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Television Licence Fee

Volume 504: debated on Monday 18 January 2010

I regularly receive representations on the licence fee, but, for the reasons that we have just been discussing, we believe that it is an important guarantee of the BBC’s independence, and that Governments should therefore respect the multi-annual nature of the license fee agreement.

Well, here is another representation. Forty-nine executives at the BBC earn more than the Prime Minister. That means that the licence fee payments of all the constituents of Ribble Valley and neighbouring Chorley go on their salaries alone. If that were happening in any other institution, the “Today” programme would have done a hatchet job on it by now. Can we have a freeze on the licence fee until Auntie sorts herself out?

The hon. Gentleman needs to speak to those on his own Front Bench. That is indeed what they advocated last year, but their position changed in October. It changed again in November, and it has now changed back to the original one—[Hon. Members: “What is your policy?”] Our policy is as I have stated. There has been consensus on both sides of the House for decades that an important guarantor of the BBC’s independence is that Governments do not interfere with or—as some in the hon. Gentleman’s party have advocated—tear up the multi-annual licence fee agreement. If we were to go down that road, we would be threatening the very independence of the BBC. That is an important matter for the British people, because they value the BBC’s independence, which would be threatened by his party’s policies.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in any assessment of the level of the licence fee, it is well worth taking into account the recent report by Deloitte, which observed that the licence fee generated £7.2 billion, which is twice its value in terms of the BBC’s support of the independent sector and the wider creative economy?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We can all make criticisms of individual decisions that the BBC may or may not have taken, but the licence fee costs about the equivalent of a pint of beer a week. It costs considerably less than the licence fee for German television, which carries adverts. Anyone who has ever suffered German television will agree with me that the BBC is far better, and delivers far better value for money than many of its competitors abroad.