Public Broadcasters

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th September 2018.

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Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull 12:00 am, 6th September 2018

What steps he is taking to ensure that public broadcasters reflect and provide for the whole of the UK.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

What steps he is taking to ensure that public broadcasters reflect and provide for the whole of the UK.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Public service broadcasters should do what they can to spread prosperity and opportunity across the whole country. For example, my Department has supported Channel 4 in moving 300 and more of its staff outside London and increasing its out-of-London commissioning spend. I look forward to other broadcasters following its example.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

First, may I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend and near neighbour to his post? I am sure he will do a superb job.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that the decision to run the Government’s 5G pilot in the west midlands makes the case for Channel 4’s HQ relocation to Birmingham almost unarguable and that that would go some way to closing the regional public broadcast gap?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for his generous welcome. He is right that the 5G testbed announcement is good news for the west midlands. In the longer term, it is good news for the whole country, because it will give us the opportunity to test what 5G can do across a range of different communities.

As far as Channel 4 is concerned, my hon. Friend will understand that I need to be a little careful. As things stand, the Secretary of State, the Minister of State, the shadow Secretary of State and, indeed, our Parliamentary Private Secretaries all come from the west midlands. None of us, of course, would be disappointed if Channel 4 came to the west midlands, but we would all agree that the strongest bid should win and it is up to Channel 4 to decide which that should be.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

As well as the 5G pilot, the west midlands has a young and diverse population that reflects the country as a whole. May I tempt my right hon. and learned Friend a little further? Does he agree that those are among the many reasons that Channel 4 coming to Birmingham would not only be good for the west midlands, but would offer some excellent opportunities for Channel 4?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

It is also worth noting that the west midlands has a young and diverse range of Members of Parliament too, but my hon. Friend is right: it is important for Channel 4 that it has the benefit of the talent that the many regions of the UK can bring to it. I hope that it will pursue that objective, whether it locates itself in Birmingham or in any of the other candidate cities.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I know that the Secretary of State has to be careful in this matter, but will he carefully consider the bid from West Yorkshire, and Leeds in particular? It is a centre of creativity and of innovation, and is much neglected. Will he bear it in mind that many of these towns and cities with elected mayors with vast resources are spending tens of thousands of pounds on their presentations? We in Leeds and West Yorkshire cannot afford that sort of money.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Channel 4 is fortunate in that it has to choose from a number of strong bids from a number of excellent places, but, as I said, this is a decision that Channel 4 must make, and it must do so on the basis of its own requirements, as well as what I hope will be its motivation to spread opportunity across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham

Most of the population of the United Kingdom do not live in cities. A superb bid was made by Chester and Wrexham, a smaller city and a town, to Channel 4, but they were not even given a hearing. Does the Secretary of State agree that that was a failure of creative imagination by Channel 4? There is a lot of talent in our towns and in our countryside particularly engaged in this process. Is it not a shame that we have ended up with a list of the usual suspects from which the choice will be made?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I agree with the hon. Gentleman to this extent: talent is absolutely located in large and small communities around the country. One of the challenges for broadcasting is to be able to draw on all that talent. The decision that Channel 4 has to make—again, I stress that it is a decision for Channel 4 and not for me—is where to locate its national headquarters. I hope it will do that in an open way. I am sorry to hear about the bid from Wrexham and the surrounding area, but I do think there is an opportunity for Channel 4 and other public service broadcasters to draw on the whole country’s talent and what it has to offer.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman to his place; I look forward to shadowing him. May I put on the record my congratulations to England’s and Scotland’s women’s teams? Shelley Kerr, the manager of Scotland, is also a Livingston lass.

This summer’s debacle over the discriminatory censorship of Scottish bloggers using BBC footage by BBC bosses in London shows how out of touch London is with Scotland. By bringing greater commissioning power to Scotland, the BBC would not only better serve Scottish audiences, but benefit viewers throughout the UK, so when will this Government support the SNP in ensuring more autonomy at Pacific Quay?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome; I look forward to working with her, and I had a very productive meeting with Michael Matheson and Fiona Hyslop while I was in Edinburgh last month. In terms of what the BBC can and should be doing in Scotland, the hon. Lady will know that it takes very seriously its responsibility to reach beyond London and England and into the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. I am sure she will look forward, as I will, to the launch of BBC Scotland early next year. That is one way in which I hope we can demonstrate that the BBC can reach all of us.