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Volume 504: debated on Monday 18 January 2010

The financial independence of the BBC helps guarantee its editorial independence and, until recently, has been respected by all parties. The Labour party will do all that it can to ensure that financial and editorial independence are maintained and defended.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am grateful that he has put on record our strong support for the BBC’s independence, and I hope that he shares my concern that the constant threat to BBC funding from Opposition parties serves only to undermine the BBC’s editorial independence and creative output.

I agree entirely. It would be helpful if my Conservative opposite number would take this opportunity to clarify his party’s policies, as it is not at all clear whether the Conservatives support the licence fee or, as Greg Dyke does—he chairs their media group but has not yet reported, rather to our surprise—funding by taxation.

Order. May I say gently to the Secretary of State that I know that he will not want to dilate on Opposition policy, or indeed expect Opposition Members to do so? He will have more than enough to say about Government policy.

Although, as the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) rightly pointed out, the Conservatives threaten the independence of the BBC, does the Secretary of State not accept that he and his party are just as guilty? Does not top-slicing mean that the BBC will constantly have to look over its shoulder to ensure that it does not offend the Government of the day, for fear that the top-slicing will be made even bigger, as happened in Ireland, for example? How does top-slicing defend the independence of the BBC?

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that there is nothing in the charter that obviates the use of a fraction of the licence fee to help to fund digital switchover, as we are already doing. What would threaten the independence of the BBC would be to fund it through general taxation, which at least some of the Conservatives seem to be proposing. I do not believe that the public would want that, because they value the independence of the BBC very highly, and they would be worried by the prospect of a taxation-funded BBC, given the liability of Governments to interfere, editorially and financially.