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S4C: Funding

Volume 604: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2016

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on future funding of S4C. (902938)

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on future funding of S4C. (902942)

The Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues which provide opportunities to discuss a range of issues, including matters related to the funding of services across Wales such as the future funding of S4C.

The Prime Minister said last week at the Dispatch Box that he wanted to

“meet…the wording and the spirit of our manifesto promise”,

on S4C, which stated:

“We would safeguard the funding and editorial independence of S4C.”

In the light of last week’s commitment, may I invite the Minister to make it clear that the Government will abandon the proposed cuts to the DCMS part of S4C’s budget and undertake a review of the future funding needs of S4C?

We will meet our manifesto commitment to

“safeguard the funding and editorial independence of S4C.”

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the Prime Minister say that we would

“meet…the wording and spirit of our manifesto commitment.”—[Official Report, 6 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 281.]

He will also remember that on the evening before there was a debate proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) to which the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy responded by saying that he was looking at the arguments and keen to engage positively.

I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning last Tuesday’s debate because I too want to talk about the wonderful consensus that broke out in the Chamber regarding S4C’s funding. Given that consensus, will he remind his colleagues at DCMS that he has a statutory duty to protect S4C’s funding? Will he also join us in offering his personal support for an independent review of S4C?

The hon. Lady took part in that debate and she will recognise the way in which the Minister responded. He said that he was listening to the arguments and that he wanted to engage as positively as he could. I hope that she recognises the spirit in which that was intended.

Last July, the Culture Secretary and the Treasury informed the director-general of the BBC in a letter that S4C’s grant might be cut by the same percentage reduction as the BBC itself and that:

“It will be up to the Government to decide how to make up the shortfall.”

This is therefore not the only Government-driven cut facing S4C. What additional funds will the Government be providing over and above these DMCS cuts?

As the hon. Lady knows, charter renewal negotiations and discussions are under way at the moment, and I do not want to pre-empt any of the issues that will come out of that. Clearly, there will be a widespread consultation and I hope that she and other Members will engage positively in it.

I understand, of course, that we are facing the BBC charter consultation, but given the BBC’s response in the current situation there is surely now room for cross-party consensus on Silk II’s recommendation that the funding of the public expenditure element of S4C should be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales.

I do not accept the basis of the question. During my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s discussion that led to the St David’s day agreement, there was not agreement on this issue. We are keen to progress in consensus so that we can take everyone forward. We need to remember that it was a Conservative Government who established S4C, which has been a great success since 1982. I hope that the hon. Lady will share in and recognise that success.

What complete waffle from the Minister! The Tory party manifesto said only last spring that that party was committed in government to safeguarding

“the funding and editorial independence of S4C”,

yet now we are talking of a cut from the DCMS budget of a quarter of its funding. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is asking for my question. It is simply this: why will the Government not safeguard the funding, and why is that quarter of the DCMS funding budget still under consideration? It is a disgrace. How can we trust them on any other commitment they make?

The hon. Lady will have heard my answers to the previous questions. I find it a bit rich that Labour Members are calling for extra funding for a Welsh language channel when this morning the First Minister in the Assembly is seeking to defend his position of cutting the budget to support the Welsh language by 5.5%. That is simply a disgrace.