BBC: Dyson Report

– in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 24th May 2021.

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Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

Lord Dyson’s report makes shocking reading. It details not just an appalling failure to uphold basic journalistic standards but an unwillingness to investigate complaints and to discover the truth. That these failures occurred at our national broadcaster is an even greater source of shame. The new leadership at the BBC deserve credit for setting up an independent inquiry and for accepting its findings in full. However, the reputation of the BBC—its most precious asset—has been badly tarnished, and it is right that the BBC board and wider leadership now consider urgently how confidence and trust in the corporation can be restored.

It is not for the Government to interfere in editorial decisions, but it is the job of Government to ensure that there is a strong and robust system of governance at the BBC with effective external oversight. It was to deliver that that we made fundamental changes when the BBC’s charter was renewed in 2015-16. Since then, the BBC Trust has been replaced by a more powerful board with an external regulator, Ofcom, responsible for overseeing the BBC’s content and being the ultimate adjudicator of complaints. We also made provision at that time for a mid-term review by the Government to ensure that the new governance arrangements were working effectively. That review is due next year but work on it will start now. In particular, we will wish to be satisfied that the failures that have been identified could not have occurred if the new governance arrangements had been in place. The BBC board has also announced today its own review, led by the senior independent director and two non-executive members, of the BBC’s editorial guidelines and standards committee. That review will examine editorial oversight, the robustness and independence of whistleblowing processes, and the wider culture within the BBC. It will take independent expert advice and will report by September.

In an era of fake news and disinformation, the need for public service broadcasting and trusted journalism has never been stronger. The BBC has been, and should be, a beacon setting standards to which others can aspire, but it has fallen short so badly and has damaged its reputation both here and across the world. The BBC now needs urgently to demonstrate that these failings have been addressed and that this can never happen again.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation, Chair, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation

Lord Dyson’s report was utterly damning. Put simply, Mr Bashir has obtained fame and fortune by instituting document forgery and callously scaring a mentally vulnerable woman—not a mistake, as he claims in The Sunday Times, but something with more than a whiff of criminality about it. The BBC then covered this up, blackballing whistleblowers and ensuring that its own reporters did not report on Bashir. But it did not stop there. The BBC rehired Bashir, who it knew was a liar, promoted him, and, extraordinarily for the BBC, allowed him to moonlight for its main commercial rival. Mr Munro, head of news gathering, greeted Bashir’s return by citing his excellent

“track record in enterprising journalism”.

My sources suggest that Mr Bashir was not interviewed, but simply appointed—hardly a highly competitive process.

Does the Minister agree that Dyson leaves still more unanswered questions? Who precisely was involved in the 25-year cover-up and instituted the action against whistleblowers? Was Bashir rehired, in essence, so that he would keep his mouth shut? Did Lord Hall make the decision to rehire Bashir, or was that in fact Mr Munro?

Finally, the BBC has announced a review into some of those matters, and into how robust its current practices are. Does the Minister agree that a good starting point would be to ensure that the investigating panel is diverse? As yet, no women are included, which is ironic considering that the victim of Mr Bashir was a woman. Should whistleblowers be compensated, and the matter of BBC culture be considered, including the “us and them” between management and reporters, and the kowtowing to so-called “talent”, at the expense of the BBC’s own editorial guidelines? Does the Minister share my alarm that Mr Davie has recently removed the sole voice for editorial policy on the BBC’s executive committee? What does he see as the long-term implications for the BBC charter.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his urgent question. He maintains the fine tradition of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee asking probing and incisive questions. The questions he raises are valid. The process by which Martin Bashir was recruited to return to the BBC, and his subsequent resignation a couple of weeks ago, are matters that the director-general is investigating urgently, and I expect him to provide a fuller account of exactly what happened shortly. I know my hon. Friend will want to examine the BBC on that question, and indeed on the other valid questions that he raised about the composition of the panel, its diversity, and the protection in place for whistleblowing. Those important questions need to be addressed, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and the Committee will do that.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank Julian Knight for securing this urgent question, and the Minister for his response. I also echo the many expressions of deep concern about the actions of Martin Bashir 25 years ago, and the deception he used to secure the interview with Diana, Princess of Wales. The understandable hurt and pain expressed by Princes William and Harry has been deeply moving. The methods used by Mr Bashir were unethical and wrong, and clearly he should not have been re-employed by the BBC in 2016. The internal inquiry by the BBC into the interview was wholly inadequate.

It was right that Lord Dyson conducted this inquiry, and his findings are stark. The fact that the interview was obtained 25 years ago does not minimise the damage caused, and it is right that the BBC director-general has given an unequivocal apology. The onus is now on him to explain whether he considers that changes to the governance of the BBC in those 25 years mean that something like this could not happen again. I welcome the announcement of the review by the BBC board, its terms of reference, and the timescale to which it will report.

However, in among some of the commentary on the BBC that we have heard over the past few days, we must remember that the BBC is bigger than just Martin Bashir. It is bigger than “Panorama”, bigger than other programmes, and even bigger than the current affairs department. The BBC is one of the most trusted sources of news in the world, at a time when trusted sources are more important than ever before. The Secretary of State said in The Times today that he would not be having a knee-jerk reaction to this incident, and I welcome that commitment. The new director-general, and the chair of the BBC, whose appointments were welcomed by the Government, have been in post for less than a year. They need to be given time to make the reforms they have promised. The mid-term review is an important chance to take stock, but we must be clear exactly what problems any governance reforms will solve, and keep the issue of funding the BBC separate from its editorial control.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I thank the hon. Lady, and I agree with very much—indeed, almost everything—she said. On the governance of the BBC, as I said earlier, fundamental changes were made a few years ago, which we believe would have meant that somebody who wished to blow the whistle in the way that took place would have been listened to, and they would have had recourse to Ofcom if they were dissatisfied with the BBC. We must be absolutely sure that the new governance arrangements work properly, and there may well be need for further editorial oversight. That is what the BBC’s review is designed to reveal. However, I share her view about the importance of trust in the BBC. The mid-term review will be carefully conducted; we will not rush into any changes. Finally, I can confirm to the hon. Lady that the question of funding of the BBC is a separate one and that the licence fee—while it will be subject to debate, I have no doubt, in the coming years—is in place until the end of this charter in 2027.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

May I say to my right hon. Friend that he acted properly, in 2015, when he appointed Sir David Clementi to review the BBC? The Government were right to accept Sir David Clementi’s recommendations, which came only a few months later, putting right the absurd arrangements made in 2007 that left the BBC without a chair and led to all kinds of confusion.

May I also say to my right hon. Friend that the BBC is a beacon? Things did go wrong—by Martin Bashir, the double reviewing of what he had done and in his further reappointment back to the BBC; that is incontrovertible. But what should also be clear to the Government is that if we start attacking the BBC, we will throw out much more than we have, and if the choice is between the state broadcasting corporation—the BBC—or the United States, people in this country would rightly choose the BBC.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I must thank my hon. Friend for his words. He is absolutely right that the previous governance arrangements were deeply flawed, and Sir David Clementi, who conducted the review and then went on to become chair of the BBC, put in place a much stronger governance system, with both a stronger internal management board and external oversight, and we do believe that that would have been much more effective if it had been in place when some of the events we are debating took place. I also absolutely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the BBC. We have just heard a statement from my right hon Friend the Foreign Secretary about a country where public service broadcasting is not free, fair or independent. The BBC is a beacon of those things, and we are determined to strengthen it and to restore trust in it across the world.

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

The BBC has questions to answer about its cover-up culture. Why did Director-General Tony Hall bring back Martin Bashir only five years ago as religion correspondent, given that he knew he had lied over the process used to secure the Princess Diana documentary? Who else was involved in the recruitment? Was Lord Hall warned that he would be dismissed if Lord Dyson’s conclusions were as critical of his behaviour as they were? What effect, if any, will Lord Hall’s behaviour have on his retirement package? Why was Martin Bashir allowed to resign rather than be sacked? The treatment of Matt Wiessler has been unforgivably cruel. Will the BBC now offer him an apology and a financial settlement? Whistleblowers should never again be punished, as happened to those on “Panorama” who say that their careers were blighted under Lord Hall after asking uncomfortable questions. Regaining trust will now need to be a top priority. The BBC board should be strengthened with independently-minded members with journalistic experience. The ongoing cover-up culture at the BBC is long standing and must now be addressed.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The hon. Gentleman speaks with experience, as a former employee of the BBC, and he raises extremely valid questions. As I say, the BBC is conducting an urgent investigation into the circumstances of the employment of Martin Bashir, but if questions remain following that, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman, as a member of the Select Committee, will not be reticent in putting them to the BBC.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that both the BBC and Ofcom must understand that, following next year’s mid-term review, the Government propose to vary the charter and to make the guidelines, impartiality rules and complaints procedures subject to parliamentary approval, without any so-called independent editorial standards board, which is the same old BBC dodge of waiting until things die down and then carrying on as before that we witnessed after the Jimmy Savile affair in relation to whistleblowing, when it committed to deal with it, and it did not?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I do not want to pre-empt either the BBC’s review of editorial oversight or the mid-term review, which we are only just beginning to work on, but my hon. Friend makes some extremely valid points. We placed impartiality in the first line of the BBC’s public purposes at the time of charter renewal, and we will wish to be satisfied that the BBC is delivering that, but I know that the new chair and the director-general take that very seriously.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

All over the world, people are appalled by the dishonesty and cruelty of the way Martin Bashir secured his interview with a very vulnerable Princess Diana 25 years ago. It is right that the BBC itself reviews again its editorial practices and how Martin Bashir came to be employed, but does the Minister appreciate that it remains a very valued national institution, both here and overseas? There is concern that long-standing enemies of the BBC are using the Bashir scandal to attack, defund and potentially dismantle our national broadcaster.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I absolutely assure the right hon. Lady that there is no question of dismantling or defunding the BBC. It is a priceless national asset, and one of the most serious consequences of the revelations of the past week is that its reputation and trust in it have been badly damaged. It is essential that it retains its position as the most trusted and reliable broadcaster in the world, and there is work to be done to restore that reputation.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

The BBC has seen a string of public scandals, from Jimmy Savile to the treatment of Lord McAlpine, Sir Cliff Richard and many others. All have stemmed from a drive to secure sensationalist media headlines, along with groupthink and a “we know best” approach. The BBC’s capacity to scrutinise, investigate and report on itself is in tatters, which is particularly worrying considering its huge resource, how it seeks to dominate the news space and its lack of transparency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that reform is needed, not only in the specific areas that Lord Dyson has pointed to, but of its culture, transparency and whether its dominance is undermining news plurality?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I agree with my right hon. Friend. He is entirely right that this is not a one-off incident. There have been dreadful failings by the BBC in its journalism in recent years, and he mentioned three of them. I would say that all of those happened before the new charter was put in place, but we need to assess the effectiveness of the charter to ensure it is properly working, and that is something that we will start work on straightaway.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

David Plowright, the chair and managing director of Granada Television in its great days, used to say regularly that he needed the BBC to keep the commercial sector honest. If the BBC cannot keep itself honest, we are in real trouble. Does the Minister agree that the changes at the BBC need to go beyond governance, structure and procedure, into a deep cultural change? How would he go about supporting that change?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, my right hon. Friend Alun Cairns made the same point immediately before him. It is right that the BBC investigates the precise circumstances that led to Martin Bashir’s interview and the subsequent failure to investigate properly the complaints, but it goes wider than that. It is a question of culture. We are determined that the BBC should be properly reflective of the diversity of sex, race, thought and geography. In the future, it must not just be made up of people who pat themselves on the back and turn a blind eye when accusations are made. Fundamental reform is needed, but I am assured that the new management recognises that and is determined to address it.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

When are we going to have the guts to stop the BBC criminalising people for non-payment of the licence fee, which is no better than the poll tax?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I understand my right hon. Friend’s strength of feeling. As he will know, we have now twice examined whether non-payment of the licence fee should be decriminalised, but this has revealed that if we decriminalise, there is a risk that the alternative enforcement mechanisms would lead to more distress for people who are perhaps not in a position to pay, with the possibility of bailiffs arriving and even greater fines. So we need to look at this very carefully. As we have said, we have not ruled out decriminalisation, but we are balancing that against the consequences of the alternatives, and that is something that the Government will continue to examine.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

As the House is aware, I am a Scottish politician. During the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the BBC came under strong and sustained attack from the then First Minister, Mr Alex Salmond, a gentleman who now broadcasts on Russian television and refuses to acknowledge the enormity of the crime that was committed in Salisbury. I wonder, does the Minister agree that in the long term the editorial independence of the BBC and its protection from undue interference by politicians are paramount?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I do agree with the hon. Gentleman. The independence of the BBC is absolutely central to its reputation for objectivity and reliability, and indeed it contrasts strongly with the channel that he also mentioned, RT, which has none of those things. We are absolutely committed to maintaining and indeed strengthening the independence, objectivity and fairness of the BBC.

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

My constituents in Stourbridge value the importance of public service broadcasting and a free press, as do I. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC needs to improve its culture with a new emphasis on accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion, to ensure that the failures highlighted by Lord Dyson’s report can never happen again?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I do agree with my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right to say that it is those qualities of accuracy, impartiality and fairness that are admired around the world as being as being represented by the BBC. That is why the revelations in the Dyson report are so damaging, because they cast doubt on those things. I can assure her that not just the Government but, I believe, the BBC are absolutely conscious of that and determined to put it right.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

I welcome, in general, the tone that the Minister has adopted today in response to this. He said in his statement that

“the need for public service broadcasting and trusted journalism has never been stronger.”

He is absolutely right about that. That was also the conclusion of our Select Committee, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, when we recently reported on the future of public service broadcasting. This is an example of an era of journalism that was infected with a poisonous culture which unfortunately, in this case, spread to the BBC, which should have been displaying different kinds of values in its journalism. I just want to read a short quote from the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group, which said in its statement:

“It’s important for us also to reiterate that the BBC is not its management, past”—

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I apologise.

“It’s important for us to also reiterate that the BBC is not its management, past or present. The BBC and the values and principles of public service broadcasting it personifies is in fact our members, and all its staff, who do the work that makes the corporation an entity that is valued at home and throughout the world.”

Does the Minister agree with that statement?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I do agree with that statement. There is no question but that the challenge posed by fake news and disinformation, which are circulating at a level we have never previously seen, makes it all the more important that there are trustworthy, reliable places where one can go without questioning the validity of what is being reported, and the BBC represents that above all else. I read with great interest the Select Committee report that the hon. Gentleman referred to, and in large part the Government completely agree with it, certainly, the importance of public service broadcasting —that has never been less, as was powerfully set out by His Royal Highness Prince William in his comments about this episode.

Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

I was very struck by Matty Syed’s comment in The Sunday Times yesterday about “institutional narcissism” in the BBC. Although that might be slightly provocative, does my right hon. Friend believe that the current leadership of the BBC has a real sense of the cultural change that many believe is necessary to retain trust in the BBC, particularly in news and current affairs, and indeed the capacity to achieve that change?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

There is no question but that even before Lord Dyson’s report was published there was a widespread feeling that the culture in the BBC needed to change—that it was made up too much of people of the same mindset and the same background and from the same part of the world. That is something that I believe the new leadership—under the recently appointed chair, Richard Sharp, and the director-general—are aware of and intend to address.

Photo of Janet Daby Janet Daby Labour, Lewisham East

I am very grateful for this urgent question. In its response to Lord Dyson’s report, the BBC board has said that it will review and assess

“the robustness and independence of whistleblowing processes”.

How important does the Secretary of State consider independence on whistleblowing, including the protection of whistleblowers, to be?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I regard it as absolutely essential in not just the BBC but all public bodies. We need to make sure that, in future, if somebody blows the whistle and exposes malpractice in the BBC, the consequence is that somebody else gets fired, not that they do.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem in the culture of the BBC is that people often confuse the need to be accountable with a threat to the independence of their editorial judgment and that they therefore avoid that accountability? Does the board now accept that until a permanent and completely independent body oversees editorial policy, complaints procedures and whistleblowing—like a kind of accident investigation body—we will not see that change of culture, because people will go back to their established custom, which is to deny accountability?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

My hon. Friend is right that we need to see much stronger oversight of the editorial decision-making process in the BBC. The BBC board covers a vast range of different aspects of the BBC’s activities—its strategy, its budget and so on—and there is a case for greater oversight, particularly of journalistic and editorial decisions. Quite how that is brought about is something that the review that the BBC has put in place is examining urgently. I understand that that review will publish a report by September, and we will obviously want to look at it very carefully.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker:

“Trust is the foundation of the BBC.”

So says its values—except if you are trying to cover up a serial sex offender scandal such as that involving Jimmy Savile, do over a respected journalist such as Carrie Gracie or lie and cheat to get your exclusive interview with a princess.

As Lord Dyson’s report states,

“the investigation conducted by Lord Hall…was flawed and woefully ineffective”.

To add insult, a 2018 report found that Scottish fee payers subsidise broadcasting in the rest of the UK by £100 million a year. Is it not about time that Scotland stopped having to subsidise such ineptitude by those at the top of the BBC and that the Government acted to ensure that everyone in the UK is fairly treated and represented by the BBC?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The BBC is the British Broadcasting Corporation. It reports on activities across the United Kingdom. It is paid for by every person resident in the United Kingdom who has a television. Impartiality and fairness apply as much in its reporting of domestic politics as they do internationally. There are questions to be answered, as I agreed earlier, and the hon. Lady is correct. However, I do believe that the British Broadcasting Corporation should remain a beacon of impartiality for all residents of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

May I take my right hon. Friend back to the one bit of the Dyson report that has left us with a serious question? It relates to the behaviour of the then chairman and of Mr Bashir. Fraud is defined as a deception intended to result in financial or personal gain by false representation. There is no question from the report but that Mr Bashir made false representation to prey on a vulnerable woman to get her to do something that she would otherwise not have done. Furthermore, it refers to the fact, but does not conclude anything from it, that Mr Hall and others therefore covered up that process; again, I think that opens them up to the idea of fraud. Has my right hon. Friend decided to refer those people to the Director of Public Prosecutions?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The questions surrounding the employment of Martin Bashir are being urgently investigated by the corporation, as I said, and I expect a statement to be made very shortly. On whether any criminal offences have been committed, I understand that a request has gone to the Metropolitan police to examine the evidence that has been revealed and reach a judgment on it; it is a matter for the police to determine.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford

It is clear that shameful journalistic practices took place and that the investigations into them were, at best, profoundly inadequate. Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that the BBC needs to clean up its act in quite a considerable way, but that this lamentable episode should not be used as an excuse to severely damage or destroy an institution that is hugely valued by tens of millions of people in this country and millions more around the world?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I entirely share my right hon. Friend’s admiration for the BBC, which at its best is the finest broadcaster in the world. That is what makes these revelations so painful: that an institution that we all admire should be found capable of such appalling failings. I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend; our intention is to restore trust in the BBC, certainly not in any way to diminish it as one of our great national assets.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I am sure that many people will have been disgusted by the behaviour of Martin Bashir and those senior figures who failed to address his actions, but does the Secretary of State agree that demands for the present Government to act against today’s BBC over events that occurred more than a quarter of a century ago could look a little ridiculous?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I am sure that I speak for the Secretary of State in saying that it is not a question of punishing the BBC—particularly for events that happened a long time ago, as the hon. Gentleman says—but it is essential that we learn the lessons from what happened then. As I said, we have already put significant changes in place since those episodes occurred, but we need to be absolutely certain that the current governance arrangements are effective and that these appalling incidents could not have happened if they had been in place.

Photo of Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Conservative, Ashfield

Now then: the findings of the Dyson report come as no surprise to many residents in Ashfield who have lost all confidence in the BBC. I personally have ripped up my TV licence, and it will not get another penny from me ever, because in my opinion the once great BBC is rotten. My constituents should not have to pay for a service if they do not use it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way to make the BBC behave in future is to make it a subscription service?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the great challenges that the BBC faces is to reconnect with the people he represents. There is a widespread feeling that the BBC is too metropolitan-centred and has lost touch with the views of a large part of the British population; I think that the BBC itself recognises that. With regard to subscription, the licence fee is in place until 2027 when the current charter expires, but there is bound to be a debate about the future funding. Moving fully to a subscription model would require quite significant changes to the way in which people receive their television, but I have no doubt that that is a debate that has already started and will continue.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

At its heart, the Dyson report speaks to the missing values of integrity, honesty and the value of truth at the BBC. Following the biased coverage of the 2014 independence referendum, this crisis in trust is but a taste of what audiences in Scotland have known for years. The BBC brand is broken in Scotland and broadcasting must therefore be devolved, or at the very least must see the introduction of a new funding model, where all money raised in Scotland is spent in Scotland. Many will be bewildered by today’s handwringing over integrity and impartiality, when the broadcaster saw no issue in giving space to the Scottish leader of the UK Independence party in 2016, yet refused any place for my party in the 2021 debates, despite being led by a former First Minister, two sitting MPs and numerous councillors across Scotland. Why are the UK Government so quick to act when public trust has been broken now, but have been silent on the collapse in trust among viewers in Scotland for years? As a net contributor to the BBC, with a £43 million annual shortfall between income and spending in Scotland, how do the UK Government plan to plug the hole left propping up programming elsewhere upon Scotland’s independence?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The BBC is committed to impartiality in its coverage of all political events, including the referendum in Scotland and the current political debate. It is very important that the independence of the BBC is defended and that it resists political pressure from political parties in Scotland, be it the SNP or indeed some new offshoot from it.

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

With the mid-point review of the BBC charter imminent, does the Minister agree with many of my constituents across Hyndburn and Haslingden that everything must be on the table for discussion, including its governance structures? Can he clarify that the scope of any future inquiries will cover the wider culture at the BBC?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The mid-term review is about the governance of the BBC and the new arrangements which were put in place. It will certainly incorporate a consideration of the culture to ensure that the BBC, in its present form, is delivering on its public purposes. It is a mid-term review of the existing charter. There will be an opportunity for a more fundamental examination of every aspect of the BBC, including its funding, when we come to the renewal of the charter, but that is still not until 2027.

Photo of Tahir Ali Tahir Ali Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Can the Minister explain which elements of the BBC’s governance structure he thinks need to be reviewed in the light of Lord Dyson’s report? Does he agree that in considering the Dyson report we should all remember the BBC’s contribution to the UK’s economy, culture, democracy and soft power abroad?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

As I said, the Government very much hope that the new governance arrangements now in place are sufficient, but the purpose of the mid-term review is to assess that and see whether any further changes need to be made. With regard to the contribution of the BBC to the economy of this country and to democratic debate, I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s view that the BBC plays a central part in both.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

I must declare an interest: I worked for BBC South Today and BBC Radio Solent for nine very happy years, where I witnessed the highest standards and was never influenced—ever—on how I was to report, other than fairly, in a balanced way and accurately. It seems to me that the problem is at the national level with senior management. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how to ensure that senior management at the top of the BBC are, in future, independent and meet the all very high standards we want them to meet?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I am pleased to hear what my hon. Friend says about the high standards that pertained when he was working for the BBC. Obviously, that is something we hope will represent the BBC’s values in future. In terms of the leadership and management, the review which has been conducted by the BBC into the specific lessons to be learned from Lord Dyson’s report will feed into the wider reform agenda, which I think the board is determined to pursue. There is no question that there is a problem with culture at the BBC which goes beyond just the failings identified by Lord Dyson. I can assure my hon. Friend that that is something the leadership of the BBC does now recognise and is working hard to address.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hurt and anger felt by Princes William and Harry and other members of the royal family is palpable and painful. I am so glad that there has been an unequivocal apology from the BBC and the launch of the lessons learned report on account of the diabolical journalistic practices endured by Princess Diana in 1995, but, of course, the BBC is so much more than a single programme; it is a treasured institution that has contributed immensely to our nation over the last century. So does the Minister agree that it is very distasteful to see a feeding frenzy, especially from those with a severe dislike of the BBC? Does he also agree that it is the pinnacle of irony for the Prime Minister to be talking about being immensely concerned about journalism standards, given that he himself was sacked by The Times for inventing a quote?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The hon. Gentleman was doing fine until the end. This is a more serious matter. I certainly agree with him about the distress that has been caused to the royal family, which has been very powerfully expressed by His Royal Highness Prince William. That is something that the BBC recognises, which is why it is acting to address it. I can only repeat what I have said already: the trust in the BBC is one of its greatest assets and the BBC now has to work hard to restore that.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

How can someone who supports Brexit, believes in the Union and loves England be persuaded that the BBC’s view of public service broadcasting will in future be fair to their views? In future, will the BBC allow the majority on these issues more voice and less denigration?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I can answer my right hon. Friend by saying that I am one of the people he has described precisely, in all three of those measures, and I, too, have occasionally been concerned at what appeared to be a lack of impartiality in the BBC on some of those issues. That is something that has been, I think, felt by a large number of people. It is the job of the BBC—as I say, it is the first public purpose of the BBC—to deliver impartiality. I know that that is something that the leadership of the BBC which is now in place is absolutely committed to, but it will be examining ways in which that can be strengthened where necessary.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Public Health and Primary Care)

While Ministers toy with taking greater personal control of the BBC, true democratic reform remains out of reach. So, rather than stifling journalistic freedom, will the Minister consider devolving broadcasting powers to the devolved nations to ensure democratic, local regulation of BBC services?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

The Government have no intention of imposing greater control over the leadership of the BBC. The BBC is independent and we are committed to respecting and strengthening that independence, When it comes to the question of governmental responsibility, it is not a devolved matter; the BBC is a national broadcaster covering the whole of the United Kingdom, so we believe that it is right that it remains the responsibility of the UK Government as a whole.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on the BBC and I say in that regard that this has not been a good chapter for the BBC’s fine history and it is important that it learns the lessons. I welcome the Minister’s very balanced tone. No one has done more in this place to try to reform the BBC and move it to that better place. Will he describe a little more about the review process that will apply the conditions that exist now with regard to governance, versus what would have occurred beforehand? Who will perform that role? Will it be his Department, his officials, or will he bring somebody in to assist in that regard?

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

As my hon. Friend knows, the mid-term review was not actually due to take place until next year; it was written into the charter that it should be in 2022. We would almost certainly have started thinking about the issues to be considered and the questions needing to be addressed in any case, but this issue has made that more urgent, and the Secretary of State has it made clear that we are starting work on it now. Precisely how the mid-term review will operate and whether we will invite external submissions is not yet determined, but I will certainly try to ensure that my hon. Friend is the first to know when we have further announcements to make.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Some have sought to defend the BBC by saying that the disgraceful Martin Bashir incident was 25 years ago, and indeed it was. However, since 1995, we have had the Jimmy Savile cover-up; the disgraceful incident regarding the surveillance of the search of the Cliff Richard home; the political partisanship of Emily Maitlis on “Newsnight”; and recently—in the past week or so—we heard about a BBC Palestinian expert on the BBC who, before she was employed by the BBC, tweeted that Israel is more Nazi than Hitler. The mid-term review surely offers the opportunity for radical, fundamental change at the BBC.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that a lot of the incidents he mentioned took place before the new governance arrangements were in place, but we obviously need to consider whether there are lessons to be learned from those incidents for our mid-term review. If that journalist’s tweets regarding Israel and Palestine are shown to be genuine, it is my view that anybody who can express such opinions should not be employed by the BBC.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

In order that arrangements can be made for the next business, I will now briefly suspend the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.