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The Select Committee, ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), has come up with the idea of a public service fund, which would somehow top-slice the licence fee and give other public service broadcasters a slice of the fee to carry out public service broadcasting. Another idea is to create a public service licence fee pot to allow broadcasters or production companies to bid
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for funds. That seems to be the most fertile idea that people are debating, and we are looking at it closely. Personally, I do not support the idea of creating a separate channel for or publisher of children’s programming or public service content.

Another alternative may be to reconsider and amend the Communications Act 2003, so that we revert to the system under the previous broadcasting legislation, with a direct quota for public service broadcasters. However, that might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, considering the fact that the environment now is so different to that of 15 years ago.

This debate has been incredibly valuable. It has come at the right time, as the overall debate will start to crystallise in the new year. The Select Committee report has been published; we are due to receive the results of Ofcom’s review early in the new year; and in the spring, we will see Ofcom’s wider conclusions on public service broadcasting. We wait with bated breath to hear the Minister’s early thinking. Most hon. Members involved in the debate recognise that we have a fantastic resource in UK-originated children’s programming, and we must consider imaginative and sensible ways in which we can ensure that it continues to exist.

12.13 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Bayley. First, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on securing the debate, which, as all hon. Members have recognised, is important and comes at an appropriate time. I pay tribute to him, too, for the work that he does as secretary of the performers’ alliance parliamentary group alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). Like the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), I pay tribute to the organisations that have helped my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow to get to this point through their work campaigning on behalf of children’s programming.

On those rare occasions when we can put partisan political differences to one side, it is important that we discuss the subject in great detail, as we have this morning. The future of children’s programming is a serious issue, and it is important that we reach the right conclusion on where we need to be. Before I forget, I congratulate the hon. Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) and for Wantage on the impending births in their families in anticipation of everything going okay.

I do not think that anyone would argue with the assertion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow that British children’s programming is among the best, if not the best, in the world. I acknowledge all the contributions that make it the best. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington made about the skills base, knowledge and expertise in production companies was not lost on me, and it would be wrong to lose those things. I recognise the urgency of the matter.

As we have heard, we all have rich memories of television from our childhoods. Programmes such “Blue Peter”, “How” and “Magpie” have been mentioned, which have not only entertained but educated us.
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“LazyTown” has been referred to, which I understand is a Finnish programme. It is about healthy lifestyles and, as the Minister with responsibility for sport, I am delighted that we have programmes that help people to have better, healthier lifestyles, so I congratulate that programme.

Children’s programmes have raised many matters for people to face and deal with. The “Just Say No” drugs campaign in “Grange Hill” has embedded itself in our national psyche. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) mentioned other programmes such as “Tiswas” and “My Parents Are Aliens”, which simply make us laugh. The impressions that such nostalgic programmes give us last for life, so we must take this opportunity to consider what will happen in future. I have taken great delight in sitting down and seeing many programmes with my children, who are now grown up and have children of their own, and I now sit down with our grandchildren and watch programmes that impress them. Many of us remember the “Doctor Who” series from when we were children, and it is great for me to sit down with my grandchildren and see them be scared in the same way that I was. We should not forget the impact that successful children’s programmes have on our national economy. “Teletubbies” and “Bob the Builder” had enormous worldwide success and are being closely followed by new programmes such as “In the Night Garden”, which has captured the imagination of millions of children.

It is sad, although appropriate, that we are concentrating not on the success of children’s programmes but on the problems that the children’s television industry faces. As hon. Members have said, Ofcom’s report on the future of children’s television highlighted a number of problems. It confirmed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has said, that parents believe that the UK-originated children’s programming is highly valued, but many feel that it is not being delivered satisfactorily, especially in reflecting cultures and opinions from around the UK. Ofcom’s figures show that, as has been said, 17 per cent. of children’s television is made in the UK, and I acknowledge the point that was made about repeats in that figure. Those programmes represent a 38 per cent. share of viewing, and the majority of them are commissioned by the public service broadcasters.

Children are watching more children’s programming, according to Ofcom, and viewing in children’s airtime has increased from 27 per cent. to 30 per cent. of total viewing since 2002. As the hon. Member for Wantage has said, at first glance there has never been more children’s programming available. There are about 25 dedicated channels, and about 113,000 hours of programmes are transmitted each year. The BBC, which has produced children’s programmes since July 1946, launched two digital channels in 2002 specifically for children, and now 80 per cent. of us live in digital TV homes. CBeebies, for nought to six-year-olds, and CBBC, for six to twelve-year-olds, are the two most popular children’s channels in the UK. As has been said, there has also been a positive response to S4C’s public consultation on its proposals for a new children’s channel, especially from parents and Welsh language organisations. That is another interesting opportunity.

If we look more closely, we see that cartoons account for 61 per cent. of the output, and a high proportion is international, mainly American, programming. I am
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not going to criticise all American programming and animation, as that would be completely unfair. Programmes such as “High School Musical” and “SpongeBob SquarePants” are of a high quality and entertaining. However, there is understandably concern that more programming needs to reflect our culture, in a way in which only programmes such as “Byker Grove” and “Grange Hill” can.

Why are we in the current position? As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow and others have said, it is well documented that ITV has withdrawn from commissioning new children’s programming. It was the biggest investor in UK children’s programming in the commercial sector, with an input estimated at between £22 million and £25 million a year. The impact of its withdrawal on the industry therefore cannot be underestimated. However, we must recognise that ITV operates in a commercial world and must be realistic about its opportunity costs.

We are moving rapidly towards a fully digital age, and the developments that I have outlined, along with greater restrictions on advertising in and around children’s programmes, are challenging commercial public service broadcasters’ ability to sustain their public service programming, including that for children. In that respect, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wantage for explaining Channel 4’s position regarding the move from television to the internet, which my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) mentioned.

Channel 5 is facing the same problems and recently announced that it was axing its programming for older children aged up to 11 to concentrate on television for four to seven-year-olds. It believes that focusing on programming for younger children will increase its chances of generating revenues from merchandising, the vast majority of which come from pre-school programming for under-fives.

The Government recognise that advertising restrictions are having an impact on the industry, and I understand the concerns that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster eloquently raised in that respect. He will understand that increased childhood obesity and poor diet are two of the most significant public health issues in our society, and it would have been irresponsible of the Government not to recognise the need for decisive action.

Mr. Vaizey: Has the Department conducted any study of how quickly the ban on advertising will lead to a reduction in obesity in children and young people?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Not yet, but we are obviously looking at the issue. We clearly have to tread with caution. Along with health and education colleagues, I sit on the ministerial committee on obesity, which must suggest realistic ways of combating obesity, while recognising the impact on industry and the wider commercial world, and we are committed to doing that. In striking that balance, we must help families to lead healthier and more active lives, and a key element of our comprehensive approach is the commitment to changing the nature and balance of food promotion to children.

As a result of wide-ranging consultation earlier this year, Ofcom announced significantly strengthened new rules, including a ban on high-fat, salt and sugar food
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advertising in and around all children’s programming, on dedicated children’s channels and in programmes of particular appeal to children under the age of 16. Ofcom also set out new rules on the content of advertisements targeted at primary school children, banning the use of celebrities and characters licensed from third parties to make promotional, health or nutritional claims.

We all accept that this is a complex issue, and Ofcom has sought to strike a balance between the need to protect the health of our children and the need to consider the impact on our broadcasting industries and particularly children’s television programming. That is why the Government and Ofcom will undertake comprehensive reviews of the impact of the new rules. Based on an extensive regulatory impact assessment, Ofcom has estimated that the new rules will have a net cost to the industry of up to £27 million.

All the issues that I have set out were considered earlier this year as part of Ofcom’s review of the future of children’s television programming, which was the most substantial analysis of British children’s TV ever produced. Ofcom’s report identifies a number of options that emerged from stakeholders, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has alluded. One option was to maintain the status quo and leave lead provision to the BBC. There were also broadcaster-focused options, such as a dedicated fund for children’s programmes or output quotas. Other options included production incentives, such as tax credits, and I share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster about the tax credit position. I also thank the hon. Member for Wantage for congratulating the Government—through gritted teeth or otherwise—on the success of tax credits for the film industry. None the less, the issue of quality and quantity is important, and we must look at it. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow and Ofcom’s review both discussed the option of extending Channel 4’s remit or creating new public institutions, such as a non-BBC children’s channel.

As my hon. Friend has said, Ofcom’s discussion paper is now in the public domain, and the responses to
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it will form part of the national debate that Ofcom has called for on the future of children’s television, and today’s debate is an important ingredient in that. The Government will listen to that national debate with great interest, and, again, I acknowledge the urgency of the situation, given the time scales involved. Whatever decisions the Government and others make, it is important to ensure that they are the right decisions. I assure my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that we are fully engaged in this issue. When respected industry figures, such as Anna Home, Floella Benjamin and others speak, we have to listen and take the issue seriously.

We have already engaged with the industry. In April this year, the DCMS organised a seminar, in conjunction with BAFTA, in order to examine the future of UK children’s programming. We have brought forward our wider review of funding for public service broadcasting, beyond the BBC, to follow up Ofcom’s review of the same subject. That will feed into our work on the implications of convergence, which is particularly important because older children and younger teenagers now watch less television and use the internet and mobile phones more than ever. Those work streams will ensure that we take full account of the changing context of television when considering the place of UK-produced children’s programming.

This has been an important debate for reasons outlined. I believe that a consensus will emerge on the need to maintain UK programming and to ensure that we remain the best in this field. We must also acknowledge the impact on skills, which is why the Government have carried out important work to develop skills programmes with the industry. Trade unions in the industry also have a big role to play. We must move this debate forward, because if we do not act quickly, our best endeavours will not be enough to retain the necessary skills.

We must examine and debate these interesting issues more fully. If we do that in the spirit of this debate—putting partisan politics to one side—a consensus can be reached that will enable us to come to a conclusion that benefits this sector.

12.26 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Children (Custody/Access)

12.30 pm

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): I shall raise specific circumstances in my speech, but I will give those concerned anonymity. I shall make as little reference as possible to facts and dates.

Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Order. I caution the hon. Gentleman that the prescription must be anonymity. If there is any prospect of identifying an individual case that is before the courts from what he says I shall have to interrupt him; I think that he understands that.

Mr. Doran: I understand, and am fully aware of the requirements.

My constituent and his wife are a mixed-race couple. They married outside the UK but moved to my constituent’s home city of Aberdeen some years ago and were habitually resident there. Some time ago, they had a child with a disability. The child was cared for by both parents. The mother left the matrimonial home, taking the child with her, without the father’s consent. The father’s view is that the child was abducted, and some six years later he still has no knowledge of the child’s whereabouts.

Some months after the separation, the father received notice of an order made in an English court. He did not at that point become involved in the case, but made efforts to contact his wife and child, and at the same time sought advice on his position from Scottish solicitors. That process took some time. He was not able to contact his wife and it was clear to him that the Scottish solicitors were not really aware of the English legal position. He subsequently instructed solicitors in England and Wales, and applied successfully for legal aid.

My constituent was very specific in his instructions to his solicitors. He had done some legal research and become something of an expert in the law in this respect. In his view, his wife and child were domiciled in Scotland and his wife abducted the child of the marriage and took her to England without his permission as a guardian of the child. The information that he received from the English courts was that an interim order had been made. His first challenge was that it was made without his being given the opportunity to answer, and he instructed his solicitors accordingly. Secondly, he was of the view that the proper jurisdiction to deal with any dispute between him and his wife was the Scottish courts. The solicitors were instructed to challenge the jurisdiction of the English court and the vires of the order that had been made.

Several months were spent on the legal aid process, but eventually legal aid was granted, but only for involvement in residence and contact. It appears that the solicitors whom my constituent instructed did not raise the jurisdiction issues, and ignored them completely. Those matters are being dealt with separately by my constituent, but in the meantime he attempted to employ other solicitors. It is a common fact of life that solicitors do not want to take on a case that someone else has started, so it is difficult to find a new solicitor. That is exactly the situation in which my constituent found himself, so he decided to represent himself in the courts. From that time he has pursued the issue through the
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English courts. My constituent was recently advised—I heard this morning—that he has been refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords, so he has exhausted all his remedies in the English courts, and the case will probably go to the European Court of Human Rights.

While he was challenging the issue in the English courts my constituent began proceedings in the Scottish courts for divorce and for a residence order in respect of the child, or, failing that, a contact order. Initially, jurisdiction was not accepted by the Scottish courts because of the English proceedings, but that decision was overturned on appeal. However, the case was later sisted—a Scottish term meaning “suspended” or “put to sleep”—to allow the English court procedure to continue. The legal position in Scotland is that the courts cannot make an order for divorce unless they are satisfied as to the welfare of any child of the marriage. Clearly that was not possible for the Scottish courts in the circumstances and they effectively ceded jurisdiction to the English court, even though that jurisdiction was not fully tested in the Scottish court. The whole case, therefore, including the divorce, cannot be determined until the matter is resolved in the English court.

I want to pursue three issues with the Minister. They might seem technical, but they are extremely important to my constituent, and to the wider context as well. The first relates to an issue raised by my constituent—jurisdiction. The law is very clear. Section 41(2)(a) and (b) of the Family Law Act 1986 sets out the rules for court jurisdiction in relation to child custody:

Despite the fact that my constituent’s wife and child were habitually resident in Scotland, within three months of their departure from Scotland, the English courts seized jurisdiction and granted an interim order in contradiction of the 1986 Act. For reasons that I have discussed, I have not given precise dates so as not to identify the parties.

My constituent entered into proceedings in the English courts within the 12-month period, but in any case that is irrelevant, because section 41(2)(a) of the 1986 Act states that the habitual residence does not change

in this case, Scotland—

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