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BBC — [Phil Wilson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:10 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey Conservative, Wantage 5:10 pm, 15th July 2019

It certainly is. If I knew about the services that the BBC provides in greater depth, I could probably rattle off five or six others, beyond simply the television, that it provides for the hon. Lady’s constituent.

Perhaps this sounds like navel-gazing—I am coming to my conclusion—but I think the BBC could take a massive lead in supporting much greater diversity, including with disabled people and black and minority ethnic people, not just in front of the camera but behind it. It really could invest in that. That is not to say that, over the past 30 or 40 years, it has not been at the centre of training legions of people who now work across the media.

The issue that concerns MPs at the moment, however, is the BBC’s struggle with having the free TV licence foisted upon it. As I have said already in the main Chamber, that policy was forced on the BBC by the Government, by the Treasury. There was no negotiation—the BBC was going to take the free TV licence, whether it liked it or not, as far as the Treasury was concerned. The only room for negotiation was what the BBC might be able to claw back in order to mitigate the financial impact.

The decision was wrong, and it was made because the then Government had to meet their manifesto commitment—ironically—of making £12 billion in welfare cuts. It was the wrong decision to impose on the BBC, and this Government compounded it. Having forced it on the BBC, they are disgracefully trying to have their cake and eat it, saying, “It’s the BBC’s decision but we disagree with it.” If they are going to force the policy on the BBC, they should support its decision. If we could roll it back, an honest Government would take the policy back from the BBC, engage with the public and decide whether free TV licences are affordable.

My personal view—this is where I will lose the support of Opposition MPs—is that the free TV licences were a gift given by a previous Government without thinking whether it was financially sustainable. Reform of free TV licences is a perfectly sensible position to look at, and it seems to me that the BBC, after careful analysis, has come up with a sensible reform policy. However, the question is whether that should be the BBC’s role, and the answer to that is no.