Media Bill

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Excerpts
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Portrait Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD)
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I say sorry to the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for going back to being political. But I say to the noble Lord, Lord Watts, that I used to work at the BBC and guess what? Jeremy Paxman and Nick Robinson are also Tories.

Anyway, this is such an important Bill that I will come back to. As I said in Committee, the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, ensure that while we both update and future-proof our incredibly invaluable broadcasting media, we do not lose the principles that have made it so unique and internationally renowned. We get, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, a better balance: in particular, the reinstatement to the Communications Act of the Reithian principles of inform, educate and entertain. At Second Reading, the Minister referred to addressing the concerns of the DCMS Committee report in its pre-legislative scrutiny. The report recommended that the Government retained obligations on PSBs to provide specific genres of content, and the Bill does not. I hope the Minister has considered these concerns as set out in these amendments, which have had support from around the House.

There is a need to enshrine Reithian principles. On the “educate” principle, it is so important for our children today to come together outside the echo chamber that is social media. So many here have supported the matters on which my noble friend Lady Benjamin spoke. With regard to the “entertain” principle, the PSBs, led by the BBC, support and stimulate cultural activity and reflect our nations. They support our creative industries through innovation, skills and training although, as I mentioned in Committee, work still needs to be done on diversity. As for the “inform” principle, PSBs remain essential to UK media, and losing them would leave UK society and democracy worse off.

It is also essential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, and my noble friend Lord McNally mentioned on Amendment 6, that programmes are commissioned from and made across the UK. In Committee, I argued that the change to Channel 4’s remit potentially undermines this. I did not get much support, but I still stand by that argument.

My noble friend Lord Addington eloquently and persuasively argued to update access to listed events, particularly for clips and excerpts. I return to the words of my noble friend whom I call Baroness Flo—who cannot listen to her and accept what she says and argues for? I point out to the Minister that all she is asking for is a review.

This Bill is much needed. I welcome it. With more time, it could have been even better, but I hope that the Minister agrees to the amendments and makes it as good as possible.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, as the Minister knows, we are keen that the Bill should be on the statute book, as is the whole of the media world, which has been telling us, even as late as today, “Please, can you make sure that it goes through?” These Benches certainly support that.

It a shame that we have not had more time on the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, just said, there is a lot of consensus across the House about how it might have been improved, but I hope that the Minister gives us some comfort about the amendments in this group.

We strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, in her amendments about Reithian principles and education, as we did recently in Committee. We are also keen to support those amendments which concern children, one of which is my own. We thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, made a very powerful point in Committee and even more so today. The request for a review is a modest one and, if the Minister is not able to accept this amendment, I would hope that we can persuade Ofcom that it needs to do this. As the regulator in this world, it needs to take some responsibility and do this review. I therefore hope, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, that somebody is listening out there in Ofcom who might do something helpful with this.

I hope that the Minister will address the issues in my amendment, which seeks to ask Ofcom to ensure that minimum standards for age rating are adhered to. That is not to say that it should use a particular method or providers, but there should be some minimum standards, so that parents across the country understand the age ratings for the material that their children are watching. That is very straightforward and simple, and it should be part of Ofcom’s duties.

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Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Portrait Lord Watson of Wyre Forest (Lab)
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My Lords, as a relatively new Member of this House, I rise with great trepidation, following the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. As a new Member, I have noticed that every time I enter the Chamber with one view, when I hear his intellectually muscular contributions and his laser-beam legal brain, I usually end up leaving the Chamber with a different view. I do not think that is going to happen today.

I say to the noble Lord that criticisms were made of IPSO made in Committee yesterday. He may not think that they were legitimate or hold water, but they were closely felt. I am not going to criticise IPSO again in this debate, except possibly to add, as I tried to yesterday, to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, that my criticisms of IPSO are about the institutional structure and the governance arrangements. They are nothing to do with the professionalism of the staff, whom I only hear excellent things about when they deal with individual cases. Also, as a former colleague of Sir Bill Jeffrey, I understand that he is as intellectually muscular as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and I am sure that he did a very independent review of IPSO.

My concerns today are why now, and why in this debate. On the circumstances that led to the creation of Section 40 in 2013, we had numerous Select Committee inquiries, and we had several criminal inquiries. We had independent journalism investigating criminal wrongdoing, and we had a judge-led public inquiry that did quite an unusual thing. It united both Houses and all political parties to draw a line in the sand and say, “We’re going to do something completely different—we’re going to find a way of holding tabloid media to account”. What we have been asked to do today, nearly nine years later, is to repeal Section 40 because we are being told that we have a legal framework and an independent set of governance rules, which means that we no longer need the Leveson recommendations.

What we are not being told is what we know now that we did not know in 2013 when, with great urgency because there was great public concern, we decided that we needed to act. We actually know that there was much more criminal wrongdoing, that it lasted longer, and that it was not for just a few years but nearly a decade. We also know that Parliament was misled, that members of the DCMS Select Committee who were investigating criminal phone hacking were the subject of intense media criticism—some covertly surveilled by private investigators working for News International. We know that they were lied to. The “one rogue reporter” defence was held for numerous years, but there was actually a corporate consciousness that this was not true in 2005. We also know, because we have seen the criminal case and conviction of Mazher Mahmood, the “fake sheikh” in 2016, that people were framed. Celebrities and people in the public eye were accused of crimes and set up to sell stories. As far as I can see, there has been very little contrition from the newspaper groups that were responsible for that.

I really could go on and on about the wrongdoing, the deceit, the lies, the criminal behaviour and the constant intimidation, but I truly think that everyone, wherever they stand in this debate, already knows about those.

Earlier, the Minister cited Bruce Springsteen, and I was very disappointed when he did that because I was supposed to have lunch with him today. I decided it was better to stay here to try to convince him, at this 11th hour, of the errors of his ways. I know he may be “born to run”, but I feel like “we are dancing in the dark”, as we have so often in this debate. I want to convince him of the merits of these three amendments in this little basket of discussions, and—who knows?—we may even have “glory days” together, whatever the outcome of the general election.

There are some principal reasons why this clause should be opposed. First, there is a convention that controversial policy should not be rushed through in the wash-up. We have done it before and came to regret it—I mention the Gambling Act 2005.

Secondly, when it comes to media reform, we must be incredibly transparent. The public need to understand that, if we are going to concede to media barons—and let us not deny that this is what this represents—we need to be seen to do the right thing. In trying to railroad all these amendments through in an afternoon, on the day after the announcement of a general election, you cannot make the case that this is anything other than a venal deal.

Thirdly, perhaps more importantly, I believe very strongly that, wherever you sit on the ideological spectrum, whenever we talk about regulation—this is a highly regulated market—people always tell me that when you regulate things you have to be worried about the consequences of your decisions because they are very hard to map out. We appear to be dropping the creation of a new regulator for that reason when it comes to football, and I do not understand why we are interfering with a regulated market in wash-up.

There are some principal reasons why it is time that we took a pause, and what we have is either a concession that could unite us or an argument that says let us not deal with Clause 50 in the wash-up of a general election; let us pause and come back to it, whoever wins that election.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Portrait Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD)
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We on these Benches are in favour of these amendments and think we should proceed now.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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I would like to add something to the constitutional points which were made by my noble friend Lord Lipsey. The appropriateness of dealing with this issue in wash-up is clearly in contention. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said yesterday that the abolition of Section 40 is a clear commitment of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto. I am afraid it is not clear: the sentence starts by saying that but it then sets conditions. It provides additional text that confuses the issue, and raises issues which were dealt with in yesterday’s debate. I have read yesterday’s debate and clearly questions have been raised about the accuracy of the information in that particular quote from the manifesto—I see the Minister disagrees. Claiming that it is clear is incorrect.

The second issue arises from the Salisbury convention about manifesto commitments. It is quite clear that this cannot be an essential commitment because the Government have had more than four years to deal with the matter, and they failed to do so. Bringing it up in the wash-up period is an insult to this House and an exploitation of the arrangements which have been made.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes, I feel very clean at the end of it—thoroughly washed.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have given this Bill considerable scrutiny in pre-legislative scrutiny and during our debates on Second Reading and in Committee. As I have said throughout, it has been amended through the pre-legislative scrutiny it received. I am glad that we have been able to reflect some of our debate in Committee and amend it further. I am grateful to noble Lords for their understanding and recognition of the great support and demand that it has from the media sector, which we all cherish and which we know will play its very important part in the election campaign that is now under way. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, on the Benches opposite and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, and her noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, who spoke from the Front Bench for the Lib Dems. However, noble Lords from across the House have given it robust scrutiny, including today in this swifter form.

I will briefly pay tribute to my honourable friend Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Tourism and the Creative Industries in another place, and indeed to my right honourable friend Sir John Whittingdale, who covered her maternity leave for parts of the Bill. They have both played an important part in it. I thank my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, who chairs your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Committee and has given careful consideration to this Bill and, with other members of her committee, to many of the other issues that are related to it.

I have already had the opportunity to thank the Bill team, but I repeat my thanks. They have worked particularly hard in the last 24 hours, but this is the culmination of many years’ work since the Bill was first produced in draft form and laid for pre-legislative scrutiny. I am delighted that their hard work means that we will be able to send it on its way to the statute book. It is perhaps appropriate to finish with some words from Bruce Springsteen: “Come on, let’s go tonight”.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Portrait Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD)
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I have not had the chance to say my thanks and I want to thank the Minister. Apart from anything else, his sense of humour throughout this has been really helpful and refreshing. His genuine passion for the DCMS has also really come through. As I said earlier, I wish this could have gone on longer. I suspect we could have got some more concessions through him. I also thank my friends on the Labour Benches and those on the Cross Benches, although they have gone. This has been a very collegiate event. Of course, I thank everyone on my Benches, although they seem not to be here—well, one of them seems to be here, and of course my noble friend Lord Addington.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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Who is this Bruce Springsteen that everybody has been talking about?

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Portrait Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD)
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Yes, there was one little thing I wondered. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, said that he was going to have lunch. For a moment, I thought it was with Bruce Springsteen.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Portrait Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD)
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You were not—oh, my goodness. Anyway, as I was saying, I thank everyone, including the Government for making the Bill happen. It is hugely important for our public service broadcasters. That is enough of my thanks and I have not cried.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I sort of gave my thanks yesterday, as I was not really sure what we would be doing today—and I was not alone. I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, again for his courtesy. We are extraordinarily grateful for the two amendments that he accepted, which my noble friend Lady Thornton and I were very keen to see inserted in the Bill, along with others in your Lordships’ House.

It is always a joy to work with the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, and—from the far reaches of the back of the Lib Dem Benches—it is now an even greater pleasure to work with the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Actually, I have an anecdote about death and buses, which I am quite determined to tell, now I think about it. There is a custom in Brighton for its buses to have put on their side or their front the names of well-known local personalities who have, sadly, deceased. So well-known was the lead local government correspondent of the Argus that the bus company decided that he had died, so they put his name on the front of the bus—only to discover that he wrote a column the following week saying, “No, actually, I’m still here. You’ll have to wait”.

I thank our back office team, including Clare Scally and Grace Wright, for the work they did in making sure my noble friend Lady Thornton and I spoke words that were reasonably sensible, sane and well-researched from the Dispatch Box. I have already thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for her contribution, and I do again. Today’s debate—passionate as ever—was focused well on an important and contentious subject. It is one that no doubt the House will return to in different guises in the future. I thank my noble friends Lord Watson and Lord Watts for their contributions. Their views are important.

With that, we wish the Bill well, as it is important. Broadcasters have been buzzing me on my email and message system, as they have been to other noble Lords, to encourage us to get this Bill over the line because it is terribly important for the future of public service broadcasting. We all want to get this right, because it is an important element of our democratic process. We know that it is a business and industry of excellence that we wish to support. With that said, I wish the Bill well on its way.