Religious Broadcasting

Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th December 2000.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield 12:00 am, 11th December 2000

What submission the Commissioners have made to the BBC with regard to their policy on religious broadcasting. [141904]

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

The hon. Gentleman may know that the Church of England's General Synod expressed its concern in February last year at the reduction and rescheduling of certain religious programmes, and that the Church is involved in work to monitor the output of the BBC and ITV in that respect.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I wonder how the synod feels about the recent abrupt resignation of Ernie Rea, who is the BBC's head of religious broadcasting, who said that BBC 2 did not appear to want traditional Christianity at all and that it just wanted "new-agey stuff". Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he will join the synod in saying that, in this new digital age of the BBC, we do not want a dumbed-down, happy-clappy, newey-agey, trendy-bendy BBC?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I remind the hon. Gentleman of what was said 2,000 years ago: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's. We should leave the BBC's internal organisation to the BBC. However, I fully support the General Synod's expression of concern. I understand that the BBC has given assurances that religious programmes form an important and valued part of the corporation's output.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I wrote to the BBC to raise that very issue, but the response that I received did not give me much confidence. Does my hon. Friend agree that broadcasting "Panorama" at the time at which it is shown on Sunday nights serves the purpose neither of current affairs documentaries nor of religious broadcasting?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I understand that the Bishop of Wakefield is chairing a monitoring group that is working to devise the appropriate mechanism to monitor the range and nature of all religious programmes. The point that my hon. Friend makes will no doubt be taken fully into account.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Given the care with which the broadcasters must proceed when they govern party political broadcasting, and given the somewhat colourful row about the fact that the leader of the Conservative party appeared on "Songs of Praise" yesterday—the Prime Minister will appear on that programme in January, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) is waiting for his invitation—can we have a serious assurance that somebody is regulating the political content of religious broadcasting so that it does not become abused or disrespected and so that such programmes are treated, as they should be, as religious broadcasts rather than party political ones?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am a little nonplussed by the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The Leader of the Opposition visited Middlesbrough football ground the other day. I am not entirely sure that that was a political appearance, although it was the same day as "Match of the Day" and the right hon. Gentleman appeared on television that evening. I think that in a religious democracy—if I may call it that—we should encourage our political leaders to take every opportunity to link themselves to our Christian faith, even if that involves appearing on television in such programmes as "Songs of Praise".