With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement.
The Government are today laying before Parliament and depositing in the Libraries of both Houses a White Paper on the BBC charter review. The royal charter is the constitutional basis for the BBC. It is the framework for the way in which the BBC is governed and guarantees its independence. The current royal charter will expire at the end of 2016; today we lay out our plans for the next one.
The White Paper represents the culmination of 10 months’ work. I thank everyone who contributed to the Green Paper consultation process, not least 190,000 members of the public. I am also very grateful to Sir David Clementi and his team for their independent review of the governance and regulation of the BBC, to the Committees in both Houses that made recommendations and to all the stakeholders, BBC representatives and others who helped inform our deliberations.
The BBC is one of the country’s greatest institutions, and 80% of those who responded to our Green Paper said the BBC serves audiences very well or well. Every week the BBC reaches 97% of the UK population and 348 million people across the globe, informing, educating and entertaining them and promoting Britain around the world.
It is our overriding aim to ensure that the BBC continues to thrive in a media landscape that has changed beyond recognition since the last charter review 10 years ago and that it continues to delivers the best possible service for licence fee payers. So today we are setting out a framework for the BBC that allows it to focus on high-quality, distinctive content that informs, educates and entertains while serving all audiences; enhances its independence while making it much more effective and accountable in its governance and regulation; makes support for the UK’s creative industries central to the BBC’s operations while minimising any undue negative market impacts; increases the BBC’s efficiency and transparency; and supports the BBC with a modern, sustainable and fair system of funding.
The BBC’s special public service ethos and funding allow it to take creative risks, to be innovative, and to produce high-quality content. That means more choice for listeners and viewers. The BBC delivers a huge amount of outstanding programming, including in drama, news and current affairs, sport, science and the arts. Many programmes have received awards, not least at the BAFTAs on Sunday, and they demonstrate that, at its best, the BBC is still the finest broadcaster in the world. However, as the BBC Trust itself has recognised, in some areas the BBC needs to be more ambitious, particularly in its more mainstream television, radio and online services.
The BBC director-general has called for a BBC that is
“more distinctive than ever—and clearly distinguishable from the market”.
The Government are emphatically not saying that the BBC should not be popular. Indeed, some of its most distinctive programmes, such as “Life on Earth”, “Wonders of the Universe” and “Strictly Come Dancing” on TV, or the “Newsbeat” programme or Jeremy Vine show on Radio 1 and 2 respectively, have very wide audiences because they are so good.
With a 33% share in television, 53% share in radio and the third most popular UK website, and with only 27% of people believing that the BBC makes lots of programmes that are more daring and innovative than those of other broadcasters, commissioning editors should ask consistently of new programming, “Is this idea sufficiently innovative and high quality?” rather than simply, “How will it do in the ratings?” So we will place a requirement to provide distinctive content and services at the heart of the BBC’s overall core mission of informing, educating and entertaining in the public interest, and we will also affirm the need for impartiality in its news and current affairs broadcasts.
The BBC’s existing minimum content requirements will be replaced with a new licensing regime that will ensure its services are clearly differentiated from the rest of the market, enhancing choice for licence fee payers and backed up by robust incentive structures. The BBC will also be required to give greater focus to under-served audiences, in particular those from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds and from the nations and regions, who are currently less well served. That will involve the BBC building on its new diversity strategy, maintaining out-of-London production quotas, and ensuring that it continues to provide for minority languages in its partnerships with S4C and MG Alba.
Over the next charter period, we want the BBC to be the leading broadcaster in addressing issues of diversity. For the first time, diversity will be enshrined in the new charter’s public purposes. This, along with a commitment to serve all audiences in the BBC’s mission, will help hold the BBC to account for delivering for everyone in the UK.
Looking beyond these shores, the BBC World Service is rightly considered across the globe to be a beacon of impartial and objective news. It is a vital corrective to the state-run propaganda of certain other countries. So we will protect its annual funding of £254 million for five years and also make available £289 million of additional Government funding over the spending review period, as announced by the Chancellor last year, so that the World Service can represent the UK and its values around the globe.
All organisations need a governance and regulatory structure that is fit for purpose. The BBC’s is not, and it is no longer supportable for the BBC to regulate itself. Governance failures, including excessive severance payments and the costly digital media initiative, have illustrated that the division of responsibilities between the BBC executive and the BBC Trust is confusing and ineffective. As the independent review led by Sir David Clementi made clear, there is widespread agreement that reform is vital. I can announce today that we are accepting the review’s recommendations.
The new charter will create a unitary board for the BBC that has a much clearer separation of governance and regulation. The board will be responsible for ensuring that the BBC’s strategy, activity and output are in the public interest and accord with the missions and purposes set out in the charter. Editorial decisions will remain the responsibility of the director-general and his editorial independence will be explicitly enshrined in the Charter, while the unitary board will consider any issues or complaints that arise post-transmission. For the first time, the BBC will have the ability to appoint a majority of its board independently of Government. This is a major change, as previously the BBC governors, and then the members of the BBC Trust, were all appointed by Government.
Ofcom has a proven track record as a regulator of media and telecoms. It is the right body to take on external regulation of the BBC. We will require Ofcom to establish new operating licences for the BBC, with powers to ensure that its findings are acted upon. Ofcom will also take charge of regulating the distribution framework and fair trading arrangements for the BBC. It will be a strong regulator to match a strong BBC.
The Government will introduce four further changes to make the BBC more accountable to those it serves. The charter review process will be separated from the political cycle by establishing an 11-year charter to 2027, with an opportunity to check that the reforms are working as we intend at the mid-term. This will be the third longest charter in the BBC’s history, and allows for an orderly transition to the new arrangements. The BBC will become more accountable to the devolved nations; the complaints system will undergo long overdue reform; and new expectations will be set for public engagement and responsiveness. These are major changes to the way that in which the BBC is governed. They will take time to effect and it is important that this process runs smoothly, so the current BBC chair, Rona Fairhead, will remain in post for the duration of her current term, which ends in October 2018.
The creative sector is one of this country’s great success stories, growing at twice the rate of the rest of the economy since 2008 and accounting for £84 billion of gross value added and nearly 9% of service exports. The BBC should be at the core of the creative sector, supporting everyone from established players to SMEs. It is already a major purchaser, spending more than £1 billion on the services of around 2,700 suppliers involved in making programmes for the BBC.
The BBC already allows up to 50% of its content to be competed for by the independent sector. The Government now intend that the remaining 50% in-house guarantee for television should be removed for all BBC content except news and related current affairs output. Unless there is clear evidence that it would not provide value for money, all productions will be tendered. There will be a phased introduction of this requirement, which will open up hundreds of millions of pounds of production expenditure to competition. Not only will this benefit the creative industries, but it is fundamentally a good thing for viewers and listeners, with BBC commissioning editors given greater freedom to pick the most creative ideas and broadcast the highest quality programmes.
The BBC plans to make its in-house production unit a commercial subsidiary. We support these plans in principle, provided they meet the necessary regulatory approvals. However, the BBC can, by virtue of its size and scale, have a negative impact on the media market, crowding out investment and deterring new entrants, so Ofcom will be given the power to assess all aspects of BBC services to see how they impact on the market, with proportionate powers to sanction. Rather than seeing other players as rivals, the BBC should proactively seek to enhance, bolster and work in partnership with the wider broadcasting and creative industries. There will be a focus on that in the new charter. In particular, the BBC will support and invigorate local democracy across the UK, working with local news outlets.
The Government will also consult in the autumn on a new contestable public service content fund that will allow other broadcasters and producers to make more public service content in areas that are currently underserved, such as programmes for children and for black, Asian and minority ethnic audiences. It will be worth £20 million a year, and it will be paid for from unallocated funding from the 2010 licence fee agreement. There will be more transparency in the way the BBC promotes its own services, and a requirement to steer such activity towards areas of high public value. The BBC will be expected to share its content as widely as possible, and it will also be encouraged further to open up its archive so that other organisations and the public can enjoy its many treasures.
The BBC belongs to all of us. Making its archive more widely available is just one part of a broader opening up process. We want the BBC to be much more transparent, in particular about efficiency improvements. The BBC already plans to make £1.5 billion of savings by the end of this charter period, and the BBC Trust has driven some improvements in transparency, but the BBC needs to become more accountable to those it serves. Only 23% of the public believe that the BBC is efficient. Licence fee payers need the BBC to spend the nearly £4 billion they give it every year more wisely. The National Audit Office, which has an outstanding track record, will therefore become the financial auditor of the BBC and will have the power to conduct value for money investigations of the BBC’s activities, with appropriate safeguards for editorial matters. The BBC will also be required to ensure that it is transparent and efficient in its spending by reporting expenditure by genre.
The BBC already publishes data on the salaries of its staff by broad bands, and the names and detailed remuneration packages of those in management earning more than £150,000. The public have a right to know what the highest earners the BBC employs are paid out of their licence fee. The new charter will therefore require the BBC to go further regarding the transparency of what it pays its talent and publish the names of all its employees and freelancers who earn above £450,000—the current director-general’s salary—in broad bands. The Government also expect the new BBC board to consider other ways in which it can improve transparency of talent pay. The BBC will also be required to undertake a root-and-branch review of its research and development activity, laying out its objectives for the future.
Finally, the BBC needs a fair, accountable and sustainable funding system that is fit for the future. There is no perfect model for funding the BBC but, given the stability it provides and the lack of clear public support for any alternative model, the licence fee remains the most appropriate funding model for the next charter period. The licence fee has been frozen at £145.50 since 2010. We will end the freeze and increase the licence fee in line with inflation to 2021-22, at which point there will be a new settlement. In line with the other reforms to funding announced last July, this means that the BBC will have a flat cash settlement to 2021-22. This gives it the certainty and funding levels it needs to deliver its updated mission and purposes, and it will ensure that the BBC remains one of the best-funded public service broadcasters in the world, receiving more than £18 billion from 2017-18 to 2021-22.
Future funding settlements will be made using a new regularised process every five years, giving the BBC greater independence from Government. The licence fee concession for the over-75s will be protected during this Parliament, although voluntary payments will be allowed. We will give the BBC more freedom to manage its budgets. Protected funding of £150 million a year for broadband and £5 million a year for local television will be phased out. The World Service will be an exception to this, given its enormously important role.
The current licence fee system needs to be fairer, so we will close the iPlayer loophole, meaning that those who watch BBC programmes on demand will now need a TV licence like everyone else. There will be pilots of a more flexible payment system to benefit those on lower incomes and make it fairer for everyone. At the moment, people have to pay for the first year in only six months, meaning six much higher monthly payments. We will take forward many of the recommendations from David Perry QC’s review to make the process of investigating and prosecuting licence fee evasion more effective and fair.
Although the licence fee remains the best way of funding the BBC for this charter period, it is likely to become less sustainable as the media landscape continues to evolve. The Government therefore welcome the BBC’s intention to explore whether additional revenue could be raised at home and abroad from additional subscription services sitting alongside the core universal fee.
The Government are clear that any new subscription offer would be for additional services beyond what the BBC already offers. It will be for the BBC to set the scope of these plans, but we expect it to review progress and success in order to feed into the next charter review process. We would also like to see BBC content become portable so that licence fee payers have access when travelling abroad.
The BBC is, and must always remain, at the very heart of British life. We want the BBC to thrive, to make fantastic programmes for audiences and to act as an engine for growth and creativity. Our reforms give the BBC much greater independence from Government—in editorial matters, in its governance, in setting budgets and through a longer charter period. They secure the funding of the BBC and will help the BBC to develop new funding models for the future.
At the same time, these reforms will assist the BBC to fulfil its own stated desire to become more distinctive and better to reflect the diverse nature of its audience. They place the BBC at the heart of the creative industries—as a partner of the local and commercial sectors, not a rival. The BBC will operate in a more robust and more clearly defined governance and regulatory framework. It will be more transparent and accountable to the public it serves, who rely on the BBC to be the very best it can possibly be so that it can inform, educate and entertain for many years to come. I commend this statement to the House.
May I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for early sight of it? Despite being very coy in the House yesterday when we asked about his plans, he seems to have managed to brief various newspapers overnight on a large part of the contents of the White Paper—a deplorable state of affairs. Indeed, for the last few weeks, we have had to read an increasing avalanche of briefing to Conservative-supporting newspapers—especially those hostile to the BBC—which appears to have emanated from his Department.
The fact that most of the Secretary of State’s wilder proposals appear to have been watered down, dumped or delayed by the Government, of which he is a member, is a reflection of his diminishing influence and lack of clout. He has not got his way in most things, and I welcome that.
There is no point the Secretary of State denying that he has been overruled by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. We know he is extremely hostile to the BBC. He wants it diminished in scope and size. He recently told an audience in Cambridge that the BBC is merely
“a market intervention of around £4 billion by government”.
That was before he described the disappearance of the BBC if the charter was not renewed as “a tempting prospect”.
The Secretary of State has spent time in speeches trying to tell the BBC that it should not be making popular programmes or that, if it does, they should be scheduled at times when fewer people will watch them. The truth is that, in large part, he has not got his way. [Interruption.]
The Secretary of State’s views are also totally out of step with licence fee payers, who value and support the BBC. I said yesterday that the Opposition believe the BBC charter should have governance arrangements that guarantee the BBC’s editorial and financial independence and refrain from interfering with the BBC’s mission to inform, educate and entertain us all. We will examine the White Paper in detail to see how well it measures up against those criteria.
I welcome the fact that the length of the new charter is to be 11 years, but I am concerned with the imposition of a break clause that will, in effect, reduce that to five and a half years. That does not really give the BBC the certainty and stability it requires to get on with the job. I also welcome the fact that the licence fee is to continue until 2022, increased by CPI inflation, but we wait to see how his proposals over the second half of the charter period develop and will look very closely at what the Government do at that stage.
I still have some major concerns. On governance, I said yesterday that it is unacceptable for a majority of the unitary board, which will have major influence over output and therefore over editorial decisions, to be appointed by the Government. Today we learned that the Secretary of State plans that only up to at least half the board will be Government appointees. This board will run the BBC. Despite what he says, it will have influence over output and therefore over editorial decisions. Appointing a unitary board is different from appointing either governors or trustees, who have had no power to run the BBC day to day.
The Secretary of State’s suggestion that these proposals enhance the independence of the BBC are hard to reconcile with reality. We have seen overnight a political campaign—the leave campaign—headed up by Cabinet Ministers threatening a broadcaster with unspecified consequences for doing something that Cabinet Ministers did not like. How much more serious a threat would that be if those Cabinet Ministers got to appoint at least half the board of the broadcaster concerned? Yet that is the prospect facing the BBC under his plans.
I am still worried, therefore, that the Government are seeking unduly to influence the output and editorial decision making of the BBC—or can be seen to be doing so. Will he now promise that all Government appointments will be made by a demonstrably independent process, overseen by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, that prevents there being any suspicion that the Government seek to turn the BBC into something over which they have more control than is currently the case? Reports in today’s newspapers that the Prime Minister has personally intervened to insist that Rona Fairhead be installed as chair of the new board do not augur well in this respect. I make no comment on the merits of Rona Fairhead, but there has been no process at all to reach such a decision—simply a prime ministerial diktat. That does not augur well for these arrangements in future.
On financial independence, a funding agreement was struck by the Chancellor with the BBC last year. We will look to ensure that it is met in full by the Government, with no more top-slicing—I welcome what the Secretary of State said about that—and no siphoning off of licence fee payers’ money into funds to be given to other broadcasters. We are glad, in that respect, that his contestable pot proposals, widely briefed in advance of the publication of the White Paper, are now somewhat shrunken and are to be consulted on. Will he give the House an assurance that he will listen to the results of that consultation and be prepared, if necessary and if that is its outcome, to abandon these proposals?
I am very concerned that the Secretary of State wants to change the mission of the BBC when it has worked well for more than 90 years and is supported by the public. There is a great virtue to the simplicity and clarity of the current phraseology of its mission statement. Given what he has said, we will look closely at what he proposes to see how it might work. I do not believe that his obsession with distinctiveness should be imported into the BBC’s mission statement. However, we will look at the wording he proposes to see whether we have any concerns about what the implications will be.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s focus on improving the diversity of the BBC in respect of its staffing and the way in which it produces its output. Again, I am not convinced that the mission statement is the best place to put that. None the less, we will look closely at what he proposes, and I welcome the general tenor of his remarks and his intentions in this respect.
The Opposition do not accept the Secretary of State’s assertion that the size and scale of the BBC crowd out investment and have a negative impact on the media market—quite the opposite. The BBC already works well with other UK creative industries and other broadcasters, to the benefit of all. He might be better advised to keep his nose out of this rather than trying to tell the BBC how to do the job that it does on a day-to-day basis. He ought to stop his ideologically driven meddling and let it get on with the job.
We note what the Secretary of State had to say about the new and enhanced role that Ofcom will have in regulating the BBC. It will be a big job, and Ofcom already has a lot on its plate. Can he guarantee to the House that Ofcom will be given the proper resource—extra staffing, expertise and money—to do the job he now expects it to do? He said nothing about that in his statement today, but an important part of whether this will work is how Ofcom will be able to do this job.
In respect of what the Secretary of State said about the National Audit Office, I respect the National Audit Office and its work very much—I think everybody in this House does—so I have no objection. I note that he said in his statement that there will be appropriate safeguards for editorial independence once value-for-money reports have been done. That is tremendously important. It needs to be totally clear that any work done by the National Audit Office does not interfere with the editorial independence of the BBC. We will look at the detail of those safeguards, and I hope that he will be very open in setting out that detail.
The BBC is one of the UK’s most successful and loved institutions. There has developed a feeling, both inside this Parliament and outside it, that the Government are seeking inappropriate influence over the BBC. Will he now agree that when his proposals are debated in both Houses of Parliament, it should be on a substantive motion that enables Members of both Houses to express their views by way of a vote?
I have some sympathy for the hon. Lady. She had a dry run at this yesterday and rehearsed all her lines of attack, only to wake up this morning to discover that all the concerns that she had expressed were based on ill-founded, hysterical speculation by left-wing luvvies and others; and that, in actual fact, what the Government have proposed has been widely welcomed by, among others, the BBC. She said yesterday that she would judge the Government’s proposals on three key tests. She said that the charter
“must guarantee the BBC’s financial and editorial independence, and it must help it to fulfil its mission to inform, educate and entertain us all.”—[Official Report, 11 May 2016; Vol. 609, c. 629.]
I can tell her that the White Paper not only meets those three tests, but exceeds them. That is exactly what we intend to do.
The hon. Lady raised some questions of detail. I accept that they are important, and I am very happy to give her the answers. I am grateful for her welcome for the fact that, for the first time, the length of the charter will be 11 years, which will take it out of the political electoral cycle. The mid-term review is not a mini charter review. It is simply a health check to allow the Government to ensure that the reforms that we are putting in place, which are substantial, are working properly. It would be ridiculous to find that they were not working and to be unable to do anything about it for another 11 years.
On governance, this is the first time the BBC board—the body that has overall responsibility for running the BBC—will have at least half, and possibly more than half, of its members appointed independently by the BBC. Throughout the period for which the Labour party was in government, the appointments were made wholly by the Government, without even the public appointments process. The appointments that the Government will make are to six positions. They will be subject to the public appointments process, so they will involve the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Three of them will be made in consultation with the devolved Administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It will be for the BBC to decide how many other board members there should be, ranging from six to perhaps eight, and who should be chosen to do that.
The other point I would make to the hon. Lady—I set it out very clearly in my statement—is that the board will have no involvement in editorial decision making. The director-general remains the editor in chief, and he is responsible for editorial matters. The board’s involvement will be only after transmission; it will not influence editorial content.
These are substantial changes and we think it right that the existing chairman should continue in post to oversee the transition to the new arrangement. She will be in post until October 2018. She was of course appointed through the public appointments process.
I can confirm that the funding agreement will be met in full. There will be no top-slicing and we will not raid it for any other purposes, as her Government did when she was in office. The contestable pot is outside the July licence fee funding settlement. It is intended to provide additional opportunities for production companies that aim specifically to serve children’s audiences or black, Asian and minority ethnic audiences. We will do more on that to see how it will work.
The hon. Lady said that we have somehow complicated the original trinity, but I would point out to her that the mission statement does not include the simple Reithian trinity that is so often quoted. The current BBC charter mentions
“the promotion of its Public Purposes through the provision of output which consists of information, education and entertainment”.
That is not quite as snappy as the original “inform, educate and entertain”. All we have done is to make it more succinct by saying that those three objectives should be delivered by producing “high quality distinctive content” and “impartial news”. I would just ask her whether she disagrees with either of those two provisions: does she think that the BBC should not make distinctive programming or should not be impartial?
The hon. Lady’s concerns about Ofcom are perfectly justified. She is right that Ofcom will need resourcing to enable it to undertake its considerable new responsibilities. However, the BBC Trust is paid for out of the licence fee at the moment, and it is certainly our hope that the regulatory cost of overseeing the BBC, once Ofcom takes it over, will be lower than the existing cost of the BBC Trust. Ofcom will be financed from the licence fee, just as the BBC Trust is at present.
I confirm that it will be made explicit—there is no disagreement between the National Audit Office and the BBC about this—that the NAO will not involve itself in editorial matters.
I finish by saying that the hon. Lady has made the best fist she can of saying that the White Paper somehow threatens the BBC, but it does not. I end simply by telling her what the chairman of the BBC Trust said this morning:
“Constructive engagement between the Government, the BBC and the public has delivered a White Paper that sets good principles, strengthens the BBC’s governance and regulation and cements a financial settlement that will sustain the strong BBC that is loved…by the public.”
Order. I would point out that the opening exchanges between the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State have absorbed no fewer than 33 minutes, so I look first to the author of the textbook on brevity, from whom other right hon. and hon. Members should take their cue, Mr John Redwood.
The BBC will have a duty to serve all the nations and regions, which of course includes England. Of the six appointees appointed by the Government under the public appointments process, four are non-executive directors who will each have the additional responsibility of representing one of the nations of the UK. There will therefore be a non-executive director who has the additional responsibility of representing the interests of English licence fee payers.
I too thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
The Scottish National party strongly supports public service broadcasting. We want to ensure that the BBC continues to provide distinctive, high-quality output. The charter renewal process provides an opportunity to celebrate the BBC’s many successes, and to reflect as a critical friend on ways in which it can improve. Although we have had our disagreements with the BBC, at its best it is unsurpassed.
There are a number of welcome proposals in the White Paper. It is right to break the link between the electoral cycle and the length of the charter. We also welcome the abolition of the BBC Trust and its replacement by a unitary board. It is vital that that board is as diverse as possible, with representation from the nations and, crucially, more BME representation, as we all agreed in a recent debate in this House. Those were also the conclusions of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, with its admirable Chair, the Member who I think represents Hertford and South Hertfordshire.
We are pleased that some of the more outlandish notions floated by the Government through the press appear to have been quietly parked. The Secretary of State gave us notice yesterday that one of the most risible, namely that the BBC might be prevented from scheduling popular programmes against ITV’s popular programmes, has died a quiet death. I notice, too, that the proposal to publish the salaries of all talent has been abandoned—although we will learn who is on £450,000 a year or more, we will not now learn who is struggling by on £200,000 or £300,000 a year.
We have long argued that charter renewal is an opportunity for the BBC to be bolder in Scotland, to meet the needs and reflect the lives of Scottish audiences. Like the director-general, we want to see the production sector in Scotland grow. We welcome ongoing commitment to the Gaelic-language MG Alba. We also want meaningful editorial and financial control to rest in Scotland. To that end, like most Scots both inside and outwith the BBC, we want a “Scottish Six” to replace the current overly parochial offering. We are pleased that the BBC agrees and is currently secretly piloting alternatives.
The BBC is sadly less trusted in Scotland than in any of the other constituent countries of the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] If hon. Members want to intervene, I am more than happy—[Interruption.] Oh, they cannot. Come up to me afterwards and I will answer the point. The BBC’s staff deserve better, and Scotland deserves better. The Secretary of State tells us today that he agrees, calling audiences in the nations under-served. He is preaching to the choir on the SNP Benches.
I hope that the White Paper is a milestone, allowing the BBC to learn from its mistakes, listen to its audiences and build on its proudest traditions.
The hon. Gentleman has an expert knowledge of the workings of the BBC. I welcome the fact that he is able to support a number of the proposals set out in the White Paper. He referred to a couple of things that were not in it, such as a proposal that the BBC should not schedule popular programmes against ITV’s popular programmes. I have said until I am blue in the face that the Government do not wish—and should not be able—to tell the BBC when to schedule programmes. The fact that that proposal does not appear in the White Paper should not therefore come as a great surprise to him.
Our intention is for the BBC to publish the salaries of talent earning more than £450,000, but we hope that the BBC will go further in due course, so as to obtain greater transparency on salaries. We will continue to talk to the BBC about that.
The hon. Gentleman raised specific points about the BBC’s need to serve the nations, and Scotland in particular. There are two elements in the White Paper that we believe will make a significant difference. The first is the confirmation that one of the members of the board will be there to act as a voice for Scotland, as well as bringing additional skills. Secondly, there will be a specific service licence for Scotland, which Ofcom will issue, as it will for the other nations of the UK; that will set out the expectations of how the BBC will go about meeting that requirement.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the BBC sent a letter this morning to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, whom I spoke to yesterday afternoon. It set out some of its proposals in more detail. A lot of this is a matter for the BBC rather than the Government, but the letter stated that in the next charter period the BBC will continue its commitment
“to spend network television production roughly in line with the population size of each nation.”
Other issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised are more a matter for the BBC, and I am sure that he will wish to discuss them with it.
The Secretary of State will recall that I was one of those who came to the Chamber yesterday with a certain amount of concern about his views on the independence and quality of the BBC, but he was able to reassure me. Does he share at least a little of my sympathy for the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), because every fox that she expected to see running appears to have been shot, and the hounds that she expected to release appear to be running around in some confusion? Does he have any idea where all the rumours that caused so much alarm before this statement came from?
My right hon. and learned Friend is right. I have always voted in favour of the preservation of foxhunting, and we have done a lot of fox shooting this morning. The independence of the BBC—particularly its editorial independence—has always been at its heart, and that is one of the reasons it is so trusted around the world. It has always been our intention not to diminish that but to strengthen it, which is what I believe the White Paper delivers. I previously quoted the chairman of the BBC Trust welcoming the proposals in the White Paper, and I understand that the director general has now put out a statement:
“This white paper delivers a mandate for the strong, creative BBC the public believe in.”
I thank the Secretary of State for those aspects of the statement that will promote a common cultural identity, which is so crucial for a healthy democracy. However, democracies also work because they have great organisations that are powerful in their own right and not directly accountable to the Government. Of almost 70 paragraphs in his statement, only one was given over to the governance of the board. Will he confirm what I thought he said in his original statement and an earlier answer, which is that if the board wishes to have eight members, the Government’s membership will be only four, and the Commissioner for Public Appointments will steer those?
No, that is not quite correct. Six members of the board—the chairman, the deputy chairman, and one non-executive director from each of the four nations of the UK—will be appointed by the Government, using the public appointments process, but the size of the board will be for the BBC to decide. Our proposals exactly match the recommendations of Sir David Clementi, who suggested that the board could contain between 12 and 14 members, and that it should be for the BBC to decide. The BBC will determine the number of additional non-executive directors as well as the split between executive directors and NEDs on the board, which will comprise a total board membership of between 12 and 14.
On behalf of my constituents in Herefordshire perhaps I may gently correct my beloved colleague from the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), on the identity of my constituency.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on this White Paper. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee will be scrutinising the detail, but I welcome the recognition of the BBC’s important achievements, public service ethos, and potential as a global broadcaster. I also welcome the fact that the White Paper has incorporated recommendations we have made on the unitary board, regulation of Ofcom, the 11-year charter, and the National Audit Office.
However, we did identify issues about the culture of the BBC. I do not know whether the Secretary of State saw the excellent article in The Guardian today by Lenny Henry about black and minority ethnic representation, on which the BBC has historically been weak, but I very much welcome what has been said. Will the Secretary of State say a little more about how that will be enforced, and whether there might be a specific duty on Ofcom to keep an eye of those aspects of the charter in particular?
I am extremely grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for his welcome for our proposals. It is absolutely right that we looked carefully at the recommendations in the report the Committee produced under his chairmanship, as indeed the Government examined the proposals in the report produced under the previous Chairman—both were highly influential. On his specific point, as I have made clear, the Government believe that diversity should be a central priority of the BBC, which is why, for the first time, we are enshrining it in the public purposes. Precisely how the BBC goes about delivering that is a matter for the BBC, but because it is now within the public purposes, it will be for the external regulator, Ofcom, to determine whether it is delivering on that purpose.
I am sorry to say this to the Secretary of State but the British people will not be fooled by his words today. Some fantasy foxes might have been shot this morning, but I believe that by Sunday, as with the Budget, when the detail has been crawled over, this will be seen as a deep, dark day for the BBC. [Interruption.] The Brexiteers seem to have combined hating Europe with hating the BBC. This will be a champagne night for Rupert Murdoch and Richard Desmond. The BBC is better than that and is owned by the British people, not this Government.
That was utterly desperate. Just because the hon. Gentleman cannot find anything in the statement to disagree with, he now thinks there must be something hidden away that I have not mentioned to which he can object. The detail of the White Paper is well known to the director-general and the chairman of the BBC Trust, both of whom have said it is an excellent White Paper that will help to ensure that the BBC continues to thrive.
The BBC has struggled with diversity on-screen and off-screen for far too long, so I absolutely welcome the enshrinement of diversity in the new charter. It is the right and the wise thing to do. Does the Secretary of State agree that attracting the brightest and most diverse talent will improve the content of the BBC’s offering, and ultimately the ratings?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who is right to highlight this point. A number of people have been pressing this matter, not least my hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, who is sitting beside me, and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), whom I am pleased to see in his place. I would also like to thank Lenny Henry, who has been in to talk to us several times about the matter.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), because research we have conducted shows that, although appreciation of the BBC is high throughout the country, there is a feeling, particularly among some black, Asian and minority ethnic audiences, that they are underserved. We are very keen to address that, in terms of both the diverse range of talent behind the camera and in the production process and those who appear on-screen. In particular, we want to ensure that those who choose to watch the BBC, from every section of our community, find programming they want to watch.
By their deeds shall ye know them. In 2010 and 2015, Tory Governments raided the BBC budget to pay for Government expenditure. Will the Secretary of State now accept that that was wrong and give an assurance that it will not happen again during this charter renewal period? His commitment to the BBC and its independence will be judged by this answer, not warm words.
First, raiding the BBC licence fee to pay for Government projects was something that the Labour Government initiated with the analogue switchover budget. Secondly, as I have made plain to the hon. Gentleman and as I said in my statement, the funding settlement we agreed with the BBC last year represented a broadly flat-cash settlement, taking into account the agreement that the licence fee should begin to rise again after a freeze, that we will close the iPlayer loophole and that we will do away with the top slices for broadband and local television. Thirdly, I was explicit that the licence fee settlement was for five years. The Government have no intention of revisiting that until the next licence fee settlement, which will be part of a new, more independent and transparent process in which we can discuss the funding needs of the BBC with the BBC.
Fifteen years ago, we started a campaign in the Public Accounts Committee to try to get the BBC’s accounts and spending accountable to the Comptroller and Auditor General—and it was like pulling steel teeth from concrete. Eventually, the Comptroller and Auditor General was allowed to investigate the matters that were chosen by the BBC itself. I know the Comptroller and Auditor General, and let me make it absolutely clear that there is no chance whatever of his getting involved in editorial policy. He is an utterly independent Officer of the House, but if more than £4 billion of public money is spent, the body that spends it should be held accountable for it.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I remember his campaign when he was the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and I recall that several previous Chairmen and all Chairmen since have been pressing this case. There is no question but that the National Audit Office is extremely effective in ensuring that the taxpayer—in this case, the licence fee payer—extracts maximum value for money. I spoke to the Comptroller and Auditor General yesterday, and he reiterated what my hon. Friend has said—that he has no interest or wish to get involved in independent editorial decisions. His sole concern is to make sure that the public get the maximum value from the money they put into the BBC.
I, too, welcome the development of the BBC’s new diversity strategy and the fact that diversity will be enshrined in the new charter. How, though, will this relate to the representation of sick and disabled people, including on the board of the BBC Trust, within its own workforce and that of its contractors?
I understand the hon. Lady’s concern, but I think she will accept that many of these matters are for the BBC rather than for the Government to lay down, particularly in respect of how the BBC goes about serving all its different audiences that make up the UK. On board membership, there will be opportunities for non-executive directors to be chosen not just under the public appointments process as set out by the Government, but by the BBC board. I am sure that it will want to appoint the best possible people to represent every section of the community.
I welcome the restatement of financial protection for the BBC World Service, and I particularly welcome the recommendation that the new unitary board should consider the relative weakness of BBC World News on television. How fast does my right hon. Friend expect the board to come forward with proposals to address that situation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the BBC World Service is admired across the world and does a fantastic job projecting this country’s values around the globe. BBC global news is a different beast—it is a separate commercial subsidiary of the BBC, which actually loses money—and it is perhaps not achieving the same success as the World Service. We have said that the BBC needs to look at that carefully with a view to either making it perform much better or examining different ways of achieving the objectives.
I am relieved that the Secretary of State has resisted the temptation to be the BBC’s Fat Controller. However, to demonstrate that he will keep his hands off all the levers, will he confirm that there will be clear and transparent processes for appointing the board, setting the licence fee and ensuring that the public’s voice is heard for Parliament’s approval of the charter? Finally, will the BBC health check that he mentioned be just that rather than the precursor to a major operation?
I think I can confirm everything that the right hon. Gentleman has asked me to confirm. The mid-term review is indeed a health check. We have no intention or wish to revisit the charter and agreement unless it appears that something has gone very badly wrong and we need to make amendments. The world is changing fast and we do not know exactly what the media landscape will look like in five years’ time. That is the reason for the health check, but I repeat that it is certainly not our intention for it to represent any sort of mini-charter review.
As I have said, future appointments made by the Government will be made through the public appointments process, which will involve the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and a panel that will assess the suitability of those who apply for positions. We have said that the process of setting the future licence fee will be more independent and transparent, and that the BBC and the Government will have a proper opportunity to discuss funding needs. As for the issue of public opinion, the board will be expected—this will be a clear expectation—to establish mechanisms whereby it will take account of the views of the public on all aspects of the BBC’s operations.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on listening to the voices of sanity in this debate, and, indeed, on being one of the voices of sanity this morning. He has broadly achieved a system of outside regulation that holds the BBC properly to account without in any way damaging its vital role at the heart of the cultural life of this country. May I, however, ask him about one detail? Will he confirm that the National Audit Office will audit only the publicly funded part of the BBC, given that auditing its private commercial operations would constitute an unprecedented extension of the NAO into the private sector?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. Given his long-time knowledge of and interest in the BBC, I am pleased that he agrees that our proposals represent a good, strong future for the BBC.
My right hon. Friend asked specifically about the National Audit Office. It has been agreed that the NAO should be able to conduct value-for-money studies of all publicly funded aspects of the BBC’s operation, and to become the financial auditor. The licence fee payer has a strong interest in the BBC’s commercial activities, because the more the BBC can raise through those activities, the less will be the call on the licence fee payer. We are continuing to discuss the extent to which, and how, the National Audit Office should examine whether full value for money is being obtained from BBC Worldwide. I would point out, however, that one of the greatest disasters for the BBC, which resulted in its loss of £100 million, was the acquisition of Lonely Planet by BBC Worldwide.
I thank the Secretary of State for providing early sight of his statement, much of which I welcome. He has said that the BBC will become more accountable to the devolved nations. Will he tell us a little more about how that will be achieved in Wales?
My answer to the hon. Gentleman is very similar to the answer that I gave the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson). Wales, too, will have a member on the BBC board, in that one of the non-executive directors will be responsible for speaking for Wales, as well as bringing other skills to the board. Ofcom will set out a clear service licence giving more details of how the BBC will be expected to meet its requirement to serve the needs of the people of Wales.
As I said earlier, today the BBC wrote not only to the Cabinet Secretary in the Scottish Government, but to the First Minister of Wales—[Interruption.] Yes, it will be interesting to find out who opens the envelope. The BBC’s letter set out more details about how it intends to go about delivering that task, and I shall be happy to supply the hon. Gentleman with a copy if he has not already seen it.
My father spent his whole life working for the BBC in an administrative capacity, so I have a natural filial affection for the institution, which is not mirrored in the views of all my Conservative colleagues.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has ensured that the BBC will continue to be robustly financed and will retain its integrity in order to build on its past strengths, but I hope that he will also strongly address its weaknesses through his measures to deal with its lack of impartiality and diversity. I hope that he will recall the words of a former Labour-appointed director general, who said that such was the homogeneity of view among those who were running the BBC—I think he described it as the “Guardianista” view—that it had failed to give proper representation to public concerns about Europe and immigration. I would add environmental policies to that.
I speak as one whom the BBC banned from broadcasting after I pointed out that a Met Office forecast 10 years ago had proved to be incorrect. This truth was so inconvenient that the BBC removed the podcast, issued an apology on its website for broadcasting my views and made it clear that I would not be interviewed again. I can look after myself, but will the Secretary of State ensure that, in encouraging diversity, the BBC encourages the inclusion of the views of the greatest oppressed minority in this country, the Conservatives?
I am concerned to learn that the extremely persuasive and rational arguments that are always advanced by my right hon. Friend are not being aired on the BBC. That is a matter for the BBC, but I hope that it will reconsider. Under our new public purposes, we have rephrased them to make the expectations clearer. The first public purpose will now involve providing
“impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”.
This is the first time that impartiality—and, indeed, diversity—have been put up front at the top of the public purposes. Also, under our proposals, it will now be for an independent external regulator, in the form of Ofcom, to determine any complaints on those grounds; up till now, that has been done by the BBC.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State’s historic decision to make diversity a public purpose; I congratulate him on that. It is something I felt the Labour Government should have done when we were in power. The truth is that, at that time, we rightly made the important decisions to extend the scope of the BBC fully to grip the nations. The move to Salford has been part of that. Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that diversity will need funds? I hope that the BBC will allocate the appropriate funds to ensure that diversity is delivered, both on and off screen.
I hugely appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks. He has an extremely strong track record of campaigning in this area, and for him to welcome our proposals in this way is extremely encouraging. I also agree that there is a lot more work to do. It will be for the BBC to make decisions on the allocation of budgets and on how it goes about delivering on the new, explicit requirement that has been set out. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will continue to talk to the BBC about that, as will we.
The point about diversity, which I support, is that its target should be inclusiveness so that people can be drawn together.
On page 74 of the White Paper, my right hon. Friend mentions digital radio. If he comes down from London to Worthing, by bus or any other form of road transport, and drives along the coast in Worthing, he will find enormous gaps in the digital radio coverage. Will he please ensure that we do not exclude those who listen to the radio on the move?
I want to make three detailed points about the wording of the White Paper. On page 98, he states:
“The government is clear that the licence fee is a tax”.
At some stage, I would like to hear an explanation of why it is seen as a tax rather than a fee that is separate from taxation.
On page 102, he talks about the “popularity of subscription services”. It would be more accurate to talk about the incidence of those services rather than their popularity. Most people do not like paying, but they feel that they are forced to do so because what they want to watch is on subscription.
In the glossary, the last entry is for a WOCC. Would he like to explain what the term “window of competitive culture”, or whatever it is, actually means?
I would be very happy to do so. On the issue of digital audio broadcasting, I fully recognise that there is still some way to go to achieve the coverage that will be necessary before we can consider switching off analogue. The ability to listen to DAB on the move in cars is one of the crucial factors that will influence our decision, and there is still more work to be done. However, we expect the BBC to continue to take a leading role in this regard. My hon. Friend asked some specific questions. It has long been recognised that the licence fee is essentially a tax, because it is a compulsory fee imposed by the Government and enforced by criminal sanction. It is recognised as a tax by the Office for Budget Responsibility and others on that basis.
I turn now to my hon. Friend’s specific question about what is known colloquially as the WOCC. The window of creative competition was put in place by the BBC. Under the existing arrangements, the independent production quota is 25% and then the WOCC accounts for another 25% chunk of content, which can be competed for by the independent production sector. The remaining 50% is reserved for the BBC’s in-house production. It is that 50% that we are removing, so, in essence, our proposal is to increase the WOCC to 75%.
I was pleased to note that particular mention was made of MG Alba and S4C, the two channels that support two unique minority languages and cultures of the British Isles. However, I also note that the statement referred only to maintaining production quotas outside London, which is a little disappointing for us in Scotland, because we were hoping that the quotas would be increased. Will he assure us that he supports further decentralisation and the improvement of commissioning opportunities for the regions and countries of the UK?
The quotas are of course a minimum requirement, and it is for the BBC to do its best to exceed them. In answer to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), I referred to the letter that the director-general sent today to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe & External Affairs in the Scottish Government, in which he commits the BBC to continuing to do its best to increase the proportion of BBC network production expenditure in each of the nations of the UK. He said
“we recognise that this spend needs to work harder”
and that he will be doing his best to ensure that Scotland receives funding that at least is proportional to its population. I am sure that the hon. Lady and her colleagues can pursue that further with the director-general.
As a former employee of the BBC, I share in the great affection for the corporation and, as such, congratulate the Secretary of State on this White Paper, which I broadly welcome. However, does he agree that, with the BBC’s income from the public now guaranteed to be fast approaching £4 billion a year, not only is it right that the corporation be more transparent and accountable, but there is no reason for it to make cuts to front-line services, particularly not BBC local radio? I worked in it for many years, and local radio, particularly BBC Radio Devon in my constituency, is a hugely valued part of the community.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The BBC now has certainty about its funding over the course of the next licence fee period, and I hope that it will continue to recognise the importance of local radio. The matter was raised by several hon. Members in our discussion yesterday, and I made it clear then that I regard local radio as something that best exemplifies the BBC’s public service remit. I hope that the National Audit Office’s work will bear out that there is scope for achieving efficiencies, so that even more of the licence fee payers’ money can be devoted to front-line services such as local radio.
Many of my constituents work in the television sector, will have responded to the consultation and will welcome many aspects of today’s statement. Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), I welcome the specific mention of black and minority ethnic representation, but does the Secretary of State acknowledge that diversity in front of and behind the camera also encompasses gender, sexual orientation, disability, faith and social class? Will we see a statement in due course about what that means in the context of today’s statement?
I agree with the hon. Lady on stressing the importance of diversity in all that the BBC does, which is about not only serving BAME audiences and ensuring greater representation both in front of and behind the camera, but gender equality and disabled people. It is for the BBC to draw up its own plans and to deliver the general public purpose that we have set out, but it will also obviously be held to account by Ofcom. It is not for us to tell the BBC precisely how the purpose should be delivered.
My constituency has six local newspapers, which are vital in providing news to the local community. We all know the pressures faced by local newspapers across the country, particularly as more and more of us get our news online. How will the new charter help to ensure that the BBC’s very successful website does not have the unintended consequence of driving people away from local newspapers and their websites?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that, because I agree with her that it is tremendously important. Local newspapers play a vital role in sustaining local democracy and will become more important as more powers are passed down to devolved Administrations and local government. For quite some time I have therefore sought to encourage the BBC to support local newspapers, rather than undermine them, as it has occasionally been accused of doing. I am delighted that an agreement has been reached in principle between the BBC and the News Media Association, which represents the local press, whereby the BBC has now agreed to fund a reporting service to cover local authorities and public services. It intends to fund 150 journalists, who will be employed by qualifying local organisations, not by the BBC. In that way, the BBC will be obtaining greater content on what is going on in local authorities and, in doing so, will be supporting local newspapers, which we hope will help to ensure that they continue to provide their service.
Has the Secretary of State given any thought to the thousands of students in this country who do not have televisions in their student rooms but may occasionally watch BBC iPlayer on their computers? Will he give some consideration to them? Going to university costs enough as it is, so will he please consider exempting them from the closure of the iPlayer loophole?
There is a long-standing principle that those who enjoy public service television should be required to pay for it through the licence fee. There is no question but that the advent of the iPlayer and catch-up services has created a loophole, which has meant that the BBC has lost a significant, and probably growing, amount of revenue. It was part of the agreement that we reached with the BBC last year that we should close that loophole and, in essence, apply the same rules in today’s age as have always applied in the past: if someone watches public service content, they should pay the licence fee, which funds the BBC.
This statement is welcome and it confirms that the BBC does a very good job overall, but what are the Government doing to ensure fairness in its coverage of the EU referendum campaign, especially given that the BBC receives large amounts of EU funding—tens of millions of pounds in recent years?
As I have previously set out, we have now put impartiality as one of the first requirements in the public purposes of the BBC. Ensuring impartiality becomes particularly challenging in such a hotly contested issue as our membership of the European Union, which is why I asked the BBC to ensure that it had a fast-track system for resolving complaints of bias from either side of the argument. I was pleased that the BBC Trust agreed that that would be put in place and recognised its importance. I should also say that that requirement for impartiality does not just apply to the BBC; it applies to all those with a broadcasting licence, who are required to be objective and impartial. That includes the commercial broadcasters, as well as the BBC.
My constituents are very concerned about the independence of the BBC. As the Secretary of State has already quoted comments by the director-general this morning, let me ask him what he thinks of the following comment from the director-general:
“I do not believe that the appointments proposals for the new unitary board are yet right.”
What does he mean by that?
That is an issue that we will continue to discuss with the BBC. However, I would simply say to the director-general and others that the proposals that we have put in place are those that were recommended by Sir David Clementi. They do allow the BBC to appoint at least half the membership of its board, and we have ensured that the BBC director-general’s editorial independence is enshrined in the charter.
As chairman of the all-party group on commercial radio, I welcome the comments that the Secretary of State has made about the need for distinctiveness, as there has been a concern that some BBC stations are mimicking those in the commercial sector. That factor combined with the removal of the 50% guarantee on in-house production will not only enhance the BBC, but allow the commercial sector, and commercial radio, to flourish alongside it, making room for both.
I am aware of the concerns expressed by commercial radio about some aspects of BBC radio provision. Certainly, the requirement that there should be distinctiveness in BBC services applies to radio just as it does to television. In future, if commercial radio has complaints, it will of course be able to voice them to Ofcom, the independent regulator. On the opening up of content for independent production, the 100% ambition that we have set the BBC applies to television. For radio, the BBC has agreed that it will aim to reach 60%, which would represent a huge increase on the present level, and provide sufficient opportunities to the radio independent production sector.
Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the BBC’s announcement today of substantial additional investment in production and commissioning in Birmingham following the campaign of Birmingham’s MPs, the City Council and the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Mail? Does the Secretary of State understand the residual strong concern felt across this House that the independence and integrity of the BBC, the jewel in the crown of public service broadcasting excellence and fêted worldwide, should never ever be violated by any Government?
Obviously, I welcome the BBC’s announcement of additional investment in Birmingham. The local newspaper initiative that I mentioned earlier is going to be based at BBC Birmingham. I am aware that Members representing west midlands constituencies have long pressed the BBC to do more. It is a matter for the BBC, but I welcome the fact that it is responding to that. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s second point: the integrity and impartiality of the BBC is absolutely fundamental. It is the reason the BBC is respected around the world, and we are determined to preserve and, if anything, strengthen it.
Online, some of the BBC’s content, such as football match reports and many other things, cannot always be found to be distinctive. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that this distinctiveness test will absolutely apply online as well as on television and radio?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The BBC rightly wishes to make available its news content on whichever platform viewers and listeners choose to access it, and that includes online. There have been concerns that, sometimes, BBC online services have strayed too far away from that into soft news and beyond, and that represents unfair competition. The requirement for distinction will apply online just as it does to all other BBC services, and that can be adjudicated by Ofcom.
I wish to press the Secretary of State on some of the detail of his statement, especially given the concern that many of us have to protect all members of BBC staff from politically motivated attempts to interfere in their work. He said very clearly that editorial independence would be guaranteed pre-transmission, but in his statement today he sets out that the unitary board
“will consider any issues or complaints that arise post-transmission.”
Will he clarify to whom the Government appointees on that board will be accountable for their interventions—will it be to the Government or the licence fee payers?
The position as regards reporting for the Government appointees, chosen through the public appointment process, will be no different from the responsibilities of the BBC Trust. Once appointed, they are independent and are not subject to any instruction by the Government. They will be accountable to the licence fee payer and to Parliament, which is where Select Committees have a very important role. I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of not having any political pressure put on BBC employees, whatever their level, so I hope that she will join me in condemning the petition initiated by the “Jeremy for PM” campaign, which now has 15,000 signatures, calling for the sacking of the BBC political editor because they did not like one of the stories she reported.
I welcome the financial certainty, editorial independence and sensible modernisation measures set out in the White Paper. I also particularly welcome the possibility of real economic benefit to my city of Norwich, home to a growing creative sector, through increased purchasing of independent content. Can the Secretary of State give any estimate of job numbers that might be linked to the measure?
First, let me say that I imagine that my hon. Friend’s constituency is not particularly happy today and I send my condolences on another front for which I am responsible, which is sport. I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise figure for the potential job opportunities offered by opening up competition, but we believe that allowing the independent production sector the ability to compete for 100% of the BBC’s content will mean that hundreds of millions of pounds are available for the sector should it win those commissions. Obviously, that will create jobs alongside. The creative industries, as I said, have proved to be one of our most successful sectors of the economy with the fastest rate of job creation.
Given how from “Listen with Mother” to “Rastamouse” children’s programming has been so important to the reputation of the BBC and its Reithian ideal to educate, will the Secretary of State make an absolute commitment today that he will exempt that sector of programming from any possible charges for iPlayer or on-demand services?
As I said earlier, none of the BBC’s existing services will be made subject to voluntary subscription through the iPlayer. The pilot that the BBC is considering will be for additional services that are not currently provided and funded by the licence fee. I hope that the BBC will consider boosting children’s programming, because I agree that it is fundamental. It is an area where access through the iPlayer is likely to be higher than that for other sections of the population. I am also keen to increase the amount of children’s programming available, which is why we see the contestable pot to which I referred as a possible vehicle for additional opportunities so that children have more choice in the programming available to them.
Despite what some Members on the Government Benches might say, particularly people who have worked at the BBC, we want it to remain popular and distinctive. That is something that all politicians, on both sides of the House, can only hope to be. We have heard today from the Secretary of State that there is no perfect model for the BBC licence fee in a changing media landscape. How we listen, watch and contribute to the ratings is changing, so I welcome the freedom on BBC budgets. As part of the flexible arrangements for payments in the White Paper process, can we consider a fee for using only the radio content of the BBC?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and she is right that there is a wealth of experience on both sides of the House among Members who have worked in or with the BBC. On the question of more flexible arrangements for payment of the licence fee, in particular we wanted to allow the BBC to assist those on low incomes by not requiring it to take a year’s licence fee in the first six months. Her suggestion about having a reduced licence fee for those who listen only to the radio is not something we intend to pursue in this licence fee period, but, as I have said, the way in which technology is changing so rapidly will call into question the sustainability of the existing model over time. I have no doubt that there will be a substantial debate around these issues at the time of the next charter review.
I hope that on this occasion, Mr Speaker, you will consider the question to be of sufficient importance to merit re-emphasis. I welcome the White Paper, which seems to me to recognise that the BBC is a national treasure that marks us out from other western countries. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that the welcome commitment to invigorate local democracy will not be at the expense of independent local media outlets, such as The Breeze radio and the Gloucestershire Echo in Cheltenham, which do a lot to inform and entertain my constituents?
My hon. Friend should not apologise for raising the matter again because it is extremely important. When the BBC first floated the idea of supporting local news provision by employing journalists, there was some confusion. Some people thought that the BBC was intending to employ them directly, which I think would have posed a threat to existing commercial local news providers. I am delighted that the agreement which has now been reached makes it plain that although the BBC will fund journalism, journalists will be employed by qualifying local news organisations. I imagine that the excellent examples of new organisations that my hon. Friend has mentioned from his constituency would be eligible to apply for that funding, should they choose to do so.
Although I welcome greater diversity specifically for our devolved nations, that must not be at the expense of our United Kingdom. The Secretary of State mentioned that the BBC must reflect our common national identity, but there are those who do not believe in a common national British identity. Given that we might unintentionally create a wedge between Scotland and England particularly, may I urge my right hon. Friend to exercise caution about the amount of diversity that is given to the devolved nations?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We do think it is important that the BBC serves all the individual nations and regions of the United Kingdom. That is set out in the charter as one of the public purposes. However, my hon. Friend is right that the BBC is a UK national broadcaster, and it is there to unite the nation and to focus on all the many things we have in common and which bring us together. I hope that that will long remain the case.
The Secretary of State will be aware that my constituency was made somewhat infamous by the iconic BBC series “Fawlty Towers” and the antics of Basil Fawlty, which were based on a real hotel owner. Some of the things he had actually done had to be left out as being too ridiculous. Today, services such as BBC Radio Devon and locally produced TV programmes are very much appreciated in Torbay and there is a modern creative industry. What does my right hon. Friend see in the White Paper that will help boost that industry and ensure that more programmes like “Fawlty Towers” are produced in the future?
Having visited Torbay as part of the tourism inquiry that the Select Committee conducted in the previous Parliament, I am delighted that although “Fawlty Towers” may have been based on a hotel at one time, Torbay hotels today bear no resemblance to Fawlty Towers. The series is an example of creative comedy, which the BBC excels at. It is important that the BBC should continue to make productions all across the United Kingdom. In Cornwall “Poldark” has been extremely successful, and I hope that the south-west will continue to benefit from BBC investment in production, which, as we said earlier, drives growth and creates a large number of jobs.
I welcome the White Paper and congratulate the Secretary of State. It is very much what I had in mind when I filled in the consultation exercise. May we have a little more detail about the health check? As stated on page 58, matters that can be changed are
“Future funding issues, including an assessment of the BBC’s commercial income and activities”.
What cannot be changed is
“the fundamental mission, purposes, and licence fee model”.
Will there be an opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise further the exact language? I believe that the devil will be in the detail, and the clause will have great importance in the unlikely event that a Government are elected in 2020 who are not as supportive of the BBC as this Government—they have clearly demonstrated that support today.
We have sought to reassure the BBC that there is no intention of reopening some of the fundamental decisions that have been taken for the next charter. It is a health check, as I said earlier—an opportunity to ensure that the reforms that we are putting in place are working as we intended and that the BBC is taking account of any changes that have happened over the period. As I have said, this is an area where the technology is changing very fast. We cannot bind another Government. However, we are trying to ensure that the charter is fit for purpose for the next 10 years. Having set out our proposals for the new charter, we certainly have no intention of revisiting those fundamental principles until the next one.
Given the scale of the gap between the sometimes ridiculous scaremongering of the left and the luvvies, and the sheer common sense of the White Paper, has the Secretary of State received an apology, or even an iota of support, from some of those luvvies who have been somewhat unkind to him recently?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. In answer to his question, I am not going to hold my breath. However, to give them their due, they will have discovered only this morning what the Government intended, having previously relied on hysterical reports in the media. Now that they have seen that what we are setting out does not threaten the BBC but will actually strengthen it and ensure that it continues to thrive, I hope that they will welcome our proposals.
As my right hon. Friend has said in earlier answers, BBC local radio comes the closest to the corporation’s remit as a public service broadcaster. I therefore very much welcome the future publication of significant talent salaries, because I dare say that several of those could pay for an excellent county station such as BBC Sussex.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; there is a huge gulf between expenditure on BBC local radio—I know from my county of Essex that in the local radio station the paint is sometimes peeling off the walls and it can barely afford a coffee maker—and some of the very substantial remuneration packages enjoyed by certain individuals. Although they may be extremely talented, that is one of the reasons the Government felt that the public have a right to know who they are.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that. At the moment, as he will be aware, it is not legally possible to access BBC content through the iPlayer from overseas. We have two objectives in changing that. First, we believe very strongly that UK citizens who have already paid the licence fee should be able to enjoy content even if they happen to be on holiday on the continent of Europe. That is the portability requirement that we are looking to the BBC to put in place, as indeed we will ask other broadcasters to do. Secondly, there is a substantial amount of piracy going on, with people who have not paid the licence fee using virtual private networks or getting around the geo-block in order to access BBC content. That demonstrates that there is a demand for that content, so we are keen to encourage the BBC to make it available legally and ask people to pay for it.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s strong support for the World Service, whose impartial and objective news is needed now more than ever. Is he confident that the World Service is sufficiently embracing new platforms for broadcasting around the world?
That is very much a matter for the BBC, but I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The World Service is hugely admired and respected, but if it is to continue to reach people in places where there is very limited access to impartial and objective news, it is important that it uses every means of delivery. I would certainly encourage the BBC to do that, and I am sure my hon. Friend will talk to it further about that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the fact that some of the more radical proposals that have been floated have not been included. He has spoken of the importance of local radio, which will be well demonstrated in my area on Sunday afternoon, when Grimsby Town will make yet another attempt to regain football league status and thousands of fans will be listening to Radio Humberside. However, the future is also local TV, and my constituency is well served by Estuary TV. Does my right hon. Friend see a role for the BBC in local TV stations?
I am sorry I am not able to join my hon. Friend to watch Grimsby. However, the BBC has had a role in supporting local television, as he will be aware. As part of the last licence fee settlement, a fund was made available to support local television, but it was always clear that that was for a limited period. The fund was to allow local television to become established, and then local television would be expected to pay for itself, rather than relying on subsidy from licence fee payers. I am afraid I have to say to my hon. Friend that there are no plans to go beyond the existing support that is given to local television.
Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that, if the BBC successfully introduces additional subscription services, that will encourage it to have the confidence to move away from the current outdated financing model and to a system more suited to the 21st century, giving individuals the freedom to choose whether to pay a licence fee?
My hon. Friend is right that the world is changing fast, and there may come a time when the existing model becomes harder to sustain. I think that the BBC has recognised that, and the proposals I referred to are proposals by the BBC. The BBC will set up the pilots and assess them, and the information that is obtained from them will be used to inform the next charter process, when new options for funding models may become available.
I welcome the statement and especially the part about enhancing the BBC’s local output. In Northamptonshire, BBC local radio output is of the highest quality and integrity, and I congratulate and thank Stuart Linnell, Bernie Keith, Helen Blaby, John Griff, Annabel Amos and the news and production teams for the service they provide. How does the Secretary of State envisage the new royal charter enhancing these services in future?
I share my hon. Friend’s admiration for local radio and local services. The BBC’s general requirement to serve the nations and regions is set out clearly. Ofcom will be producing service licences, which will make clear the expectation on the BBC and provide further detail of how we expect it to meet that requirement. That is a matter that Ofcom will be concentrating on in the coming months in drawing up those service licences. However, I said yesterday, and I repeat again today, that I regard local radio as one of those aspects of BBC services that are fundamental to the delivery of its public service remit and that are not provided by the commercial sector.
I welcome the requirement for more productions to be tendered. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that will help to right an historic imbalance, given the share of production that is lacking across the east midlands? That will inevitably give my constituents more value for their licence fee and help to increase my local creative industries’ business, which is definitely good news.
I do agree with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that there are incredibly innovative and successful independent production companies in every part of the United Kingdom, and I have absolutely no doubt that the east midlands is one of those parts. Opening up the whole of the schedule for competition will give much more opportunity to the independent production sector. It will support the companies in her area as it will across the rest of the UK, and it will give more choice to BBC commissioning editors and therefore, ultimately, higher-quality programmes for viewers.