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Public Service Broadcasting

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 3rd March 2016.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:30 am, 3rd March 2016

What assessment he has made of the economic and cultural benefits to the UK of public service broadcasting.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Public service broadcasting is the powerhouse of the UK’s world-class television industry.

In 2014, public service broadcasters invested £2.5 billion in original TV content, and accounted for over half of all TV viewing.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have had representations from hundreds of constituents in Cambridge who are concerned about the future of the BBC. They are overwhelmingly supportive and positive. We now have the results of the consultation and more than three-fifths of respondents were in favour of continuing with the current funding system. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that there will be no further top-slicing of the licence fee?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I hope to be able to update the House on our progress on the renewal of the charter in due course. We are taking all the responses seriously and taking them fully into account. We have already agreed with the BBC that one of the top-slices of the licence fee—the additional amount that is taken for broadband—will come to an end in 2020.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

I know that my right hon. Friend will have noted the BBC’s forthcoming Shakespeare season, which is being held in collaboration with many other bodies, including the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is designed to bring Shakespeare to life for a new generation, using not just TV, but radio and online services. Does he agree that that is exactly the sort of thing the BBC ought to be doing, and something that only the BBC could do?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I agree with my right hon. Friend very strongly. This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It is an enormously important event and the BBC has a crucial role to play. I had the pleasure about 10 days ago of watching the filming of Ben Elton’s new comedy, “Upstart Crow”, which is based on Shakespeare. As my right hon. Friend says, I suspect that that is the sort of thing that only the BBC would do.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the proposals of BBC Scotland to strengthen its news output by investing in jobs and production for an entirely editorially independent “Scottish Six” programme, anchored from Scotland, are a development that all of us across the House can welcome as an example of a long-term commitment to public service broadcasting? Will he just promise us that there will be no interference from Downing Street?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I had a very good meeting with Fiona Hyslop a couple of weeks ago to talk about the way in which the BBC meets the requirement to serve all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. I obviously welcome any investment at the BBC that will create additional jobs, particularly in Scotland, which I know the hon. Gentleman will value. How the BBC goes about meeting the obligation to serve the nations and regions is a matter for the BBC. Certainly, neither I nor my colleagues in No. 10 would want to instruct them on how to go about it.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Eighty per cent. of the 192,000 responses to the Green Paper consultation say that the BBC serves its audiences well or very well, and the majority believe its content to be both high quality and distinctive from that of other broadcasters. The Secretary of State purports to be a supporter of the BBC, so why is he using charter renewal to cut back and restrict what the BBC does, rather than help it to compete in the rapidly changing and increasingly global broadcasting environment?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I was not surprised to find that the responses showed that the vast majority of people value the BBC. As I have said, I value the BBC. The hon. Lady will have to await the publication of the White Paper, but it is not a question of trying to cut back the BBC’s output. Nevertheless, there is a case, which is borne out by some of the responses and by other surveys we have conducted, for saying that the BBC needs to be more distinctive. That is something that the director-general himself said when he set out his plans for the charter renewal.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State’s speech yesterday was rather more about bashing the BBC than anything else. That is what the chair of the BBC Trust said. Bashing the BBC is the one thing the Secretary of State agrees about with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor these days. They all want to use charter renewal to eviscerate the BBC and do its competitors a favour, rather than to deliver what the licence fee-paying public want. They just do not seem to accept that the British people like the BBC and want it to continue what it is doing. When will the Secretary of State accept that charter renewal should be about making the BBC fit for the future, rather than trying to diminish it for the commercial convenience of its competitors?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

The hon. Lady must have looked at a different speech from the one I delivered. It certainly was not about bashing the BBC. Indeed, as soon as I finished making the speech, I had an extremely good meeting with the chairman of the BBC Trust, who did not mention anything about my bashing the BBC and welcomed what I had said.

The charter renewal is precisely about making the BBC fit for the future. I intend to bring forward the publication as soon as is possible, but, as the hon. Lady knows, there are a number of very important contributions, including the 192,000 consultations, that we want to take fully into account.