Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Earl of Northesk: I thank the Minister for that reply. Like my noble friend Lady Buscombe, I hear precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, has said. As he correctly anticipated, I shall take full account of the wisdom of his remarks in deciding how to return to this issue on Report. He also made the sensible point that to promote broadband in all cases is the wrong approach. I understand that point. I am merely grateful for his tentative support for the broad thrust of my intention.

I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that I am not wedded in any way to my definitional amendments. It is important that the Government's stance is properly understood and is as clear as possible. In my introductory remarks I sought to show that there was a degree of confusion about the matter. If the Government are confused, so must be the rest of us. However, my real concern is not the definitional amendments, which were a hook upon which to hang that element of the debate; it is the lead amendment. The definitional amendments were merely cosmetic embellishments for the purposes of debate.

I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the Minister that my judgment is that broadband is integral to the viability and usefulness of the new technology—perhaps I am getting to the heart of a potential flaw in the amendment, because by

29 Apr 2003 : Column 670

broadband I mean increased and increasing data transfer speed. Subject to the caveat of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, it is beyond question that a competitive market in broadband is needed, or, if the Committee prefers, a competitive market to provide the public with increasing and increased data transfer speed. The Minister agrees. My judgment is that increased and increasing data transfer speed—not necessarily the term "broadband"—is so important in its own right, particularly on the back of the progress or the lack of it so far, that it is justifiable that Ofcom should focus on it.

The Minister will be assured from my remarks that I will return to the matter on Report. I will take on board some of the observations, particularly the folly—maybe—of focusing on including the term "broadband" in the Bill. I think that I can address that problem. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Alli moved Amendment No. 14:


    Page 3, line 29, at end insert—


"(g) the maintenance of a vibrant independent production sector"

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 14 and in so doing shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 42, 196, 199, 272 and 273, all of which deal with the nourishing and building of the independent production sector. In brief, Amendment No. 14 requires Ofcom to oversee the continued vibrancy of the independent sector; Amendment No. 42 creates a register of original programme ideas to help independent producers to protect their work, and Amendments Nos. 196, 199, 272 and 273 strengthen the existing independent quota system.

I declare an interest: I have been an independent producer in one form or another for almost the past 15 years, with the exception of a brief period as a broadcaster at Carlton Television. Like the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, I shall not repeat my declaration of interest in future Committee debates.

The independent production sector is the creative community that exists outside the ownership of broadcasters. They come up with ideas for programmes. At Second Reading, I said I believed we had some of the finest television programmes in the world and that if they were not the envy of the world they certainly should be. I put forward two reasons why our creative community is so strong. The first was a system of regulation surrounding public service broadcasting, and the second was the independent production sector, which was established with the birth of Channel 4.

For Committee Members unfamiliar with television production, let me explain how programmes are commissioned. There are three sources of programmes and programme ideas. The first is the broadcaster, which generally, with the exception of Channel 4, has a team of creators who come up with ideas for

29 Apr 2003 : Column 671

programmes that they then make themselves. The second is the independent production community, which competes for the 25 per cent of hours that broadcast networks must commission out. The third is by acquisition of programmes from foreign broadcasters—in effect, that means America. The temptation of broadcasters is always to cut costs. Generally, the losers are the programme makers and, ultimately, the audience.

The independent sector is an important safeguard to the creative success of the UK. An exhaustive survey of 50 of the most popular new series, introduced between 1992 and 1998, found that nearly 40 per cent of the new formats had come from independent producers. There are dramas, such as "Spooks", "Clocking Off" and "Shackleton"; prime-time documentaries, such as "The Fall of Yugoslavia", "Faking It" and "Jamie's Kitchen"; hugely successful children's programmes, such as "Teletubbies"; shows that have pushed the boundaries of taste, such as "Big Brother" and "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"; history programmes, such as "The Great Plague" and "1900 House"; and documentaries, such as "Congo", and so on and so forth. This is the tip of a vast creative pool of world-class talent.

The international Emmy awards are the Oscars of the television world. UK independent producers have won over half of all Emmies awarded between 1990 and 2001. That is 38 awards out of a possible 71. Last year, independents also took over 60 per cent of the BAFTA programme awards.

Amendment No. 14 seeks to ensure on the face of the Bill an obligation by Ofcom to oversee that continued vibrancy of the independent production sector. It would be a great injustice to the creative community not to put a safeguard in this legislation to help them ensure that their regulator takes due account of their interests. It is easy in legislation of this size to ignore the people at the bottom of the food chain. I hope that my noble friend will at least feel able to accept this particular amendment.

Amendment No. 42 deals with the establishment of a register of original programming ideas. The ownership, creation, acquisition, sale and licensing of television rights are as important to the television industry as stocks and shares are to the stock market. However, to date, licensing and acquiring of rights has required not only strong industry knowledge but the deductive reasoning of Miss Marple. Other industries have been a lot more pragmatic in dealing with their rights. There are public registers for almost everything—property, patents, pharmaceuticals and even Internet domain names.

The time has come for the television industry to establish a public register of its own that will support copyright legislation and copyright protection agencies. It could remove some of the risks of costly litigation and remove the lame excuses that it is too costly to locate rights holders. Generally, these arguments will be made by the broadcasters who want to drive down loyalty fees and take ownership of as many assets as they can from a very privileged position of power.

29 Apr 2003 : Column 672

I have talked about the value of the independent production sector and the importance of safeguarding its creative work. At Second Reading I talked about the increasing trend of ideas being borrowed—euphemistically—by broadcasters. I likened it to the plight faced by engineers in the Victorian era who spent huge amounts of money and time developing solutions only to find the bigger companies stealing them. I talked about the incentive to create disappearing and the subsequent establishment of the Patent Office. I believe that we are witnessing the beginning of the creative incentive in this country disappearing in the television markets.

Why should I, as a producer, invest in developing ideas for television if, when I present them to a broadcaster, with some minor changes he can adopt the idea and produce it himself? There is no incentive to walk into a broadcaster and show them one's ideas. I am proposing a simple system as a first stage so that individuals and small companies can register their ideas and help protect them against theft. This is a first step. It is not a big step, but a first step. A television rights register makes a great deal of sense for this industry. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench sees this as a constructive way forward edging the broadcasters towards a higher standard. This should be seen very much as the carrot. If it does not work, I am sure that we can find a stick.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 196, 199, 272 and 273 which deal with the independent production quota. As the law currently stands, there is a requirement by broadcasters—namely, the BBC and ITV—to commission out 25 per cent of the hours that they broadcast to independent producers. The quota originated in 1986 as a result of the Peacock report. It was first voluntary and then made statutory in the Broadcasting Act 1990. Parliament always intended this to be a minimum threshold and not a ceiling on independent productions.

Three things have happened as a result of the quota. The first is a truly remarkable creative community which has helped to maintain Britain at the forefront of programme making. Secondly, broadcasters have seen the 25 per cent as a ceiling and not as a floor. This particularly applies to the BBC which, for the second year running, has failed to meet its independent production quota. Thirdly, broadcasters have tried to commission out the hours that are the most difficult to make and that are at the cheaper end of the scale.

The Government were so concerned about safeguarding the independent production centre—for good, economic, commercial and competitive reasons—that they commissioned a programme supply review, undertaken by the ITC. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Puttnam, who is in his place, for inspiring that report; Bob Phillis and the rest of the ITC's expert panel—Anne Bulford, with whom I worked at Carlton, Richard Eyre, Professor Bill Robinson and Sir Howard Stringer—as well as Robin Foster and his team at the ITC.

29 Apr 2003 : Column 673

The report suggested a number of actions falling into four areas: first, measures to strengthen the longer-term viability of the sector—it is also recommended that Ofcom should monitor the application of the quota and impose fines and sanctions if it was not met—secondly, further safeguards in the Bill to guarantee a continuing high level of UK investment in original programming; thirdly, support for productions in the regions and nations; and fourthly, strengthening the commitment to training.

I am grateful to the Government for following many of those recommendations but I should like them to go one step further. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, when giving permission for BBC 3 to move forward, amended the quota system so that it would not only have to commission out 25 per cent of its hours but would also have to ensure that 25 per cent of its programming budget was spent with independents.

Amendments Nos. 196, 199, 272 and 273 reflect this change broadly across all broadcasters. It will mean that broadcasters, in addition to commissioning out 25 per cent by hours, will have to ensure that 25 per cent of their programme budget is spent with independents. That will prevent the broadcasters abusing the quota system and result in a further expansion of the independent sector.

I know that my noble friend the Minister has some reservations about extending the quota budget but her right honourable friend the Secretary of State has set the precedent for good reasons. This will be an opportunity, at least in the short term, to extend that principle.

The quota system is a complicated and technical configuration but it does work. My amendments will improve it and further protect programme makers in this country. The Government and the broadcasters have nothing to fear from this group of amendments.

Grouped with my amendments are Amendments Nos. 197 and 198 standing in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Buscombe and Lady Wilcox. I have read their amendments carefully. I understand in principle what they seek to do—that is, to inject additional capital into the independent production market. But perhaps they will look at their amendments again because I suspect that they may allow broadcasters such as Granada and Carlton to set up production entities and attack the independent production quota via the back door. I know that that is not their intention. The additional investment of capital would be much welcomed.

I apologise for taking up so much of the Committee's time but this group of amendments is the only group to deal with independent television production. It is such an important area that I felt it necessary to explain the reasons behind each amendment. They are not so-called probing amendments. I genuinely believe that they should be on the face of the Bill and I want these changes to be made. I believe that they will be in the best interests of

29 Apr 2003 : Column 674

viewers and will stimulate an important sector of the economy. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will at least leave the door open to enable us to take this forward at Report stage. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page