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BBC World Service

Volume 522: debated on Tuesday 1 February 2011

8. What steps he plans to take to maintain provision of BBC World Service radio services when responsibility for its funding is transferred to the BBC Trust. (37147)

I will continue, as now, to set the objectives, priorities and targets for the BBC World Service with the BBC for 2014 and beyond. No foreign language service will be closed without my written authority.

The BBC tells us that this Government cut will result in the loss of 30 million listeners and 650 jobs. Would the Foreign Secretary describe that as a price worth paying—yes or no?

With the World Service, we are having to make sure that public money is spent as carefully as possible. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that has meant reductions across the Government. That is the legacy that this Government inherited from the vast debts piled up by the previous Administration, and none of it would be necessary were it not for that.

We are asking the World Service to bear the same proportionate reduction as the Foreign Office over the period 2008 to 2014. I think that is a fair thing to do, and I should let the hon. Gentleman know that the director-general of the BBC has stated his intention, when it is transferred into the BBC from 2014, to increase investment in the World Service again and hold it at a higher level until the end of the BBC charter period.

Would the Foreign Secretary please suggest whether it is possible to put a more formal structure in place, so that the BBC can guarantee the kind of proportion of money spent on the World Service over the next 10 years?

There is a formal structure relating to decisions about openings and closures of language services; those will remain the same, and the objectives and priorities of the BBC World Service will continue to be set in the same way. To respond to my hon. Friend’s point, that structure does not guarantee the absolute level of expenditure or investment by the BBC, but I would point out again that Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, has said that his intention, subject to approval from the BBC Trust, is to increase the level of investment in the BBC World Service, and therefore I am sure that bringing the BBC and the World Service together is the right move for the future.