Alun Cairns
(Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)

What assessment he has made of the potential effectiveness of the proposal to ban the advertisement of products high in fat, sugar and salt online and on television. (908265)

The Minister for Media and Data
(Mr John Whittingdale)

The Government published an impact assessment alongside the 2019 consultation on HFSS advertising that considered both the health benefits and the costs. We will publish the Government’s response to that consultation by the end of this year, and hold a short consultation as soon as possible on a total ban for advertising online.

Alun Cairns

No one would question the Government’s wish to reduce childhood obesity, but influencing this is a hugely complicated task that the Government should take time over. The proposal to restrict advertising products that are high in fat, salt and sugar brings the risk of displacement. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any ban will not come into force until all factors have been properly considered, and that any strategy regime will hold online platforms to the same restrictions as broadcasters, along with similar sanctions?

Mr Whittingdale

My right hon. Friend himself is an advertisement for the benefits of healthy living, and he is absolutely right to draw attention to the risk that, by imposing measures in one area, one may simply displace advertising into another. That is why the Government have been absolutely plain that restrictions on post-watershed advertising on broadcasting will come into effect at the same time as a ban on HFSS advertising online.

The Minister for Media and Data
(Mr John Whittingdale)

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Communications Act (e-Commerce) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and to welcome my colleagues who are here in quality, if not in quantity. These regulations were laid in both Houses on 24 September. They seek to end the direct effect of article 3 of the e-commerce directive, which is also known as the country of origin principle, with regard to sections 120 to 124 and 128 to 131 of the Communications Act 2003. If these regulations were not in place, these provisions would become retained EU law after the end of the transition period.

The country of origin principle is an EU internal market measure designed to facilitate digital trade among businesses in the European economic area. It would not be appropriate to retain this measure in UK legislation beyond the end of the transition period. These regulations do not create new policy; instead, they are technical measures to fix failures of retained EU law arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. This intervention is essential to ensure that UK rules can be effectively enforced at the end of the year.

Turning to the detail of the regulations, the primary impact is that they will allow a UK regulator—the Phone-paid Services Authority—to enforce its code of practice against online service providers based in the European economic area. At the moment, article 3 of the e-commerce directive inhibits the exercising of the PSA’s powers under sections 120 to 124 against EEA businesses. These regulations will also allow Ofcom to enforce rules under section 128 to 131 of the Act. Again, at the moment, article 3 of the e-commerce directive inhibits Ofcom from enforcing these rules on the misuse of electronic communications services against EEA businesses. This change will allow quicker regulatory action and more efficient user redress. UK regulators will be able to enforce UK laws for the protection of UK consumers.

I should also bring to the attention of the Committee the reports of the European Statutory Instruments Committee and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and I thank those Committees for their work. I will address a couple of the points they raised in a moment, but before I do so, I will explain again why the Government are intervening in this area and give a little more background to the proposal.

The e-commerce directive seeks to contribute to the proper functioning of the European internal market by ensuring the free movement of online service providers within the European economic area. However, that directive will no longer apply to the UK at the end of the transition period, including the country of origin principle. That principle applies to online service providers based in any EEA state that operates across the European economic area, and it means that the service provider only has to follow the requisite rules of the state in which it is based, rather than the rules in each state where its service is received. If the state where the service is received wishes to enforce its own laws against the online service provider, it can only do so where certain conditions set out in article 3 are met. That state must also follow a derogation procedure, notifying the European Commission and the relevant member state before enforcing its rules.

While the UK has been bound by the directive, this exemption has been reciprocal between the UK and European economic area member states. UK-based online services have been exempt from relevant laws in EEA states, as provided for by the country of origin principle, and equivalent businesses in EEA member states are exempt from those relevant laws in the UK. The country of origin principle is implemented in relevant pieces of national law. Once the transition period ends, we will no longer be bound by the directive and UK-based online service providers will lose their exemption from relevant laws in EEA states, as currently provided for. If we do not intervene to remove article 3’s effect on the 2003 Act, then online service providers in the EEA will continue to receive preferential market access beyond the end of the transition period, while the same benefit will not be afforded to UK online service providers.

The regulations remove the direct effect of the country of origin principle from the 2003 Act, and they remove the exemption from rules under sections 120 to 124 and 128 to 131 of the Act for businesses based in the EEA. The principle will be removed for all UK legislation in due course, to ensure that businesses in the EEA will be in scope of all the UK laws from which they are currently exempt.

Of course, the loss of the country of origin principle as a result of leaving the EU also means that UK businesses will be newly in scope of certain EEA laws from which they were previously exempt. However, we expect that the impact on UK businesses will be relatively low. The scope of the directive is narrow and we do not expect the regulatory regimes to be markedly different in the UK in comparison with other EEA states. Depending on the nature of the online service, many UK businesses may already be compliant and there will be little to no immediate change that they need to make in order to be compliant from 1 January 2021.

These regulations are, as I say, a technical measure to fix failures of retained EU law to operate effectively, arising from the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. They will ensure that our regulators are able to effectively apply their laws to online service providers based in the EEA and to ensure that UK consumers are protected by UK law.

Gerald Jones
(Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)

What plans the Government has to reintroduce the TV licence concession for people aged over 75. (906485)

The Minister for Media and Data
(Mr John Whittingdale)

The Government remain disappointed by the decision of the BBC to restrict the over-75 concession to those on pension credit. However, the responsibility for that was given to the BBC under the Digital Economy Act 2017, passed by Parliament, and it is a matter for the BBC.

Gerald Jones

For many older and vulnerable residents, losing their free TV licence means losing not only entertainment and a source of news, but companionship, which is hugely important as we go into winter and many people across the country face restrictions on movement. Will the Minister do the right thing, stop hiding behind the BBC, take another look at this policy, stick to his manifesto commitment and keep free television licences for over-75s until 2022?

Mr Whittingdale

The Conservative manifesto did say that we believed it should be funded by the BBC. Those who are on low incomes and are eligible for pension credit will continue to receive a free licence. I hope that all those who may be eligible make sure they receive pension credit. The Government continue to believe that the BBC needs to do more to support older people.

Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi
(Slough) (Lab)

What steps his Department is taking to support local, independent newspapers during the covid-19 outbreak. (906489)

The Minister for Media and Data
(Mr John Whittingdale)

The Government recognise the vital importance of local and regional newspapers, particularly during this pandemic. That is why we designated journalists as key workers and ran a £35 million public information campaign to carry covid messaging in more than 600 titles.

Mr Dhesi

We in Slough are fortunate to have two brilliant local newspapers, the Slough Express and the Slough Observer, which play a vital role in our local democracy, ensuring that the good people of Slough are well informed with reliable and accurate news reporting, but, like many of their counterparts across our country, local journalism is under threat. Their trade body News Media Association has repeatedly called for business rates relief, but those calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The National Union of Journalists has proposed a detailed news recovery plan to ensure the survival of excellent journalism, which is there for all of us. Can the Minister advise us, before we lose even more valued local newspapers, when the Government will finally listen to and support this important sector?

Mr Whittingdale

I have no doubt that the newspapers in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency are doing an excellent job, and I have had a number of conversations with the News Media Association and other publishing organisations. The Government have extended £1,500 business rates relief for local newspaper offices, but we will obviously continue to look at what additional measures we can take to support newspapers.

Photo of Grahame MorrisGrahame Morris Labour, Easington

What recent discussions he has had with Ofcom on the BBC's compliance with its statutory duties on local and regional news and political coverage for the English regions. 

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

The BBC charter requires the BBC to serve audiences across all the UK nations and regions. How it does so is a matter for the BBC, but I share the concern about the recently announced cuts, and I welcome Ofcom’s intention to examine this.

Photo of Grahame MorrisGrahame Morris Labour, Easington

I thank the Minister for that response, and I assume that he agrees that local and regional news coverage and political coverage are a vital aspect of the BBC’s public sector obligation. My concern—this has been raised by the National Union of Journalists—is that the number of staff who currently work on the award-winning investigative programme “Inside Out” will be put at risk of redundancy if the BBC reduces the number of regional production centres from 11 to six. I am pleased by what the Minister said, but is he asking Ofcom to investigate the BBC’s compliance with the public sector broadcaster obligation?

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that local and regional news coverage by the BBC is one of the core public purposes of the BBC. I have spoken to the new director-general, and I am pleased that he remains absolutely committed to that. Whether the recent cuts reduce the ability of the BBC to carry out that obligation is a matter that Ofcom is looking at, and it decided to do that without our having even spoken to it.

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

First, I congratulate Daisy Cooper on obtaining this urgent question and demonstrating that persistence pays off.

The BBC has for decades played a vital role in this country’s cultural and civic life, and that has never been more true than during the last few months. During an unprecedented global crisis, it has helped to counter disinformation and share factual information about the coronavirus pandemic, while reinforcing important public health messaging. It has been a constant source of entertainment. It has helped to fundraise for charities through “The Big Night In”, which the Government match funded pound for pound, and it has helped countless families across the UK to educate their children from home through services such as BBC Bitesize.

The BBC has also been a source of comfort to many during this pandemic, and none more so, perhaps, than those elderly citizens who have been forced to shield and stay at home and who are sadly most at risk of experiencing loneliness and isolation as they do so. That is why we welcomed the BBC’s initial decision at the beginning of the lockdown to continue to grant the licence fee concession to the over-75s, and it is why we were deeply disappointed when the BBC board announced earlier this month that it would be ending that concession from 1 August. As a result, four out of five of those previously eligible for a free TV licence will now need to pay. That is a decision for the BBC, but the Government regret the approach that it has taken.

In the 2015 funding settlement—a settlement that was widely considered to be a generous one and which the director-general said was a strong deal for the BBC—we agreed with the BBC that responsibility for the over-75s concession would transfer to it in June 2020. The BBC agreed to have both the policy decision and the funding responsibility. That reform was subject to public discussion and debated extensively during the passage of the Digital Economy Act 2017. During those discussions and the passage of that legislation, Parliament agreed that the future of the over-75 concession and how and when it would be implemented was entirely a matter for the BBC.

The Government’s view is that the BBC should be doing more, given the generous settlement that it received. During the 2015 settlement, we gave the BBC a number of things in return for taking on this responsibility. We closed the iPlayer loophole. We committed to increasing the licence fee in line with inflation, and we reduced a number of other BBC spending commitments. To help with financial planning, we agreed to provide phased transitional funding over two years to gradually introduce the cost to the BBC.

It is now essential that the BBC, having taken the decision to end the concession, gets the implementation of the change right and is not heavy-handed in its approach. While lockdown may be easing, older people across the country still face many challenges and still rely on their TV as much as they did a few weeks ago. The BBC can and should therefore do more to support older people, and it should look urgently at how it can use its substantial licence fee income to support older people and deliver for UK audiences of all ages.

As the national broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to represent all of the nation—both its youngest and oldest citizens, no matter where they live—and I am aware that many people have expressed concerns about cuts to regional programming as well as the BBC’s recent announcement of staffing reductions. Let me be clear that both operational and editorial decisions are a matter for the BBC. It is an independent body and the Government rightly have no say over the day-to-day decisions that it makes on programming, staffing or the administration of the licence fee, but as I have said, including during a recent Adjournment debate, the Government believe that the BBC must represent all of Britain. We set clear targets for news and current affairs and the need to represent all parts of the UK and the charter as part of the BBC’s mission and public purposes. It is for the BBC to meet these and Ofcom to hold it to account on doing so. That means engaging and reporting on local issues across our diverse communities, not just reflecting the views of the metropolitan bubbles of London and Manchester.

While the BBC remains operationally and editorially independent from the Government, we will continue to push it on these issues so that we can ensure that the BBC remains closer to the communities that it serves.

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State  7:28 pm, 22nd June 2020 

I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Parish on holding this important debate. It is certainly one of the best attended Adjournment debates that I have been present at, as well as one of the longest, but perhaps more important is the fact that there have been a large number of excellent contributions and a large degree of agreement across the House on the importance of the BBC’s regional politics and current affairs coverage. I welcome Christian Matheson, who has been in his place throughout the entire debate. I am delighted to see him in his new role as Opposition spokesman.

I will also take this opportunity to congratulate Tim Davie on his appointment as director-general, and to pay tribute to Lord Hall, who has served as director-general for seven years. He took over the position in challenging times, and I think it fair to say that they have remained fairly challenging throughout his time, but he has done an excellent job in bringing leadership to the BBC. I certainly enjoyed working with him during our debates on the renewal of the BBC’s charter.

As my hon. Friend Andy Carter said, the BBC has also played an extremely important role in the course of the past few months during this crisis. It has provided important factual information and reinforced the Government’s messaging. It has also provided great entertainment, and it has done a great job in providing programming for children unable to attend classes in schools through BBC Bitesize.

I want to start by saying that I am a strong supporter of the BBC and I also believe very strongly in the independence of the BBC. It is not for the Government to instruct the BBC how to fulfil the objectives that it is set in the charter. The Government have three roles when it comes to the BBC. It is to draw up the charter, which sets out the purposes of the BBC. However, the way in which the BBC meets those is a matter for the BBC under the scrutiny of Ofcom. The Government also have a role in the appointment of the chair of the BBC and some Members of the board and, thirdly, in the setting of the licence fee.

Photo of Andy CarterAndy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a test for Ofcom? This is the first time that Ofcom, in its role as a regulator of the BBC, will be able to look at what the BBC is doing in terms of its regional content. It will allow the Ofcom members to take a decision and a view on how the BBC will set those out going forward. This is quite an important time for the regulator to step forward and look at what the BBC is doing.

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

My hon. Friend is right in that it has only been since the new charter was put in place that Ofcom has had the role as an external scrutineer of the BBC, and it is the role of Ofcom to ensure that the BBC is meeting its purposes. He quoted in his own remarks one of those purposes from the charter and I want to come back to that, because he is absolutely right that providing regional coverage is one of the purposes that the BBC is required to fulfil. Having made it clear in my remarks that I do not intend to instruct the BBC, because I think it is completely wrong for the Government to attempt to do so, nevertheless, I entirely understand the concern that has been expressed by hon. Gentlemen from across the House about the BBC’s decision to cancel the autumn series of “Inside Out”.

Photo of Neil ParishNeil ParishChair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

What tonight’s debate has shown is that, across the House, there is united support for keeping regional programmes and for making them even more local than they are now. We need to get that message across loud and clear. I understand that it not the Government’s perspective to dictate to the BBC, but it is also right that we send from this House a clear message that the BBC should maintain regional programmes and enhance them.

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

I agree with my hon. Friend, which is why I am grateful to him for having applied for and obtained this debate, because I have absolutely no doubt that the BBC will be watching it and that it will take account of the strength of feeling that has been expressed from all parts of this House. I am talking not just about the current affairs programmes, but also about the “Sunday Politics” show. As Liz Twist pointed out, it was only last week that more than 100 of the industry’s most well-known figures, including Sir Lenny Henry, Stephen Fry, Fern Britton and Ken Loach, signed a public letter to the BBC to express their concerns over the future of these programmes and the impact that their withdrawal would have on the communities that they serve. These are programmes that have brought us first-class investigative journalism, and they are at the very core of public service broadcasting. One of the signatories of the letter was Samira Ahmed, who many of us will know having been subjected to questioning by her on the “Today” programme. She wrote:

“I was proud to be part of an Inside Out investigation for BBC Leeds that dared to tackle difficult issues around race and exploitation in the Rotherham Grooming Scandal. Now more than ever we need honest, fearless journalism that is rooted in the long-term expertise and professionalism of BBC journalists who know their local communities.”

I agree with the  hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) that the BBC is one of the most recognised and trusted brands across the world and that it produces some of the best TV and radio across the globe. As the Prime Minister put it, it is an institution to be cherished. Whether it is the recent drama on the Salisbury poisonings or the documentary following the work of the north-east ambulance service, the BBC lies at the heart of our public service broadcasting system, producing world-class content that serves to stimulate our interest, broaden our understanding, and help us to engage with the world around us.

That understanding of the world, and the BBC’s role as our national broadcaster, has never been more important. As we emerge from the crisis caused by coronavirus, we find ourselves at a time of increasing mistrust and facing an almost daily battle against misinformation. In that world, where “fake news” has had to be added to the dictionary, it is vital that the BBC upholds the values and standards we have all come to expect. The public should be able to turn to the BBC for transparent, impartial, reliable news and current affairs.

That applies just as much, if not perhaps even more strongly, in regional and local coverage, which is the focus of this debate. In the past few months, UKaudiences have been turning back to television news. In the last week of March, 79% of UK adults watched the BBC network and regional news on television—up 20% on the previous month. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the 6.30 pm regional news programme on the BBC has often been the most watched programme on television on any given day.

BBC local radio has also played a very important role. For instance, the BBC local radio “Make a Difference” campaign, which allowed a number of people to call to ask for help, support or advice and reassurance, received over 1 million calls.

Photo of Toby PerkinsToby Perkins Shadow Minister (Education)

Given the statistics that the right hon. Gentleman has outlined about the success of this output, what does it say about the BBC’s priorities that it would even consider getting rid of these incredibly popular local programmes that are of such importance to people, at a time when it continues to make the other decisions that it does about the kind of output it has?

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

I fully understand why the hon. Gentleman regards that as a mistake by the BBC, and it is one that I personally would agree with him about. I will go on to set out why I think it is right that we ask the BBC to think again.

As my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Warrington South said, the royal charter sets out the public purposes of the BBC. One of these is:

“To reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions”.

It goes on to say that the BBC

“should offer a range and depth of analysis…so that all audiences can engage fully with major local, regional, national, United Kingdom and global issues”.

Regional news and current affairs programmes are at the very heart of this particular public purpose. First, they fulfil a vital role in providing local content, which helps to sustain local democracy. A number of Members have made the point that that is becoming particularly important as we look at devolving more power to regions and local communities. It is essential that that takes place and that, at the same time, people who are holding that power are held properly to account. We all know that many of the issues affecting Plymouth will be completely different from those that impact on Hull, Devon or Coventry. It is important that all those different issues are aired properly and that politics does not seem to be only about Westminster—or, even, the London bubble.

People also want to know that they are heard, especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds and in diverse communities across the UK. They need to know that the issues that matter to them matter to us all, and they need the opportunity to engage in balanced debates and participate in the conversations that shape their daily lives. It is only through broadcasting those kinds of stories and conversations through regional TV or local radio that we can build the true picture of British life.

The second area of vital importance for local news and current affairs programmes, which has been referred to by several hon. Members, is the extremely important role they play in forming the next generation of skilled journalists. Without that training ground, some of the best known names in broadcasting today would not have had a start.

I will say a few words about each of the different areas of regional programming that the debate has covered. First, on the regional political coverage, the weekly regional political show plays a vital role in highlighting issues that may be of huge local importance but will probably never make it on to the national news. As my hon. Friend Bob Stewart, who is no longer in his place, pointed out, those shows are often the only opportunity that Members of Parliament have to go on television to talk about the issues that affect them and their constituents. In my region, the “Politics East” programme, with which my hon. Friend Tom Hunt and Rachel Hopkins will be familiar—as, of course, will you, Madam Deputy Speaker—does an extremely good job in covering political developments in the region, as well as the debates that we have here on issues that are relevant to the region. If a Member from a particular region obtains an Adjournment debate on an issue that is of extreme importance to his or her constituents, we can look to the BBC’s regional political show to at least give it some coverage.

The idea that a single politics England show could somehow substitute is wholly unrealistic, as Mr Perkins pointed out. The population of the east of England—from which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I come—is over 6 million. That is more than the population of Scotland, yet Scotland is served by its own channel, BBC Scotland, which was launched in February 2019, and includes a huge amount of coverage of Scottish issues. That is not in any way wrong—it is as much a part of the BBC’s public purpose to provide that programming as it is for any other part—but it does seem to illustrate why it is mistaken for the BBC to provide that amount of coverage of the Scottish nation while diminishing, and almost removing, the equivalent coverage that takes place of the 11 regions of England.

I turn to the current affairs programme that the BBC provides, “Inside Out”. As has been pointed out by a several hon. Members, “Inside Out” has carried out a number of in-depth investigations of huge importance, many of which went on to become national stories, but probably would not have done so had it not been for the initial investigative journalism done by “Inside Out”. The example of the working practices of Sports Direct has already been mentioned; Samira Ahmed drew attention to the Rotherham child grooming case; and there was a recent programme about the impact of smart motorways. All are hugely important stories that, one has to suspect, would not have ever been revealed had it not been for the work of the journalists on “Inside Out”.

At a time when powers are being devolved to a more local level, it is all the more important that the scrutiny that a programme such as “Inside Out” provides is carried out. That is particularly reinforced given what is happening to other local media, as several hon. Members have mentioned. It is the case that both local newspapers and local radio are under tremendous threat. Sadly, we have seen a number of local newspapers shedding journalists or, in some cases, even going out of business, and that has made the BBC’s task of scrutinising and holding local institutions to account all the more important.

Local news production shows the BBC’s unique value compared with strong national and international competitors. The choice available to viewers is growing, with new entrants such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney. That makes it all the more important that the BBC focuses on the role of providing public service broadcasting, which will not be provided by those commercially oriented, market-driven companies. My right hon. Friend Mr Harper questioned the future of the licence fee and rightly said that one of the principal justifications for the licence fee is that it funds a broadcaster which provides programming that otherwise would not exist. That has always been at the heart of the purpose of the public service broadcasting landscape, and particularly the BBC.

The BBC is uniquely privileged in that it receives public funding. It has been protected against the hurricane that has hit the rest of commercial media as a result of the loss of advertising during the covid crisis. The BBC has a protected income, and in that climate, it is all the more important that it continues to provide public service broadcasting. My view, and the general tone of this whole debate, is that regional political and current affairs coverage is at the heart of public service broadcasting.

As I say, it is not for me to tell the BBC how it should deliver the public purposes or use the money given to it through the licence fee, but I believe that regional news and current affairs are of great importance, because they are vital for our democracy, they help to train future journalists and they help the BBC and other public service broadcasters to remain relevant in this changing media landscape. I am confident that the BBC will have been watching this debate, and I hope that it will take account of the feelings and views expressed by all Members and decide to continue—indeed, strengthen—its regional political and current affairs coverage.

Photo of Mohammad YasinMohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford

What support the Government are providing to local and regional news organisations during the covid-19 outbreak. 

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

The Government recognise the vital role that local and regional newspapers play in the provision of reliable, high-quality information during this time. We have already put in place an unprecedented financial package to provide support to all businesses and have taken a number of steps to provide specific support to news publishers. We are continuing to work closely with publishers to fully understand the specific challenges that they are facing with the supply chain and the fall in advertising revenues and options for addressing these.

Photo of Mohammad YasinMohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford

The Government have agreed an advertising deal with the News Media Association, which has been presented to the wealthiest publishers, but have so far overlooked independents. Does the Secretary of State agree that independent publishers such as the Bedford Independent are providing a vital service to communities across the UK, and will he meet with the independent sector representative body, the ICNN, to agree an advertising deal for the local independent press?

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the independent community news sector is very important and plays an essential role in continuing to provide public information alongside the NMA members in the regional and local press. The agreement that we have reached for advertising will cover 600 national, regional and local titles, which reach something like 49 million people, but I am in touch with the ICNN and we are looking to see what other measures could be put in place to support it and to see whether it could benefit from the Government’s own advertising package.

Photo of Marcus FyshMarcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil

In Somerset, we are fortunate to have some excellent community radio stations, but, across the country, such stations are in need of financial support at this time. What more can the Government do to make sure that community radio stations are not forced to close because of coronavirus?

Photo of John WhittingdaleJohn Whittingdale Minister of State

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I very much agree with him that community radio play an essential part in the media landscape, and I am very conscious of the pressures that many community radio stations are currently under. We are looking at ways in which we can support them, perhaps through the use of a community radio fund. That is something that I hope we can say more about very shortly. I am determined to give whatever help is possible to support community radio as well as commercial radio.