Araith Mesur Cyrff Cyhoeddus – S4C

I want to concentrate on the very worrying impact that the Bill will have on S4C, an institution of paramount importance to my country. I regret to say that I have a slightly different opinion from the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns). There is no doubt that the UK Government have dealt with the issue in a haphazard manner. They clearly failed to understand the importance of S4C to Wales. Twenty-four bodies from Welsh civil society have written to the UK Government, asking them to change their plans; thousands of people have protested on the streets; and hon. Members from Wales have had countless pieces of correspondence from concerned constituents.

The position of my party is that S4C should not be included in the Bill at all, and that the arrangements should be dealt with in a future broadcasting Bill, following an independent review. That was the position of all four political parties in the National Assembly for Wales, including the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Even at this late stage, that would be our preferred outcome. However, we are where we are, and I will endeavour to attempt to improve the Bill before us, as will my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) in Committee.

Ministers will be aware that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs undertook a detailed investigation into S4C. It is right and proper that I pay tribute to the Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who managed to produce a report on which there is substantial consensus across all four parties on the Committee. We await the Department’s reply, but I would like to concentrate on the issues that are of critical importance. S4C will face substantial cuts to its budget over the spending review period. If my sums are correct, the Department has managed to reduce its liability by more than 90%.

Alun Cairns: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jonathan Edwards: I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s question before he asks it: S4C’s funding will fall from around £100 million this year to £83 million by 2014-15; £76 million of that will come from the BBC, and £7 million from the Department.

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but does he not accept that the outcome leaves S4C in a pretty strong position, financially? It will receive a 6% cut over each of the next four years, which is a much lesser cut than those to most spending Departments across Government. Furthermore, independent television producers have welcomed the outcome, saying that the cuts are certainly achievable, within the sums in question.

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that intervention, and the hon. Gentleman leads me on to my next point, which is about one of the key recommendations of the Welsh Affairs Committee report. I would like the Government, as part of the Bill—and the future funding formula for S4C, which was announced yesterday—to state clearly that cuts will be comparable to those for other public service broadcasters. That would appease many in Wales.

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The Select Committee report also called on the UK Government to safeguard the funding for the channel beyond 2014-15. We argued that without long-term certainty of funding, the channel would not be able to plan its future commissioning strategy. We called for a long-term funding formula enacted in primary legislation. I therefore welcome the written statement yesterday as a positive step forward. The devil will be in the detail, but my colleagues and I look forward to working constructively to build on yesterday’s announcement, which in our view would have to be based on some sort of inflationary calculation.

As a party we have major concerns that S4C will mostly be dependent on funding via the licence fee. Our preference would be for a direct funding stream. If the Department is intent on funding S4C via the BBC, the licence fee should be top-sliced. As my right hon. friend Lord Wigley said during the passage of the Bill in the other place:

“He who pays the piper calls the tune.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 March 2011; Vol. 726, c. 1005.]

If S4C does not have total control over its own budget, its financial independence will be shot to pieces.

Ministers might be aware that the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union, the National Union of Journalists, the Writers Guild of Great Britain, Equity, the Musicians Union, and Cymdeithas yr laith Gymraeg have all jointly called for the resources available to S4C to be increased by raising a levy on private broadcasters, drawing on best practice in other countries.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): The hon. Gentleman mentions the need for funding to be raised from other broadcasters. Does he accept that the Select Committee report indicated that the Welsh Assembly could play a part? The Welsh Assembly claims that it wants the channel to be accountable to it, yet it is not willing to put any money into the pot.

Jonathan Edwards: I am grateful for that intervention and I look forward to the day when broadcasting is devolved to the Welsh Government. In light of events of recent weeks, I expected support from across the House for the innovative idea of a levy on private broadcasters to support public service broadcasting in the UK. I hope Ministers are actively pursuing the idea.

That brings me to operational independence. The Committee called for assurances that operationally there would be no role for the BBC in the day-to-day management of S4C. I for one cannot see how anyone can claim that S4C is an independent broadcaster if it has personnel from another channel running its day-to-day affairs. I hope the Department will make a clear statement on the issue as the Bill progresses.

The ability of a public service broadcaster to hold Government to account is essential if it is to retain the confidence of its audience. Therefore we view the inclusion of S4C in schedule 3 as particularly worrying. The schedule enables the Department to make significant changes to the management and organisation of S4C without recourse to primary legislation.

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I shall deal briefly with other consequences of the Bill for Wales. Much of the rest of the Bill refers to powers over environmental bodies being devolved to Wales. These bodies are listed in clause 13 as being the Welsh devolved functions of the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commissioners and Welsh flood and coastal committees. I seek clarification of clause 18 and the requirement of consent from UK Ministers. How is this to be operated, and in what situations do Ministers expect this to take place? I am also confused by the reference to the Secretary of State in clause 20(11). Does this mean that any order made by Welsh Ministers will be subject to a veto by the Houses of Parliament? That would clearly go against the result of the referendum in March. We will test these clauses in greater detail in Committee.

Finally, on consumer advocacy in Wales, the Bill proposes that Consumer Focus be abolished and its functions transferred to Citizens Advice in Wales and England. There is broad support for distinct consumer advocacy for Wales. There seems to be strong support among key stakeholders for advice and advocacy in Wales being brought under one body. I am glad that the UK Government have stated that they are open to making different provisions for Wales and Scotland following discussions with the devolved Administrations. I understand that current consumer bodies such as the CAB movement in Wales are adapting their governance structures in light of anticipated changes, and I urge the Department to work closely with Welsh Government Ministers and stakeholders to develop a solution that is client-focused and best able to respond to the needs of the Welsh people.

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