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Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): The Minister is aware that we will not win this unless we get the reconstruction right. Commanders on the ground
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say that only a very small amount of reconstruction has been delivered to the people of Helmand. Given the need to maintain the good will of ordinary villagers, is it not time massively to upscale the budgets and the delivery of reconstruction, to drop DFID’s somewhat politically correct idea that all reconstruction, or most of it, should go through the Afghan Government in Kabul and filter its way down to Helmand, and to start to brand reconstruction as British, thereby safeguarding our troops in Helmand?

Des Browne: I know that the hon. Gentleman as a member of the Select Committee has had the opportunity to consider these matters in some detail, and he identifies a very important correlation between reconstruction and security. It is not possible to plan for reconstruction without security, and it is not possible to sustain security without reconstruction. That is why, at the beginning of the deployment part of the statement, I announced to the House the significant increase in military engineers who will improve the prospects of our being able to do reconstruction in these communities immediately behind the introduction of security to them, recognising that it is difficult to ask those who are associated with non-governmental organisations and do not have military capability to take on the level of risk that that set of circumstances generates.

It is not a shortage of funding for reconstruction that is the challenge, it is the ability to be able to deliver it and configure it in a way that is consistent with the precarious level of security in which we may have to start to deliver it. That is why a substantial part of this deployment is designed to achieve just that.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I hope that the Secretary of State has noted that a significant number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed widespread concern about our NATO allies who have not given sufficient support in Afghanistan. Would he accept that some of his responses have been slightly complacent, all too diplomatic and not sufficiently robust?

Des Browne: I do not think that it will surprise the right hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member to learn that I do not recognise his description. I have sought to be candid with the House in terms of accepting the scale of the challenge not only that NATO faces, but that I face as the UK Defence Minister, to engage with our allies to ensure that we generate a sufficient level of force to be able to see this task through. At the end of the day the right hon. Gentleman will have to understand that I depend for advice on those who have the specialist skills to be able to inform me of whether the deployment of resource is sufficient to do the job. I repeat to the House that I made inquiries before I came to the House today from those who can best tell me and they have confirmed to me that they are confident that we will be able to deploy sufficient resource throughout the south to see stage three of the ISAF deployment meet its objectives, and to move then quickly to stage four, when of course we will be in a different set of circumstances and the resources available will be significantly greater across theatre.

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Points of Order

5.32 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice. Is it still the convention of the House that Members who are called following a ministerial statement should have been present at the commencement of that statement? Many colleagues have been here throughout the statement and have not been called, yet I suspect that one or two—certainly one—were not here at the beginning and yet have been called.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I must remind the hon. Member that that is usual, but it is a matter of discretion. Both the occupant of the Chair, and the Speaker’s Secretary, who assists the occupant of the Chair, do their very best to make sure that the names of everyone who wishes to speak are noted down as quickly as possible.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last Thursday, I went to a ward advisory committee meeting in Bartley Green, which is part of my constituency, which I am proud to represent. The chair of that advisory committee, a Conservative councillor, John Lines, suspended the meeting as soon as I arrived before I could even say a single word, and refused to resume the meeting unless I left the room. I was therefore prevented from performing my duty as a Member of Parliament, which is to represent my constituents. I seek your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, on what a Member can do in such circumstances.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady as I understand that she gave Mr. Speaker’s Office notice of the point of order that she intended to raise. The circumstances that she describes are now on the record, but the rules of the House require that any such complaint of privilege should be made to Mr. Speaker in writing, not raised on the Floor of the House. The procedure is set out on page 167 of “Erskine May”, and I advise the hon. Lady to take note of it.

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[Relevant document: The draft of the BBC’s new Charter for the continuance of the British Broadcasting Corporation.]

5.34 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I beg to move,

As the House well knows, the BBC is founded on its royal charter. The current charter expires in December this year, to be replaced by a new charter that will run until the end of 2016. I shall set out how we intend to achieve three objectives in relation to the BBC: first, sustaining a strong BBC that is independent of Government and responsive to the needs of licence fee payers; secondly, ensuring that the BBC is able to adapt to the rapidly changing media environment; and thirdly, within that context, reassuring the BBC’s competitors that the BBC will avoid undue impact on a thriving and creative marketplace.

Last year, we said in our manifesto:

We know that the public agree with that commitment because we have consulted them on it, as we have consulted them on the whole charter review process—the first time that that has been done so extensively by any Government. There is a view, which we have explored at some length, that as the amount of choice available to consumers continues to explode, the need for a BBC diminishes, and the market and new technology alone will provide. That view is comprehensively rejected by the public and by the Government. At first glance, that might seem surprising. After all, we have moved in just a few years from a four-channel nation to a 500-channel nation. The mass-market water cooler moments of the past, with audiences of 30 million for a single programme, are being replaced by niche TV. In 1995, 225 programmes had audiences of 15 million or more; in 2004, only 10 did. More money is now spent on multi-channel TV subscriptions than on paying the licence fee.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): How can the Secretary of State defend a poll tax on the poor and the not very well-off to pay huge salary increases to top BBC staff, to pay very large fees to certain performers, and to undermine private sector competition, which would otherwise be much stronger?

Tessa Jowell: There is a profound difference between the view taken on the BBC by Labour Members and the Government and views such as those expressed by the right hon. Gentleman.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Clearly, the issue of BBC management salaries is a public relations gaffe at a very sensitive time, and it gives succour to people who want to treat the BBC as
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a political football. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC is so important to the fabric of this nation, and provides such valuable services, that it should not be used as a political football by Conservative Members such as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)?

Tessa Jowell: The BBC, and the BBC alone, has the important responsibility of deciding what to pay its staff and its performers.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) drew an analogy with the poll tax, about which he knows a great deal. The profound distinction between Labour Members and Conservative Members is our commitment to universal, free-to-view broadcasting funded by the licence fee. That is the basis of the settlement that I am setting out to the House.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Tessa Jowell: No, I must make progress because many Back Benchers want to speak.

Just as we are all absorbing the impact of the BlackBerry and the internet, other changes in new technology, such as high definition television, are approaching fast and will transform picture quality for ever. Yet, throughout all the change and choice, the public remain firm in their affection and respect for the BBC and the services that it delivers. They know instinctively that the bigger the change, the greater the need for a benchmark of quality—a brand that they can trust and a guiding hand through the thickets of the digital age.

The agreement answers the concerns of those who responded in their thousands to our consultations. For the first time, the review of the charter and the agreement that will give it effect have been grounded in comprehensive public and industry consultation and engagement.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Earlier, the Secretary of State mentioned quality. She knows that, under section 5.1 of the licensing agreement, the BBC is required to ensure that all programmes broadcast

Will that continue to apply under the new arrangements? Does the right hon. Lady think that Jonathan Ross’s performance the other day was typical of something that fulfils those standards? If that is acceptable, what is unacceptable in modern BBC parlance?

Tessa Jowell: I am not the Leader of the Opposition’s media manager. My job as Secretary of State is to set the framework for the BBC, which is—and will be even more—directly accountable to licence fee payers for the interpretation of that framework.

The agreement reflects the public’s affection for the BBC and its special role in our democracy. For most people, the BBC provides the

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The BBC retains a level of public trust that would be the envy of any institution in the world.

The agreement reflects the reform needed to reconnect the BBC with the public while ensuring appropriate scrutiny by the National Audit Office, Ofcom and other relevant agencies. The issue before the House today is to approve the agreement between the Department and the BBC that gives effect to the charter.

Mr. Robathan: If the BBC is to be accountable—after all, we must try to hold it to account—how is it possible to pay a presenter such as Jonathan Ross, never mind his appalling taste, £6 million a year for three years? Hundreds of thousands of people, who are just as funny, would do it for a tenth of the sum.

Tessa Jowell: Rather than directing his question to me, the hon. Gentleman should refer it to the relevant controller of the BBC, who, I am sure, will be delighted to have a discussion with him. It is a good thing that the Secretary of State does not determine what is shown on the BBC.

The extensive changes to the BBC’s accountability, which are embodied in the new charter and the agreement, ensure that the new trust will be a powerful voice and also an advocate, at the heart of the BBC, for the licence fee payer. New accountability arrangements also reflect the overwhelming calls for clarity and certainty from the BBC’s commercial competitors. The new service licences, the public value test and ex ante competition rules will deliver that. That all reflects the public’s continuing acceptance of the licence fee as the only realistic option for paying for the BBC.

However, the BBC cannot remain unchanged and immune from all that surrounds it. To keep the public’s confidence, it must also adapt. It must remain true to its values—reliability, honesty, balance, fairness, quality, innovation and universal reach.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that regional accents make a major contribution to quality broadcasting? Does she know Big Bob Wylie, the charismatic, witty, intelligent yet modest reporter for BBC Scotland, the strength of whose Glasgow accent is matched only by the breadth of his swagger?

Tessa Jowell: The BBC is enriched by regional accents, just as the House is.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): On regional accents—

Tessa Jowell: I shall take one more intervention on regional accents, then I must make some progress.

Pete Wishart: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. I am sure that she will want to join me in condemning the appalling “Newsnight” piece that was broadcast last week in which, in a vain attempt to try to find anti-English sentiment in Scotland, it set up a form of entrapment in Gallowgate in Glasgow. That piece is now going to be the subject of a police inquiry
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into incitement to racial hatred. Does the Secretary of State agree that that kind of sloppy, dumbed-down journalism does the BBC no credit whatever, and that it is not what viewers in Scotland or elsewhere expect?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) has also raised this matter, and it is now the subject of a police inquiry. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will therefore understand if I make no further comment on it.

The BBC is valued for many reasons. It is internationally respected as a news, entertainment and information organisation that tries to get it right, that tries to tell the truth, and that will avoid exaggeration, distortion or misrepresentation. For that reason, as it takes its place among an increasingly wide range of news and current affairs providers, its commitment to accuracy and impartiality is of enormous importance to the licence fee payer.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): I agree that it is important that the BBC should be seen to be impartial. Does the Secretary of State agree with the report of the Wilson committee, which the BBC itself established some time ago to examine pro-EU bias in BBC broadcasts? Is she aware that that committee found that there was indeed institutional bias and an unwillingness to criticise? Does she believe that that situation has in any way improved? The BBC’s pro-EU bias undermines support for it in certain sections of the community.

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. Wherever bias is suspected on any issue in the BBC, it should be properly and openly investigated. The conclusions should then be published and the BBC should act accordingly. The new system of governance to which the BBC will be subject will, for the first time, give the licence fee payer that authority—an authority that has, in the Government’s view, been denied for far too long.

In a rapidly changing media environment, the BBC’s Reithian values provide an enduring anchor. We turn to the BBC for high quality, home-produced music, drama and entertainment, and we know that it takes fun seriously. Without the ability to entertain, the BBC would not have the ability to inform and educate.

The BBC’s role has historically been about more than simply providing programmes. Since the introduction of radio in the 1920s, it has led the way with technological developments, ensuring that new opportunities are made available to the widest possible audience. As a result, it has played a major role in creating the world-class broadcasting and technology market that now exists in this country. The new charter will ensure that this role is continued for the next 10 years. In the past few years, we have seen again how the BBC’s adoption of new technology can drive the market for the benefit of consumers and for the wider industry.

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