lords believe that an unintended consequence of the amendment will be to stop the prominence of the existing linear PSB channels: BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4. I assure noble Lords that this will not be the case. In subsection (3), the amendment confirms Ofcom’s power to review the main linear channels and extends it to the new connected, or internet, channels. In subsection (8), it further strengthens Ofcom’s power of review by omitting “such degree of” appropriate prominence. It simplifies and strengthens the duty on Ofcom to secure prominence, which will apply to both the main PSB channels on EPGs and the new PSB internet channels. It therefore gives Ofcom more rather than less scope to require prominence for all PSB services within the EPG.
Surely your Lordships’ House will want to ensure a balanced broadcasting environment with a wide range of content on offer. I ask the Minister why he would not want to allow Ofcom, our world-class media regulator, to review this issue.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a past deputy chairman of the BBC. Public service broadcasting has been vital to our national broadcasting ecosystem in terms of raising quality and sustaining the mixed economy that has made our public service broadcasting admired across the world and indeed a player across the world. The amendment is important in particular for children’s programmes, which sometimes lurk in the weeds, as I think my noble friend said. I do not think that some of these programmes lurk in the weeds at all; you have to scroll through vast quantities of channels that want to flog you jewellery or soft porn before you can get to some of them, on some of the platforms. It is interesting to see that both the BBC and the commercial public service broadcasters are of the same mind, as is Ofcom, and we owe it to them and to the public investment that the licence fee represents that they are given prominence on all platforms. I hope that the Government will seriously consider the amendment.
My Lords, some time in the mid-1990s, I drove to west London to Sky’s warehouse-style offices to be given the first privileged sighting to an outsider of the then embryonic Sky guide and set-top box. I was enormously impressed. In simpler times, it was very innovative and very helpful to the television viewer. Some decades later, not only Sky’s but other guides appear frankly antiquated, and the whole EPG needs modernising very fundamentally. It is not of the digital age; it is hard to navigate and is miserably slow to search. You cannot personalise it, and the Channel 4 and ITV channels are not bundled together conveniently. I have tried very hard to remember where BBC1 HD is, but I have completely failed; I search for it endlessly and spend many wasteful minutes before I find it.
In an ideal world, we would have competing EPGs, and we would have contemporary innovation if we did. We need a much faster user interface than the clunky one that we have now. Plainly, it is no longer right to have EPG providers also being the main channel and service providers themselves. There is a conflict of interest; others have spoken of this. It is not right and at some point it should be ended. I favour a much more fundamental review of EPGs than is being discussed now—but, in this less than ideal world, we simply must protect the PSBs, and I support the amendment.
I shall not repeat the comments that I made in Committee on this matter. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wood, for introducing the amendment, which I certainly support. Two areas have been touched on already. The first is very close to my heart—the position of S4C in Wales and the Gaelic channel in Scotland. It is enough of a fight to try to ensure that there is language promotion and continuation without the struggles of going through reams of channels before reaching them. I accept entirely that some channels, such as Virgin, give the viewer an option to create their own priorities, but many viewers will either not have the drive or sometimes even the ability to use that facility in the way that it should be used. It may interest noble Lords to know that more people watch the Welsh language news on S4C than watch “Newsnight” in Wales. The language is thriving, but it needs to be equally accessible to the prime channels that are available on a UK basis.
My second point is on children. As a grandfather with five young grandchildren, I was amazed at the speed with which they could navigate their way to where the channels they wanted were located. But in doing so, they went through a whole plethora of other channels, which I was very glad that they skipped over quickly. We need to be able to help parents who need to safeguard their children from matters that they are too young to watch. For both those reasons, I very much support the amendment.
My Lords, public service broadcasting prominence on the EPG is an issue that has come up at every stage of the Bill in this House, and Amendment 33ZG does so for this stage. The Government recognise the high-quality programming of our PSBs and their importance for maintaining the thriving and healthy UK broadcasting sector. We also recognise the strength of a mixed broadcasting ecology that features commercial broadcasters as well as commercial and non-commercial PSBs. We are showing our support for them in two ways that we have already debated: first, in the government amendment on listed events and, secondly, in our support of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, in respect of children’s television. Thirdly, although this is not in the Bill, we have announced that Channel 4 will not be privatised.
Our clear policy of supporting PSBs is why the Government gave considerable thought to the issue of the EPG prominence regime during the balance of payments consultation, the response to which was published last year, before this Bill reached this House. Our conclusion was that we had not seen compelling evidence of harm to PSBs to date and we decided not to extend the EPG prominence regime for PSBs to their on-demand services. This absolutely remains our view, and is supported by evidence, such as the success and continued growth in the popularity of the BBC iPlayer, which has no prominence at all and saw a record 304.2 million requests for TV programmes in January 2017—double the rate of five years ago. After the iPlayer, what are the most watched on-demand services in the UK? The answer is the ITV Hub and All 4, neither of which are currently subject to prominence requirements.
Additionally, PSB on-demand players already occupy the most prominent positions in the on-demand sections of major TV platforms such as Sky and Virgin. Why is that? Platforms make them prominent because they need to react to viewers’ preferences. It takes, for example, a mere four clicks to get to the iPlayer from Sky Q’s home page. As I stated during the last debate, when PSBs make excellent content, audiences will find it, whether it be catch-up or live content. A good example is children’s PSB channels, of which many noble Lords have spoken. CBeebies and CBBC are the most watched children’s channels by a considerable distance—which shows that there are no problems for audiences in finding these channels. The content is easily accessible on demand within the iPlayer itself.
Micromanagement of how audiences need to be guided through menus and sub-menus cannot be the answer when the technological landscape is shifting quickly. The fact is that platform operators respond to consumer feedback and needs in developing their products; therefore future developments in the EPG will be customer driven, not driven through legislative change. Further, it has been suggested by technology companies that, if this requirement was enforced, it would create a need for bespoke products in the UK. For example, smart TV manufacturers’ user interfaces are developed with a global market in mind, but a separate product would need to be developed for the UK market.
Rather perversely, the amendment goes far beyond the prominence which Parliament has afforded to linear PSB channels, because it would give prominence to the PSBs’ on-demand programme services, which include not only PSB content from commercial PSBs but also content originating from their non-PSB portfolio channels. We do not think that that is justifiable.
I confirm to noble Lords and to viewers who have found the BBC Parliament channel—the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, mentioned this, too—that, if this amendment is not agreed, the existing PSB regime will remain as it is today. People will still be able to switch on their ordinary TVs and find BBC1 and BBC2 at the top. But, if it is agreed by the House, it will remove it will remove Ofcom’s discretion to require the prominence it considers appropriate for the linear regime; it will micromanage Ofcom’s guidance; it will extend PSB privileges to non-PSB content; and it will affect worldwide manufacturers, many of whom operate in the UK, putting up prices for UK consumers—all against a background where iPlayer, ITV Hub and All 4 are already the most watched on-demand services. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords for an excellent short debate; I will respond very briefly. I thank the Minister for his response but I am afraid that it has made me even more determined to push this amendment through, because his response seemed to be based on the premise that supporting prominence for traditional linear TV watching is a principle that the Government support more strongly than ever, but that somehow the principle falls into abeyance when viewing habits and technology change; and that, in the new future, there will be no need for further prominence rules because the choice of consumers will somehow magically replace the need for the current PSB protections in the prominence rules for linear TV.
I do not understand why the emphasis on prominence, which has been a cross-party principle for a long time, is suddenly thrown out of the window when on-demand and more sophisticated technologies develop. So I am afraid that I do not find the Minister’s response at all satisfactory—and nor do I think that the threat of losing Ofcom’s existing powers has any empirical basis whatever, by the way. So I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 217, Noes 188.
Moved by Lord Ashton of Hyde
33ZH: After Clause 87, insert the following new Clause—“Televising events of national interestTelevising events of national interest: power to amend qualifying conditionsIn section 98 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 (categories of service), after subsection (5) insert—“(5A) The Secretary of State may, by regulations made by statutory instrument, amend the percentage figure specified for the time being in subsection (2)(b).(5B) An amendment made by regulations under this section does not affect—(a) the validity of any contract entered into before the regulations came into force, or(b) the exercise of any rights acquired under such a contract.(5C) Regulations under subsection (5A) may make transitional, transitory or saving provision.(5D) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (5A) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
Amendment 33ZH agreed.
Moved by Lord Ashton of Hyde
33ZJ: Before Clause 88, insert the following new Clause—“Strategic priorities and provision of information(1) After section 2 of the Communications Act 2003 insert—“Strategic priorities2A Statement of strategic priorities(1) The Secretary of State may designate a statement for the purposes of this section if the requirements set out in section 2C (consultation and parliamentary procedure) are satisfied. (2) The statement is a statement prepared by the Secretary of State that sets out strategic priorities of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom relating to—(a) telecommunications,(b) the management of the radio spectrum, and(c) postal services.(3) The statement may, among other things, set out particular outcomes identified with a view to achieving the strategic priorities.(4) This section does not restrict the Secretary of State’s powers under any other provision of this Act or any other enactment.(5) A statement designated under subsection (1) must be published in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(6) A statement designated under subsection (1) may be amended (including by replacing the whole or a part of the statement with new content) by a subsequent statement designated under that subsection, and this section and sections 2B and 2C apply in relation to any such subsequent statement as in relation to the original statement.(7) Except as provided by subsection (8), no amendment may be made under subsection (6) within the period of 5 years beginning with the day on which a statement was most recently designated under subsection (1).(8) An earlier amendment may be made under subsection (6) if—(a) since that day—(i) a Parliamentary general election has taken place, or(ii) there has been a significant change in the policy of Her Majesty’s government affecting any matter mentioned in subsection (2)(a), (b) or (c), or(b) the Secretary of State considers that the statement, or any part of it, conflicts with any of OFCOM’s general duties (within the meaning of section 3).2B Duties of OFCOM in relation to strategic priorities(1) This section applies where a statement has been designated under section 2A(1).(2) OFCOM must have regard to the statement when carrying out—(a) their functions relating to telecommunications,(b) their functions under the enactments relating to the management of the radio spectrum, and(c) their functions relating to postal services.(3) OFCOM must within the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the statement is designated, or such longer period as the Secretary of State may allow—(a) explain in writing what they propose to do in consequence of the statement, and(b) publish a copy of that explanation in such manner as OFCOM consider appropriate.(4) OFCOM must, as soon as practicable after the end of—(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which the first statement is designated under section 2A(1), and(b) every subsequent period of 12 months,publish a review of what they have done during the period in question in consequence of the statement.2C Consultation and parliamentary procedure(1) This section sets out the requirements that must be satisfied in relation to a statement before the Secretary of State may designate it under section 2A. (2) The Secretary of State must consult the following on a draft of the statement—(a) OFCOM, and(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(3) The Secretary of State must allow OFCOM a period of at least 40 days to respond to any consultation under subsection (2)(a).(4) After that period has ended the Secretary of State—(a) must make any changes to the draft that appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary in view of responses to the consultation, and(b) must then lay the draft before Parliament.(5) The Secretary of State must then wait until the end of the 40-day period and may not designate the statement if, within that period, either House of Parliament resolves not to approve it.(6) “The 40-day period” is the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the draft is laid before Parliament (or, if it is not laid before each House on the same day, the later of the days on which it is laid).(7) When calculating the 40-day period, ignore any period during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than 4 days.”(2) After section 24 of that Act insert—“24A Provision of information before publication(1) OFCOM must provide the Secretary of State, at least 24 hours before publication, with any information that they propose to publish.(2) If exceptional circumstances make it impracticable to provide the information to the Secretary of State 24 hours before publication it must instead be provided to the Secretary of State as long before publication as is practicable.(3) Subsections (1) and (2) have effect in any particular case subject to any agreement made between the Secretary of State and OFCOM in that case.(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations specify descriptions of information in relation to which the duty under subsection (1) does not apply.(5) Before making regulations under subsection (4), the Secretary of State must consult OFCOM.(6) Information provided to the Secretary of State under this section may not be disclosed by the Secretary of State during the protected period, except to another Minister of the Crown.(7) A Minister of the Crown to whom the information is disclosed under subsection (6) may not disclose the information during the protected period to any other person.(8) A Minister of the Crown may not make any representations to OFCOM during the protected period that specify or describe changes that the Minister considers should be made to information that has been provided under this section when it is published.(9) In this section—“the protected period”, in relation to information provided to the Secretary of State under this section, means the period beginning with the provision of the information and ending when either of the following occurs—(a) OFCOM publish the information;(b) OFCOM inform the Secretary of State that they consent to the disclosure of the information; “Minister of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975.24B Provision of information to assist in formulation of policy(1) OFCOM may provide the Secretary of State with any information that they consider may assist the Secretary of State in the formulation of policy.(2) Information with respect to a particular business that has been obtained in the exercise of a power conferred by—(a) this Act,(b) the 1990 Act,(c) the 1996 Act,(d) the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, or(e) Part 3 of the Postal Services Act 2011,is not, so long as the business continues to be carried on, to be provided to the Secretary of State under this section without the consent of the person for the time being carrying on that business.”(3) The duty under subsection (1) of section 24A of that Act does not have effect until the day on which regulations made under subsection (4) of that section first come into force.(4) In section 393(6) of that Act (general restrictions on disclosure of information), after paragraph (a) insert—“(za) prevents the disclosure of information under section 24A or 24B;”.(5) In section 111(7) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 (general restrictions on disclosure of information), after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) prevents the disclosure of information under section 24A or 24B of that Act;”.(6) In section 56 of the Postal Services Act 2011 (general restrictions on disclosure of information), after subsection (6) insert—“(6A) Nothing in this section prevents the disclosure of information under section 24A or 24B of the Communications Act 2003.”
My Lords, during the passage of this Bill there has been debate on the state of the UK’s fibre networks, the ability to switch communication provider, the quality of business connectivity and other matters vital to our economic future such as the new broadband universal service obligation. These issues rely on the Government’s ability to formulate and implement policies effectively.
Amendment 33ZJ creates a new power for the Secretary of State to set a strategy and policy statement relating to telecommunications, the management of radio spectrum and postal services to which Ofcom, as the regulator, will have regard when carrying out its statutory duties. Ofcom’s media and broadcasting functions are not included in this power, which recognises the importance of media independence from government. This measure will allow the Government to establish a clear policy direction to ensure greater coherence in an increasingly complex and interlinked environment. These changes also strengthen the already strong existing partnership between Ofcom and the Government. Introducing a strategy and policy statement for Ofcom’s sectors brings it in line with the other regulators, Ofwat and Ofgem, and fulfils the Government’s commitments to better establish the policy framework for regulators, as laid out in the Principles for Economic Regulation 2011.
This new clause also provides for Ofcom to disclose information to the Secretary of State at least 24 hours in advance of publication where appropriate, and improves Ofcom’s general information-sharing powers. The new clause provides restrictions on disclosure to other persons, and representations cannot be made to Ofcom specifying changes to be made to any information provided.
The Government’s ability to create and deliver effective policies is supported by Ofcom’s expertise and research. In the past, even when it would have been beneficial for Ofcom to provide information, and it wanted to, it has been restricted by its existing statutory framework. This new clause supports the partnership between government and regulator by enabling early access to certain publications where that would be appropriate, and improving Ofcom’s ability to share information where it deems it to be supportive of policy development.
This amendment therefore improves the policy-making process while also introducing greater transparency in the working relationship between government and Ofcom by giving clarity to the respective roles and responsibilities. This will ensure that policy decisions are taken by government—accountable to Parliament—and Ofcom, independently of government, undertakes the detailed application of regulation.
Should this amendment be agreed, existing Clause 9, which provides for a statement of strategic priorities relating exclusively to the management of spectrum, will no longer be necessary and the Government will table an amendment at Third Reading to remove it. I beg to move.
My Lords, as someone who has proposed amendments that go some way in this direction, I welcome this move, which in some part meets what we propose elsewhere. I have one question around the wording:
“OFCOM must have regard to the statement when carrying out”,
its related functions. What exactly does that mean? Is that language replicated exactly for Ofwat and Ofgem? How should that regard be manifested by Ofcom?
My Lords, rather like the last speaker, I welcome this measure but am a bit nervous about it. The idea that the Government of the day should be able to set out their forward thinking in a way which is helpful to the regulatory functions is a good one. However, as other external viewers have sought to point out, it raises worries about whether the regulator is truly independent of government in that mode, and whether the Government might be accused of setting an agenda which would then be imposed through a well-respected regulator which everyone thinks is doing a good job in a way that might not have been the case had the process of primary legislation followed by regulations been the approach taken. I hope that when the Minister responds he will confirm that there is no intention for this measure to circumvent the clearly established arm’s-length relationships between the regulator and government. It would be helpful if he could do so.
In another Bill—I sometimes get confused, so I hope that I am discussing the right one—we talked about how the Secretary of State for Education has responsibilities in relation to the new body that is to be set up in higher education, the Office for Students. However, we think that it should be called the Office for Higher Education. In that Bill, the words “have regard to” the instructions given by the Minister are very much part of the way in which that system operates. However, that situation is different in the sense that the measure replaces an existing arrangement for a body which was not a regulator—HEFCE—and for which the only mechanism whereby higher education policy could be created was by letters of instruction. That usually takes the form of an annual letter to HEFCE which sets out the Government’s wishes for the future year, sometimes for several years ahead. I make that point simply because it would be helpful if the Minister could make it very clear that the model here is one of improving an arrangement which will be for the benefit of the exercise of the powers that already exist, and does not add new layers of bureaucracy or new powers, and that the intention is not to set an agenda or to curtail the independence of Ofcom, as I think the system would not work without it. Otherwise, I welcome what is proposed.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their qualified support; I hope that by the time I have finished, it will be unambiguous. I anticipate that from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, in particular, because of course these were the principles for economic regulation introduced by Vince Cable when he was Secretary of State. I can confirm to both noble Lords that there is nothing sinister here. Of course, when we talk about the fact that Ofcom must have regard to a strategic policy statement when carrying out its duties, it absolutely does not override any of Ofcom’s existing general duties. It will continue to take decisions independently of government.
To allay any fears, there are further safeguards in this. A prior consultation must be run on the content of the SPS, which must include Ofcom and then be subject to parliamentary oversight. The implementation of a strategic policy statement does not change Ofcom’s statutory duties at all—it is just one of a number of things that Ofcom has already taken into account when exercising its duties. I therefore hope that the safeguards and my assurance give some comfort to noble Lords.
Amendment 33ZJ agreed.
Amendment 33ZK had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Moved by Lord Ashton of Hyde
33ZL: After Clause 91, insert the following new Clause—“Offence of breaching limits on ticket salesPower to create offence of breaching limits on internet and other ticket sales(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations providing that it is an offence for a person in circumstances within subsection (2) to do an act within subsection (3). (2) Circumstances are within this subsection if each of the following applies—(a) tickets for a recreational, sporting or cultural event in the United Kingdom are offered for sale,(b) a purchase may be made wholly or partly by a process that the purchaser completes using an electronic communications network or an electronic communications service, and(c) the offer is subject to conditions that limit the number of tickets a purchaser may buy.(3) An act is within this subsection if it consists in using anything that enables or facilitates completion of any part of a process within subsection (2)(b) with intent to obtain tickets in excess of a limit imposed by conditions within subsection (2)(c).(4) The regulations may apply whether the offer is made, or anything is done to obtain tickets, in or outside the United Kingdom.(5) The regulations—(a) may be limited to particular circumstances within subsection (2), and to particular acts within subsection (3);(b) may provide for an offence to be subject to an exception or defence;(c) may make different provision for different areas.(6) The regulations must provide in England and Wales and Scotland for an offence to be triable only summarily.(7) The regulations may not provide for an offence to be punishable—(a) with imprisonment,(b) in Scotland, with a fine exceeding £50,000, or(c) in Northern Ireland, if tried summarily, with a fine exceeding the statutory maximum.(8) The power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.(9) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(10) In this section “electronic communications network” and “electronic communications service” have the meaning given by section 32 of the Communications Act 2003.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for adding his name to this government amendment.
For many years this House has rightly been concerned about the operation of the secondary ticketing market. In 2015, as well as placing new rules in the Consumer Rights Act, noble Lords acknowledged the complexity of online ticketing by requiring a review of consumer protection measures relating to online secondary ticketing. Professor Michael Waterson conducted that review, which was published last year, and two weeks ago the Government published their response, accepting his recommendations in full. The report was warmly welcomed by both Houses, by industry and by consumer representatives, so we should not rush to lightly dismiss the specific recommendations it makes.
Since the review was published, the Competition and Markets Authority has launched an enforcement investigation into suspected breaches of consumer protection law in the online secondary ticket market. The Government have also encouraged the event ticketing industry to set up a project group to take forward the review’s recommendations, and have facilitated the sector’s participation in the joint industry-government Cyber-security Information Sharing Partnership. In addition, we will ensure that resources are made available to National Trading Standards and Trading Standards Scotland to support the upcoming enforcement work on secondary ticketing. We are also working with industry to raise consumer understanding of the ticketing market.
Government Amendment 33ZL forms a key element of our response to the Waterson review, and is intended to address an issue within the ticketing market about which there is widespread support for further action, including from Professor Waterson. The amendment will provide the power for government to introduce a criminal offence to address the use of bots to purchase tickets for a recreational, sporting or cultural event in excess of the maximum specified. The intended offence will apply only to tickets for events in the UK, although it will cover activity to obtain tickets that occurs outside the UK. We believe that the amendment is needed to clarify the law and put beyond doubt the illegality of this practice and the need to report it.
Further, with the new offence on the statute book, the Government will work with industry to enforce it. An offence is only worth having if criminal acts are reported. We have industry groups in place that are now willing and able to take action in partnership with our law enforcement agencies. I hope that this amendment will find favour with the House, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 33ZLZA, 33ZLZB, and 33ZLZC, which stand in my name.
I immediately thank the Minister for responding to a long-running campaign on the question of bots. I will say nothing further on that except that I am looking forward to the secondary legislation. His and the Government’s decision to bring forward action against bots is important and necessary. These are the modern-day ticket touts which sweep the market by using software when the likes of noble Lords and their families are trying to obtain tickets to go to an event. That is unethical and should be illegal, and I welcome the Government’s action on that. We need to make sure that we have good secondary legislation, and we look forward to it coming before the House.
On Amendment 33ZLZC, I will simply say that the reason I tabled this amendment is that it is important to respond to what the Minister said about the lack of enforcement. One way of dealing with the lack of enforcement in this area is to give event organisers the right to enforce the Act through civil action in the courts. This has the benefit of reducing the resources call on the police and/or trading standards, and it should be welcomed. It has certainly been called for by governing bodies of sport and promoters so that they can take action—because it is not in their interest, either, for people to be turned away because they have bought through the secondary market tickets that are counterfeit or illegal. I am unlikely to press that amendment to a vote, but I will be interested to see what the Minister says in response, because it seems to be a helpful suggestion by the governing bodies of sport to respond to this heinous issue.
The most important amendment that I am speaking to is Amendment 33ZLZA, which is fairly straightforward and common sense. Ed Sheeran’s manager appeared before the DCMS Select Committee last week, in the absence of one of the four major secondary market platforms, viagogo, which just did not show. He made the clear and important point that neither Ed Sheeran nor any of the top artists, nor any of the major sports events, all of which are heavily in demand, want to see their tickets counterfeited and people turned away at the door.
We did work on the Consumer Rights Bill to make sure that you got a ticket number, a row number, and a seat number, and to make sure that there were clear terms of reference on the face of the ticket. That should have been achieved and should be deliverable. We fought for but failed to get the ticket number—at the time we got the seat number, the row number and the block. The tickets for Ed Sheeran at the front do not have a block, a seat number or a row, because they are for the standing areas at the front of the concert. But if you have come down a long way and have brought your family down for this one event, you may be turned away at the door because you have no way of checking as a consumer that a ticket is valid.
The only way you can do it is to make sure that there is a unique reference number, which was originally printed on the ticket but has to be on the secondary market platform. It is not an unreasonable request—it does not say that the Horsham Dramatic Society has to put a unique reference number on the ticket. It simply says that where there originally was one, and where Ed Sheeran’s management team wanted one to protect loyal fans of Ed Sheeran who turn up, they should have the ability either to go online or to phone up and say, “Does this reference number accurately relate to a proper ticket and not a counterfeit ticket?”.
A number of these mass, modern-day touts sweep the market and say, as they do online for Ed Sheeran, “Your seat number is between 1 and 20”, and therefore they think that they have answered the question about the seat number. But the one thing they do not want is the honest supporter of a sporting event or a music fan having the ability to check whether their ticket is valid. This is the one amendment that would achieve that—and there would be no cost or difficulty. As far as the promoter of a sporting or music event is concerned, they are putting the seat number, the row number, the date and the event on the ticket. If there is an original, unique reference number, why not put that on as well to allow the true fan to check that it is not a counterfeit ticket before he spends a lot of money travelling to London with his family, for the sake of argument, to go to the O2?
The Minister said that he was concerned about this on three very simple grounds—but I think that there are answers to all three points. First, we obviously welcome the Waterson report, but Waterson stated, as did my noble friend, that he does not support any further significant changes to legislation at this time. However, by his own definition, these amendments are not significant. They do not ban or impose controls on the price; they merely tidy up gaps in the Consumer Rights Act regime, which Waterson endorses. So I believe it would be reasonable to suggest that the Government do, too, with their proposals for greater enforcement.
Secondly, the CMA review is under way but it is not about what might happen in this House tonight or in another place next week. The review and its inquiries are about the enforcement of existing legislation; they are not about possible changes in the future. If there were problems in the future, no doubt the CMA would consider having a further review. It is interesting that it would, by implication, support the measure this evening because it states:
“We also think that it is essential that those consumers who buy tickets from the secondary market are made aware if there is a risk that they will be turned away at the door”.
So, by implication, the CMA is in any event supportive of this proposal. However, that is not the point; the point is that, under statute and under its terms of reference, it is looking at existing legislation and not at new legislation.
Thirdly, when we debated this issue before, the European Union directive was much quoted as a reason for not being able to move forward—because we would be outside the scope of the European Union directive on consumer rights. I wrote to Brussels—not a usual habit of mine—in the following terms:
“Whether it would be in accordance with the EU Consumer Rights Directive for both primary and secondary market ticket sellers to have to provide a unique reference number on the tickets so that event organisers could track sales of tickets”.
The response was:
“Providing a unique reference number on the tickets is not regulated under the Consumer Rights Directive; therefore the Directive does not prevent this practice. National legislation could be relevant to this regard”.
Therefore, on all three grounds, I believe that common sense should prevail. We should look after the interests of the many people who are being ripped off by modern-day ticket touts and enable those individuals to have the right to enjoy a concert because they love either the music they want to listen to or the sporting event that they want to go to.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has spoken extremely eloquently in support of his amendments, I wish to add very little to what he had to say.
On these Benches we strongly welcome government Amendment 33ZL banning the bulk purchase of tickets, but we believe that it will not solve the problems entirely by itself. There are certain questions about enforcement, which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, raised. The Minister used the expression “partnership with law enforcement agencies”. Perhaps when he responds, he could say in a little more detail how that will work. As the Computer Misuse Act has not been effectively enforced by the police to date, the question is: who will enforce it and what budget will they have to enforce it with?
We strongly support Amendment 33ZLZA, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. We believe it is very important to include the booking reference where one exists. It is important as many tickets do not have a seat or row number because they are standing tickets or for unreserved seating. Some venues have 100% standing or unreserved places, while others sometimes have a significant number of standing areas. Other events, such as major golf, horseracing and motor sports events, as well as festivals, may also have unseated areas, and that has consequences. If there is no seat number, that enables secondary ticket websites to declare, “The full seat information is not available” or is “not applicable”, so sellers may be able to avoid identification and undermine the existing provisions, which were pretty hard fought for under Section 90 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The second part of the amendment is also very important. It requires the ticketing website to provide information if there is a resale restriction. This is key information for a potential buyer so that they do not purchase a ticket which is in fact invalid. That was noted by the Competition and Markets Authority when it launched its investigation last December into breaches of consumer law. Even at this late stage, I very much hope that the Minister will accept that amendment.
My Lords, many of us have been around this block many times before, and here we are again discussing the negative impact that secondary ticketing has on the sport and entertainment sectors. I therefore willingly support the amendments standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who, as we have all heard, has so ably spelled out his reasons for tabling them.
It is a particular pleasure for me that these amendments carry his name because many years ago we were old sparring partners in the days when he was Minister for Sport and—if noble Lords can believe it—I was his shadow. I could not keep up with all the Ministers for Sport whom I shadowed but certain names spring to mind: Atkins, Tracey, Key, Sproat and Spring. I wrestled with them all but, a priori, the best by far was Colin Moynihan MP, who now carries a different hat in tabling this amendment. However, because his tenure in office was a short one before he moved onwards and upwards to become a Minister in the Department of Energy, I did not receive his wise words on the vexed question of ticket touting at that time. I did, however, receive volumes of advice from other Ministers, telling me that it was not the time to enact legislation to curb the touters. Even as early as
“Although committed to give effect to the recommendations of Lord Justice Taylor … because of the lack of parliamentary time”,
it was not the time to proceed with legislation on ticketing.
So progress has been slow. With the exception of legislation on football, not much has been achieved in the field of eliminating ticket touting. However, progress now seems to be at hand, thanks to the noble Lord and his colleagues, who I am sure will be the first to recognise the work of the late and lamented Lady Heyhoe Flint, who worked alongside them and did so much to give us the opportunity to debate the issue this evening. They are giving the Government the opportunity to embrace the need to protect consumers’ rights and to call for a thorough study into secondary ticketing. These are important measures.
I am sure that, by now, noble Lords will have recognised why I am adamant that these amendments should be passed. As shadow Minister for Sport from 1992 to 1997, I worked on a blueprint for sport for the Labour Party which was brought together for the 1997 general election. That manifesto, Labour’s Sporting Nation, was endorsed by the then Prime Minister-elect, Tony Blair. Of course it was an important time for me personally, as the one who wrote that document, as I believed that we were in sight of ensuring a breakthrough in this ticket touting problem. In particular, the passage on touting concluded with these words:
“A New Labour Government will make touting at all major sporting events illegal and therefore eliminate it”.
I do not want noble Lords to bring out their handkerchiefs and tissues in sympathy for me at this moment but, as the House knows, as the author of that dictum I was not given the opportunity to bring that commitment into legislative form. But seriously, the then intention was to introduce explicit legislation that directly dealt with the problem of ticket touting. But the world has moved on, as we all recognise, and we are in a different age. One has to recognise that the world of 1997 is not the world of 2017. A lot has happened since, which has been acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and his colleagues who submitted these amendments. We must also acknowledge the way that they have gone about that in the months preceding this debate.
By supporting these measures we will be giving further power to protecting consumers and ensuring that effective enforcement takes place. This will give greater choice and information to sports fans and help in the fight against those who commit fraud and seek to exploit the pockets of hard-working families. Like others, I have received correspondence from a number of bodies which usually support what we are doing this evening. The UK stages some of the world’s greatest sporting events. If we want them to flourish and for the country to continue to be open for business, we must protect those events from the profiteering of those committing fraud.
Organisations involved in rugby—both rugby league and rugby union—tennis, and cricket in England and Wales already do good work. We need to empower them to do more. The amendments before us give us that opportunity. They would give them the right to take civil action in a court if they so wished. The Minister will no doubt tell us when he replies about the importance of enforcement. I would like him, ideally, to accept the amendment before us. By accepting that progress has been slow, we have arrived at an important time when this House can endorse the amendment before us and people such as Lord Justice Taylor, Professor Waterson and those who have done so much in the past will, I am sure, benefit from what we do today.
My Lords, I have been following the progress of this arrangement between all sides because the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and Lady Heyhoe Flint—who is terribly missed—the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and I have been doing this for about four years now. We are reaching the next stage. I do not think we are at the end of the track yet—there are still things that we would like to do—but we have reached an important stage and I should like to support what we are doing.
The issue is all about the rights of the promoters to organise the events that they want to and have control of them, and the rights of consumers who sign up to see these events to do so with the security and certainty that they will be able to see what they have paid for at reasonable prices. The Minister has said that what he has done with the bots amendment is to try to modernise the modern-day ticket touts. I absolutely agree with that. That is why I have signed up to his amendment. There were real difficulties getting this through, which I know because I have talked with the Bill team and the Minister about this. It is really good to see the amendment here today. We will support it and wish it well on its way.
However, the other amendments in this group, which we also support, should not be lost sight of and I hope very much that we will get some movement today. They stem from recommendations 4 and 5 of the Waterson review. They are in keeping with those and try to establish further what the Minister articulated when he introduced the original amendment: as well as having a good partnership with primary ticket sellers and the secondary market, it is really important that the law has a good relationship with consumers and event promoters. Only by providing additional transparency, which was requested in Amendment 33ZLZA—and possibly in the good suggestion that governing bodies get more power in Amendment 33ZLZC—will we begin to take the steps that will clean up this act.
We know from the police reports, from those who are active in this area and from talking to promoters that there is huge criminality and money laundering. There are issues that we really have to investigate. But at the heart of it stand consumers who cannot rely on the market providing them with the right choice and a fair one. This must stop. If the noble Lord wishes to take his amendment to a vote we will support him in the Lobby.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords and I will try to be quick because I want to move on to the dinner break business. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Moynihan for his persistent campaigning on the subject. His work has influenced today’s government amendment, as has the work of other parliamentarians and particularly Nigel Adams MP and Sharon Hodgson MP.
Amendment 33ZLZA would amend the Consumer Rights Act 2015, by inserting a duty to provide the ticket reference or booking number when reselling tickets. This was specifically considered by Professor Waterson in his report. So I start by reminding noble Lords of the reasons that Professor Waterson gave for rejecting the same proposal that we now have before us in Amendment 33ZLZA. I refer to page 170 of his 226-page report. The first was cost. The amendment would require a system for the potential buyer to check a reference number, and in a manner that could be done quickly enough to facilitate internet sales. That requires infrastructure changes in both the primary and secondary market. The primary market would be asked to pay for changes to allow customers to authenticate tickets on the secondary market, for which they receive no additional income. Ultimately, the cost will be added to ticket prices.
Secondly, there is practicality. The secondary ticketing industry would need to establish a standard interface to enable cross-checking. There is strong competition between the platforms and no appropriate industry body to help bring such a system about. In such circumstances, it may be easier and possibly more productive for the secondary platforms simply to chase more exclusive authorised resale deals. Further, there is little evidence of there being the trust between the primary and secondary markets necessary to enable such verification.
Thirdly, my noble friend has mentioned the legal reasons. The EU consumer rights directive, which is the basis of the secondary ticketing information requirements in the Consumer Rights Act, prohibits member states going further in national law than the directive requires. My noble friend mentioned his telephone conversation with the European Commission. There are differences of opinion on the legal interpretation and clearly, at the very least, there may be litigation ahead if we go down this road.
The Government agree with Professor Waterson. We cannot see how Amendment 33ZLZA would actually benefit anyone. Even if those problems were overcome and the primary sellers would offer a consumer confirmation that a reference number was real, how do we know that the real ticket is available for sale? Might it have already been resold? Consumers who buy tickets online, only to be disappointed, will be even angrier having gone to the effort to “verify” yet still being left in the lurch.
Professor Waterson preaches caution in further legislating with good reason. Amendment 33ZLZA is untested and offers false hope. While ticket reference numbers do not offer a solution, we agree with the proposal to require consumers to be informed of the terms of resale. Indeed, we have already legislated to do just that in Section 90(3)(b) of the Consumer Rights Act. Rather than amending the Consumer Rights Act, we believe that the existing law should be tested.
The need for better enforcement was also the overwhelming view of those who gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee last week, and the Competition and Markets Authority’s enforcement investigation is ongoing. In addition, National Trading Standards and Trading Standards Scotland have been tasked with investigating potential enforcement cases against sellers on secondary ticketing websites that do not comply with the legislation.
I turn to Amendment 33ZLZC. While injunctions are already possible, the amendment would introduce a new element into consumer law by seeking to shift the responsibility for enforcement to the primary ticket seller. This could risk putting an undue onus on event organisers regardless of their capacity to act because public enforcement bodies could use it as grounds to prioritise other areas for enforcement action. The amendment also requires us to trust primary sellers to self-regulate and self-enforce, yet to date the sector has often been too unwilling or unable to take action. There have been notable exceptions, but the strides that we are making as I set out at the start of the debate have been achieved by bringing together the parties, including law enforcement agencies, and we need to build on that.
Although Amendment 33ZLZB is similar to the one the Government have tabled on the use of bots, it goes further by attempting to ban the resale of tickets purchased by bots. I acknowledge my noble friend’s kind remarks along with those of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, so to save time I will not comment in detail as I understand that my noble friend is content with the government amendment.
In conclusion, the Government recognise that it is hugely frustrating for fans who miss out on tickets sold on the primary market only to see them appear on the secondary ticketing market at increased prices. The Government are acting—working with industry and law enforcement agencies. We need to let these developments grow and allow time to harvest the results of the legislation that we agreed in this House only two years ago. I would respectfully ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendments and noble Lords to support government Amendment 33ZL in their place.
Amendment 33ZL agreed.
Moved by Lord Moynihan
33ZLZA: After Clause 91, insert the following new Clause—“Duty to provide information about ticketsIn section 90 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (duty to provide information about tickets), after subsection (4)(d) insert—“(e) the ticket reference or booking number;(f) any specific condition attached to the resale of the ticket.””
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I should say to my noble friend that I did not telephone Brussels, which has put it in black and white that the directive does not prevent this practice, so they would be suing themselves, which would be fairly unwise.
I should also mention to the Minister that, in his report, Professor Waterson does not support further significant changes to the legislation, but makes it clear on page 22 that he is talking about a ban on the secondary ticketing market, which we are not in favour of. We do not want to ban the market, although noble Lords did so for the Olympic Games in London 2012. Similarly, this is not about a cap on resale prices. It is perfectly within the conclusions, and the Government’s response to the Waterson report, to move ahead with this simple but effective remedy. It is not costly; it is about the cost of a phone call to the RFU to say, “Your original ticket had a unique reference number on it. I want to check that the one I have bought from StubHub or one of the other secondary sites is for real. Can you tell me whether that same number, which does not exist on there—or they have put another number on it—is for real before I incur a lot of costs?”. It is a simple additional consumer protection measure which does not cost anything. It would look after consumers—in this context, particularly fans of sport and fans of music—which is what we should be all about. I beg to move the amendment and I should like to test the will of the House on it.
Ayes 180, Noes 157.