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Local Television

Volume 614: debated on Thursday 8 September 2016

2. What recent assessment she has made of the contribution of local television services to broadcasting. (906185)

Local TV makes an important contribution to British broadcasting, with around 1.5 million households watching it each week. Twenty-one channels have launched since November 2013, with a further 13 due to come on air next year.

The Minister has highlighted the successful development of local TV. That success is underpinned by a partnership with the BBC, which provides an income stream in return for sharing news content, but the arrangement is now at risk with new proposals for commissioning local content. Will the Minister agree to meet the local TV network to discuss how the proposed public service content fund could be used to provide continued support to local TV?

Yes, I would be delighted to do so. The detailed arrangements that were set out in the BBC White Paper are a matter for the BBC, but it will clearly want to consult and engage with all local media. I would be enthusiastic about meeting local TV providers with the hon. Gentleman. It is disappointing to have sedentary voices from the Opposition shouting that local TV is not relevant. I think it is hugely relevant, and I look forward to working across this House to deliver it.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to Estuary TV, which was established 12 years ago at Immingham in my constituency, and is now based at the Grimsby Institute? It is a long-established channel. May I invite the Minister to follow his predecessor and visit the station, which I am sure will give him an extended interview?

Well, how could I turn down an offer like that? I love Grimsby. It is great to come to Cleethorpes with my hon. Friend, and to Grimsby, too. I hope that even these exchanges may find their way on to Estuary TV. As with other brilliant local TV stations that I have appeared on in the past, I look forward to visiting this one in the future.

May I also welcome the new Secretary of State and her team and wish them well? Has the Minister had any opportunity to read the report on the BBC by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, and in particular the Committee’s unanimous recommendation that there be a separate Scottish six o’clock news? Moreover, have the Minister or his colleagues talked about that with anybody senior at the BBC, and can he reassure us that there will be no Government interference to try to thwart the “Scottish Six” when it is launched?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I know that there have been extensive discussions with the BBC at all levels about the draft charter and the framework agreement. I am afraid that he will just have to wait a short while longer for more detail about that.

May I take the opportunity to congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment and welcome her team to the Front Bench? May I also add my congratulations to our brilliant Olympians on their stunning success in Rio and wish our Paralympians similar success?

Local television services face the threat of serious cuts if the Government press ahead with their plan to make the BBC pay the cost of free licence fees for the over-75s. As a social benefit, that has hitherto been paid for by the Exchequer, and rightly so. Transferring the cost to the BBC could mean a loss to the corporation, and effectively to other licence fee payers, of up to £608 million a year, threatening programme cuts across the board. Will the Government think again about this utterly misguided decision?

I simply do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. There was a very good licence fee settlement, which the BBC welcomed. If he is coming out against providing free TV licences to the over-75s, he ought to say that that is the Labour party position.