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Lord Puttnam: I rise to support my noble friend Lord Alli and perhaps to offer a little context for this debate. In the five-and-a-half years I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have meticulously never gone into any detail or bored the House in any way about my earlier career, but it seems almost perverse not to do so at this particular juncture.
I joined the film industry in 1969. At that point 90 per cent of the people involved in the industry were permanently employed and 10 per cent were freelance or independent. Some 34 years later those percentages have exactly reversed themselves. Today 90 per cent of the people involved in the industry are independent and 10 per cent are permanently employed. From 1969 to 1983 I was disbarred from producing any form of material for television because if you did not work for one of the television companies, you could not produce for them. This reached the apotheosis of ridiculousness when, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, I was a director of Anglia Television in 1980 but until 1983 I could not actually make a programme for Anglia. That was how daft the situation was.
Quotas allowed me to produce my first work for television both here and abroad. Another market distortion was introduced by the 1945 Labour governmentthe Eady levy. Thanks to the Eady levy I and my entire generationevery single member of my generation of film makersmade their first piece of work. I name a few such film makers: the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, Sir Alan Parker, Sir Ridley Scott, Ken Loach, Stephen Frears. Every single member of my generation of film makers made their first films with the support of the National Film Finance Corporation. That was market distortion and regulationnot deregulation. The history of the independent sector in Britain has entirely relied upon a market-distorted process. My absolute contention is that it cannot survive in a free market. The market has changed very significantly.
My noble friend Lord Alli is quite right to table his amendment, because unless we protect and nurture the independent sector in this country, it will go back to where it was in 1969 and cease to exist.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: As a former television producerso long ago that I can barely remember itI heartily endorse the thrust of the amendments, because they support the proven creativity of the independent sector, which is economically and culturally important not only in the metropolis but beyond the magic circle of the M25.
Major production centres have developed in some of our provincial cities. That is welcome because they have introduced a new dimension of enterprise and creativity to local economies. In Wales, the independent sector has benefited from the presence of an additional public service broadcaster in the form of S4C. Some 60 per cent of its analogue service is supplied by the independent sector, rising to 80 per cent with the launch of its digital service.
It was never intended that S4C should produce anything very much of its own but should always go out for its programming. The Bill introduces an independent production quota of 25 per cent for S4C along with other public service broadcasters. That does not make sense in view of the reality that I have just described. I hope that the Government will look again at the anomalous position of S4C in that context. We want S4C not to reduce independent production, but to encourage it and provide a stable financial base.
In relation to the larger argument, there is always a propensity within licensed broadcasting organisations to do programming themselves rather than go outside. There is a bias against the independent sector, which is not as highly valued as it should be.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I support the noble Lord, Lord Alli. His references to Channel 4 prompted me to realise that in an earlier speech today I declared no interest. I probably should share with the Committee the information that my second son has been working for Channel 4 for some years and is a reasonably senior manager there, on the digital side.
My interest in the issues raised by the noble Lord go back to my own period as a Minister engaged in this area between 1992 and 1994, when I remember being consistently impressed by the representations made by groups of independent producers about their development and problems. I am delighted to hear of the quota's success and will briefly return to the BBC later.
The noble Lord, Lord Alli, referred to the wide range of awards won. I cannot help feeling that that particular success contributes to the plurality of which we were speaking earlier in today's proceedings. Going back to my experience between 1992 and 1994, I share his misgiving about individual ITV companies contributing towards the quota. I understand the problem that has arisen, and I fear sclerotic consequences if concessions were to be made in that area. I fear that they would not contribute to the success behind the achievement that is Amendment No. 14the generic amendmentwhich seems to me the touchstone test.
The BBC has written quite frequently to individual Members of the House over the past month. I am not absolutely confident that it has ever in correspondence with me explained why it has been missing the quota. I can even remember one letter that gave the impression that the BBC was quite pleased to have got as close to fulfilling the quota as it had. I understand why it does not raise the subject but, considering all the other things that it asks us to support it onI have been happy to allude to them earlier todayit is slightly careless of it not to have described why it does that.
In the final analysis, the Minister's response on all the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and indeed by my noble friend, will be tested by some of us against the contribution that they make to achieving the fundamental premise that underlies Amendment No. 14. If the Government's heart is in the right place in terms of achieving what Amendment No. 14 talks about, they will have done well, certainly so far as I am concerned.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: I want to emphasise the importance for Ofcom, once the Bill has passed into law, of having adequate powers in relation to independent production to ensure proper regional dispersal of production. Wales has an excellent record in that, of course, but it has certain linguistic advantages in making that possible.
In television production, in my experience, there is an immense magnetic attraction to the London areato get inside the M25. In my time, S4C used to make very vigorous efforts to go up to Scotland to promote independent production there. I am not sure what the present position is. However, I have a suspicion that in general there has been a relaxation of that dispersal of independent production, and a greater concentration coming down into the London area. As ITV developsif we get ITV plcI greatly fear for all the great regional traditions of the ITV system. The pressures again will be toward independent production being concentrated down here in the London area.
In a completely different context, in my ministerial days I remember once trying to persuade the Home Office to engage in an effective dispersal of the Passport Office. With great agony, it finally produced plans to take us out to Ealing. Television has that same inner pressure towards the glories of the London area.
I searched as thoroughly as I could through the great volumes of the Bill for any reference to the importance of the regional dimension of independent production. I found none there. Before the Bill finally passes from this House, I hope that we might be able to do something about that.
Lord Dubs: I should first declare an interest as chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Commission, although that organisation's work has very little to do directly with my noble friend Lord Alli's amendment, to which I should like to give my warm support.
I first came across the issue of independent producers not through the glamour of having been a producer or through having operated at the heady heights of owning a television company, but on a very wet morning in Brighton during the Labour Party conference, when I was invited to breakfast by PACT. It had a briefing session at which it put me in the picture as regards the difficult situation in which independent producers found themselves. It was in a situation in which it had little economic power compared with the big battalionsthe larger television companies, including the BBC and ITV. The fact that the scales were tipped against it made life pretty difficult. I was delighted when the committee of my noble friend Lord Puttnam made a firm recommendation that led to the Government accepting the proposal to give the ITC the responsibility of reviewing programme supply.
Various useful measures stemmed from that, including, I understand, the fact that the contracts under which independent producers have sometimes suffered will now be revised or at least be made more flexible so that they can negotiate better contracts. I understand that the previous position was that independent producers were tied in particular to the BBC and therefore had no independent right to market their production outside the UK; they were dependent on the BBC to do that. If the BBC chose not to do that, that was the end of the opportunity for the
I turn briefly to the question of the 25 per cent quota. I understand that it depends on what are called qualifying hours, which can be significantly less than the total number of hours for which there are programmes. That is caused by the number of exemptionsI refer, for example, to Open University programming, news, programmes with a large life content and so on. If one then examines the difference between the 25 per cent quota by time and the 25 per cent quota by value, which is what I supportI believe that it is the basis for some of the amendments tabled by my noble friendone sees that the position would then become a little better for independent producers.
I was given some figures by PACT about the BBC; I am not trying to pick on the BBC in particular, for which I have a great deal of respect, I quickly add. We shall discuss it in relation to later amendments. Looking at the figures by value, the 25 per cent figure becomes about 13 per cent with regard to work commissioned from independent productions. It is lower because of the point about qualifying hours and because of the difference between time and value. We should convert the qualifying quota from time to value. That would give our independent producers a little more of a fair crack of the whip. It is a question of giving them an even chance to compete. I believe that we are moving in that direction; if my noble friend's amendments were agreed to, we should move much more significantly in that direction.
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