Parliamentary statement on the BBC Trust and George Entwistle

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Monday 12 November 2012 The BBC is a global British institution, of huge importance and value to millions of licence fee payers and people …

Monday 12 November 2012

The BBC is a global British institution, of huge importance and value to millions of licence fee payers and people all over the world who look on it as an exemplar of independent public service broadcasting. And in light of the ongoing crisis, it is crucial that the BBC puts the systems in place to ensure that it can continue to make the first class news and current affairs programs on which its reputation rests.

George Entwistle has taken full responsibility for the failings of Newsnight in his role as editor-in-chief and it was for this reason he decided to resign yesterday. The circumstances of his departure make it hard to justify the level of severance money that has been agreed. Contractual arrangements are a matter for the BBC Trust but the Trust also has clear responsibilities to ensure value for money for the licence fee payer.

Now I know that Lord Patten has written to the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee outlining why the Trust took the decision it did and this letter has been made public. It is right that they should account publicly for that decision and I have repeatedly emphasised the need for full transparency to re-build public trust.

Members will know that there are now in place procedures to scrutinise the BBC’s decisions in terms of delivering value for money. Procedures strengthened by this government. The National Audit Office is empowered to conduct a value for money review of any issue. If they decide to review this decision I expect that the BBC would co-operate fully.

The BBC is in the midst of the most serious of crises and I have made it clear, both publicly and privately, that the Trust was slow off the mark in responding to the initial crisis over Savile. They are now acting decisively with three reviews one of which reported yesterday and the other two ongoing. It is in the long term interests of the future of the BBC to have a period of stability to see this important work completed.

In my conversations with Lord Patten, I have been clear that the overall aim of the Trust must be to rebuild the public’s trust in the BBC and I know that Lord Patten agrees.

And there are three clear things they need to do to achieve that Mr Speaker:

First, the immediate task for the BBC must be to address whatever failings there have been within the editorial process, particularly in Newsnight, in order to restore public confidence in the BBC. The Trust needs to act swiftly to ensure that the management and leadership issues are resolved and that these failings can not be repeated. It is clear from the interim Director General’s interviews today that the BBC is looking seriously at what went wrong, where responsibility lies and how to address this in the long term and I welcome this.

Second, the Trust must get the right Director General in post and I know that Lord Patten has indicated that he will do this as soon as possible, but above all the Trust must get the right candidate to both stabilise the BBC and drive through the change that is necessary. As I have said before the BBC is a global British Institution and it needs to function effectively.

Third, we must not lose sight in all of this of the inquiries and what is at the heart of these events. None of the developments of recent days should overshadow the investigations into the alleged horrendous abuse of children in institutions around our country.

It is vital that that the BBC responds correctly and decisively to both Pollard, in terms of the decision to drop the Newsnight item on Savile, and Smith in terms of looking at Savile’s abuses and the culture and practices of the BBC. 

The BBC is an independent institution and its independence is not and never will be in question.

Ultimately, the only organisation that can restore the public’s trust in the BBC is the BBC itself.