Televised Election Debates — [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:36 pm on 7th January 2019.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip 6:36 pm, 7th January 2019

I agree, and I disagree. I respect how the hon. Gentleman has tried to bring the point to bear, but the point of detail he has chosen is about how, when any one medium is used, impartiality within it is ensured. That is admirable, and that is where I agree with him, but where I disagree is regarding further entrenching the choice of any one medium over another.

I will put this in a generational sense for the hon. Gentleman: television broadcasters are quite simply losing favour with the younger generation as their source of news. Why should we legislate at this point for a medium that will not necessarily remain favoured among those who are, and those who will become, the voters in elections to come? I am happy to substantiate that.

On how news consumption is going in the UK, a report by Ofcom stated that in 2018 alone 52% of 16 to 24-year-olds used Facebook as their news source while only 39% used BBC1. The report found that people in that age group were more likely to get their news from social media posts than directly from news organisations. In the face of that technological shift, I remain unconvinced that the case is made for privileging a form that one might almost argue had its heyday with Richard Nixon in the last century. Why should we privilege that form? I say Nixon; as has already been covered, it was thought that Kennedy won the debate, but that is the very point. It is a matter of history, and if we legislate at all we ought to look to the future rather than the past.

I will incorporate at this point the parliamentary example that I think was provided by my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay. Here we stand today having a debate in Parliament—in itself a form of political debate, a form of debate on political policy—and we do not expect it to be covered only on the TV, although it will capably be, and I am glad for that.

I certainly support the use of TV in Parliament and the accountability that we can provide by being on camera as we do our work. However, we also expect social media to carry part of that weight, and we also might well expect that some people would prefer to read about our proceedings via the written word. All of those are valid ways for people to get their information, and we should not privilege one over another.

Fourthly, I wanted to bring together some points about implementation and refer to a few that have been made in the debate. First, the proposal would require primary legislation. The point has already been made that if we anticipate a general election as far away as 2022, which of course is the case, we have time to look at the issue and get it right. However, even with that timescale, there are other pressing priorities that the public ask us to address through legislation, and I suspect that they would prioritise them over this issue.