New Clause 4 — Investigation of the BBC by the National Audit Office
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough, Conservative)
I know that my hon. Friend takes a deep interest in those matters. He talks to senior executives in the BBC and understands their mindset. I assure him, and perhaps BBC executives through him, that we have no desire to compromise the BBC's independence or limit its creativity. It would be a retrograde step if Members of Parliament, the PAC, the Comptroller and Auditor General or anybody else tried to inhibit editorial independence. The argument that that independence would be compromised—if such an argument is being put forward—simply does not stand scrutiny. Let us consider what the CAG already does. He reports on the Arts Council and no complaint has ever been made by anybody in the Arts Council saying that the National Audit Office has been questioning their artistic judgments—[Interruption.] The Minister knows all about that. Perhaps people in the National Audit Office do not have the facility with words that he has shown on previous occasions in dealing with artistic matters, but there have never been any complaints about the activities of the CAG with regard to the Arts Council. The CAG also reports on our universities, but not a single complaint has come from any university saying that he has inhibited academic freedom. That simply has not happened.
The editorial judgments made by the BBC would be the CAG's starting point. He would say "I am not responsible in any way for the editorial judgments that are being made", but he would provide a valuable insight into how the public funds that are at the BBC's disposal are being spent. We are outlaying all the money and we want to know that it is being spent efficiently and without waste. The CAG would provide Parliament with an independent insight into the quality of the BBC's financial management. That is what the process is all about. This House started its work a long time ago in scrutinising the Executive and trying to ensure proper financial management. There are still only two areas where Parliament does not have a right to investigate financial management where public money is used—the BBC and the civil list.