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BBC Governance

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

The Clementi review reported on the governance and regulation of the BBC on 1 March 2016. Sir David’s ideas for the principles of simpler governance structures and streamlined regulatory arrangements that have public interest and market sensitivity at their heart are ones that it would be difficult for this, or indeed any, Government to overlook. The Government hope to set out plans for the future of BBC governance in a White Paper next month.

A recent YouGov poll commissioned by 38 Degrees, which is doubtless the Government’s favourite campaigning organisation, showed that 62% of over-60s had no confidence in the Government to protect the BBC during charter renewal, and that more than half of them felt that the BBC was the most trusted source of news. In the light of that, how can increasing the level of government control over appointments to the new board possibly increase confidence in the independence of the BBC?

We do take the views of 38 Degrees, and, indeed, all others who have submitted responses to our consultation, seriously. Certainly, the BBC’s reputation for integrity and impartiality is one of the key things to protect and enhance as a result of the charter renewal. In terms of governance, Sir David Clementi made very specific proposals about this. It is a matter that we are currently discussing with the BBC, and I hope that we will be able to announce agreement about that in due course.

The BBC’s 39 local radio stations face the prospect of further cuts as part of the corporation’s attempt to meet the £700 million cost of free TV licences. Regional radio is a unique and greatly valued public service that tackles issues close to the hearts of its listeners, who feel a very long way from the London-centric national news coverage. Will the Secretary of State oppose any cuts to BBC local radio, particularly in the north-east?

It is not my job, or the job of the Government, to tell the BBC how to allocate the resources available to it, but I completely agree with the hon. Lady that BBC local radio is one area of BBC activity that is hugely valued and that would not be delivered by any other means. I am less familiar, obviously, with BBC local radio in the north-east, but I have no doubt that she is right to praise it. I am a big fan of BBC Essex and I would be very sorry if it suffered any cuts. I do not think that is necessary within the generous funding that the BBC receives.

The BBC promised us that it was going to learn from the mistakes of the past. Has the Secretary of State had any opportunity to assess or question the logic of the BBC bosses who decided to appoint a sex offender who has recently been released from jail to front a prime-time youth talent show on the BBC? What were they thinking in that appointment?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. It is, of course, a matter of editorial judgment for the BBC, but the BBC has a duty to set an example and behave responsibly. I simply say that I am sure that the senior editorial management of the BBC will have heard what he said, and I encourage him, if he has concerns, to express them directly to the BBC.