BBC White Paper

– in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 14th March 2006.

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Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 4:23 pm, 14th March 2006

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement. I am today publishing a White Paper on the future of the BBC, entitled "A Public Service for All: the BBC in the Digital Age". It does exactly what that describes.

We live in an era of rapid change. In broadcasting, new technologies are leading to vastly more television and radio channels and to new media services. The BBC's charter, shortly due for renewal, needs to create a BBC strong enough to thrive in the new environment and flexible enough to adapt to new challenges. The BBC is a driving force to enrich our public realm. It is one of those institutions that brings the people of this country together as equals.

More than 70 per cent. of households now have digital television. As digital delivers ever more choice, there are some who describe the BBC as an anachronism. The Government disagree. More importantly, the British people disagree. Our unprecedented engagement with the people of this country in the development of the White Paper—more than 10,000 people wrote to us—has shown that people right across the country want a strong BBC that is independent of Government and is responsive to public wishes.

The Government hope that the new charter will give the public the BBC that they want. The Reithian principles—"inform, educate and entertain"—will be adapted for the digital age, but we will give audiences and competitors greater clarity about what that means in practice.

The BBC will have six new purposes: sustaining citizenship and civil society, promoting education, stimulating creativity, reflecting the identity of the UK's nations, regions and communities, bringing the world to the UK and the UK to the world and building digital Britain, where the BBC will act as a "trusted guide". There was strong public support for all those objectives, but licence fee payers also want to ensure that they get the BBC programmes that they want to watch and listen to, and they do not want an overdose of worthiness.

The White Paper makes entertainment central to the BBC's mission. The BBC should continue to take fun seriously, engraining entertainment into all its services, but the White Paper is not about writing the BBC a blank cheque or chasing ratings through copy-cat programming. It is about ensuring that the BBC delivers what licence fee payers want in terms of quality and distinctiveness.

The BBC's governance structure has become anachronistic, and the BBC needs a new form of accountability to licence fee payers, as the BBC's shareholders. Our new arrangements will make the BBC closer to the people who pay for it and more accountable to them. In a step change for the BBC's governance, we will abolish the BBC governors and replace them with two new bodies, the BBC Trust and a separate executive board.

The trust will be the licence fee payer's voice. It will act as a proxy for the BBC's shareholders, making it the first public interest body on that scale that the country has ever seen. The trust will oversee the executive board, whose own job will be to run the BBC's services. There will be clear separation of responsibilities between the trust and the executive board. Although the trust will be the sovereign body of the BBC—its word will be final—the new charter and agreement will prevent it from doing the executive board's job, which is critical to maintaining the objectivity required to generate and sustain public confidence. That is a unique solution for a unique organisation in unique circumstances.

An important part of getting the best programmes to the screen is competition for quality programmes. The White Paper requires the BBC to operate a commissioning system that encourages greater competition between in-house and independent producers but maintains the critical mass of in-house production. That new "window of creative competition" should result in the independent quota of 25 per cent. genuinely becoming a floor, not a ceiling.

I repeat our welcome in principle for the BBC's proposals to move a significant amount of production to Greater Manchester, helping to ensure that the licence fee is used as venture capital for the whole nation's creativity.

The BBC will continue as the cornerstone of public service broadcasting. We are equally committed to maintaining a dynamic commercial sector. That, too, is in the interests of the licence fee payer. In order to do that, we will put in place a triple-lock system to ensure the highest standards of accountability. First, the trust will issue licences to the executive board for running each BBC service. Secondly, BBC content will have to have distinctive characteristics, such as being original, of high quality, challenging or innovative—all supported by the consultation with licence fee payers. Thirdly, a public value test will be applied to all new BBC services or significant changes to existing services. In response to some concerns raised in the debate that followed the Green Paper, I am happy to clarify that whenever the trust carries out a public value test, Ofcom will provide the market impact assessment to guarantee rigour and ensure wider public confidence.

We will also put in place: a new duty on the trust to have regard to competition issues; ex ante codes in specific areas that have the potential to raise issues or concerns about competition; an overhauled fair trading regime; and a fair, transparent complaints system. The White Paper also confirms that the BBC will be fully licence fee funded for the period of the next charter. There will be future reviews into the scope for other methods of funding the BBC beyond 2016 and the possibility of distributing public funding, including licence fee money, beyond the BBC.

The process of deciding the next licence fee settlement has already started. Licence fee payers and industry will help to form our conclusions. The trust will need to make some tough decisions about how resources are allocated within the boundaries of the settlement. That will include self-help. To help the trust exercise stewardship of the licence fee, the relationship between the BBC and the National Audit Office will be strengthened within the existing arrangements.

Despite past predictions, public service broadcasting, led by the BBC, remains the bedrock of today's media, with strong public support. We are optimists about the future of the BBC, but it cannot take its position for granted. It must develop its role over the next 10 years, strengthening its accountability, bringing in new generations of viewers and listeners, and building a new consensus around the value of its place in Britain. The White Paper gives it the means to build that national consensus, with the authority and support of licence fee payers, and so I commend it to the House.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

First, may I thank the right hon. Lady for allowing me to have prior sight of both the White Paper and her statement? The wait was almost worth it, although I cannot quite see the difference between the Green Paper and the White Paper and we had to wait for the equivalent of the gestation period for an elephant to get the White Paper. I would be interested if the right hon. Lady would tell us where the differences are between one and the other.

The BBC is indeed a unique, much loved and much cherished institution and the Conservative party is committed to ensuring its future. Across the country and the world, the BBC stands out as a beacon of excellence. Our duty is to ensure that the BBC that we pass on to future generations is equipped to flourish in the decades ahead. Does the right hon. Lady not understand that to many the White Paper is such a disappointment? It singularly fails to rise to the challenge that the BBC faces. It was supposed to provide us with a springboard to the new digital age. But it is not so much a launching pad as a holding pen.

The White Paper is a huge missed opportunity for change and innovation. The Secretary of State has failed to grasp the challenges facing broadcasting in the 21st century. Digital television, broadband internet, podcasting and on-demand viewing are transforming the world in which the BBC operates and will change forever the future of public service television in Britain. In a fast-paced digital age, with people watching television on their mobile phones, iPods and laptops, and with the eclipse of the traditional television channel, is it credible to believe that a compulsory tax on the ownership of a television set is the right way to fund our national broadcaster for the next 10 years? Do not hon. Members accept that by failing to respond to those challenges, the Secretary of State has produced a White Paper that fails not only the BBC but the viewing public?

With an international reputation to uphold, it is vital that the BBC is bound by the highest standards of quality, impartiality and integrity. Does not the Secretary of State agree that the fine judgments that the BBC makes daily must be in the interests of the public, not Ministers and the Government? That is why the BBC needs a proper independent regulator. Why is it that Ofcom has the ability properly to regulate every other broadcaster in the UK, but not the BBC?

"I fully support the recent proposals that there should be a single regulatory body for all terrestrial television."

Those are not my words, but those of Michael Grade, the chairman of the governors of the BBC, when he was chief executive of Channel 4.

Is the BBC Trust proposed by the Secretary of State anything more than the BBC governors in another building—just as cosy, but twice the rent? If the BBC is to meet its public service broadcasting obligations, is it not essential that the British public have confidence in its independence and integrity? The Prime Minister may think that it is appropriate for him to act as judge and jury, but surely we cannot accept a model that fails to separate governance and regulation. Must not we have a system in place whereby those regulating the content, impartiality and standards of the BBC see themselves as representing the licence fee payer, not the Secretary of State?

The BBC is a unique organisation in a unique position. Because of that, we must ensure that that position is not abused to the detriment of other broadcasters or the viewing and listening public. Is it not unacceptable for a publicly funded BBC to be allowed to outspend and outgun its competitors, prevent innovation and stifle competition?

How can we be confident that the advisory role for Ofcom, as envisaged in the White Paper, will have the power to clip the wings of Auntie when she spies a lucrative potential market? Why can Ofcom do no more than send an advisory report to the BBC? That is not a criticism of Ofcom, just bewilderment at the way in which the Secretary of State is tying its hands. As long as the BBC has the ability to ignore Ofcom, as it does under the right hon. Lady's plans, it will continue unchecked and unrestrained. Will the right hon. Lady tell us whether Ofcom will be allowed to investigate the BBC's activities retrospectively? I doubt that. I suspect that Ofcom will not be a watchdog, but more the proverbial toothless tiger, and that we will be left with a typical new Labour initiative—a competition champion with only advisory powers.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate our concerns about her White Paper's suggestion that the BBC should be under a charter obligation to promote Britain abroad and to sustain citizenship and civil society? The Chancellor is already talking about his desire to see a flagpole in every garden. Is not there a danger that that will soon be followed by a Union jack flying from every TV aerial in the land? Jesting apart, does not such a move—at least in the hands of the Government, who are not known for their respect for independent institutions—represent an insidious threat to the BBC's impartiality? Surely the Secretary of State can see the dangers.

We are considering an unprecedented increase in funding for the BBC—from just under £3 billion a year to well over £4 billion in 2013. Why does the settlement require such an increase? Why are we faced with a bill for the BBC that is higher than the gross domestic product of Mongolia? Is it because of the grasping hand of the Chancellor? Are not the Government using charter renewal as a Trojan horse to pay for digital switchover? When there is a smell of easy money, the Chancellor is never far away, looking for ways of paying for policies that he cannot afford. Is it not the case that he is hellbent on trousering between £2 billion and £5 billion from flogging off the analogue spectrum? The licence fee payer will pay for that, but will not get anything back for the investment. Like the worst dinner date, the Chancellor is never around when the bill arrives.

We know that the Chancellor has form—he made £27 billion from the sell-off of the 3G network, and he is looking to repeat the exercise. Surely his ingenuity does not stop there. An example of the stealthiest of stealth taxes, he hopes that, by using the word "spectrum", the unsuspecting public will not realise that he has just imposed the first new Labour TV tax.

Like the computer salesman who bamboozles the customer with jargon, the Chancellor hopes that we will simply not notice another £300 million going from our pockets into his. Does not the Secretary of State accept that a licence fee that exceeds £180 will hit hardest the poorest in Britain—those on low and fixed incomes? Does not she agree that there is a danger that public confidence in the BBC, as a national institution, will be undermined by a licence fee that is set beyond many people's ability to pay, simply to feed the Chancellor's tax-and-spend habit?

We had high hopes of the White Paper because we had high hopes of the BBC. However, the document is a missed opportunity to introduce regulation to guarantee impartiality and independence. It is a missed opportunity to harness the potential of the digital age, to provide a level playing field for the commercial sector, to reinforce public confidence in the BBC and to give the BBC licence fee payers value for money.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, that was high on rhetoric and low on substance. He will be considerably reassured when, in a calmer frame of mind, he reads the substance of the White Paper.

Let me begin with the differences between us, which have led to the Government pursuing their approach to the future shape of the BBC. As I said in my opening remarks, the BBC Trust is a unique organisation and a unique solution, which recognises the BBC's unique nature. The BBC is an organisation like no other in this country. Our intention is that it should be more accountable than ever to the people who pay for it—the licence fee payers.

There has been a time-honoured consensus in this country about the importance of universal free-to-view broadcasting. That principle safeguards the interests of the most vulnerable and those who, at a time of rapid change, are at risk of being left behind. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, as part of mitigating the risk, the Government introduced free television licences for those over 75. We will ensure that targeted help, which is necessary as a consequence of digital switchover, protects the interests of the vulnerable and the very elderly.

I shall deal with some of the hon. Gentleman's specific points, particularly on the changes that have taken place since the Green Paper was published some months ago, which are reflected in today's White Paper. Several important parliamentary reports have appeared in the interim, including the report of the Select Committee, which is chaired by Mr. Whittingdale, and the report of the House of Lords Select Committee. It was right to give due consideration to both those reports in developing the White Paper policy. It is in the light of the concerns raised, particularly by the House of Lords Select Committee, on the structure of the trust, that we have sought to strengthen its role in relation to broader competition issues, the development of ex ante codes, the role of the National Audit Office in working with the trust to ensure value for money for the licence fee payer, and the role of Ofcom in conducting and developing market impact assessments. All of that will ensure that choice for the consumer—the licence fee payer—is not diminished as a consequence of the BBC's intended place in the broadcasting marketplace. If the hon. Gentleman considers those matters in a rather more serious and rational way and sets aside his rather overblown rhetoric, he will understand that that solution is right for the BBC and wanted by the people of this country.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

The Secretary of State will be aware that there have been numerous complaints from news providers, software publishers, online services, record companies and mobile phone operators about the impact of the BBC's ambitions in that respect. While the BBC is clearly right to make available its programmes in whatever format the consumer chooses, does the Secretary of State accept that its intervention could risk having the same kind of impact as that of an elephant jumping into a swimming pool? Will she therefore consider making Ofcom's role more than simply an advisory one? Will she also ensure that the final decision about launching new services does not rest with the BBC alone, even in the guise of the new BBC Trust rather than that of the old BBC governors?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman has raised two important considerations. If the broadcasting market is to continue to flourish, it is crucial that the potential competitive impact of the BBC is understood and subject to scrutiny. That is why the market impact assessment will be conducted under the joint surveillance of the trust and Ofcom, and why the trust will have a duty to consider the wider interests of licence fee payers.

The hon. Gentleman raised a second important issue, which is now being considered by Ofcom, about the ownership of broadcast rights to material delivered through new media. He will be aware that Ofcom will shortly reach its conclusion on that consultation, and we should obviously await that. Those are two examples of the competitive challenges facing the BBC and any other media organisation of scale in this country. It is important that the BBC should be a source for growth in innovation, not a constraint on innovation. The structure of the trust will ensure that that happens, as will the role of Ofcom, which will publish in a transparent manner all the conclusions on market impact assessments. Ultimately, the BBC Trust will be accountable to the licence fee payers for its judgments.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Labour, Manchester, Gorton

While many of us have great confidence in Michael Grade as chairman of the BBC and Mark Thompson as director-general, does my right hon. Friend agree that the quality and integrity of BBC governance must not depend on the quality of individuals at any given time and that the test of the new governance structure that she proposes is that never again will it be possible for a huge and culpable blunder by broadcasters to be condoned and support for it railroaded through the board of governors, as occurred in the David Kelly affair? Everybody agreed after that affair that, if there was one flaw in the BBC, it was the structure of governance. Can my right hon. Friend give me the assurance for which I ask?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his distinguished chairmanship of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which has undertaken many inquiries into the BBC and whose recommendations we have taken very seriously indeed. Yes, I can give him the assurance about the importance of a structural separation of the role of the BBC Trust and that of the BBC executive. It is important that the organisation is structurally robust, and, as he suggests, not simply built around personalities. These are structures designed to run the BBC for a decade to come.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The test of the White Paper must be whether it guarantees a strong, independent and securely funded BBC equipped to meet the challenges of the digital age, strengthened in its independence from the Government and set to remain the envy of the world.

Unlike Mr. Swire, I think there is much in the White Paper to applaud: a clear statement of purposes to the BBC, emphasising quality, not ratings; increased opportunities for independent production; greater scrutiny of BBC finances under the NAO; continuation of the licence fee; and a charter lasting 10 years, ensuring long-term planning. That said, there are concerns on regulation, Government demands on the BBC and public service broadcasting in general.

On regulation, does the Secretary of State accept that while the proposed BBC Trust is an improvement on the BBC governors, it is still not a totally independent regulator? It will have, as we see in the White Paper, strategic oversight of major BBC decisions, and the White Paper even describes it as the sovereign body within the BBC, so it is still part of the BBC. Does she agree that that will be especially problematic when deciding whether the BBC is allowed to develop an existing service or introduce a new one?

The new proposals are certainly tougher than the current ones, and Ofcom's role—it is hardly a toothless tiger, I have to say—in assessing market impact is welcome, but will not the BBC still be its own judge and jury? Will the Secretary of State at least accept the need for a clear process of appeal to a truly independent authority? Better still, will she agree that a new single independent regulator for all public service broadcasters is the best option of all?

On demands made on the BBC, is there not a danger that the BBC will be buried under innumerable Government targets? Is not the Secretary of State slightly embarrassed by the fact that the last charter and agreement had 43 clauses between them, whereas the new charter and agreement have 175—a fourfold increase?

Given those demands, will the Secretary of State rule out a smash-and-grab raid on the licence fee payers to fund them? For example, does she agree that targeted assistance to help disadvantaged households in the switch to digital should be paid from general taxation, not the licence fee? Does she agree that the regeneration benefits, not the programme quality improvement benefits, of the move to Manchester should be paid for by Manchester authorities, not TV viewers nationwide? I agree with the hon. Gentleman on one thing at least. If the Chancellor does introduce spectrum charging, will the Secretary of State rule out the possibility that the BBC will have to pay for it out of the licence fee?

Will the Secretary of State re-examine the question of who pays the licence fee, and review the policy of concessions for vulnerable groups? Is it not bizarre that while hotels need only one licence for the first 15 rooms, there are no concessions for women's refuges?

I hope the Secretary of State agrees that competition is good for the BBC. Will she make a firm commitment to preserving the plurality of public service broadcasting by, for example, protecting the future of Channel 4?

Notwithstanding those concerns, there is much to be welcomed in the White Paper. For 80 years, the BBC has been the cornerstone of public service broadcasting in this country. Although they are not perfect, the proposals in the White Paper should ensure that as we enter the digital era the BBC will continue to play an important role in all our lives.

W

It is outrageous that this Lib Dem is suggesting that Manchester people should foot the whole bill for BBC relocation costs. Obviously we will be paying in our taxes and licences fees, and the Council and other authorities will of course make an appropriate contribution. But the whole bill? This will be like a bombshell for Manchester people. Especially in South Manchester where the Lib Dems have lots of Council seats but spend all their time moaning and pretending instead of carrying out their proper duties. The Lib Dems have been briefing against this move for many many months. Across the whole of the country - except that is for in Manchester where they pretend about meany things - they say that they are against the move. And now this clown wants national resources quite rightly located in the regions to be funded by local people instead of from the centre!! Well done to Tony Lloyd MP for coming back on this nonsense later in the debate.

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Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity.

During the development of the White Paper, the central debate was about the nature of regulation of the BBC. As the hon. Gentleman will know, at least four options have been widely canvassed and widely debated. As I have made clear, Labour Members believe that the BBC Trust is equipped with the necessary powers to be close enough to the BBC to know what is going on, but strong and independent enough to make tough decisions that are in the interests of the licence fee payer. It has a duty and an accountability to the licence fee payer, and as it develops and matures it will be its responsibility to determine the way in which mechanisms for accountability are defined.

The hon. Gentleman and I disagree on switchover and switchover costs. He will see from the regulatory impact assessment that the additional costs that are likely to fall on the BBC are the switchover costs. Throughout the next charter period, the National Audit Office will oversee the self-help programme when the level of the licence fee is eventually determined. I think that that is an important statement of accountability.

The hon. Gentleman and I differ on how the switchover costs should be funded. The principles relating to spectrum charging were agreed in the Communications Act 2003, as the first chapter in this episode of digital switchover. The costs of switchover are broadcasting costs, and historically broadcasting costs that have matched periods of rapid change have always been borne by the BBC. We believe that that should continue.

The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about concessions. Again, I am happy to consider representations on ways in which the existing list of concessions might be altered or amended, although ultimately someone will have to pay for the cost of those concessions. I shall, however, be happy to ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments receive a response as part of the debate on the charter.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes so much of the White Paper. The differences between us are clear, but Labour Members believe that the proposals on which we differ are in the interests of the continuation of universal free-to-view broadcasting and the licence fee payer.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Many Members are hoping to catch my eye. Accordingly, I make a plea for brief questions and answers.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Is the Secretary of State aware that some of us who have been ardent defenders of the public sector in all its forms have supported the BBC for many years, and have heard many statements like the one that she has delivered today? It is all about jam tomorrow: things are going to be different. Does she agree that the BBC has wasted wonderful opportunities in the past 10 to 15 years? With the advent of all these television stations, it could have been a giant in the field. Sadly, that has not happened. I hope that when the move to Manchester takes place, some changes will be made and that we do not have a repeat of what we have had recently: groups of people from the Murdoch empire running the BBC and its political programmes and following a Daily Mail agenda. One of them has had more transplants than Michael Jackson. I hope that some changes will be made and that the BBC will be more representative of the whole of the political spectrum, and not just the Tories.

W

Dennis Skinner is a priceless national treasure. Thank goodness he is there to root the Tories out of the BBC.

Submitted by Withington Observer

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Public support for the BBC is not reflected in "jam tomorrow"; it is reflected in the polling and consultation that we have conducted over two years. My hon. Friend makes an important point about, first, value for money and maintaining the confidence of the licence fee payer and, secondly, the importance of accuracy and impartiality in BBC news and current affairs broadcasting. That will be a charter responsibility and I know it is a responsibility that the BBC takes extremely seriously. If at any time any Member of Parliament feels that those principles have been breached, the complaints procedure is available to him or her.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

How independent will the trust be from the BBC? Does she agree that it is always better to have an independent body investigating an executive?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The trust will be structurally separate from the executive and, as I have said on a number of occasions, will have a different accountability to the licence fee payer. There will be oversight and scrutiny of the way in which it discharges its competition functions by Ofcom, and value for money scrutiny will be provided through the joint studies that the trust will conduct with the National Audit Office. The House can have confidence in the independence of the trust, but it is a new body with a reputation that has to be earned and that will make or break the likelihood of its long-term continuation.

Photo of Alan Keen Alan Keen Labour, Feltham and Heston

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on ensuring that the BBC maintains its uniqueness. In order to help it reach the 25 per cent. minimum of external production, may I suggest that she contact the BBC and say that we should have a parliamentary version of "The Office"? Would she support me in saying that there could be nobody better to write the script, and even play the main part, than the shadow Secretary of State, based on his performance this afternoon?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for his work on the Select Committee. He is a little harsh on Mr. Swire.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister (Defence)

The fourth of the six new purposes mentions reflecting the identity of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. How will that be done? For example, how will BBC Northern Ireland be represented on the trust and the executive board? What assurance can she give that the two bodies will not increase, rather than decrease, the bureaucracy that many believe exists within the BBC?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

A governor will have responsibility for Northern Ireland, and value for money will be a discipline that will apply throughout everything the BBC does.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Labour, Rossendale and Darwen

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the support in the north-west region for the BBC's proposals to move a significant amount of its production to Manchester, which will enhance the creative economy of the region and constituencies such as my own. Is my right hon. Friend confident that the move will go ahead?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. This proposal has widespread support in the House and I urge Members with a constituency or regional interest to make their views well known to the BBC. The impact of such an approach on the economy of the north-west and Greater Manchester is well demonstrated, and there are many reasons why the BBC should rise to the challenge of spreading venture capital for creativity way beyond the M25.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

What extra funding will be given to the BBC in the regions, and does the Secretary of State agree that the BBC in the regions does an excellent job? I am thinking of news-gathering organisations such as BBC Midlands Today and—last, but not least—BBC Radio Shropshire.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am sure that I can commend all the BBC regional television stations and the excellence of BBC Radio Shropshire.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the White Paper and her comments today should give BBC viewers and listeners no reason to fear for the BBC's future? In fact, what has been mapped out suggests a strengthening of the BBC's uniqueness and its role not just in the United Kingdom, but across the world. However, they should be afraid—very afraid—of the comments that we heard today from the shadow Secretary of State, Mr. Swire.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend says.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

The Secretary of State referred to a targeted assistance programme for the poorest people, in order to offset the cost of digital switchover. Does she believe that that is a welfare cost that should be picked up by central Government, or a broadcasting cost that should be picked up by the licence fee payer?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The Government's view is that it is a broadcasting cost, so it should be met by the licence fee.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Labour, North Swindon

I should first declare an interest, having worked for the BBC. As an independent producer, I both benefited from BBC commissions and suffered because of the way in which they were managed. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a far-reaching and important statement, but I should be grateful for her reassurance that the new commissioning system will not damage the BBC's ability to retain a significant production base. That base has always been the key training house for the British television industry; indeed, it has been responsible for much that is excellent in that industry. I am particularly concerned about analytical current affairs, which there is a dire need for, as the recent Power report showed.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and I hope that I can reassure him that an enormous amount of consideration has been given to the structure of the joint commissioning proposal, precisely because we recognise the importance of the BBC's retaining sufficient scale in-house.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

Will the Secretary of State understand the bemusement that will be felt in Scotland at this promotion of British citizenship through the re-branding of the BBC as the British bulldog corporation? In the meantime, we will lose our national voice by losing our governor. The 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock news service is increasingly irrelevant and unnecessary in Scotland. Instead of waving flags, can the BBC not accept the new constitutional reality of the UK and set its agenda accordingly?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by pointing out that the specific purpose is to reflect the diversity of the UK's nations and regions. He will no doubt read with interest in the White Paper the references to Gaelic broadcasting.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East

Most Members will support a well-funded, high-quality and strong BBC. As the Secretary of State knows, broadcasting today, particularly television, is vastly different from 10 years ago, and in 10 years' time it will be vastly different again. Does she therefore accept that there is a duty to ensure not only a strong BBC, but strong competitors? Will she say a bit more about how her Department plans to create an environment in which, as new technologies unfold and choice increases, we have not only the high-quality public service broadcasting from the BBC that we all want to see, but strong competitors that can produce and launch initiatives and provide similarly high-quality broadcasting? Overall, it is the viewer and listener who would be the winner through taking such an approach.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is right. The licence fee payers—the people of this country—are best served by having a wide choice in broadcasting. A unique challenge for broadcasting in this country is balancing the interests and scale of the BBC—which is, in any theoretical formulation, an intervention in the market, but which is there by virtue of long-established national consensus—with the importance of promoting innovation and diversity, as well as inward investment from other countries, subject to our regulatory system. The White Paper achieves that balance and rigour, maintaining choice in broadcasting for licence fee payers.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Conservative, Tunbridge Wells

The Secretary of State said that the White Paper is rich in substance, but is not the truth that it is lightweight and vapid in its reforms? Even the concept of the trust is limited. The White Paper says that the BBC Trust will not be a trust in the legal sense and its members will not be trustees of any property. Who are the trustees of the BBC's property, intellectual and physical, if not the trust?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

My answers are no and no to the hon. Gentleman's first two points. The trust will not be a legal entity in the fiduciary sense. It will hold the responsibilities of accountability, regulation and governance of the BBC on behalf of the licence fee payer. The hon. Gentleman is arguing about a fine legal point, but licence fee payers, with whom we have had extensive discussions on the issue, understand precisely what the trust is intended to achieve and support it by a majority for that reason.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the logic of the move to Manchester—I note her welcome for that—is not regeneration, as the Liberal Democrats seem to think, but about unlocking the creativity of the whole nation and ensuring that we build up the clusters and cultures that can deliver the television of the future? In that context, can she make it clear to those in the BBC who are resistant to the move that they cannot use it as a bargaining chip in licence fee negotiations, because the logic of the move has to be determined entirely by what is good for the viewing public?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am sure that those with sense in the BBC will listen to my hon. Friend and take seriously what he says. The creative gain will be enormous and the gain for the BBC in establishing a broader identity will be enormous. The potential for collaboration with other broadcasters will also be enormous. All of that provides a compelling case in support of the proposal. It will ultimately be a decision for the BBC, which will have to produce the business case and the arguments, but my hon. Friend should be in no doubt about the strength of the support for the proposal on this side of the House.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The Secretary of State knows that for years the Public Accounts Committee has been campaigning for the present voluntary arrangements with the National Audit Office, which we have had for the past year or two. It is true that the White Paper will strengthen the arrangements somewhat, and I thank her for that. However, does she realise that we will still be missing the holy grail of external audit, whereby the external auditor has the untrammelled right to investigate a public sector body, which cannot veto that investigation? Under the White Paper, the interim arrangements will continue. The Public Accounts Committee met the National Audit Office last night and we decided to continue campaigning. Will the Secretary of State keep an open mind on this, because the spending of £3 billion of public money should be accountable to this House, the national Parliament?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the arguments that have been resisted by this Government and the BBC. Like him, I welcome the settlement that the White Paper provides and I welcome the fact that the NAO will be invited to exercise scrutiny over the self-help and efficiency savings over the next period of the licence fee. I simply reiterate the point that the BBC is a unique organisation. The arrangements are unique and it is the responsibility of all those within the BBC to make them work in the public interest.