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BBC — [Phil Wilson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 7:03 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Margot James Margot James The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport 7:03 pm, 15th July 2019

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he has a fair point—that the matter was contentious—but the proposal got through without the Government having to make compromises, unlike other things. For example, Members might remember the proposals to change Sunday trading laws. That is one of several examples of legislation that the Government had to change because opposition was so great. This transfer of responsibility did not attract the same level of opposition. Enough Members voted it through and Parliament therefore approved it, which is something we have to bear in mind. The responsibility was therefore passed to the BBC with parliamentary approval, and it was accepted by BBC governors and the director-general, no less.

I am willing to take more interventions on the other points that I have addressed, but I will turn to perceived bias and the BBC. Under its royal charter, the BBC has a duty to deliver high-quality, impartial and accurate news coverage and content. Members have already mentioned that 90% of the public value the news coverage of the BBC and believe in its impartiality. As with all other broadcasters, the BBC is subject to the Ofcom broadcasting code, which includes requirements on accuracy and impartiality. Ofcom is now firmly established as the new external regulator for the BBC. It will act to safeguard the high standards of impartiality that already exist at the BBC.

The Government are clear that the licence fee is the right funding model. It is clear that Ofcom’s robust approach to regulation will safeguard the impartiality that the BBC has a duty to observe. The licence fee concession was passed over, so I do not criticise the BBC for making the decision that it did. The BBC accepted the responsibility, and we should now let it get on and deliver at least a free licence to those over-75s who qualify for pension credit. As the shadow Minister said, the BBC will now write to all people in receipt of a free television licence with the new rules, setting out how they can apply, and I am hopeful that the decision will to a certain extent rectify the underclaiming of pension credit. Those 37% of people over the age of 75 who are entitled to pension credit will now have another incentive to claim it.