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BBC Charter Renewal

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 21 January 2016

Good progress is being made on the BBC charter review programme. The consultation launched in July received 192,000 responses. We are, of course, committed to reading and analysing all of them, and we reached 150,000 earlier this month. In addition, I have commissioned further reviews and research, including an independent review of governance and regulation led by Sir David Clementi. In the coming months, my Department will work towards publishing proposals for the future of the BBC.

Does the Minister not accept that the huge number of responses to the consultation—the second largest response to any Government consultation—shows the concern for and interest in the BBC? In the interests of full transparency, will the Secretary of State now give, as my constituents are demanding, a specific timetable for the Government publishing their full response to the BBC consultation?

As I say, I am very pleased about the volume of responses we have had, although approaching 150,000 of them came in within 48 hours; 38 Degrees has boasted of its success in generating all those responses. That does not mean they are not valid expressions of opinion; it just means that perhaps they are not wholly representative of public opinion at large. However, we are committed to reading every one. That is proving a logistical challenge and it has taken longer than we anticipated, but we will be publishing both a summary of the consultations and our proposals as soon as we are able.

There have been persistent reports that, as a part of cost-cutting, the BBC will downgrade news coverage and its parliamentary coverage. Does the Secretary of State agree that the public reasonably expect a news channel and comprehensive parliamentary reports to be essential parts of a public service broadcaster’s remit?

My hon. Friend will understand that it is not for me to tell the BBC how to spend its resources. However, I agree with him that a core part of the BBC is that it should provide news, and that includes coverage of the proceedings of this House.

My constituents tell me that they do not want the BBC dismantled or diminished, and they certainly do not want its remit narrowed. This Government have flogged off more of our national assets than almost any other, so can we really trust them with the BBC?

The BBC charter expires at the end of this year, and that provides an opportunity to look at all aspects of the BBC in what is a very fast-changing media landscape. That is the purpose of the charter review. We have not reached any decisions yet and we are listening to all expressions of opinion about the future of the BBC, of which there are very many.

13. How does the Secretary of State explain the worrying discrepancy between the amount raised via licence fees and the amount spent in Scotland? There is a mismatch between the £335 million in income for the BBC from Scotland and the £190 million spent there. Does he not agree that a fairer share of that income would boost our broadcasting sector and provide funding for the restructuring of BBC Scotland? (903153)

Of course, viewers in Scotland, just as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, benefit from the national programming of the BBC. She will be aware that the director general recently gave evidence to the Scottish Education and Culture Committee, in which he pointed out that in 2014 £108 million was spent on local content and that that rose to more than £200 million when central support and distribution costs were included.

Ninety-seven per cent. of the adult population of the UK use the BBC services for an average of 18 hours every week, and their perceptions of the BBC have improved over the past 10 years. According to the BBC Trust, 85% of the public support the BBC’s main mission to inform, educate and entertain. Those figures are a remarkable endorsement of the public service ethos of the BBC. The consultation on charter renewal of the Secretary of State’s Department closed on 8 October last year, and he has now spent more time considering the responses to that consultation than he allowed for the public to respond. When will he get his act together and publish the results? Can he just give us a date today, please?

May I begin by welcoming the hon. Lady to her new position? I have been doing this job for a relatively short time—just eight months—and she is now the third Opposition spokesman I have faced. I do hope that she survives a little longer than her immediate predecessors. In relation to her question, I am keen that we should publish our proposals, but we did not anticipate 192,000 responses. She will understand that, if I were to get up and publish our conclusions, she would quickly be at the Dispatch Box claiming that we had not properly analysed them and that this was a cosmetic exercise. It is not a cosmetic exercise and we are reading the responses carefully.

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman sounds as if he is procrastinating. The BBC charter expires at the end of this year, but he has not even got around to publishing his White Paper because the consultation is taking so long. Will he guarantee that his Department’s time wasting will not result in some kind of debilitating short-term charter extension beyond the end of the year? Will he be clear today that the next charter will be for a minimum of 10 years?

Charter review comes round once every 10 years and I am determined that we should get it right. We will take however long it takes to ensure that we fully consult and consider the options, and we will publish as soon as we are ready. We are currently considering the length of the next charter, which was one of the questions in the Green Paper, and it will form part of our conclusions when we come to publish them.