HC Deb 28 June 2004 vol 423 cc9-10
6. Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab)

If she will make a statement on the duration of the next BBC charter. [180465]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell)

As my hon. Friend is aware, there is no fixed time for BBC charters, although they tend to run for 10 years. We will consider all aspects of the charter, including its length in the current review. We have drawn no conclusions about that yet. The only certain outcome is a BBC that is strong and independent of Government.

Mr. Grogan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the traditional 10-year charter—as backed by ITV—is agreed, it will be a strong sign of Parliament's confidence in the need for a strong, independent BBC with a renewed commitment to public service broadcasting under its new leadership, whereas the five-year charter, which some would advocate, would create great uncertainty and inhibit the BBC's ability to plan for its role in broadcasting, post-digital switchover?

Tessa Jowell

I am well aware of the arguments that my hon. Friend has expressed in favour of continuing the customary practice of a 10-year charter for the BBC but, as I said, that and all other aspects of the BBC's governance and financing are currently subject to the review of its charter.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD)

Will not decisions on the next BBC charter be helped by early publication of the Philip Graf report into BBC online services? Will the Secretary of State confirm whether she has received the report and when she will publish it and provide a response?

Tessa Jowell

I have received the report, which will be published shortly. I think that Philip Graf's excellent assessment of BBC online has some important implications for the charter review.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

As far as the charter review is concerned, will my right hon. Friend be especially on her guard against those, whatever their party, whose agenda is to undermine and privatise as much of the BBC as possible? I know that she is on the side of the angels on that issue.

Tessa Jowell

The short answer is yes. We are looking at every aspect of the BBC. It holds a very important place in our nation's life, and public service broadcasting is a critical part of the offer that is made to the wider public. The BBC is our principal public service broadcaster, and yes, I am confident that we will see a strong future for the BBC, but it must be a strong BBC that is independent of the Government.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)

Will the right hon. Lady avoid listening to the siren voices that are saying that the BBC should have only a short charter, because of the length of time that it takes to change the structure of the BBC, given that there is now so much more competition? It would be just as difficult for the BBC as it is for any other organisation to plan ahead and provide good programming if the charter were reduced to just five years. If the BBC is to fulfil its public service remit, a 10-year charter will be necessary.

Tessa Jowell

This is precisely the public debate that we are now having, and what I welcome most about the charter review is that this is the first time ever that the public—the licence fee payers—have been engaged in the debate about the BBC's future. The public have responded with enthusiasm and engagement in that debate—

Michael Fabricant

Have they?

Tessa Jowell

They certainly have. There have been 5,000 written responses and 26,000 unique visitors to the website. It has been a very successful consultation, and we take the views that we have received very seriously indeed when dealing with precisely the kind of debate that has been reflected in the points raised this afternoon.