Amendment proposed (this day): 63, in clause 28, page 27, line 31, leave out subsections (3) to (5). —(Nigel Adams.)
This amendment, together with Amendment 64, are probing amendments to identify a timeframe for the repeal of section 73 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 as it is not clear when the repeal will come into force. The amendments would mean that repeal of section 73 of the CPDA would come into force as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent.
I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:
Amendment 189, in clause 28, page 27, line 36, at end insert—
‘(6) The Secretary of State shall—
(a) produce a report on the implication of the repeal of section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988, and
(b) undertake a comprehensive consultation on the future of television content distribution and public service broadcasters.”
Amendment 64, in clause 82, page 80, line 2, at end insert—
“(a) section 28;”
This amendment, together with Amendment 63, are probing amendments to identify a timeframe for the repeal of section 73 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 as it is not clear when the repeal will come into force. The amendments would mean that repeal of section 73 of the CPDA would come into force as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent.
Amendment 94, in clause 82, page 80, line 14, at end insert—
“(h) section 28.”
This amendment would mean that repeal of section 73 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988 would come into force two months after the Royal Assent of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for his warm acclamation of support for my continuing. As he will be aware, any huffing and puffing may influence how long I speak, but perhaps not in the way he hopes. It is a great pleasure to see you back chairing our proceedings this afternoon, Mr Streeter, having done so ably this morning without needing to heed any of the unsolicited advice from the Minister on how to chair a Committee. You did an absolutely superb job, and everyone on the Committee thanks you for that.
“produce a report on the implication of the repeal of section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988, and…undertake a comprehensive consultation on the future of television content distribution and public service broadcasters.”
We feel that the repeal of section 73 has big potential implications, and we need to know what the Government’s strategic thinking amounts to on those issues. I was talking about how things were 30 years ago with public service broadcasters. They were reserved access to valuable spectrum and given prominence on that spectrum. That created a valuable and well-funded monopoly, whether that was advertising revenue for ITV or money from the licence fee for the BBC. We were going to discuss how every aspect of that original deal is undergoing rapid change, and that is why our amendment is important.
Spectrum is more valuable than ever. In 2015, Ofcom acknowledged that if the spectrum that public service broadcasters use was priced commercially, it would be out of reach for PSBs. Then again, other distribution methods are evolving rapidly. It is perfectly possible to imagine a day when spectrum is not used for direct TV broadcast at all, and that day might not be as far in the future as we might think.
We know that the prominence of public service broadcasters is coming under enormous pressure. Recent moves by Sky have made it very hard to find live TV or public service broadcast content at all, and that is potentially a serious assault on the public service broadcasting compact. Prominence enables scale, and scale has been the commercial and policy basis of our public service broadcasters from the start. It makes them economic and makes the notion of public service broadcasters tangible, so that they are not just widely available, but widely watched. We will return to that topic in our consideration of the next group of amendments, but it is relevant to any report that might be produced through the amendment.
Public service broadcasters are no longer the cash cow monopolies that they arguably once were. We have been in a multi-channel world for a long time, but on-demand viewing is accelerating that change even further. Public service broadcasters are not just competing for viewers with commercial channels, but with different offers from such organisations as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube and from other options, such as gaming. Netflix now outspends the BBC on original content development. It is a significant player in the original content market.
To be clear, I am not necessarily echoing what the Prime Minister said in her speech to the Conservative party conference. She seemed to be trying to channel Sam Cooke by saying, “Change is coming”, many times during her speech, but plenty already has changed, and the pace of that change is accelerating. The Government need to face up to this, and that is why we are suggesting that they should hold a proper review of the interconnected issues of distribution, carriage, content creation, prominence and funding before developing and pursuing a clear and fair strategy for television distribution in general, and public service broadcasting distribution specifically. That is what this amendment seeks to achieve. Without that proper vision for how our public sector service broadcasters will operate in a fast-changing, multi-distribution, multi-channel, globalising world, we worry that not only will they not thrive as public service broadcasters, but that ultimately they may not survive. As I said earlier, we should not allow that to happen, and we certainly should not allow it to happen by accident.
The Minister must make it clear that he wants public service broadcasters to survive. I believe that he does, but he also has to make the Government’s strategy clear in the light of this rapidly changing, complex world. It is to be hoped that he can partly do that in response to the amendments, as well as laying out his views on our suggestion of producing a comprehensive report on the subject.
We are also discussing amendment 94, which is a probing amendment that is intended to tease out a timeline for the repeal of section 73. It relates a little to the amendment that the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty moved earlier in that it has a similar purpose. We just want to find out what the Government’s thinking is. Our amendment differs from his in that it states that the repeal should come into effect two months after Royal Assent, whereas his amendment states that it should come in immediately after Royal Assent. We will not press amendment 94 to a vote, but we want to hear the Minister’s thoughts and plans in relation to it.
The hon. Gentleman is right to probe me on that. The truth of the matter is that there is a convenient clause to which we could add our amendments, which starts things two months after Royal Assent. As I said, amendment 94 is a probing amendment and I am sure the Minister will tell us all the reasons why it is technically defective. I will not push it to a vote so I am prepared to hear that, but we want to use it as a method of finding out the Government’s position.
Section 73 was originally introduced to encourage the roll-out of cable and to help a fledgling platform compete against terrestrial television by ensuring that cable platforms had access to public service broadcasting content. The Government have agreed that this policy objective was met some time ago, and in July reported that they were
“satisfied that the objective of ensuring that PSB services (as well as other TV services) are available throughout the UK has been met, and therefore section 73 is no longer required to achieve that objective.”
Subsection (3) states:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make transitional, transitory or saving provision in connection with the coming into force of this section.”
Inasmuch as this generally means that the state will repeal section 73 when it sees fit, there are concerns among some public service broadcasters about understanding more clearly the Government’s intentions in relation to the timetable for that repeal. It would not be such a pressing issue were section 73 merely a harmless hangover and simply moribund. However, as we have heard, it is more than a legal anachronism. It is a loophole through which taxpayers’ money is effectively funnelled into private businesses.
As we have heard, section 73 allows companies, such as TVCatchup and FilmOn, to live stream the content of public service broadcasters and other channels online without permission. In other words, the money the public pay through their licence fee pays for content that is then, in effect, given away for free to companies other than public service broadcasters. Those companies then monetise that public service broadcasting content by placing their own advertising around it.
Public service broadcasters are granted public funding and the other advantages we have talked about on the understanding that, in exchange, they are obliged to air content that works for the public’s benefit, rather than solely for the benefit of commercial interests. Section 73, in effect, allows TVCatchup and FilmOn to benefit from that same public funding, but those companies are clearly not held to the same standards. That amounts not only to the taxpayer unwittingly subsidising those businesses, it effectively directs funds away from PSBs and impacts on their ability to generate legitimate commercial revenues and to reinvest in the wider creative economy. Those live-streaming sites increase public service broadcaster reliance on public money and can fuel a vicious cycle of under-funding.
There is cross-party agreement that that is wrong and has to be put right, which is what the Government are seeking to do, but why do we have to rely on the Secretary of State to
“make transitional, transitory or saving provisions” for repealing section 73? Is it not the case that broadcasters and the public deserve a more explicit timeframe, for the reasons I have laid out, so that this does not persist for any more time than is absolutely necessary? Not only is that fair, but it would provide more certainty for public service broadcasters and ensure that their investment in UK content is protected. Amendments 63 and 64, which the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty tabled, would mean the repeal of section 73 immediately after Royal Assent, which offers one way forward. Our probing amendments offer another alternative if the Government need more time.
Public service broadcasters first wrote to the Intellectual Property Office to ask for the repeal of section 73 in 2008. In the meantime, TVCatchup has obviously made millions on the back of PSB content and the European Commission has launched infraction proceedings against the UK Government, on the basis that section 73 denies public service broadcasters their intellectual property rights for their content, which is guaranteed under the 2001 copyright directive. It would also be helpful to know from the Minister how he believes that infraction proceeding plays into our discussion on the amendment, the repeal of section 73, and what role it has to play if the Bill indeed repeals section 73. In short, will the Minister explain why he is not offering a clear timetable for repeal in the Bill?
I feel that I should thank you for your chairmanship, Mr Streeter; I feel a bit left out, given that the Opposition spokesperson did it. Thank you so much for your chairmanship. It is nice to see a smile at the top table.
I will add a couple of brief points. I am surprised the hon. Member for Cardiff West earned only £10.60. I thought he displayed some creativity. I have never heard so many song lyrics or titles; I do not know if he is on commission for that. Hopefully, journalists across the country are googling—that is appropriate, given what we are discussing today—for what content he has earned £10.60, so that number may go up.
Indeed—I thank the Minister. There is an interesting point here about the importance of parity across channels. The Scottish National party is clear in supporting the repeal of section 73. The hon. Member for Cardiff West made a point about the many different ways in which people can access content, which he articulated well, and the importance of being consciously competent across all areas when making legislative change. I am interested in hearing the Minister’s remarks on that.
We noted earlier the concerns specifically in relation to Virgin as a large cable company, but I want to put on the record very clearly that we absolutely support the Government in repealing section 73. As these models change and people access content in different ways, the ability for them to earn revenue from the content they produce becomes all the more important, because they cannot necessarily rely on its being consumed in a way that ensures that advertising revenues naturally flow. I emphasise that we support this, we welcome the Government’s bringing it forward but we would like a bit more clarity from the Minister around the broader picture.
I am delighted to respond to these points. I take this opportunity to commend the Opposition Front Benchers and, in particular, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley, for how she proved, earlier in Committee, how it is possible to put points with great clarity and precision, such that on Thursday we rose early—somehow that seems unlikely today.
No. The Government are committed to repealing section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, following public consultation which ended this year and concluded that section 73 is no longer relevant. Amendments 63, 64 and 94 seek to ensure that the repeal will be brought into force rapidly following Royal Assent and amendment 189 would provide for the Government to produce a report on the implications and a consultation on the future of television content distribution and public service broadcasters. I should say that after today’s Committee session I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty will be known as “the IP king”. He has been the most ardent defender of intellectual property and its protection and he made very strong arguments.
On the case for a report and a consultation, Opposition Front Benchers asked the Government to face up to the challenges of new technology and its impact on public sector broadcasting and more broadly, and it is absolutely true that there is a huge impact of technology, both in distribution methods and in software, in terms of how we are watching content. Indeed, I understand that in China more films are watched on a hand-held than on a fixed device, and the trend is in the same direction here. This is clearly a very big issue and I am glad that all members of the Committee are alive to it.
I would say, though, that in response to amendment 189, we did just hold a public consultation precisely on the balance of payments between television platforms and the public sector broadcasters which considered the regulatory framework. It considered these questions and came forward with the proposal to repeal section 73. So I gently say to Opposition Front Benchers that, although I can see the point of the amendment, the report that they seek and the consultation that they are asking for by way of what I accept is a probing amendment is what we delivered through that consultation earlier in the year. The changes that we are seeking to make in legislation are a conclusion of exactly the sort of consultation that they have been looking for. The consultation was published on
We strongly support public service broadcasting in the UK. We believe that it has a long, vital and sustainable future and we will ensure that it does. I cannot give a clearer commitment to public service broadcasting. Even through these changes in technology, the evidence on viewer habits shows that public service broadcasting remains valued and valuable, and we support it.
I turn to some of the detailed questions. I was asked about the TPS regulatory regime. That was also considered as part of the consultation. We decided that different regulatory regimes are still appropriate, given the differing technical requirements of different TV platforms. There is a big change: an amalgamation of different delivery platforms for broadcasting from the old cable, terrestrial and satellite, and increasingly things are moving to broadband and fibre.
Following our discussion last week, I note that today TalkTalk has announced a full roll-out of full fibre to the whole of York, so there is progress in the full fibre drive that we are looking for in this country. However, there remain different technologies, so we think that it is still appropriate to have different regulatory regimes for them, although clearly the interoperability between them is important. I hope that that explanation addresses the point.
I will come to that and answer it alongside the question about the impact of removing section 73 where there are must-offer obligations. In truth, there are a huge number of commercial deals between the public service broadcasters and those that carry the PSB content to a wider distribution network. Whether it is through the TPS regime or the regime that we are discussing, many PSB broadcasters have contractual arrangements for their non-PSB content. That happens perfectly reasonably, whether it is through that regulatory regime or through a non-PSB deal delivered using non-satellite transmission.
We do not expect PSB content to be withdrawn because of the existence of contractual arrangements for PSB content replacing section 73. Indeed, there are contractual arrangements for lots of non-PSB content, so I do not see why those contracts cannot be entered into, but the issue does lead to the question whether there should be a transitional regime to ensure that there is no interregnum.
In the event of a PSB and a platform failing to agree terms for the carriage of a service, it is for Ofcom to consider whether the proposal of the PSB was compliant with the must-offer obligations in its licence. Were Ofcom to conclude that it was not, it would expect the PSB to submit a revised offer to the platform. Until now, Ofcom has not had to intervene, because no disputes have arisen presenting any real risk of refusal to supply by PSBs or to carry by platform operators.
The timing question was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty and by the Opposition. The consultation report included an assessment of the implications of repealing section 73, and there was recognition of the potential impacts on the underlying rights market, meaning that the Government have decided that a further technical consultation should be run by the Intellectual Property Office.
I assure the Committee that the Government have every intention of bringing into force the repeal of section 73 rapidly; we plan to do it before the start of summer recess 2017. Repealing section 73 immediately could impact rights that have previously been exempt from remuneration in relation to the underlying copyright content in cable retransmissions, such as those held by scriptwriters or musicians whose intellectual property forms part of the relevant broadcast content. Our approach is to ensure an orderly transition.
Some respondents to the original consultation said that there could be disputes between the cable platform and the underlying rights holders when trying to agree terms and that a transitional period may be helpful. The Intellectual Property Office is currently running a brief technical consultation, as has been mentioned, to examine the extent of those issues and to assess whether any transitional measures are required.
I do not want to prejudice the outcome of the consultation, but in terms of whether a transitional period would be required, the IPO’s consultation seeks views on options ranging from no transitional period to a transitional period of up to two years following Royal Assent. Even if the full transitional period is decided on as a result of that consultation, and assuming that the Bill receives Royal Assent in spring 2017, we expect the repeal of section 73 to come fully into force by spring 2019 at the latest.
The Minister talked about bringing the repeal into force rapidly before the summer recess in 2017, and then issued further caveats and talked about 2019. Will he clarify that for the Committee?
Yes. We will bring the repeal into force before the start of the summer recess in 2017. There may then be a transitional period, depending on the current IPO consultation, but the maximum transitional period, should there be one, will be two years. I added two years on to the summer recess of 2017 to get to what the Government call spring 2019—it will probably be the warmer end of spring.
It is a four-week consultation and it started yesterday, so it has three weeks and six days to run, if my maths are right.
I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that timetable as he envisages it. In addition to that, during the course of my remarks I talked about the possibility of a dispute arising between a public service broadcaster and a platform following the repeal of section 73. What is the Minister’s view on how that sort of dispute could be resolved without consumers being affected?
That could easily be resolved by a contractual agreement, as the two parties in such cases have in many other examples. For example, Channel 4 has a PSB element and non-PSB channels. The non-PSB channels are not covered by section 73, so the PSB element of Channel 4’s broadcasting will be in a similar position to its non-PSB element in future. Since those contractual arrangements exist between the parties covered by section 73, I see no reason why they cannot pretty quickly put in place similar contractual arrangements, not least because the decision to repeal section 73 was taken some months ago and the companies have had some time to prepare.
The final point raised was about the impact of the repeal on Virgin Media’s broadband roll-out. I see absolutely no link between the two. I am delighted that Virgin Media is looking at a broader, full-fibre roll-out, in the same way that TalkTalk has announced further progress today. Nobody at Virgin Media has raised this link with me, and given that Virgin Media is owned by one of the most well-capitalised companies in the world, I cannot see any crossover between the two—and I think it is disingenuous to suggest there is. With that, I hope hon. Members will withdraw the amendments so we can proceed.
As I made clear, it is not our intention to put our amendments to a vote at this stage. The debate was extremely interesting, important and useful, despite the Minister’s seeming resentment of having debates that go into the detail of the Bill and despite his remarks about rising early. He should be careful about making such remarks, given that he was late for the first sitting of the Committee.
There is an important issue at stake here: in our proceedings, the Government get their way because they have a majority, but the Opposition have their say. That is the constitutional principle on which we are all here and it is the role that we play. The Minister’s continual grumpiness about that is not helping his cause. I thought it was a useful debate that has revealed and drawn out more clearly some of the Government’s thinking on the timetabling of the repeal of section 73. We are not going to put our amendments to a vote at this stage, but these are matters we might revisit later.
New clause 14—Digital broadcasting and protection of listed sporting events—
‘Within 12 months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State shall commission an evaluation of the impact of developments in digital broadcasting on the protection of listed sporting events for public service broadcasters, and shall lay the report of the evaluation before each House of Parliament.’
New clause 17—PSB prominence—
‘(1) The Communications Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) At the end of section 310(1) add “that satisfy the qualification criteria to be set by OFCOM in the code.”
(3) In section 310(2) leave out “OFCOM consider appropriate” and insert “required by OFCOM”.
(4) In section 310(4)(a) after “programmes” insert “, including on-demand programme services,”.
(5) In section 310(5)(a) after “service” insert “, including on-demand programme service,”.
(6) In section 310(8)(a) after “services” insert “, including on-demand programme services,”.
(7) In section 310(8)(b) after “services” insert “, including on-demand programme services.’
This new clause would modernise the PSB prominence regime – as recommended by Ofcom in its 2015 PSB Review. Provisions in the Communications Act 2003 currently only apply to traditional public service TV channels on traditional TV channel menus (‘EPGs’). This proposal would extend the law to on-demand services such as catch-up TV and to the connected TV on-demand menus where such services are found.
We are dealing with this group in a slightly novel way. I will discuss new clauses 14 and 17 and then move on to my clause stand part remarks.
New clause 14 calls on the Government to produce a report exploring the options available for future-proofing the at-risk listed events regime, which helps ensure that sporting events such as the Olympic games remain universally and freely available. The listed events regime has been enormously successful and is popular with the public, but it is undoubtedly currently at risk and could become obsolete unless the Government take action to make sure that that does not occur.
I ask the Minister to consider revising the qualifying criteria to deliver a listed events regime fit for the digital era, which we are discussing in this Bill. Since the 1980s, successive Governments have sought to ensure that TV coverage of certain major sports events remains available to everybody, irrespective of their ability to pay. The UK has an A list, which is designed to preserve live coverage of certain major events on free-to-air television—for example, the Olympic games, the football World Cup, the Grand National and the rugby World Cup final. There is also a B list that does the same for TV highlights—for example, the Six Nations rugby tournament and the Commonwealth games.
The listed events regime helps ensure that events such as the Olympics, the recent European football championships—in which Wales reached the semi-final—and Wimbledon all reach the widest possible audience, delivering enjoyment to millions, inspiring the next generation to get active, creating role models and helping make sport aspirational. In total, 45 million people in the UK watched Rio 2016 and the Euros this summer and more than 10 million people watched Laura Trott and Jason Kenny on BBC television both secure gold medals on the same day at Rio 2016.
The listed events regime strikes a balance between ensuring the public can gain free access to major events and the understandable desire of pay TV operators and sports federations to try and maximise their commercial revenues. Importantly, the regime does not prevent pay TV from acquiring TV rights to listed events; it simply ensures that qualifying services can acquire the free-to-air rights on fair and reasonable terms.
Under the current rules, the benefits of the listed events regime are restricted by statute to channels that are first, free, and secondly, received by at least 95% of the UK population. Those criteria are becoming increasingly outdated as the number of homes giving up their TVs for other media devices begins to rise; the 95% criterion will probably not be met by any TV channel at some stage in the course of this Parliament. It would be interesting to know whether the Minister recognises that that is the case and whether Ministers are thinking about it.
As a result, regulators would have no clear legal basis for discriminating between channels, which would likely lead to listed events being ultimately far less widely available and watched. That shows quite clearly that the qualifying criteria need updating, and there are options for doing that. We are trying to explore those options with our new clause in Committee this afternoon—performing our proper constitutional role, much to the resentment of the Minister.
The BBC prefers the option in which the 95% reception criterion could be updated and replaced with a measure testing whether the channel is widely watched. That would require a qualifying service to have reached at least 90% of the public in the last calendar year. That would ensure that the public continued to have access to these sporting events on channels that are easy for audiences to find and that we know they actually watch in large numbers; that is obviously the intention of the current regime. That measure would be a proxy for factors including free-to-air continuous availability, popularity and audience awareness. The proposed test would be consistent with the spirit of the regime and aligned with wider public benefits such as offering moments of national celebration and inspiring physical activity, as well as being simple to implement and more stable than the current reception test.
Furthermore, such a test would be open to any service that was free at the point of use, committed to maximising access and not tied to any one distribution platform, so it would be more able to incorporate broadband streaming, for example, as counting towards the reach of a service as and when the infrastructure allowed. That would prevent the regime from being manipulated by organisations whose purpose was to maximise the attractiveness and availability of pay TV services by providing nominally free coverage on channels that may meet an availability threshold but of which there is very low awareness.
There are alternatives. It has been suggested that the qualifying criteria might be interpreted differently—I am talking about adding broadband availability towards the 95%. However, some feel that that may involve major risks. The combined coverage of the UK’s commercial digital terrestrial TV multiplex and broadband may well allow services distributed via those means to qualify, yet their geographic coverage would exclude large rural areas. That would particularly be an issue—I say this as a Member representing a constituency in Wales; I am sure that the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, who speaks on behalf of the Scottish National party, will be aware of this—in the nations, where there is often greater difficulty with coverage in large rural areas, but it also applies to parts of rural England and, indeed, Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, broadband will not be able consistently to deliver a guaranteed quality of live streaming to mass audiences for some time to come. The BBC, in particular, feels that including broadband in the criteria implementation would be hard to measure and to implement.
The report proposed in our new clause would be an opportunity to fully explore concerns and the different options available for modernising the listed events regime. As I said, those events are very much valued by, and seem very much to be of benefit to, the public. Four in five people say that listed events are important to society. One in four said that the BBC’s 2012 Olympic coverage inspired them to take part in sport. Wide exposure of free-to-air sport can inspire, create role models and make sport aspirational. Indeed, it can bring the country, and the nations within the UK, together. Public service broadcasters likewise understand the importance of listed events and are committed to making sport freely available to all. Even though public service broadcasters are responsible for only 5% of sports output in the UK, they are responsible for 60% of sports viewing. That is something we would not wish to lose as a country, almost by accident, because of the technological changes that we have been discussing.
The UK has a mixed ecology that balances the public’s free access to major events with the potential for pay TV operators and sports federations to generate commercial revenues. The threat to listed events may radically tilt that balance. Rather than risk the abolition of listed events by the back door, Parliament and the Government should urgently consider revising the qualifying criteria to deliver a regime fit for the digital era. With this amendment, the Digital Economy Bill could be the vehicle to ensure that this happens. I shall be extremely interested in what the Minister has to say about this, and in the Government’s view of this important and much cherished feature of our sports broadcasting ecology. The Minister can feel free to dilate at length when he responds.
New clause 17 stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley. It proposes modernising the public service broadcasting prominence regime, as recommended by Ofcom, by extending the law to on-demand services and the menus, where they are found. Since PSB prominence was legislated for in the Communications Act 2003, many gaps have emerged. The Act was designed in a markedly different TV landscape, even 13 years ago. It was four years before the introduction of the BBC iPlayer, for example. It was eight years before the digital TV switchover took place, and seven years before the introduction of the iPad. It created public service broadcasting prominence principles for broadcast TV sets, but not for connected TV sets, public service broadcaster channels, or PSB catch-up services, such as BBC iPlayer.
The regime has not kept up well, even with the multichannel world. For example, as I am sure hon. Members with young children will be aware, CBeebies and CBBC are behind 12 US cartoon network channels in the channel listings of the UK’s leading pay platform, Sky. As someone who was brought up on public service children’s television broadcasting—God knows what I would have been like if I had not been—and as a parent, I think that that is a shame, and that the Government should have a view on it.
I am not going to respond; I shall focus on my remarks. My hon. Friend may wish to regale us later with his favourite children’s TV programmes or public service broadcasters.
PSBs now face a far bigger transition to online delivery of TV programmes, and the regulatory regime lags far behind, so we should not miss any opportunity presented by the Bill to do something about this ever-changing situation. A growing number of existing and future services are being left out of scope, from BBC iPlayer to the now online-only youth service BBC 3, and from the new BBC iPlayer Kids, offering access to the best BBC kids’ content, to the upcoming iPlay, which will be a front door to the best British children’s content from any provider. Equally out of scope in the current regime are growing numbers of major gateways to accessing public service broadcaster content. The number of connected television sets in the UK is expected to nearly triple over the course of this Parliament, from 11 million to 29 million.
While public service broadcasters are doing all they can to negotiate commercially the prominence that their audiences expect, that is becoming harder all the time. Services that pay for prominence can increasingly be prioritised over public service broadcasting services such as BBC iPlayer, or on connected TV. In other words, PSBs can increasingly be gazumped. This problem is faced by public sector broadcasters in general, and it is particularly challenging for the services intended for broadcasting to the nations, especially in the Welsh language—and, in Scotland, the Gaelic language. I am thinking of services such as Sianel Pedwar Cymru, or S4C, and BBC Alba, which carries excellent coverage of the Guinness Pro 12 rugby, and I often watch it for that reason.
The Communications Act 2003 gives Ofcom a duty to ensure that “appropriate prominence” on TV platforms is given to S4C, or “S Pedwar C”, as it is often known in Wales, along with BBC Alba as a BBC service. This has generally resulted in a reasonable degree of prominence. However, on Virgin Media, for example, S4C is channel 166, I believe, and BBC Alba might be channel 167. It is certainly in that range; it is not among the top picks on the prominence list, where you would find channels such as BBC 1 and BBC 2.
The extent varies according to the platform and the geography, but connected TVs such as Sky Q are increasingly relegating the TV guide, and thus access to the nation’s TV channels, to a far less prominent position than their own top picks, box sets or movies. In Wales, it takes 11 clicks to get from the Sky Q home page to S4C. That is hardly prominence. TV catch-up players are also out of the scope of the regime, despite being an ever more popular means of accessing programmes. BBC iPlayer—the largest platform for services such as S4C and BBC Alba on-demand content—has less prominence than the Sky top picks, box sets or movies.
New clause 17 attempts to combat this by adapting public service broadcaster legislation to the existing technological landscape by adding on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer to the list of services to be given prominence. That follows the precedent of TV licensing laws, which were updated from September 2016 to cover BBC on-demand services, which provide a platform for S4C and BBC Alba, as well as TV channels. Such a measure would be in the spirit of the Bill. The Bill is supposed to recognise that the law needs to be updated to take into account the digital present and future. The new clause takes a similar approach to what the Government have already done in increasing the maximum imprisonment for online copyright infringement, which we discussed earlier today. It would, in the same way, correct inadvertent loopholes that have developed in legislation.
Furthermore, modernising the regime would increase the prominence of the nation’s services. Some hon. Members may be aware of the intense political battles that were fought in the early 1980s to secure these services. To the credit of the Conservative Government of the time, they did, albeit after an intense political battle, meet their commitment to setting up a Welsh language television service in the form of S4C. There is an obligation on us in this House, and on Parliament in general, to safeguard the prominence of such services, because great sacrifices were made to establish them.
The new clause would also enable the Secretary of State to add, by order, on-demand programming services of commercial public sector broadcasters to the services that she may identify. That affords the Secretary of State greater flexibility than having to identify services—and any necessary public service conditions, such as free availability—in primary legislation. Ofcom would set qualifying criteria to determine which connected TV menus were in scope, and to ensure that the updated regulation would be proportionate and targeted. The qualifying criteria would be based on a relatively high significance threshold; for example, they could capture only those TV platforms that are used by a significant number of people to access TV and on-demand services, such as Sky, Virgin, YouView, BT, TalkTalk, Freeview and Freesat. Ofcom’s authority to require such public service broadcasting prominence would be clarified by the replacement of the opaque phrase “Ofcom consider appropriate” with “required by Ofcom”.
In summary, new clause 17 shares the principle of levelling the online world with the offline seen elsewhere in the Bill. Updating the Communications Act 2003 would ensure that recent technological developments were not used to undermine the desired outcome of previous legislation on PSB prominence. It would achieve that by extending prominence to on-demand services and the TV on-demand menus where such services are found. It would not only future-proof PSB prominence but safeguard our nations’ hard-won services.
As we are also dealing with clause stand part, I will refer briefly to the issues that need to be highlighted in that debate. As we said earlier, section 73 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 was first introduced to encourage cable networks to expand and compete against terrestrial television, but since then, there have been developments such as TV catch-up, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty and others. Given that the clause will repeal section 73—something with which we agree in principle—we will support it. During this debate, we have sought clarity on timetabling, and we are glad that the Minister has given us more information about that; we may need to press further on that.
As public broadcasting has evolved to digital transmission, section 73 continues to support the universal availability of PSB broadcasting to the 250,000 premises where cable is available but a digital terrestrial television signal is not. Some stakeholders feel that the clause as it stands does not take into account the continuing importance of cable, or the repeal’s potential effects on that service. Section 73’s aim of helping cable to compete may have been met, but it still serves a function in reaching the target relating to broadcasting to those 250,000 beyond a DTT signal.
Virgin Media feels that if the only reason to repeal section 73 is its abusers, such as TVCatchup, there is no reason not to underpin the clause with a guarantee for those who have not and do not abuse PSB content. Other stakeholders feel that the clause merely plugs a hole and does not sufficiently streamline the current system, which consists of four different types of broadcasting. Consultation or no consultation, the fact remains that the clause was hastily written, and it is not clear that all its implications have been understood. We may wish to return to some of the issues in this clause later in the Bill.
Oh, the curse of a word of praise from the Minister! I thank him none the less.
I support these two excellent new clauses tabled by Labour Members. I was delighted to hear the Minister say in response to the debate on the last clause, “We strongly support public service broadcasting.” Hot on the heels of that, the Opposition have provided him with an opportunity to put his money where his mouth is and show that he truly does. I think—at least, I hope—that we all support public service broadcasting, but there has been a lot of chat in this place about the PSB funding settlement and about it not encroaching on competition. Let us push beyond that to consider how to support public service broadcasters. Let us find a way to ensure that they maintain their place in an adapting world.
I will touch briefly on both clauses. New clause 14, on the review of listed events, is close to my heart. I note that the football World cup is one of them; I do not know whether we can table an amendment to ensure that Scotland has a chance of getting there—
I thought so. At least when we eventually get there, we will not expect to win it, unlike others.
I will keep to the subject with a bit of brevity and levity.
I support the Labour move to review this whole area to ensure that we have a set of listed events that is fit for purpose and, more importantly, to ensure that the protection will continue. Likewise, we fully support new clause 17 on prominence. The Committee has spent a lot of time talking about the changing digital landscape. There is no doubt that if we do not introduce measures to protect listings, the public service broadcasters will disappear, slide down the pecking order and be harder to find. We will then be on the slow road to an argument that says that public service broadcasting is not as popular as it once was, but the reality will be that it is just difficult to find.
I conclude by thanking the Labour party for beating me to it with both amendments, to which I should have added my name and which I fully endorse.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Streeter. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West encouraged me to talk about children’s programmes—I was thinking about “Play Away”—and I apologise for not being here earlier. I was observing a NATO training exercise as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme.
I rise to talk about retransmission charges, and I will do so briefly because I am conscious of the time. We obviously have a listening Minister who is deeply concerned about these matters, and I hope he will go away and give due consideration to some of the points that have been raised, perhaps coming back with some thoughts of his own and some changes that could improve the Bill. On retransmission charges, repealing section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988—the intellectual property rights element—is important and welcome. It will put Virgin on an equal footing with the public service broadcasters in the marketplace of buying and selling channels.
I will return to that second issue and the financial impact in a moment, but I will first highlight an anomaly. Unless there has been a change in the last few days, the Bill does not include satellite channels, which fall under the Communications Act 2003. The Sky platform is exempt from the Bill and will not be liable for retransmission charges, which seems to be a market anomaly—I stand to be corrected by the Minister. We should have a level playing field for everyone. Sky benefits significantly not only from the five public service broadcast channels but from some of the other channels—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West has just mentioned S4C and Alba, among others—and the radio stations. Sky has a huge commercial advantage in not paying for receiving something that is very complementary to its platform. We are applying a principle to Virgin, and the Bill should treat Sky equally.
We demand a lot from public service broadcasters, particularly the BBC, for which we pay a licence fee, and it is only right that the BBC should be able to recover some of that money for the licence fee payer in the commercial marketplace, rather than the service being literally given away to some platform providers. There is obviously a commercial benefit to the Sky platform or, for that matter, any satellite platform that automatically has to deliver PSBs under the 2003 Act. There ought to be something that provides clarity and a level playing field, because without it, Sky has another advantage among the many it already has.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West touched on sports. There is a commercial structure around sports, where we have to look at redistributing some of Sky’s content into public service broadcasting, and around protected sports events. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, who made a powerful point.
Returning to the retransmission charges, it is important we have a level playing field. Virgin will be charged and I believe Sky will not be—there is nothing in the Bill to suggest that Sky will be forced to pay retransmission charges, but perhaps the Minister has something—
Okay. If the Minister has any proposals, can he provide some clarity? There does not appear to be any and there are many people out there raising questions about this.
The guidance seems to suggest there will be no material change to the relationship between Virgin and public sector broadcasters, despite the repeal of section 73 of the 1988 Act, so I look to the Minister for some advice on where we are with that. The Government expect the relationship to be neutral, with no cost transfer. Will the Minister clarify that and confirm that he is not giving with one hand and taking away with another, but is in fact allowing public service broadcasters, such as the BBC licence fee payer, to receive payments for programmes produced by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters?
I want to pick up on the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West about new clause 17 and perhaps add my own thoughts. The Government have taken their eye off the electronic programme guide. I would ask them to cast their eye back over it, as my hon. Friend suggested. Eleven clicks to S4C is just ridiculous, but we all see now—when people are reminded and it is pointed out to them, they say, “Oh yes, that is true.” Sky has put the electronic programme guide on the second tier, where there is Sky Box Office, Sky products and Sky everything else. We are seeing a diminution of the electronic programme guide and Ofcom unable to act in the public interest.
This is important because we are talking about a huge commercial space and, very quietly, Sky has clearly adapted that space for the benefit of the Sky platform. Other people are going to come along and we will see that contested. Companies such as Netflix in particular, which wants to enter the market in an assertive manner, want a big presence and are willing to spend a lot of money. Only in the last week, we have seen the amount of money that it has been suggested that Amazon is spending on Jeremy Clarkson’s latest foray into high-speed petrol-head motoring. Is it £160 million? There is a considerable amount of money in the marketplace from these other organisations and broadcast providers, and we are going to start to see the electronic programme guide being contested. In fact, it is already being contested, as Sky has already snatched the front page of the EPG on its platform.
I raise the following points with the Minister: Ofcom currently seems to be behind the curve on this issue and the guidance needs to be updated. We do not want to see public service broadcasters relegated in any way, shape or form. We do not want to see the design or architecture of the EPG manipulated so that maybe the BBC is number one but somehow Netflix catches people’s eye more prominently, with small letters for the first five and big graphics for some of the more commercial providers, such as Amazon. It is not just about having slots one to five; Ofcom should be mindful of the actual graphic presentation.
We do not want to see adverts creeping into the EPG either, so Ofcom needs to be absolutely clear in the regulations and guidelines about the type of space that the EPG is. The Government should be mindful not only of platform providers such as Sky, but of TV manufacturers, which will come over the hill and see the space. Someone will turn on their television and, after “LG—Life’s Good”, the first thing they will see is Netflix in the top corner, before they even click on an EPG. Technology is moving fast and the presentation of available services must have some framework and clearer guidance from Ofcom, because it is important that we do not end up in a world where public service broadcasters are relegated several clicks away from primacy—ITV needs the commercial return and Channel 4 also has a commercial element and needs the returns on advertising. That scenario should not be allowed, as it would affect the broadcasters as a business, along with their funding model and audience figures and therefore their advertisers and advertising revenue. We absolutely must be clear about what the graphical interface and its parameters should be—no adverts—and also about which broader platforms might seek to enter the market, such as TV manufacturers.
I welcome new clause 17. The Government have a lot of work to do on EPG guidance, because this legislation will go down for the next 10 years and in that time we will see incredible technological advancements, with companies wanting to capture that prime retail space. It is incumbent on the Government to step in, not just to make the situation better and more consistent for the viewer but to protect the public service broadcasters, as not only the licence fee payer but the advertiser on the commercial channels is affected. We have a national interest, therefore, in protecting that space. It is important that the Government revisit the EPG guidelines.
I am interested in hearing the Minister’s comments on my questions, particularly his clarification regarding Sky and the 2003 Act—I cannot find anything on that in the documentation—and also some reassurance on the EPG.
Terrific! I am delighted to respond. As we know, clause 28 will repeal section 73 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988, which currently provides that copyright in a broadcast of public service broadcasting services, and any work in the broadcast, that is retransmitted by cable is not infringed when the broadcast is receivable in the area of the retransmission. In effect, that means that cable TV platforms are not required to provide copyright fees in relation to core public service broadcasting channels. The provision was brought in at the onset of the cable industry in the UK to provide for the industry to compete with terrestrial by providing PSB content. However, that was a long time ago and technology, as everyone has noticed, has moved on a long way.
Last year we consulted on the repeal of section 73, and I am glad that there is cross-party agreement on it. The conclusion that the Government reached, and which has been agreed to by the Committee, is that the section is no longer relevant. There are a wide variety of platforms that ensure that virtually everyone in the UK is able to receive public service broadcasts and, following the completion of the digital switchover in 2012, digital TV services are now available to more than 99% of customers, whether through terrestrial, satellite, cable or fibre platforms. The cable market has moved from a large number of local providers in the 1980s, when section 73 was introduced, to one big one, and it has also gone up massively in scale, from hundreds of thousands to more than 4 million subscribers.
We are satisfied that the objective of ensuring that PSB services are available throughout the UK has been met. Therefore, section 73 is no longer required. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty pointed out earlier, this also closes a loophole, because live streaming services based on the internet are broadcasting TV programmes and relying on section 73 to exploit PSB content by retransmitting channels and selling advertising around the service without any of the benefit flowing to the PSBs. I think we all agree that is wrong, so I am glad there is cross-party support for the change.
Let me respond to some of the questions that were put, looking first at new clause 14. I am a strong believer in the listed events system. Major events such as the Olympic games and the FA cup final draw huge audiences. The listed events regime has worked well. The status of these events, as listed events, boosts them and their broadcast to the nation brings us together. I am delighted that the SNP supports the listed events regime as well. I fear I am going to have to resist the SNP’s suggestion that we should use the listed events regime to ensure that Scotland is always in the World cup finals, in the same way that we cannot legislate for the tide never to come in or the sun never to set, but it is very important and it is close to people’s hearts.
The right to broadcast listed events must be offered to qualifying channels, defined as those that are received without payment by at least 95% of the UK population. Ofcom is responsible for publishing the list of channels that satisfy those criteria. We have no evidence to suggest that recent developments, with more online viewing, will put the BBC or other PSBs at immediate risk of failing to meet these qualifying criteria. I know that concern has been raised, but I have discussed it with the BBC and Ofcom, I have gone into the details, and I am not convinced there is a risk in the near term at all.
I did say that, because of the criteria’s increasingly outdated nature, the 95% threshold will probably not be met by any TV channel at some stage during this Parliament. Is the Minister telling the Committee that that is categorically wrong?
Yes; I disagree with that analysis. Were that to become the problem, then we would need to act, because we support the listed events regime. However, we do not agree with the analysis that the hon. Gentleman has put forward, not only because of the measurement on the existing, most restrictive definition of the 95%, but because the definition of qualifying channels are those that are received without payment. There are many ways to receive a channel without payment, including online, so viewers moving from terrestrial TV to online does not necessarily—and in my view does not—remove them from that 95%.
The Minister has made the point, and I thank him for making it categorically: he believes that that will not happen during this Parliament. However, he also said that if it were to happen, the Government would have to act. Is that not the very reason why he should support the new clause? It would give legislative backing to the Government to produce a report to examine what ought to be done in those circumstances.
No, because I do not think that is going to happen. The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of what we should do if the legislative underpinning of the regime were to collapse. He came up with a specific proposal. I think that the proposal is itself flawed because it was to switch the measure from channels received without payment to those that are viewed, and that changes its nature significantly: from channels that are received, so can be viewed by somebody, to those channels that are viewed, which would be far more restrictive in terms of the channels that could then provide listed events. It is not a surprise to me that it is incumbents who want to make that argument because they are the ones that are watched, as opposed to those that can be watched.
The Minister alluded at the end to the fact that we are not making that proposal in our new clause. We were rehearsing that argument during discussion of the new clause. Obviously he does not agree with it, but it is important to put on the record that that particular proposal is not in the new clause. It asks for a report.
I am grateful for that clarification. We will obviously keep the matter under review. It is important that the listed events scheme continues to operate. I could not be clearer in our assessment of the definition of qualifying channels based on the existing statute. A specific review within 12 months of the legislation’s coming into force is in my view not necessary, but we will keep the situation under close review.
New clause 17 would amend the public service broadcaster prominence review. The hon. Member for Hyndburn made a powerful and eloquent speech with some incredibly good points in it. The new clause would extend the prominence provisions to on-demand services such as catch-up TV and connected TV on-demand menus. The matter was considered in the balance of payments consultation. We have very strong support for S4C and some of the other channels mentioned in the debate, but our conclusion was that we have not seen compelling evidence of harm to PSBs to date, so we decided not to extend the EPG prominence regime at this stage.
In a way, the debate has brought out the challenges in this area. The hon. Gentleman started talking about the description of the graphical representation on an EPG, and the discussion can easily get into acute micromanagement of an EPG when the increasing integration of TV and internet services makes that more rather than less redundant. I therefore caution against an attempt at extreme micromanagement of the interface.
The Minister flags up a cautionary point, but I again ask him a question I asked earlier: if he had a graphical interface with tiny letters that fulfilled its obligations, but at the bottom it said, “Amazon” and “Netflix”—it effectively had some commercial advertising —would he be happy to see that? Would that satisfy his current position? Alternatively, would he reflect and think, “That is not quite right”?
The hon. Gentleman is a great man who is worried about my happiness, but this is not about my happiness; it is about what is best for public service broadcasting and the PSB compact. My response is that it is for Ofcom to issue guidance on ensuring that the EPG works. It is better done that way, so that it can be proportionate, flexible as technology changes over time and not micromanaging things. The guidelines do that and pull that off. That is why when we considered the proposal as part of the consultation, we decided not to go there.
Again, my happiness is secondary really, but my problem with the proposition being put forward is that trying to define sub-menus and user interfaces in regulation, especially statutory regulation, is incredibly hard. The technological landscape is shifting quickly. It is best left to the Ofcom guidance to answer such questions. We looked into the matter in some detail in the consultation, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his support for the new clause.
No, because it is for Ofcom to issue guidance on linear EPGs. Ofcom is required as a duty to make the system work. Rather than going further down this route, having considered it, we do not want to be over-prescriptive, given the technological changes that are happening. With that, I hope that hon. Members will withdraw their amendment and then vote that clause 28 stand part of the Bill.
Yes, briefly. As you say, Mr Streeter, we will come to the new clauses later in the Bill. I do not think that it will necessarily be our intention at this point—we will cogitate further—to push them to a vote, but there are issues here to which we might want to refer on Report. One of my colleagues has pointed out that the Minister did not answer a question about Sky. Rather than making another speech, does he want to intervene during my brief remarks?
As I said in the discussion of the previous set of amendments, Sky is subject to a different regulatory regime. There are conditional access charges for satellite within that regime, which must be fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory for all channels. We considered that as part of the balance of payments consultation and came to the conclusion that it did not need to be changed, because of the requirement set out in the DPS code.
This is an opportunity to ask my hon. Friend a question. There seems to be some doubt about the relationship between Sky’s retransmission charges and public service broadcasters. Does he know whether Sky pays for public service broadcasters? I understand that Sky pays for ITV commercial channels, but as I understand it, it does not pay anything for public service broadcasting.
We discussed this issue, and the nature of that regime, earlier today. My observation was that the situation was extremely opaque, which is why we proposed earlier amendments to the Bill to suggest that the whole area should be reviewed—for that very reason. My hon. Friend makes an extremely pertinent point. It will be worth reading his remarks, and those made earlier today by Government and Opposition Committee members, on that point.
When we discussed new clause 14, which deals with listed sporting events, I worried that there is a degree of complacency in the Government. People will have heard what the Minister said about the issue, and we will be interested to hear what others have to say about his response. We should lay down a marker to say that we do not think that the Government are really listening or hearing what we are saying about this subject, and they are not sufficiently attuned to the dangers to listed sporting events. I know that the Minister is a keen and successful sportsman in his jockeying activities, on which I congratulate him. I am sure that he would want to see—
He is a flat racing jockey—and, from what I have seen, a very good one—but he should be concerned about the possible future of events such as the Grand National, which, as he rightly said, bring the country together and are meaningful and important cultural events as well as sporting ones.
On new clause 17 and PSB prominence, again, the Minister says that he has not seen compelling evidence of harm, but I think that we supplied him with plenty of compelling evidence of the potential for harm, which is what the Bill is about. It should be about the digital future, as we have said. I take his point about extreme micromanagement—that is valid—but we are not talking about that; we are talking about setting clear parameters to ensure that public service broadcasting prominence remains across all platforms. Although we are unlikely to press the new clause to a vote later, we reserve the right to return to these issues.