Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:35 am on 17th October 2008.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 10:35 am, 17th October 2008

As my hon. Friend obviously knows, leaving aside the people on the board, the BBC has 744 senior managers. Of those, 672 have salaries in excess of £70,000 a year; 343 have salaries in excess of £100,000 a year; 172 have salaries in excess of £130,000 a year—I cannot remember whether we have passed your salary scale yet, Madam Deputy Speaker—83 have salaries in excess of £160,000 a year; 39 have salaries in excess of £190,000; and 13 have salaries in excess of £250,000 a year. These people are not the great artists but the managers. I shall not even talk about the £195,000-a-year pension payable to Jenny Abramsky.

Such salaries create a feeling among the public, who have to pay the licence fee, that something has gone wrong in getting value for money. Whenever the BBC is challenged on the topic, it denies that there is a problem, but parliamentary scrutiny should include bringing in the National Audit Office to audit properly what goes on in the BBC. I am sure that my hon. Friend Mr. Vaizey supports that proposition.

The people who are concerned about the BBC but who also have the BBC's best interests at heart include Antony Jay, the creator of "Yes Minister" and a man who knows his way around television broadcasting very well. In a recent article, he states his belief that, for lovers of the BBC, the best thing to do is to get the BBC to face up to the reality that a different system from the present one is needed. He says:

"BBC1 and Radio 4 between them cost about £1.5bn."

On where the money would come from if not from the licence fee, he says it would come

"Partly from the profits of BBC Worldwide. Currently these run at about £100m a year"— although he thinks that that could be increased if the BBC became more professional in its marketing. He also thinks that there are opportunities to fund the BBC in other ways, including the equivalent of an Arts Council budget. He does not want to see the BBC fade away, but does not think that the present system is sustainable. He thinks that a mix of alternative sources of funding, perhaps including viewer subscriptions, is the way forward.

The total amount of taxpayers' money already being put into public service broadcasting, in addition to the amount that people pay through the licence fee, is not far short of £1 billion a year. There is £264 million for the World Service and £508.4 million for the free licences for the over-75s. A significant sum—we do not have exact figures—is required to meet the costs to the Ministry of Justice of running the courts dealing with licence fee evasion cases. According to the last figures available, in 2006, 129,000 such cases came before the courts, resulting in 113,874 fines being imposed. All those proceedings had to be funded and were an enormous burden on Her Majesty's Courts Service. Indeed, 24 of the cases resulted in people being sentenced to imprisonment. Those costs are obviously met directly by the taxpayer.

There are also collection costs, and another element of taxpayer funding of broadcasting has recently been revealed: sponsorship of ITV. It came as quite a revelation to people that the Government were giving us a soft sell of their policies by providing sponsorship money for various ITV programmes that were to do the Government's propaganda job for them.

A very large sum of money going into broadcasting comes from the public purse. It ill behoves anybody to suggest that it would be anathema, and inconsistent with what goes on at the moment, to transfer some of the money needed for public service broadcasting from the licence fee to another pot of public money. Some people argue that it would be dangerous to mix public funding with advertising, but that is already happening at S4C, which has direct Government grant as well as advertising. That is relevant, too.

Are people outside the House concerned about the issue? There are, to my knowledge, several e-petitions on the subject. One of them has been submitted by David Cormack, who says:

"Independent economic research analysis and investigations by consumer protection organisations such as the National Consumers Council have consistently concluded, for many years, that the UK TV licence is a levy which is regressive in its financial impact on the poor. This gross iniquity is perpetuated in essence by the UK Government upon its most vulnerable citizens. This situation is even more outrageous in an age when the poor may receive only 5 terrestrial TV channels, for which the TV licence contributes to the cost of only BBC output, yet the more wealthy within the UK tend to enjoy dozens, or even hundreds of digital or satellite TV channels at comparatively little extra cost to them per channel. This petition accordingly urges the Government to abolish the UK TV licence and allow the BBC to make use of" alternative forms of income generation.

Another e-petition has been organised by BBCresistance. The fact that such organisations have been set up shows the strength of feeling on the subject among ordinary people. I have also come across the Campaign to Abolish the Television Licence. Again, there is a link between its arguments and the arguments against the community charge or poll tax. That indicates that we need to think about where we go from here, and shows that the debate is highly topical.

I shall conclude, because it is important that other Members have a chance to speak. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage, who is on the Front Bench, will respond to the debate for my party. He will know that, in 1971, an incoming Conservative Government abolished the licence fee for radio. I do not expect him to pledge today that an incoming Conservative Government in 2010 will abolish the TV licence fee, but I hope that he will accept that we cannot let matters rest here, to use the immortal words of our right hon. Friends the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary. Those are words relevant to the Lisbon treaty and the EU constitution, and they are equally relevant to this debate about the licence fee. The present situation is unsustainable. Public service broadcasting by ITV is in grave jeopardy and the BBC licence fee payers are in revolt. They are looking to an imaginative, incoming Conservative Government to do something about it, and I hope that they will.

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Annotations

Jane Birkby
Posted on 20 Oct 2008 11:41 pm (Report this annotation)

Are the people on these inflated wages trained by Common Purpose, to bring the BBC into disrepute?
If they are, they must be summarily dismissed, and executives who love Britain, and all it stands for, put in their place.
Enough is enough with this PC rubbish, inappropriate casting, censored news, and corruption.

Jane Birkby
Posted on 20 Oct 2008 11:43 pm (Report this annotation)

BBC Worldwide is an EU institution, paid for by EU taxpayers, and therefore under EU control.