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Part of Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No.2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 3rd March 2011.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 3:00 pm, 3rd March 2011

I am afraid that what we heard from the shadow Culture Secretary displays absolutely blind ignorance of a process that his own Government, when they were in power, set up under the Enterprise Act 2002. He talked about putting the interests of party first. Apart from asking him why the former News International-employed Labour party director of communications sent an e-mail round to all Labour Front Benchers asking them to back off from criticisms of this deal, let me just say this. I have been absolutely scrupulous in making sure that independent views were commissioned, expressed and published at every stage of this process, precisely because I wanted to reassure the public that this decision was not being taken on the basis of party interest. Those documents have been published today so that people can see for themselves that not only did I ask for that independent advice, and not only did I publish that independent advice, but, after careful consideration, I accepted that independent advice.

Let me go through some of the other things that the hon. Gentleman said. He partially quoted something that I said about this deal before I was even part of the process, but he did not read out the end of that quote, which he will have known full well, where I said that I would not second-guess the regulators. I have not second-guessed the regulators. I have listened to the independent regulators and I have accepted their advice.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the chair of the new company that is proposed to be set up will be independent. It is written in undertaking 3.13 that the chairman will be completely independent. There will be a board with majority independent directors. He asked what proportion of the new company’s revenue will be dependent on Sky. As things stand at the moment, it would be about 65%, but I think that any independent board of directors would be likely to want to reduce that dependence over a period of time, and they will have a 10-year carriage agreement with guaranteed income over that period in which to address that issue.

The hon. Gentleman asked who will be responsible for hiring and firing those who are responsible for the operation of Sky News. Again, it is clearly written in the undertakings that have been published today, in undertaking 3.16, that that decision will be the responsibility of the independent board. He talked about The Times and The

Sunday Times, but I gently point out to him that this case is different because we will have an independent company that will be floated independently on the stock market with an independent board and an independent chairman—that is a huge difference.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm whether the impartiality rules will remain in place. It is the Government’s policy that they should. On top of that, for the first time in this country, the new company will have in its articles of association that it must respect the broadcasting code, which includes the impartiality requirements. That is set out in undertaking 3.12.

The hon. Gentleman asked when I would consult other media organisations. What I am launching today is a 17-day consultation in which those media organisations will be consulted. This is a consultation and I will listen to what they say. The extraordinary thing in what he said today was the utter cowardice of a party that listens to a statement, criticises a process that it set up, and then refuses to get off the fence and say whether it agrees with what I have done. Last time, he criticised me for not following Ofcom’s advice. In fact, I did follow Ofcom’s advice then, and I am following it now. Does he agree with what Ofcom has said? If he is not prepared to say whether he agrees, no one will take any of his criticisms the remotest bit seriously.

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