TV Licences for over-75S

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:04 pm on 8th May 2019.

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Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon 3:04 pm, 8th May 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Ms Rimmer, but I have to say that it is a shame this debate has descended into party politics. Actually, it should be about the future of the BBC—how the BBC’s funding can properly abide by the strictures by which it has to abide and how it is to deliver its services in the future—but we seem to be having a debate other than the one that is sensible.

I love the BBC. I worked for the BBC on and off for 20 years, and it is the best broadcaster in the world. I would never support any sort of arrangement for the future funding of the BBC that I thought would do it damage or that I thought would lead to under-serving the people who deserve to be served by the BBC as the best public broadcaster in the world. The BBC produces some of the stand-out TV in what is now a global TV industry—with “Line of Duty”, which had nearly 10 million viewers on Sunday, as well as “Strictly Come Dancing”, “Bodyguard”, “Blue Peter” and “Match of the Day”—and it has its unrivalled news coverage, its radio, its online services, its children’s programmes and all the research and development it does. I am a passionate supporter of the BBC, but we should be debating how we ensure the future security of funding for the BBC and the future security of provision of service for all the people who enjoy the BBC.

Let us be clear: as has been mentioned in the past, the funding deal the BBC accepted in June 2015 gave it financial stability for five years. It was a deal that saw a guaranteed, copper-bottomed, real-terms increase in funding for the BBC. That is the sort of arrangement private commercial organisations can only dream of. They would think it was all their Christmases come at once to have that sort of guaranteed income for five years. In addition, as was mentioned by my right hon. Friend Mr Whittingdale, as part of the deal the contribution that the BBC previously made to the roll-out of superfast broadband—it used to contribute £150 million a year—was cut to zero by 2020, and the iPlayer loophole was quite rightly closed, bringing in an extra £41 million a year.

The BBC was very happy with that deal. It welcomed the deal, and it accepted the deal. I have two quotes for the House, although I will not go over ground that has already been covered. Lord Hall, as I supposed we should properly call him, the BBC’s director-general, said that

“the BBC used this pre-budget window of opportunity to reach a fair deal”.

Furthermore, speaking on the Radio 4 “Today” programme, one of the fantastic institutions that the public quite rightly pay the BBC to produce, he said:

“The government’s decision here to put the cost of the over-75s on us”— in other words, the BBC—

“has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC. My bottom line was, if I can use this as an opportunity to get back for the BBC things I think are really important—an inflation-set licence fee and an end to top-slicing—then I think that is really important. And that is exactly what we have done.”

The BBC accepted this deal. It accepted this guaranteed, copper-bottomed funding increase and welcomed it, and it now needs to live within its means. I have to say, having worked on and off for the BBC for 20 years, that there are many ways, it is sad to say, in which the BBC does not do so. We have recently seen figures showing that there are now nearly 100 members of BBC staff who earn more than £150,000 a year, and some of them earn a lot more than that. We have recently seen that the BBC’s programme for developing a new “EastEnders” set has gone £30 million over budget and will be delivered three and a half years late—it is almost as though they are building a railway line—and an entire technology project aimed at digitising all its programmes has had to be cut, after spending of nearly £60 million. The BBC must look more carefully at how it spends its money and at the salaries it pays its staff. It must ensure that it can continue to deliver the concession that we are discussing, which it accepted in a deal from the Government.