Sir Julian Lewis: I wonder whether the right hon. Lady, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee [Dame Diana Johnson], shares the surprise that I feel when looking at the BBC’s briefing for this debate. It says that it is creating 130 additional local journalist posts, and that as part of those posts it will create a new network of 70 investigative journalists across England. I can see the value of investigative reporting, but when people such as the excellent staff of BBC Radio Solent have to go on strike over the threat to their jobs, is that the right priority that the BBC should be following?
[Dame Diana Johnson: I very much hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. What I value about local radio is that it holds me to account. It is already investigating what local councils are doing and what local MPs are up to, and I think that is the value that many have talked about today.
Just to conclude, if the BBC thinks again and halts these cuts, we will work together as parliamentarians to protect local radio and to support the BBC. ...]
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Sir Julian Lewis: The right hon. Gentleman is making such a strong case that the House deserves to hear an extra minute. Does he agree that, in our 26 years in the House, it is hard to think of an occasion when the House has been more united than on this cause? Does he agree that, although the Minister will inevitably point to the independence of the BBC in policy terms, the Minister can nevertheless perform a useful role in taking a message to the BBC that the House feels immensely strongly on this matter?
[John McDonnell: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valid point, although I do not think I need the extra minute. We all respect the BBC’s independence, but the BBC should reflect the community it serves. What has come out of all these debates is that, on this particular issue, the BBC has belligerently ignored the views of local communities. Members of Parliament are meant to be the voice of our constituents, and we are saying with a strong voice today, and the motion says it all, that the BBC needs to think again, on behalf of our communities, on behalf of our constituents and – I say this as secretary of the NUJ parliamentary group – on behalf of the staff who have served the BBC well over the years.
When we met the staff who came to the lobby, I was moved by how many of them have long service and how many of them have dedicated their life to the BBC. They love the service they provide. I caution the BBC that the strikes will be back if it does not listen, because the staff are not going to sit back and take this. At the same time, it is interesting that there has been overwhelming support within our communities for industrial action. Our communities agree with the staff. Where else can they go? What else can they do to save this service when the BBC is not listening? Let us hope the BBC will listen to this debate.]
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That this House calls on the BBC to reconsider its decision to reduce local news output from local radio journalism which will have a negative impact on communities across the UK, reduce access to local news, information and entertainment and silence local voices.]