It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue.
I am a child of the ’50s and ’60s. If we cast our minds back, there was a great deal of American stuff on our television—“The Lucy Show”, “Batman”, Dick Van Dyke, and on and on it went. Just before the pandemic, I and others from this place had occasion to visit NASA in Florida. After the day was done, we had dinner with the astronauts, all the NASA officials and their wives. Over pudding, the wives talked about the shows they really liked. They said that we had some “swell stuff” coming across the Atlantic.
While we have name-checked some of the great shows that Channel 4 has produced, I will add two more films: “The Madness of King George” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. One of the American wives looked at me and said, “You know, you just remind me of one of the characters in that ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’.” I thought she meant Hugh Grant, but she said, “No, the goofy preacher guy.” This is soft power, which has already been alluded to. It is a real change from what went before when we had so much American telly on British telly. We know just how important that is to this country.
That was about looking outward. Looking inward, Members have mentioned what is achieved through delivering public service content that speaks to the nation. “Gogglebox” has been mentioned, as have “Channel 4 News” and “The Great British Bake Off”. Think what an impact it has had on people’s lives. The Paralympics have changed our attitudes towards disability. It is arguable that “It’s a Sin” has led to a rise in HIV testing. It has been good for the nation.
All the other points have been touched on. It is private money in a public enterprise, and all that money is reinvested. That is incredibly important. Look how well Channel 4 did during the pandemic. It passed through with flying colours and has repaid all the furlough money, which is really something.
I conclude with one of my favourite quotes, which is a message I send, with the greatest politeness, to the Minister. It is a conversation between Mr Charles James Fox, the erstwhile leader of my party in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and Mr William Pitt the Younger, arguably one of the greatest Prime Ministers that the country has ever seen and a Conservative, from “The Madness of King George”:
FOX: Do you enjoy anything, Mr Pitt?
PITT: A balance sheet, Mr Fox. I enjoy a good balance sheet.”
Channel 4 pays its way and reinvests its money, and that strikes me as something that is unusual and very good for this country. We chuck Channel 4 under a bus at our greatest peril.