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BBC — [Phil Wilson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:50 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes 5:50 pm, 15th July 2019

It is a pleasure to take part in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. Like some of my Conservative colleagues, I am, broadly speaking, a supporter of the BBC, but I readily admit that that is weakening somewhat. My right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey and my hon. Friend John Howell outlined some of the great benefits of the BBC, ranging from support for the Proms and orchestras to, of course, the BBC World Service, where my hon. Friend was an eminent producer, or perhaps director. I would happily pay the licence fee for Radio 4, local radio and “Test Match Special”, to name just three—but, as has been pointed out, we can afford it. I rather wish that Radio 4 would go silent at 6.30 pm, when it broadcasts inane comedies, but that is just a personal opinion.

On the question of celebrity and sports star pay, I am sorry that Gary Lineker and the £1.75 million paid to him keep coming up in the debate, but the BBC, which is a public sector organisation, needs to reflect that that amount of money is out of bounds to most people. Those I represent would not earn that in their lifetime, working over 40 to 50 years. Would I still watch “Match of the Day” if it was presented by some unknown? Yes, because I do not watch it to hear the gossip; I watch it to see the action.

As for the decision about the over-75s, this day was certain to come. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage, the policy was foisted on the BBC by the Treasury. It was inevitable that it would opt out at the first possible opportunity and cause embarrassment to the Administration in office at the time. So it has, and it is a great opportunity for Opposition Members to have a go at the Government, when they did little on their own in this respect.

Helen Jones moved on from arguments about the licence fee to discuss the leadership of the Conservative party and reflect on some of the policies put forward by my right hon. Friends the Members for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), and for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). She talked about tax cuts and said that we in this Chamber do not need them. Perhaps so, but we do not need free TV licences either. The sustainability of such universal benefits must be looked at, whether they are TV licences, bus passes or whatever. They cannot go on draining the taxpayer when so many essential services are needed. Karen Lee, who is no longer in her place, referred to a survey. If people on the streets of Cleethorpes were asked whether they would rather pay for something or have it for free, just as in Lincoln it would be no surprise if they said, “We would rather have it for nothing.” The reality is of course different.

With regard to news bias, there is no doubt that the BBC is, in effect, The Guardian of the airwaves, rather than the Daily Express. It is perhaps not so much that there is bias; of course the BBC will say that it gets as many complaints from one side as the other, so it must therefore be getting things right. However, there is a rather superior intonation in some of the questions from interviewers, as if to say, “Do you really think that people would vote for Brexit?” That is an insult to the 70% of my electorate who voted for Brexit—and very wise they are too.