Andrew Bridgen makes several interventions in a debate on the BBC and calls for an end to the licence fee to be funded by advertising and online sales such as making BBC iPlayer available overseas for a fee.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She makes some very valid points, but she is letting the BBC off the hook and acting as an apologist for it. Does she recall that at the 2015 charter renewal, the BBC said that it was delighted with the terms of the charter; delighted about getting an inflation-linked increase to the licence fee; and delighted about being let off having to fund the roll-out of superfast broadband? It is now reneging on its commitment to the over-75s.
It is not the BBC but the Government who are reneging on their promises to the electorate, which were made as recently as 2017—it is as simple as that.
Would my hon. Friend note that Channel 4 is also a public service broadcaster but it is not in receipt of any of the licence fee? It funds itself completely from advertising.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. The idea of keeping out commercial advertising was fine 50 years ago, and even 20 years ago, but in today’s world it needs to be looked at again in the context of how the BBC will function.
May I press the hon. Gentleman further on the BBC and the TV licence? What about over-75s who want to watch ITV or Channel 4 but, because of the licencing system, have to pay for the BBC? Is it not an anachronism that non-payment of the TV tax remains a criminal offence in this country? How can he possibly defend any of that?
My speech is based on what I hear from my constituents, and the people of Portsmouth have not raised that issue.
The arguments could not be more compelling. I urge the Minister to be bold and not to trot out the usual lines blaming the BBC. We have an opportunity to make a real difference to pensioners’ lives, and it must be taken. The universally free TV licence for over-75s must remain free.
My hon. Friend is making some important points. BBC iPlayer is inaccessible outside the UK but it hosts the BBC’s back catalogue, which the licence fee payers have funded over decades. Surely a huge source of income for the BBC would be to allow people in the English-speaking world access, for a cost, to the BBC’s back catalogue through BBC iPlayer.
I entirely agree. It has been mentioned that the BBC seeks quite a significant income from international broadcast rights, and it could build on that substantially if it used the BBC iPlayer brand more effectively overseas.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the potential for BBC bias is not only in how it reports what it reports, but in the fact that 70% of the public rely on it for much of their news, and the BBC has the power to decide what is or is not reported in the news?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is no doubt that many important events in this country and around the world go unreported, when items that in the great scheme of things are perhaps more trivial find their way on to the airwaves, and perhaps that is a reflection of the organisation itself.