By Harry Phibbs
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Today we saw the House of Commons at its worst. A cross Party consensus for press censorship was in full cry. All those advocating it were careful to stress their support for press freedom. Just as, I suppose, supporters of North Korea are solicitous in remembering its official name is the Democratic People's Republic.
Then there was all the oleaginous sanctimonious display of self righteousness and exchanged tributes. A couple of hours of this and how I longed for a return to the rowdy point scoring.
Ed Miliband hammed it up as if he was at the Oscars.
There was the craven response from Nick Clegg that although phone hacking was already illegal it was still justified to bring in further restrictions because Lord Leveson said so.
Thus we had a Parliament that had suspended its critical facilities, that had shackled itself from proper debate while an expedient deal to shackle the press was pushed through.
By Paul Goodman
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Mr J.A.Prufrock (Grummidge West) (Con): The amendments tabled by the Prime Minister reconcile two key principles. The first is total solidarity with the victims. I am not afraid to say, Mr Speaker, that I am on their side. We need to keep before us at all times what the victims have been through. Gross intrusion of privacy. The harrassment of family members. Doorstepping. The theft of documents. Paparazzi. Details of their most private, personal and intimate affairs splashed across the papers for all to read. I refer, of course, to the treatment of honourable and right honourable members of this House during the so-called expenses scandal -
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con) - Sit down, you bloody fool.
Mr J.A.Prufrock: I am extremely grateful to the Whip on duty on the front bench, who reinforces my call for total solidarity with the victims, by which I of course really meant Mr Hugh Grant, who was so splendidly portrayed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in Love Actually, and Sir Oswald Mosley, who as the House knows was spanked by Hitler. This brings me to the second key principle at stake - namely, unwavering support for press freedom. I yield to no-one in my total condemnation of censorship. Many newspapers are rightly opposed to the ECHR. It follows that they must appeal to it against these measures if they feel so inclined -
By Tim Montgomerie
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It's been as horrible few days for the BBC but not as horrible as the last week and more has been for Lord McAlpine. That's the message of the Mayor of London's column in today's Telegraph. While the BBC is feeling sorry for itself, Boris writes, it should do more to reflect on its "cretinous" journalism and its effective smearing of Lord McAlpine.
George Entwistle may have resigned but in a sign that the Corporation still doesn't 'get it' the outgoing BBC Director General has been awarded a £450,000 exit settlement - equivalent to one year's salary and TWICE as much as he would normally be due. The Telegraph gets the £1.3 million figure for its front page splash by adding the £450,000 to Mr Entwistle's £877,000 pension pot.
A number of Tory MPs have lined up to attack the pay off including Tory Chairman Grant Shapps:
John Whittingdale MP, Chairman of the Culture and Media Select Committee: "A lot of people would be very surprised that somebody who was in the job for such a short period of time and then had to leave in these circumstances should be walking away with £450,000 of licence fee-payers' money."
By Tim Montgomerie
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The possibility of some form of statutory regulation of the press has become a lot more likely tonight. 42 Tory MPs have signed a letter rejecting a beefed-up form of self-regulation, arguing that it is likely to be "unstable". Up until now leading Tory Cabinet ministers such as Michael Gove and Eric Pickles have suggested that statutory regulation was not acceptable to them. Tonight's intervention changes the balance of parliamentary debate and arithmetic in a potentially dramatic way. A combination of LibDem and Labour MPs plus 42 Tories means the door is now wide open to a new era of press regulation in Britain.
Here is the text of the letter:
"After eight months, 650 witnesses and 6000 pages of evidence submitted to the Leveson Inquiry, we can be clear about two things. Firstly, that a free press is essential for a free society. Secondly, that there are fundamental weaknesses in the current model of self regulation which cannot be ignored.
No one wants our media controlled by the government but, to be credible, any new regulator must be independent ofthe press as well as from politicians. We are concerned that the current proposal put forward by the newspaper industry would lack independence and risks being an unstable model destined to fail, like previous initiatives over the past sixty years. These concerns are shared by the NUJ.
We agree with the Prime Minister that obsessive argument about the principle of statutory regulation can cloud the debate. Instead we must do what is necessary to create a genuinely independent system. The Defamation Bill is currently going through parliament with the support of all parties and the newspaper industry. This proves that, when people try, it is possible to make sensible changes to the law.
We should also keep some perspective: the introduction of the Legal Services Board in statute has not compromised the independence of the legal profession. The Jimmy Savile scandal was exposed by ITV and the Winterbourne View care home scandal was exposed by the BBC, both of whom are regulated by the Broadcasting Act. While no one is suggesting similar laws for newspapers, it is not credible to suggest that broadcasters such as Sky News, ITV or the BBC have their agenda dictated by the government of the day.
The worst excesses of the press have stemmed from the fact that the public interest defence has been too elastic and, all too often, has meant whatever editors wanted it to mean. To protect both robust journalism and the public, itis now essential to establish a single standard for assessing the public interest test which can be applied independently and consistently.
The Prime Minister was right to set up the Leveson Inquiry. While it has been uncomfortable for both politicians and the press, it also represents a once in a generation opportunity to put things right and parliament must not duck the challenge."
By Tim Montgomerie
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Bill Cash MP has assembled a variety of powerful backbench voices in support of his argument that "the terms of reference of the Leveson inquiry must be extended to the whole media, including sound, visual and social media and include blagging and other unethical or illegal practices and not confined to “phone hacking”."
John Whittingdale, Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and Keith Vaz, Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, are two of thirteen Chairmen supporting Mr Cash's belief that we need an enquiry that doesn't treat one part of the media differently from any other.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Richard Ottoway, opened a very interesting debate about the future of the BBC World Service yesterday. He was speaking after his Committee had issued a report, complaining about World Service cuts of 16%.
The motion was also supported by the Chairs of the Defence, International Development, Treasury, Home Affairs, Culture, Media and Sport and Environmental Audit Select Committees:
“That this House notes the Sixth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, The Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service, HC 849; endorses the Committee’s support for the World Service’s invaluable work in providing a widely respected and trusted news service in combination with high-quality journalism to many countries; considers that the unfolding events in North Africa and the Middle East demonstrate the continuing importance of the ‘soft power’ wielded through the World Service; believes that the value of the World Service far outweighs its relatively small cost; and invites the Government to review its decision to cut spending on the World Service by 16 per cent.”
The importance of soft power in international relations: "It might seem odd to quote no less a person than Osama bin Laden on the importance of soft power, but, talking about jihad, he said: “The media war in this century is one of the strongest methods. It’s…90% of the total preparation for battles”. He was talking about the power and influence of media communications—soft power. Soft power is a rapidly growing way of achieving desired outcomes. In the cold war era, power was expressed in terms of nuclear missiles, industrial capacity, numbers of men under arms, and tanks lined up across the central plains of eastern Europe. Today, none of those factors confers power in quite the same way. The old structures are moving on. Cyber-attacks and the more subtle methods of the information age are the norm. Soft power—the power of Governments to influence behaviour through attraction rather than coercion—dominates. That point is not lost on the Foreign Office, high up on whose list of structural reform priorities—the reforms that it believes should have priority—is the “use of ‘soft power’ to promote British values, advance development and prevent conflict”.
The World Service is soft power at its best: "I can think of no better definition or illustration of the need for the World Service, and it is the opinion of our Committee that the cuts to its output are a false economy. If anything, it should be expanded to address the concerns of a changing world, just as the security services and the number of diplomats to key sensitive postings have been expanded."
Cuts in the World Service are steeper than in the Foreign Office as a whole: "Since its inauguration, the World Service has been funded by the Foreign Office. This will end in 2014 when responsibility will be transferred to the BBC. During the intervening four years, the budget is to be reduced from £241 million to £212 million a year. Taking into account inflation, that is a 16% real- terms cut. Last autumn’s spending review announced that the overall FCO budget would fall by 24%. However, a closer look shows that, once the World Service and the British Council are taken out of the equation, the actual cut in the Foreign Office budget is a shade under 10%. In my judgement and in the opinion of the Select Committee, a 16% cut in the World Service budget, compared with 10% in the Foreign Office budget, is disproportionate. I sympathise with the director of the World Service who argued that the service had to some extent been singled out."
A few highlights from questions in the Commons to yesterday's Culture, Media and Sport team.
Diane Johnson MP: "Many of my constituents have contacted me, concerned about the local independent BBC news that runs in East Yorkshire and Hull through Radio Humberside and programmes such as "Look North". There is great concern that, because of the cuts to the BBC budget, areas such as East Yorkshire will lose that local independent news. What guarantee can the Minister give me that we will continue to have that?"
Jeremy Hunt MP: "There is no bigger supporter of local news than me. I made it one of the most important parts of our media policy, but if we are to have a thriving local media sector, people in the sector need an assurance that the BBC will not undertake more local activity than it does; otherwise, they simply will not take the risk of setting up newspapers, radio and television stations, and so on. We have come to a very good solution in this licence fee settlement, which is that the BBC has made a commitment that it will go no more local than it does currently. It is confident that it will be able to continue with its current obligations for the period of the settlement."
Labour culture spokesman Ivan Lewis accused Mr Hunt of riding roughshod over the BBC.
Ivan Lewis MP: "We will work with the Government on issues where we agree, such as the Olympic games and England's World cup bid. The Secretary of State will agree that the BBC is one of this country's great institutions and its future a matter of public interest. Of course, the BBC cannot be exempt from cuts at this difficult time, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman how he can justify a negotiating process that rode roughshod over the independence of the BBC, crushed any serious prospect of reform and involved no consultation with licence fee payers or parliamentarians? Will he confirm that at one point in the negotiations the BBC Trust board considered mass resignation and that he now faces a judicial review sought by S4C? Is that not another example of the Secretary of State doing a dodgy deal for the Chancellor to further his own political ambitions, instead of providing responsible leadership on an issue of crucial importance to the future of this country?"
Mr Hunt: "May I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his post? I am delighted to talk to him about the BBC because the new licence fee settlement was announced last Wednesday and the silence of the Opposition's response has been absolutely deafening. They have not been able to work out what to do because we have agreed a settlement that is acceptable to the BBC and is very popular with the public. Let me tell him the difference between what happened when his party negotiated the licence fee and when we did it. With his party, it took two years, it cost £3 million and we ended up with an above-inflation rise. With us, it took two weeks, it cost nothing and we got a freeze for six years."
By Tim Montgomerie
In the Commons yesterday the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt announced reform of quangoes under his department's purview:
"I shall make a brief statement, if I may, to start proceedings. First, because of my Department's responsibility to take its share of reducing the deficit inherited from the previous Government, we have announced today plans to rationalise or merge a number of arm's length bodies for which we are responsible. As part of that, we have said that we are considering the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. That does not reflect our commitment to the Government's or the lottery's investing in UK film, or Government support for the sectors represented by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. However, in the constrained circumstances in which we find ourselves, we want to ensure that every penny is used on front-line services, not on back-office and bureaucracy."
Further proposals from Mr Hunt include:
In the Commons yesterday Christopher Chope MP introduced a Bill that would ensure revenue from the licence fee would only go to public service broadcasting. Here are some key sections of his contribution:
The definition of public service broadcasting currently used by the BBC is useless: "The argument is that if we are to have a licence fee, income from it should be expended solely in support of public service content. Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, was guest speaker at a breakfast that I was privileged to attend earlier this year that discussed Ofcom’s review of public service broadcasting and content. I asked him what part of the BBC output, funded by the licence fee, was not public service content. He assured me that the definitions of the genre of public service content are so wide and all-embracing that 100 per cent. of the output of the BBC is public service content. I do not think that that accords with common sense or with the views of most people."
On 'Kirsten's Topless Ambition': "In the last few weeks, I have been confined to barracks by a health condition, and I was able to note how various programmes on BBC3 were described by the BBC itself. I did not waste time watching these programmes, but one programme caught my attention—“Kirsten’s Topless Ambition”, which was produced by the BBC, funded by taxpayers’ money and, according to the chief executive of Ofcom, is “public service content”. The BBC describes the programme on its website as “A documentary in which kids TV presenter Kirsten O’Brien must decide whether to take her clothes off for a lads’ mag to try and clinch bigger presenting jobs.” It adds that the programme “contains adult themes.” In other words, it contains smut. Why should that programme be funded out of public money raised by a poll tax—that is effectively what the licence fee is? I understand that BBC3 has very low viewing figures, and it is obviously trawling desperately to try to attract new viewers."
The need for public service broadcasting for children: "A lot of us are concerned that in the present squeeze on funding for public service broadcasting, traditional children’s programmes are losing out. The definition of “public service content” in my Bill would ensure that programmes designed to inform, educate or entertain children would have a high priority and could draw on licence fee revenue as programmes that contained public service content."
Last October Ed Vaizey Tory Culture spokesman clashed with Mr Chope on the BBC. Yesterday, Ed Vaizey again set out the frontbench's thinking:
Yesterday in the Commons the Conservatives proposed that the licence fee be frozen for the coming year. Here are three highlights from Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's opening of the debate:
The BBC, like Parliament, needs to be more accountable for its use of public money: "Why have we called this debate over a £3 increase in the licence fee? We have done so partly because of the MP expenses issue that has engulfed the House over the past two weeks. It has shown that the public are justifiably angry about the misuse of their money, whether in small sums or large, which has reminded the House to respect the taxpayers who pay our salaries. The same surely applies to all publicly funded organisations, including the BBC. We have called for the debate also partly because the economic situation has changed beyond recognition since January 2007, when the current licence fee settlement was made. With 2.2 million people unemployed and many people facing dire personal financial circumstances, it is surely right to ask whether an increase that may have seemed reasonable in 2007 is still justified. We should also put the rise in context.
Labour has allowed a 56% increase in the licence fee (twice the rate of inflation): "In 1997, the licence fee was £91.50. Since then, it has increased by 56 per cent.—almost double the retail prices index rate of inflation. When the BBC’s commercial rivals are struggling, sometimes for their very existence, licence fee payers have been treating the BBC incredibly generously."
Other broadcasters' income is falling: "Yesterday, RPI inflation fell to minus 1.2 per cent., the steepest fall since 1948. That means that programme inflation, the cost of buying and commissioning programmes, is also falling, and with Channel 4’s revenues down 18 per cent. and ITV’s revenues down 19 per cent. in the first part of this year, there is less competition to buy and commission programmes. The traditional parity between licence fee revenue and the revenue that goes to commercial broadcasters funded by advertising has been lost. Last year, there was a broad equivalence between the two sums of money, but this year it is expected that licence fee revenue will amount to £500 million more than the entire sum received by all the commercial broadcasters funded by advertising put together... It is completely false to say that there is a choice between competition and quality. It is because British public service broadcasting is the most competitive in the world that many people think that it is of the highest quality in the world. In order for that to continue, there must be a sensible balance between the revenue that commercial broadcasters are able to raise and what the BBC gets, and many will ask whether that is possible if there is a £1 billion gap between state-funded broadcasters and the rest."
Towards the end of the debate the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham accused Jeremy Hunt of "BBC-bashing":
Jeremy Hunt was quick to interject:
Mr Burnham did not have a good answer to that one!
The Liberal Democrats joined with Labour to defeat the Tory motion by 334 votes to 156.
On CentreRight yesterday Matthew Elliott of The TaxPayers' Alliance proposed a cut in the licence fee.
The House of Commons hosted Culture, Media and Sport questions yesterday.
Andrew Mackay, Bracknell MP and one of David Cameron's right hand men, asked about the possibility of England hosting the World Cup. Would such a move be popular? The 2012 Olympic Games are not currently universally so.
"I warmly support the bid. Does the Secretary of State agree that in this very deep world recession the strongest case that we have to put at the next meeting with FIFA representatives is that we already have the infrastructure and ability to take on the games? In the present financial circumstances, FIFA would be ill advised to take a chance on a country that does not have the facilities already available.
Andy Burnham: The right hon. Gentleman makes a solid point, and I very much agree with him. FIFA is taking the World cup to South Africa and then to south America; I think it would be in everyone’s interest to have a World cup in 2018 that can do so much to reach out around the world. He is right that, because of our football grounds infrastructure, unlike others we can spend time working with other countries through our status as host nation. That is one of the compelling aspects of our bid. It feels to me that this is the right time for the country to get the FIFA World cup—not because we deserve it or because it is our turn, but because we can do so much more to enhance football around the world."
Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the front bench's support:
"This is a new question. Given the good will towards the bid from both sides of the House, does the Secretary of State think it appropriate that nearly half the members of the bid board are from the Labour party? I know that he will be keen to maintain cross-party support, so will he make urgent representations to resolve the issue so that a potentially great sporting success is not compromised by party politics?
Andy Burnham: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I hope that he is not trying to make a party political issue out of the bid, because the strength of our Olympic bid was its cross-party nature. Might I point it out to him that there are figures linked to the bid who represent both political parties? The recent announcement that Lord Coe accepted an invitation to join the board is welcome. Party politics really should not play a part; this should be a bid that represents all opinion, all football supporters and, indeed, all people who love sport in this country. I am confident that the balance on the board properly reflects the interest in sport throughout the country."
I used to work at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, as a speechwriter for Seb Coe. I remain a supporter of the Games, as I believe that this country should be able to stage great events - and the World Cup is certainly one of those too.
What is crucial, of course, is that public money is spent wisely. The media often confuses the budget for the Games themselves - which is privately financed - with broader infrastructure and regeneration costs. And it does make sense to build first-class facilities which will endure rather than tin sheds. However, I am uncomfortable with the cost of some the venues.
Do readers support a bid to host the World Cup? Arguably we are even better placed to stage that tournament, having as we do lots of superb stadia and a love for the game. Dare we dream that we could win the trophy once again?!
Francis Maude, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was recently informed in a written answer that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport lost several pieces of art in 2006:
Mr. Maude: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport with reference to the answer to the hon. Member for Angus of 21 April 2008, Official Report, columns 1737-8W, on departmental property, what the (a) title and (b) Government Art Collection reference number was of the art work stolen from his Department in 2006. 
Barbara Follett: The works of art listed in the following table were prints reported as missing from various Government offices in the UK and around the world and recorded in DCMS's Losses Register in 2006.
Let's hope that Titian's Diana and Actaeon doesn't go the same way - especially given the Scottish Government's contribution!
On Thursday Westminster Hall held a debate on the annual report of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe announced that Exchequer funding for Sport England (the English sports council) has increased from £33 million in 1997 to £133 million in 2008-09, and that nine out of ten pupils now do at least two hours of "high-quality physical education or sport a week". That is good as far as it goes, but they should be doing at least two hours of sport, period. And Lottery funding for sport is an altogether different matter, as Labour have raided that source of money for other purposes.
Between February this year and March 2011, 618,000 free theatre tickets will be available for people aged 26 and under. £15 million a year up to 2011 will be invested in a project called "Sea Change”, to "create new performance spaces, improve theatres, restore promenades, enable the redesign of beach fronts and provide new exhibition spaces".
A creativity and business international network has been launched in Liverpool, to "bring together the most influential international creative and business figures to shape the future development of the worldwide creative economy".
The minister also assured the Hall that the Government is working to combat problem gambling.
Tobias Ellwood, a Shadow DCMS Minister, responded for the Tories:
"My first question is why the Department has this debate in this particular context. For many other Departments, the report that scrutinises their work is written by the Select Committee—it is not written entirely by the Minister and his team. In this situation, we will get a rose-tinted picture.
Of course, the Minister managed to circumnavigate all the issues around 2012 that lie ahead. On several occasions, we have questioned the Minister for the Olympics on our concern about the changes to funding and the way in which money has been taken away from other areas—good causes and so on—because of the escalating costs of the Olympics.
We in the Opposition feel that the marketing capability in respect of tourism in the UK has gone a little awry. That has been compounded by devolution, since 1998, by Visit Scotland and Visit Wales doing their thing and by the nine regions doing their own thing, too. Until we pointed it out to the Government, six different offices representing different corners of the UK were marketing their patch in Boston, Massachusetts. How ridiculous is that? Instead of having one voice saying, “Come to Great Britain”, all those organisations were spending a lot of money, with overlapping interests, trying to market their corner. People are not even aware of what is in the north-west of England, by way of a brand name, and certainly not the south-west—although they may have heard of Blackpool and Liverpool—but they will certainly have heard of Great Britain. That should be the starting point.
We are the sixth most visited place in the world. That is a fantastic position to be in, but if we compare that fact with the numbers involved in global tourism from 1997 to today, the statistics are sad to see. In 1997 we had 6.9 per cent. of the global tourism market, which is an impressive statistic. Today, that figure has dropped to 3.3 per cent."
The Shadow DCMS team, ably led by Jeremy Hunt, is in fine shape.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the reshuffle yesterday was that the outstanding Jeremy Hunt (Shadow Culture Secretary) didn't change jobs. Mind you, as a former DCMS desk officer at CCO I consider the Leadership to be the only genuine promotion from Culture!
Mr Hunt therefore took part in DCMS oral questions yesterday, and asked the Government about the funding of community sport:
"According to the DCMS’s own figures, funding for community sport has gone down by £15 million in the past three years. At a time when central Government have to tighten their belt, is this not precisely the moment that the lottery was set up for? Will the Secretary of State, perhaps with the zeal of a repenting sinner, finally consider returning the lottery to its original pillars so that sport can get the help that it so desperately needs?
Andy Burnham: First, may I offer the hon. Gentleman congratulations on two counts? I am sure that I speak for all Labour Members in giving him our warmest wishes on his recent engagement. I also congratulate him on retaining his Front-Bench position, although I do not know whether he is pleased or disappointed about that; we hope that he is pleased.
The hon. Gentleman repeatedly misses a point in the debate, and he has done so again. When the Government created the New Opportunities Fund, it specifically had the ability to invest money in schools. The lottery could
19 Jan 2009 : Column 470
not previously invest in the statutory sector. Following on from that, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) brought a major national initiative to fruition, which saw—from memory— around £750 million invested in school sport UK wide. That created a network of flood-lit, astro-turf pitches in my constituency, which are heavily used during the school day, at evenings and weekends. I am incredibly proud of that. The investment would not have gone to schools if we had left the lottery as it was. I therefore make no apology for enhancing sports facilities in schools in that way.
Mr. Hunt: But the Secretary of State misses the crucial point that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) made: there is a big increase in the drop-off rate of people taking part in sport when they leave school. That is why we need to continue to invest in not only school sport but community sports clubs. Funding for the latter has been cut. According to yesterday’s papers, the Secretary of State has been hosting £3,000-a-head dinner parties for the great and the good. Is not that the wrong way to spend the Department’s money at a time of economic crisis, when sports club budgets are being cut, and was not his spokeswoman wrong yesterday to say describe it as a coup for Britain?
Andy Burnham: With respect, the hon. Gentleman again misunderstands our policy. We have said that more money will be channelled through the national governing bodies of sport because they are the experts and should be able to decide which clubs to build up and which deserve more support. [Interruption.] Well, I will send him the figures. The funding will increase significantly in the next few years, when more than £90 million extra will be spent on improving sports clubs. I repeat that I will send him the figures. The community sports club fund has decreased, but because more money is going to the clubs through national governing bodies—I wish he would understand that.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, let us be clear about the event. It was the launch of an international forum to promote Britain as the natural home of the creative industries. As part of that, we have recruited 25 of the biggest names—the biggest players—in the world in the creative industries. [Hon. Members: “Name them.”] I can name them, and I will write to the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt). The event happened because they will give their time for free to advise this country on ensuring that we build on our strength in the creative industries. I am proud of the fact that this country has strength in those industries. The hon. Gentleman might be happy with the newspaper headlines that he has got, but he should not misrepresent the event or what it seeks to achieve."
Mr Hunt is quite right about this. The Lottery - one of John Major's greatest successes - was meant to provide additional spending on the arts, charities, heritage and sport, as well as Millennium celebrations. The Government's capture of the Lottery has corrupted that.
As Iain Dale blogged last week, Ed Stourton learnt that his time at the Today programme was ending from a non-BBC journalist.
"I'm not saying Ed Stourton is perfect - in fact I didn't much like his "revelations" about the Queen Mother. But I know he is a good and thoughtful interviewer whose inept and insensitive dismissal contrasts sharply with the treatment of Jonathan Ross. I think I'm right in saying that Ross is paid more every year than the entire budget of the Today programme. Its presenters, whatever their individual shortcomings, who do so much to inform and provoke, deserve to be much better treated than was Mr Stourton."
Meanwhile - on Comment is free - I've welcomed Justin Webb's appointment... and had a little go at the BBC's institutional biases.