Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport First Report

3  The Committee in context

Relations with other committees

16. The Secretary of State told us in July 2006 that there were many ways in which the Department could add value to the work of other departments, to "make a health pound worth more and an education pound worth more".[13] The complementary nature of the Department has been evident in the regular submission by Government of cross-departmental memoranda to our inquiries; we, in turn, have worked in conjunction with other Committees where there was a common interest. Both of our major broadcasting inquiries, for example, into analogue switch-off and into new media and the creative industries, elicited a joint submission from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Trade and Industry. We have referred above to the oral evidence taken jointly with the Trade and Industry Select Committee on Ofcom's draft Annual Plan.

17. We have also formed part of a collective effort by select committees to monitor preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. The present Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been designated as the minister with primary responsibility for overseeing the Games project. It therefore makes sense that this Committee should take the lead in scrutiny by select committees. We have already held two series of evidence sessions examining preparations for the Games, one in the autumn of 2005 and another in late 2006, and we have recently published a report. We recognise, however, the interests of other committees, given the impact of the Games on transport networks, the supply of skills in the construction industry, local regeneration, and other areas. Our recent report on the Games has drawn on work by both the Transport Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee. We anticipate that a joint approach can, given liaison between Committee Chairmen and between relevant staff, continue to offer the most thorough and effective scrutiny by select committees of preparations for the London 2012 Games. Committee staff are also in regular contact with staff of the London Assembly scrutiny committees in order to share knowledge.

18. The Department's remit is not one which is dominated by legislative or regulatory proposals from the European Commission. The draft Audio Visual Media Services Directive, however, which seeks to amend the Television Without Frontiers Directive, is directly relevant to our inquiry into new media and the creative industries. In particular, the Commission has proposed the regulation of not just "linear" television broadcasting services, i.e. programmes delivered to a schedule fixed by a broadcaster, but also "non-linear" services, delivered on demand to the consumer at a time of their choosing. Shortly before a key Council of Ministers meeting in November, the DCMS minister with responsibility for broadcasting (Shaun Woodward MP) wrote to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee setting out his proposed negotiating position at the forthcoming Council. Liaison between the two Committees enabled us to obtain a copy of the letter and to tailor our questioning accordingly. We regard this as a good example of a co-ordinated approach.

19. Our inquiry into the built heritage revisited some of the ground covered by the former Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in its report on the role of historic buildings in urban regeneration.[14] The potential for historic buildings, whether residential, municipal or commercial, to serve as focal points for local communities, was of common interest to both committees, as was the role played by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, funded jointly by the two Government departments. The former ODPM Committee reached the conclusion that the imposition of VAT on the repair of historic buildings but not on new-build projects was a clear disincentive to the maintenance and re-use of historic buildings.[15] The Government response rejected the ODPM Committee's findings on VAT. Our inquiry explored the same ground and found the Government's response unsound; we therefore followed up by reiterating and strengthening the ODPM Committee's conclusion, citing what we saw as flaws in the Government response.[16]

House of Lords Select Committee on Broadcasting, Media and Communications

20. The House of Lords agreed, on 29 November 2006, to a recommendation by the House of Lords Liaison Committee that a select committee on broadcasting, the media and communications should be established for the remainder of this Parliament.[17] When speaking to the motion to set up the Committee, the Chairman of Committees in the Lords said that "the Liaison Committee [of the House of Lords] is firmly of the view that Lords Select Committees should complement and not duplicate the work of the Commons and that their remits should be cross-cutting rather than departmental". He has also acknowledged this principle in correspondence with this Committee's Chairman. We welcome this recognition that the respective committees' work should not overlap, although we wait to see how the Lords Committee's intentions will work in practice. We are aware that accountability to a multiplicity of select committees can impose pressure on key witnesses such as the BBC, or on other less well-resourced bodies. We also note that the Lords appear to have carried forward their initiative without seeking to consult this House.

Working methods

21. The majority of our work is conducted through oral evidence sessions, approximately once weekly when the House is sitting. The benefits of formal oral evidence are that sittings are almost invariably held in public; a record is taken and is made available to the public, normally within days; and the session is a formal proceeding in Parliament and affords protection to witnesses for statements that they make. Almost all of our sessions have taken place at Westminster, although we held one very productive session in March 2006 at the offices of Liverpool City Council, when senior officials from Liverpool and Manchester City Councils gave evidence on the value of heritage assets in regeneration.

22. One witness at the session in Liverpool described it as "incredibly refreshing" that the Committee "had come out of London" and urged us to do so more often.[18] There are two good reasons for doing so: travel away from Westminster as a Committee helps to extend the regional perspective which we gain as constituency Members; and the Committee can increase public awareness of what select committees are and what part they play in parliamentary scrutiny. Besides the evidence session in Liverpool, held in public, our visit to Lincoln in January 2006 (also to discuss the potential for local regeneration through use of the built heritage), which consisted largely of a guided walk around key public sites in the city's historic centre, attracted considerable interest from the local press. We are in no doubt that increasing the visibility of select committees around the UK can assist people in understanding the work of the UK Parliament and can help to communicate its activity to the world outside, an aim articulated by the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House and endorsed by the House itself.[19]

23. Our public work is complemented by private visits, such as those to Wembley National Stadium in January 2006, the site of the Olympic Park in February 2006, the British Library in March 2006, and the British Museum in December 2006. The Committee has also travelled overseas, to Berlin (in December 2005), Beijing and Seoul (in May 2006) and Athens (in December 2006). The visits to Seoul and Athens allowed us to gain direct knowledge of legacy use of Olympic venues; and the visit to Berlin enabled us to meet all the main players in the project to move from analogue to entirely digital broadcasting of television services. The Berlin area was the first in the world to complete such a move.

24. Our inquiry into new media and the creative industries, triggered by the rapid emergence of new technology and new media platforms for the distribution of creative content, led us to attend a number of displays of new communications technologies by industry leaders and broadcasters including BT, Microsoft and BSkyB. A further meeting is planned with Channel 4, to see a demonstration of planned Video on Demand services. Meetings with Samsung, Nexon Corporation, and TK Media in Seoul also gave us a glimpse of the possibilities for future media consumption in the UK.

13   Q1, evidence taken before the Committee on 25 July 2006, on the DCMS Annual Report and the responsibilities of the Secretary of State, HC 1551-i, Session 2005-06 Back

14   HC 47-I, Session 2003-04 Back

15   The Role of Historic Buildings in Urban Regeneration, HC 47-I, Session 2003-04, paragraphs 112 to 114 Back

16   Protecting and Preserving our Heritage, Third Report of the Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 912-I, paragraphs 174 to 177 Back

17   HL Deb, 29 November 2006, cols. 756-9 Back

18   Ms Toms, Head of Cultural Strategy, Manchester City Council, Q150, HC 912-III, Session 2005-06 Back

19   Connecting Parliament with the Public, First Report of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, HC 368, Session 2003-04; see also HC Deb, 26 January 2005 Back

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Prepared 23 January 2007