I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Fifth Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Public broadcasting in Scotland, HC 1048, and the Government response, HC 1305.
I thank the Liaison Committee for enabling this short debate, and I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Efford; in these situations, young bucks like us are great examples to the younger Members in this House. I also welcome the Minister to his place. I do not know how many times he has been recalled to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but it is great to see him providing maternity cover. He and I have had some great scraps in the past couple of decades as we have sought to ensure that the creative sector is defended and protected.
Absolutely, and I look forward to his closing remarks in this debate. The Scottish Affairs Committee held evidence sessions for this inquiry between July 2021 and January 2023. In that period, we examined the performance of public sector broadcasters in Scotland, and the general environment for broadcasting in Scotland. The Committee’s report was published on
The screen sector is worth about £500 million to the Scottish economy, and between them STV, ITV and BBC have jointly spent £71.3 million on first-run content made specifically for viewers in Scotland. We have all seen the fantastic new programmes and series that have started to emerge across a number of services, including “Shetland”, “Outlander” and the fantastic “The Rig”, starring Martin Compston, which I think we have all particularly enjoyed over the past few months. Some of those shows have resulted in a nascent hospitality and tourism sector in some areas; people come to see where famous “Outlander” scenes featuring Jamie were filmed. I was in the States recently with colleagues from the Committee, and that was one of the points that came across to us: people were keen to come to Scotland to see the many locations where these fine shows were shot. I am delighted to be joined by colleagues from the Committee, who I know will be keen to contribute to today’s proceedings.
We also found that the independent production sector is thriving. The Committee heard from various witnesses that the prospects for independent TV producers in Scotland are better than they have ever been. That is great progress since the last time we looked at broadcasting some eight years ago.
As hon. Members would expect, we also identified a number of difficulties, challenges and issues, which our report highlights. The first regards Freeview, which is very important for Scotland. Scotland has more Freeview viewers than anywhere else across the United Kingdom; a third of Scots depend on Freeview as their essential and exclusive means of accessing content. The Government’s intention is to keep Freeview going until 2034. Our report asks for that to be continually reviewed. We should look at the numbers and ensure that Freeview will still be available to Scottish viewers at that point.
We looked at issues around the proposed privatisation of Channel 4. When we started the inquiry, it was to be privatised, and by the end of it, it was not. The Committee is very proud of one thing that came out of the inquiry: through our conversations with Channel 4 executives, we managed to secure Scottish participants on “Gogglebox”. It is not often that a Select Committee can claim any sort of success, but we were able to ensure that when we watch “Gogglebox”, Scottish participants will be there.
On inter-Government relations, which my Committee obviously has a rolling brief on, we called for a new inter-ministerial group on media and culture. It would serve as a forum for joint working between UK and Scottish Ministers, and help to improve outcomes in the screen industry across the whole of the United Kingdom. The Government response was received on
“a Culture and Creative Industries Inter-ministerial Group will be set up this year” to support intergovernmental relations. The Committee particularly welcomed that. In his summing up, can the Minister tell us what progress has been made on establishing the group, and whether he has had time to consider the terms of reference under which it will be established?
A positive change in recent years is that independent producers are not all sitting in London. It used to be that people in the creative industries eventually had to come to the capital of the UK, or else they could not progress. Does my hon. Friend celebrate Channel 4 not only not being privatised, but opening a hub in Glasgow, where it is promoting training and access to skills in the industry, so that it will hopefully thrive even more?
My hon. Friend is quite right to point to those innovations, which we welcomed in the inquiry and report. The developments she mentions are significant. I remember the situation when I was a new Member of Parliament: London-based producers and commissioners did most of the commissioning when it came to Scotland. Now, there are opportunities for people in Scotland to ensure that commissions are considered by a whole range of public sector broadcasters, as well as the streaming services.
Two issues dominated the inquiry and report, and we spent a little time looking at both to see if there was anything we could do to help resolve matters associated with them. It will not come as a surprise that the first was the prominence of Scottish television, which is timely given that prominence is considered in the draft Media Bill. There are a couple of things I want to press the Minister on a little more. There is no statutory requirement for public service broadcasters’ on-demand streaming services such as iPlayer or STV Player to be featured prominently on smart TVs or streaming sticks. That risks public service content becoming more difficult to access in the shift away from traditional TV broadcasting modes. We heard that the new TV platforms do not give that type of content the same sort of prominence as is secured on Sky, Freeview or Virgin TV, which have the benefit of the electronic programme guide that ensures that stations such as STV are prominently featured. I think STV is No. 3 on both Sky and Virgin TV and is easily found on the Freeview service.
New legislation to ensure prominence for public service broadcasters’ on-demand services on internet-enabled TV was unanimously supported by all public service broadcasters who came to our Committee. It was something they were keen to stress to us throughout all our evidence sessions. The Committee’s report recommended that the UK Government bring forward “time-sensitive reform” within two months of the report being published. Within that time period, the Government brought forward their draft Media Bill and mentioned prominence in the provisions. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks on that; however, it is only a draft Bill with no time.
I heard the comments today at Culture, Media and Sport questions: we still do not know when the Bill will be introduced to Parliament, and the Minister was not able to reassure us that it would be delivered in this Session. That is important. Is there anything, over and beyond what is in the draft Bill, that the Government could do to address the issue of prominence? I worry that if nothing is done to resolve the issue, the habit will be formed, and systems might become embedded that make it difficult to locate services. I appeal to the Government to have a look at that again. The draft Bill would allow regional variation in the degree of prominence that regulated internet-enabled TV platforms would have to give certain content, but we need progress on that as a matter of priority.
Another issue, not covered much in the report, has emerged since its publication. In a recent meeting, STV was keen to communicate to us what was being asked of public sector broadcasters such as STV that wished to be hosted on big global networks, such as Amazon. STV told us that Amazon had indicated that it wants 30% of STV Player inventory to sell its own ads as a prerequisite if the STV player is to be on Amazon’s platforms. Thirty per cent of total assets is an almost outrageous demand. That is something that Ofcom can resolve; it has the regulatory powers to get involved in such situations, and I hope that encouragement from the Minister might just encourage it to do so. This issue is exercising colleagues in Scottish television, and it may inhibit their ability to appear on some of the big global network platforms.
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of STV’s problems is that it does not know whether any of the other broadcasters will give in to this blackmail? If one gives in, it will be absolutely necessary that all the others do. Thirty per cent is an eye-watering percentage of the company’s profits, and paying that would restrict its ability to invest.
I was loth to use the word “blackmail”, although it is pretty hard to get away from that term, given that this is a gun to the head for so many public sector broadcasters. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the sense of not being left behind. Because of Amazon’s importance, its worldwide reach and ability to get into households in Scotland, broadcasters have to take it seriously. He and all my colleagues listen carefully to representations from Scottish television. I hope that the Minister can put this right.
On that point, the sheer eye-watering ask of 30% of revenue could encourage other platforms, including those that are created in the future, to push for the same amount. That would quickly wipe out the viability of public sector broadcasters such as STV.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have discovered that public sector broadcasting in Scotland is in a reasonably good place, but it remains fragile. Recovery and being able to provide the content that Scottish viewers want is important, so we have to be careful with all this. I know that the Minister is listening carefully, and I am sure that we will hear from him about this issue being taken forward.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this issue is particularly disappointing given that witnesses from Amazon and Netflix came to the Committee, and what they said sounded very positive? They said that they were working closely with public service broadcasters to deliver production. That makes it particularly odd that this has come up as an issue.
Indeed. Unfortunately, we were not able to press the main streaming services on this issue when they came to give evidence, because it had not emerged as a particular difficulty at that point. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, witnesses did say that there is a good relationship between the streaming services and the public service broadcasters. We heard in the Committee that there is room for everybody. Obviously, people who are in the habit of watching “Eastenders” or “Coronation Street” will prefer to watch public service broadcasters through Freeview, and that will be their evening viewing. Other people like to watch feature films and to binge on mini-series.
We have found a positive broadcasting environment that enables viewers to access a range of content that was unimaginable when the Minister and I were mere slips of boys watching glorious coloured television for the first time, as well as—when Channel 4 arrived—“Brookside” and “The Tube”. These are different days. It is unfortunate that there seems to be a dispute. It has really put a spoke in the works of what was described to us as a healthy working arrangement. We hope the issue can be sorted out.
There is one thing that we are not making progress on. It will not surprise you, Mr Efford, to see football—or “the fitba”, as we say in Scotland—come up in a debate on broadcasting in Scotland and what is available to viewers. We did not really expect, although we should have, that once we started bringing people in to discuss this topic, football would become the main focus of conversation.
What is happening to Scottish football fans is excruciatingly unfair. This conversation is timely because the Euro qualifiers return on Saturday, with the mighty Scotland taking on Norway. As you know, Mr Efford, we are top of group A, looking down at Spain, Norway and the rest of them below. Never before—or not since probably 1998, when we were last in the World cup—has Scotland had such an exciting national football team. People want to watch it. There is huge excitement about international football and the prospects for the Scottish football team. The only problem is that we have to pay to watch it. We are the only part of Great Britain where that happens; Northern Ireland is in the same situation. People in England and Wales can watch their national football team free to air—no problem. But in Scotland, they have to fork out or go to the pub to watch it with friends. That is not a bad prospect, but why is it only Scots on this island who have to pay? And the cost is not cheap.
In a competition to secure the rights to host and broadcast Scottish football, Viaplay was successful, and it has the rights until 2028. A standard Viaplay subscription for a month is £14.99. Viaplay has been reasonably generous and allowed a package that amounts to £59 if someone takes up the opportunity to buy for this year. We have a cost of living crisis. People are struggling to meet household bills. Mortgage rates are going through the roof. We still have very high energy costs. The subscription is a lot of money to ask people to pay when everybody else in the United Kingdom is able to access and watch the football for nothing.
Before Viaplay, the rights were owned by Sky, which had the rights during the 2018 and 2022 World cup competitions, as well as during the UEFA European championship in 2020, which were all shown on Sky. To show how important this is and what a big issue this is for Scottish football fans, in an online report by The Scotsman in November 2020, 92% of respondents agreed that Scotland’s men’s national football team games should be available on free-to-air TV.
We know the situation is complicated. We know there are lots of complex arguments, and that the future of the national game is in question. The Scottish Football Association relies on the money that it secures from selling the rights to a variety of broadcasters. Without that, it would not be able to invest in grassroots sport or support and resource a number of activities, so it is immensely important to it. It cannot gift this away for nothing. It rightly relies on the money to develop and build the game. All that has to be taken into account, and nothing should be done that would threaten that type of investment and resource.
There are ways through this. We identified two ways forward in the report. One is a voluntary arrangement between the Scottish Football Association and Scottish football fans and the rights holder. It is worth highlighting a couple of examples of how this could work. When Sky had the rights, it allowed the play-off final between Scotland and Serbia in the last European cup to be broadcast free to air, so that Scottish viewers could see it. During our inquiry there was a generous offer once again by Sky. Scotland had qualified for the final of the play-offs, and that was going to be free to air, too. Those are the sorts of voluntary arrangements that football fans would love the broadcasters to make. It is a generous offer that would be recognised and celebrated. It might even encourage take-up of the subscription services. That is a way it can be done, and we encourage more discussions and conversations about allowing particularly critical games to be free to air.
As for the listed events schedule, things are a little more complicated and technical there, but it is within the gift of the Government to say that those events should be free for Scottish viewers, recognising that everybody else in the UK has an opportunity to watch their country’s games. Can Scotland’s qualifying games be included? I know that is not the Government’s intention, and that they would have problems with such a thing, but perhaps this could be done, with compensation given for the loss of the revenue that the Scottish Football Association would normally secure from selling off the rights.
We have to start addressing this issue. I had a look round the whole of Europe to find out what other major footballing nations had done. It could be argued whether Scotland is a major footballing nation, but we are huge supporters, and we love our football. Looking at the teams that normally qualify, Scotland is one of the few countries in Europe that cannot access their national football team’s games, free to air.
I read somewhere—although I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this—that in relation to the size of its population Scotland has one of the highest attendance rates at football games, where people are engaging. But is it not vital that young people who are not going to games are able to see their team playing? We talk in lots of other sectors about the need to see role models in order to aspire. My hon. Friend talked about grassroots football being supported by the revenues, but it will not be there if we do not inspire children to want to go and play the game.
Absolutely—my hon. Friend is spot on. Scotland is a football-crazy nation, and it has been substantially proven that we have some of the highest numbers per capita going to football games. There is huge interest in our national football team, particularly now that we have such an exciting product to see, and it is good to be able to watch your heroes play. We have made huge strides in the promotion and viewing of women’s football; thank goodness we have free-to-air access to the Scotland women’s football team—it is great that that opportunity is afforded. We are trying to make football a community-based interest, and sitting around with the family to watch free-to-air football competitions is a healthy thing to do. I just wish that we could do it more.
The current lack of opportunities to watch Scottish international football on free-to-air broadcast is letting down fans in Scotland, who are at a disadvantage compared with fans in England and, for now, Wales. Wales has a curious arrangement, which the Committee found very attractive. It gets permission from Sky to show matches on the Welsh-language station, so people are able to watch their football team, albeit that they are listening in Welsh, which I am pretty certain is not a huge distraction for Scottish football fans.
As my hon. Friend Dr Whitford says, we have BBC Alba. Could something be done to see whether a similar arrangement could be made? There are a number of ways to explore this issue, but the current situation cannot go on.
The last indignity is that when we all sit down to watch the football at 5 o’clock on Saturday evening—I know that all my colleagues will be shouting on Scotland to ensure that we stay in a dominant position in group A —and turn on the BBC or Channel 4, it will be the England game that is on. We are not able to see our national football team, but we also have the indignity of being forced to watch another nation’s match. That is a huge disadvantage for my hon. Friends, who I know are great football fans, so it has to be sorted out.
We on the Committee were disappointed by the Government’s response to our report. There was a sense that they recognised the issue, but they did not express great sympathy for our situation. They suggested that it was nothing to do with them and that there was nothing they could do to resolve it.
I want to say one more thing, which is down to my hon. Friend Gavin Newlands, who has done a power of work on all this, as I am sure colleagues recognise. My hon. Friend has got everybody together and made sure that roundtables have been put together so that this issue can be discussed. He has built great relationships, formed real alliances with football fans and the Scottish Football Association, and got everybody together. Everybody is working together; we just need the Government to engage a bit more in order to help us sort this out. It is not good enough to say that it is all a matter for the Scottish Government, because broadcasting is a reserved issue. It is really a matter for the Government to fix, to ensure that we get the same access that everybody else does across the whole United Kingdom. Let us see what we can do to fix this. I know we are all looking forward to seeing what the team can do on Saturday.
I am conscious that I have said a lot about our report, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response. What we have found is that things are relatively good just now, notwithstanding some of the issues we have identified—particularly the tricky issue of the relationship with Amazon. Viewers in Scotland are now able to see more content in a variety of different ways—more than they have been in the past. It is a great difference even from when I was a new Member, 20 years ago. There is now much more opportunity for people to enjoy broadcast television. Satisfaction rates with the BBC started from a low base and have improved, which is something else that we noted in our report, so there is a sense that the public sector broadcasters are responding to what Scottish people want and to their viewing habits.
Scottish viewers want to see much more Scottish content. When they turn on the television, they want to see their national life and culture reflected, and we are increasingly getting to that position. Innovations such as “The Nine” on the BBC have been fantastic. We now have STV giving a news service at 6 o’clock. I remember the conversations we had historically here about a “Scottish Six”, and we now have that “Scottish Six”, albeit delivered by Scottish Television. I think that is welcomed by Scottish viewers.
We are in a reasonably good place. There are difficulties. I am grateful to the Government for their response to some of the things we have highlighted, but I think they could do so much more, particularly on Scottish football. I look forward to the Minister’s closing remarks.
On this occasion, it actually is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I commend my colleagues on the Scottish Affairs Committee—well, at least some of them—on their excellent work. The report on Scottish broadcasting was thorough, and their recommendations are extremely helpful.
I absolutely support the Committee’s call to establish, in short order, an inter-ministerial group on media and culture, as has been agreed, to enhance co-ordination between Governments across those briefs, especially around broadcasting. As we have heard, the matter is reserved to Westminster, so it is vital that our colleagues in the Scottish Government, especially the Cabinet Secretary, are able to input their knowledge and expertise on a regular, ongoing basis.
As we have heard, it is fairly clear that, as far as televised sport goes, Scotland isnae getting a fair kick of the ball, given that English and Welsh games are on free to air. I think my hon. Friend Pete Wishart mentioned in his speech that English and Welsh games are free to air, while Scottish men’s team games are seldom allowed the same prominence.
I am well aware of how important local, regional and national news is for democracy. In Scotland, “STV News” plays a huge part in informing the electorate and providing credible news that can form the basis of public discourse. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire mentioned the separate “Scottish Six”, which we now have along with a separate “Scottish Nine”. When I was on the Select Committee the first time around, I argued strenuously for a separate “Scottish Six” because, as a journalist myself, it seemed obvious that news should be based on news merit. If the main story of the day is a national Scottish one, that leads. If it is British, that leads. If it is international, that leads. No one in radio news or in a newspaper would ever dream of leading only on Scottish stories—it is unbelievably parochial. News should be based on merit.
I was delighted that my friends in the Select Committee agreed with this proposal cross party. I have to say that the Scottish Tories literally went into meltdown when they discovered that their colleagues south of the border had accepted this conclusion, when they had argued that a full hour of Scottish news would be SNP propaganda—how patronising to BBC journalists! In fact, the opposite is the case: it gives more time for scrutiny of the Scottish Government, which I happen to think is a very good thing.
Is it not the case that it is not just about what the lead story is, whether it is Scottish, UK or international? There will be different views and perspectives on British or international news from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is about having the lens the public want on big stories, regardless of where those are from.
I think that is true. Obviously, Irish viewers will sometimes have different views on international stories than German viewers. It is common sense. One slight disappointment about “The Nine”, which is a terrific news programme, is that they are not using as many correspondents sent from Scotland to cover international stories as I would perhaps hope for.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire also mentioned the issue of prominence. One problem for the BBC Scotland channel is how hard it is to find. Although, as BBC Scotland itself points out, it does better in terms of viewing figures than Sky, for example, it could do much better if it was easier to find. There is something clearly absurd about the fact that, when we run down that wee box looking for news channels, Talk TV is about No. 4. It is utterly ridiculous. We see the BBC, STV, ITV and Channel 4, and then there is Talk TV, with somebody ranting away about some crazy Brexit conspiracy theory for hour after hour. It is not news, and it should not be. We have had this argument with Ofcom about GB News and Tory MPs who seem to go in a revolving door from the House of Commons to interview other Tory MPs about fantastic good-news Tory stories. Obviously, it is something that Ofcom should be interfering with; it should enforce its own rules. Certainly, that should not be given the prominence that it is, and in Scotland the BBC Scotland channel should be given far greater prominence.
The draft Media Bill includes lots of really good things that are absolutely necessary—among them, prominence for the languages of these islands, which is very healthy. Something that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which Mr Efford and I are members of, is about to cover is how to protect and encourage the indigenous languages of these islands. The Media Bill encourages that and gives due prominence to STV on smart televisions, set-top boxes and similar. As we have heard, to fail to do so would risk a further diminution of the quality of information available to voters in Scotland. It is an interesting subject, and this is a very detailed report, which I commend to the crowds here in Westminster Hall listening to the debate.
The updated Media Bill is required, and I join the Scottish Affairs Committee in encouraging the UK Government to get on with it as soon as possible and to get it introduced into the Commons. We will engage with it in a constructive manner. Let us get this legislation, to catch up with the reality of broadcasting.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Efford. I congratulate Pete Wishart on leading this important debate.
I begin by thanking the Scottish Affairs Committee for undertaking this timely inquiry over the last two years. During that time, Scottish broadcasting has achieved some big wins, as the hon. Member mentioned, from the first Scottish family finally appearing on “Gogglebox” to STV reaching a deal with Sky that meant Scottish football fans could watch their national team win on penalties to reach the Euro 2020 finals.
Scottish broadcasting forms a vital piece of the puzzle of the UK’s creative sector. Scotland is not only home to Amazon, but our public sector broadcasters—Channel 4 and the BBC—also operate from the nation, alongside the strongly performing STV, whose main channel reaches 80% of Scots every month, as of 2021.
Although broadcasting is a reserved matter, we must ensure that our creative industries represent, and prosper throughout, all our nations and regions, bringing communities together, promoting pride in place and strengthening local economies. However, as the Committee report shows, if the industry in Scotland is to thrive as we know it can and better serve Scottish audiences, there is a range of important issues to be considered, particularly given rapid advancements in technology and the establishment of global media giants as competition for our public service broadcasters. Therefore, I will focus my remarks today on each of the main recommendations in the report.
First and foremost, I will address recommendations 4, 5 and 6 about prominence and the draft Media Bill. In essence, these recommendations reiterate what the industry and the Labour party have been saying for years: our public sector broadcasters and radio services need to be given the tools to survive in the modern era. Amid the rise of the global media giants and the game-changing impact of new technologies, the legislation that supports our broadcasting industry, which was made in 2003, is quite simply out of date.
The Media Bill is exactly the kind of intervention needed to address some of those issues—for example, by ensuring that our public sector broadcasters, including STV, are protected and promoted in the streaming age through a new prominence regime. There are questions to be asked about the detail of how the Bill will ensure that, particularly with regard to how prominence for regional channels in Scotland will work in practice, given the technology available.
However, instead of pushing on with scrutiny, the Government have wasted a year in pursuing the disastrous plans to sell off Channel 4. Now that they have finally U-turned on that decision, it is disappointing that the publication of the draft Bill did not come with a clear timetable for its implementation. As the report highlights, the Government need to get on with bringing those changes into law. The longer we leave it, the longer British broadcasters such as STV will risk losing further market share to the big global media corporations, to the detriment of our creative economy and British audiences, including those in Scotland.
The report also recommends that the UK Government commit to maintaining Freeview beyond 2034. As the Government themselves highlight in their response,
“millions of households across the UK, including in Scotland, rely on” broadcast TV, and that is expected to continue “over the next decade.” Further, unlike internet streaming services, terrestrial TV does not require an internet connection or rely on a monthly subscription. Terrestrial TV content is therefore primarily relied on by those who are already marginalised in our society—people on the lowest incomes, older citizens and those in isolated rural areas. Indeed, as the Broadcast 2040+ campaign highlights, such services are relied on by an even greater proportion of those in Scotland because of its increased rurality, island communities and comparatively older population.
It is a start, therefore, that the Government have committed to preserving digital terrestrial television for over a decade, but the lack of long-term certainty over the future of the service is causing unpredictability both for the broadcasting industry, in terms of investment, and for the digitally excluded. What does the Department think are the disadvantages of providing long-term certainty about broadcast TV and radio, given their importance to both the industry and the community?
Further, the report makes two recommendations regarding sports rights. It was extremely pleasing to see STV come to a formal agreement with Sky to allow for the viewing of the World cup qualifiers on a free-to-air basis. However, it is understandable that campaign groups are unhappy with the lack of a formal plan to ensure that Scottish international football is free to watch. Indeed, there is a careful balance to be struck between ensuring that crucial sporting moments are available to watch and securing investment in sport through the revenue generated by selling rights.
That is what the listed events regime seeks to recognise but, in the age of streaming clips, the problem goes beyond what is contained in the regime, and the question is whether it is still fit for purpose in the modern era. The Department is right to conduct a review of digital sporting rights, and it is positive that it is looking to ensure the longevity of the listed events regime through the Media Bill. As has been argued, however, it has taken too long for the legislation to see the light of day, and it is unclear how it will address digital rights.
Finally, it is pleasing to see the Government confirm, in response to recommendation 7, that the inter-ministerial group on culture and creative industries will be set up this year and that there will be an industry-led task- force to look at skills. However, there is still more to be done to boost screen industry skills across our nations and regions. As part of our creative compact, Labour wants to see the apprenticeship levy reformed into a growth and skills levy that would allow creative industries to spend up to half their levy on shorter training courses and modular skills. The Government must consider such fundamental changes if we are to truly address the creative skills shortages that are holding industries back.
To conclude, Scottish broadcasting plays a vital role in our creative landscape, but the Government can and must do more if the industry is to thrive in the modern age and continue to serve the needs of viewers across all our nations and regions.
I thank Pete Wishart for obtaining the debate and for the work that he and his colleagues have done on the Scottish Affairs Committee report. I know that the then and—when she returns from her maternity leave—future Minister, my hon. Friend Julia Lopez, was happy to give evidence to the Committee and will be interested to see the report’s conclusions. I thank all the other members of the Committee for their contributions as well.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire was right that Scottish broadcasting is in pretty good shape, as indeed is broadcasting across the United Kingdom. We continue to have some of the finest broadcasters in the world—not just the BBC, but Channel 4 and those in the commercial sector—and independent production is going from strength to strength. I particularly welcome the growth of independent producers in areas of the UK outside London and the south-east—Scotland, in particular. As was acknowledged, the public service broadcasters are strengthening their presence in Scotland, such as with the establishment of Channel 4’s Glasgow hub and the continuing success of STV in Scotland.
Saying that broadcasting is in good shape does not mean that there are not some serious issues that we need to consider, particularly as we look to the future. The hon. Gentleman did a good job of summarising some of them. As he knows, the Government published the Media Bill in draft in March. It has taken some time to reach that point—indeed, I recall Ofcom making recommendations for legislation on prominence when I was Secretary of State, and there have been other recommendations since. That was an important recommendation; we absolutely agree that if public service broadcasting is to thrive into the future, it needs to be prominently displayed, regardless of the means people choose to obtain their TV content.
We are moving into an era in which more and more people rely on smart TV devices. It is therefore only right that we replicate the existing prominence requirements on the electronic programme guide on traditional sets. We should also reflect smart TVs, Fire TV sticks and other means that are used. That does not just relate to television; the hon. Gentleman did not go into detail on this, but we believe it is important to apply similar requirements to radio, too. The Media Bill will also address that.
The hon. Gentleman raised a concern about the relationship between STV and Amazon, which has arisen relatively recently. I was concerned to learn about that, because, like him, I had understood that the relationship was reasonably good. One of our reasons for publishing the Media Bill in draft is to enable us to consider whether further measures are necessary. We have an opportunity to debate the provisions in the Bill, and I look forward to giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I will also be talking to Amazon and, I hope, Simon Pitts from STV. I am very happy to look further at the concerns that have been raised to find an appropriate solution.
John Nicolson spoke about plurality and prominence. Although the PSBs hold the top positions, one or two other news broadcasters now appear on the schedule. I am surprised that he does not welcome plurality. He also seemed concerned about the appearance of one or two Members of this House on one or two channels, although he glossed over the show presented by the former leader of his party on RT. I do not think he particularly complained about that at the time.
I take it back if the hon. Gentleman did, but he is still there.
One of the reasons the Media Bill is important is that the take-up of smart TV will continue at pace. I suspect I am one of only a very small number whose television set receives only internet protocol television—I do not have DTT or a freeview application in my TV—and I have to say that IPTV is extremely impressive. As we move forward with more and more access to gigabit broadband under the Government’s Project Gigabit scheme and the commercial roll-out, more and more people will move in that direction.
That prompts a longer-term question about whether DTT will remain the main means of accessing television. It is too soon to say. What the Government have said is that we foresee DTT continuing until at least 2034, but we will be looking in due course at what should happen after that. Giving that assurance until 2034 should give confidence. Obviously, the debate about what happens beyond that time will continue, and we will see how the market develops.
Is there a reason why the Government will not go further and give longer-term security until 2040, as some campaign groups have called for?
I think 2034 is still a long way off, and this technology is developing fast. Obviously, as we look at the roll-out and at consumer behaviour, that will influence our decision as to how much further to go. The roll-out is happening fast: Scotland is already approaching 70% gigabit coverage, and we anticipate that within a few years every part of the United Kingdom will have access to gigabit coverage. I was pleased to announce earlier this week that the Government will support the provision of gigabit coverage under Project Gigabit to the inhabitants of Papa Stour, a remote part of the Shetland islands, who will in future be able to obtain gigabit coverage from a low Earth orbit satellite as a result of Government investment in this area. No matter what part of the United Kingdom or how remote the area, it is our ambition that everybody should be able to enjoy gigabit coverage in due course. That may affect decisions as to how we continue to ensure that they have access to high-quality television content.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire concentrated a lot on the issue of listed events. This has always been a “but”. Under the Broadcasting Act 1996, we have a small number of events that are seen to be iconic, which bring all the nations of the United Kingdom together and should remain free to air. The obvious ones are things like the Olympic games, the grand national and the Derby. It is not the case that England football matches are listed. The reason people can watch them on television is that the free to air broadcasters have obtained those rights, but they do not have any exclusive ability to bid for them; others could, too. What are listed events are the FIFA World cup finals, women’s World cup finals, UEFA championship finals and UEFA women’s championship finals. If—as I am sure the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues believe will happen in due course—Scotland reaches the finals in one of those competitions, that will be free to air under the listed events regime. Until then, the Scottish team will have the same rights as the English team and those of other nations of the UK in terms of the football authorities’ ability to decide who they should sell their rights to.
The Minister is right that we mentioned the events as an example of something that could be done, without any real expectation that that would be delivered, because we understand the complexities and exclusivity of the listed events schedule. The point we are making is that it is a matter of scale. Scotland has 5.2 million people, whereas England has 55 million to 60 million, so the rights have greater value when it comes to England than Scotland. We are looking for a little more support, encouragement and understanding of our particular issues, given the difference in scale of the populations, and for that little bit of input from Government to help us to resolve this. That is our plea on this issue.
Of course we are happy to keep it under review. I suspect the hon. Gentleman is as aware as I am that the determination whether an event should be included in the listed events regime has considerable financial consequences for the sport involved. We have to strike a balance between giving as many people as possible the opportunity to watch that particular sporting event and the wish to obtain the revenue to put it back into the sport, which is possible from the sale of sporting broadcast rights to whoever is willing to pay the most. That is generally something that I have felt the sporting authorities are well placed to do. A significant proportion of the Scottish FA’s income comes from the sale of broadcast rights to a subscription service. Of course it needs to be kept under review. Although broadcasting is a reserved matter, sport is not. The Scottish Government might like to consider that, and if they have views we will be happy to hear them.
At the moment, we do not intend to change the listed events. As Stephanie Peacock said, we are currently examining whether the digital rights should be packaged with the linear broadcasting rights so that they come under the same rules, and we will come forward with conclusions on that matter in due course. I understand the frustration, but Scottish football benefits considerably from the sale of broadcast rights. It is also important to talk to the Scottish FA. I urge the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire to talk to the Scottish Government. I am happy to continue the dialogue with him.
Turning to that dialogue, mention was made of the establishment of the inter-ministerial group. Two days ago, I was happy to have a call with the Scottish Government Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, Christina McKelvie. We confirmed that the inter-ministerial group is being established to cover the creative industries. I look forward to working through that with her. The purpose of my call was to give her advance notice of the Government’s package of measures that was announced yesterday—the creative industries sector vision—which contains really good news for Scotland. We hope that through the extension of the creative industries clusters programme the existing clusters will be increased by six. There is already one in Edinburgh; I am sure that there will be considerable interest from across Scotland, as there will be from elsewhere.
There is also the CoSTAR—convergent screen technologies and performance in real-time—package for research and development for some of the latest screen technologies. Four new R&D labs are being established. One of the preferred bidders is in Dundee. There are also various other measures, including the tripling of funding for the music export growth scheme. I know that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has a distinguished record in music. Whether MP4 would qualify under the music export growth scheme I am not entirely convinced. Nevertheless, I know that as a great music supporter he will welcome that.
This has been an important debate. I want to see broadcasting thrive in all nations of the United Kingdom. The situation in Scotland is good at present, but that is not to say that there are not important issues, which we have had the opportunity to debate this afternoon. I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate and look forward to continuing to work with him and with Members across the House to ensure that Scotland and the rest of the UK continue to have some of the most successful broadcasters in the world.
Thank you to everybody who has taken part in the debate. I was right to predict that it would be a convivial and consensual affair. I am grateful to the shadow Minister and the Minister for their contributions, and particularly to the shadow Minister, Stephanie Peacock, for reiterating a number of our recommendations and conclusions. I am pretty certain that the Minister picked up on that.
On the football issue, there is one last thing that I think is important to address. At this point, we are trying to seek a solution. We recognise that we are a smaller market. We will not have the advertising revenue that is available to those that want to provide free-to-air viewing in the rest of the UK, particularly in England. We understand, too, that of course the SFA is totally dependent on the income that it receives from selling on the broadcasting rights. It is about getting together to see whether, through these sorts of conversations, we can find a way forward that will enable Scottish football fans to secure the same rights as everybody else on this island.
I am really grateful to everybody. I am glad that the report has been so positively received and that our recommendations and conclusions will be taken seriously. I commend the report to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the Fifth Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Public broadcasting in Scotland, HC 1048, and the Government response, HC 1305.