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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 711-v
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
European Scrutiny Committee
European Scrutiny in the House of Commons
WEDNESDAY 6 February 2013
Ric Bailey, Mary Hockaday and Peter Knowles
Evidence heard in Public Questions 190 - 248
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
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Taken before the European Scrutiny Committee
on Wednesday 6 February 2013
Mr William Cash (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Mr Michael Connarty
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ric Bailey, Chief Adviser, Politics, BBC, Mary Hockaday, Head of Newsroom, BBC and Peter Knowles, Controller, BBC Parliament, gave evidence.
Q190 Chair: Good afternoon. It is good of you to come. Maybe we could start with you introducing yourselves, individually.
Mary Hockaday: Good afternoon Chairman. My name is Mary Hockaday and I am head of the BBC Newsroom, which means in effect that I am responsible for much of the core daily news output on television, radio and our digital services here in the UK and abroad. I am also a member of the News Group Board.
Ric Bailey: Thank you Chairman. It is a pleasure to be here for your inquiry. I am the BBC’s Chief Political Adviser. Part of that involves advising both programme makers and management on political impartiality, such as interpretation of the guidelines regarding impartiality, and also advising on political independence for the BBC. Just by way of background, my editorial background is I used to be the Executive Editor of Question Time. If we are talking in terms of public engagement, that is my background. I also was part of the negotiating team that set up the prime ministerial debates in 2010.
Peter Knowles: I am Peter Knowles and I am in charge of the parliamentary programmes that the BBC does. I am Controller of BBC Parliament. I am the Editor of Today in Parliament, of Yesterday in Parliament and also of the website, Democracy Live.
Q191 Chair: Thank you very much indeed. I will start by saying that we have our functions under the Standing Orders of Parliament and I imagine you are familiar with those by now. They do require us to examine all European legislation and to report as to what are matters of political and legal importance. Section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 requires the United Kingdom to implement all legislation that comes out of the European legislative system. There are a significant number of matters, just to give you an example, which are set out in the table of contents to the consolidated treaties. I will very briefly mention some of them. By the way, I ought to mention that Sir John Grant-who used to be a very distinguished diplomat-when he came to give evidence to our Committee about a year and a half ago in respect of the relationship between the UK Parliament and the European Union, said that he was both struck and amazed by the extent and range of the impact of the legislation on the United Kingdom, its electors, its voters and in your case licence fee payers and so forth. He was really taken by the list that we gave him of the things.
I am going to mention a few things to put them on the record: provisions of democratic principles; relationships regarding the external action of the European Union; common foreign and security policy; the question of Union competencies; citizenship; nondiscrimination; internal market; free movement of goods; agriculture and fisheries; customs; free movement of personal services and capital; area of freedom, security and justice; competition; taxation; approximation of laws; economic and monetary policy; employment; social policy; education; culture; public health; consumer protection; industry; research and technology; environment; energy; tourism; administrative cooperation; overseas countries and territories; common commercial policy and institutional and financial provisions relating to the institutions of the European Union and so on.
I wanted to put that on the record, having regard to the enormous interest that is now being expressed, at any rate, by the European Union, in relation to what is going on here in the United Kingdom, and also because it seems important for us to examine-in relation to what it is you provide through the BBC-whether or not we can explore the horizons of this. In a way, that is what we are looking forward to: to try and establish where you see it all fitting into your functions under the Royal Charter. How does the BBC define impartiality in relation to the European question and in relation to the legislative processes in accordance with its duties under the BBC Charter and its own editorial guidelines? How has this evolved over time and how does it affect editorial decision making? You choose who you would like to answer that question
Ric Bailey: Shall I kick off? As you will know, Mr Chairman, impartiality under the Charter is defined as "due impartiality". Everybody talks about the word "impartiality" a lot, and often forgets what the word ‘due’ means, which is that we have to take the context of what we are doing. People often want to measure impartiality as if it was some sort of mathematical equation, and it is not. Impartiality on a day-to-day basis in terms of how we define it comes down to good editorial judgment. That is what we ask of our editors every day of the week: to make good editorial judgments when impartiality is absolutely the most fundamental, defining principle of the BBC as set down in the Charter. It is difficult to give you something that goes beyond that editorial judgment because what you are talking about is context. If you are looking at European matters then we have to make a judgment about getting a range of opinion, we are trying to explain-part of our Public Purposes brings in citizenship, as you mentioned-democratic principles and giving people the information to be able to take part in a democracy is all part of that. There is nothing specific in the Charter or even in our guidelines. We have a set of editorial guidelines that are publicly available, which set out what impartiality means. What we do not do is do that by different subjects. All the subjects you mentioned are all, in our terms, public policy. They are major matters; they are covered under the Charter in that way. We are obliged to be impartial. We are accountable to the licence fee payers through the BBC Trust to make sure we are impartial.
Q192 Chris Heaton-Harris: You mentioned the highest editorial standards. That has not exactly been going particularly well recently. When they fail, which occasionally they will do because no one is going to be perfect 100% of the time, how do you correct that?
Ric Bailey: There are several ways. We have a very transparent and thorough complaints system for people who feel that we have not been impartial in any particular way. On a day-to-day basis, there is no organisation that is more self-critical than the BBC. You will have seen that in the past few months. We do look at what we do an awful lot. Colleagues like Mary and Peter spend an awful lot of their time, as part of their editorships of programmes, asking themselves the questions. Are we being properly impartial? Are we getting a proper range of voices? Impartiality is not a perfect thing that you have or you do not have. It is something that you are aspiring to all the time. Asking yourselves those difficult questions all the time is part of that, and being responsive to the licence fee payers is also part of that.
Q193 Chris Heaton-Harris: Is impartiality just getting a range of voices, or is it the core of the skeleton of whatever output you are having: where you have gone to for those voices; what questions you have asked them beforehand; what questions you are going to ask them; where you are going to guide them in the interview? Surely there is bit more to it than that.
Ric Bailey: There is an awful lot more to it. Impartiality is quite a complex thing. It will be different in different circumstances and different genres and different audiences. For instance, programmes that are on every day of the week are trying to get impartiality over a range of time. Other programmes may go over a long period of time. There will be different values that you are trying to apply. If your abiding value is impartiality, you are asking yourself that question all the time and you are open to public scrutiny on that and also to the BBC Trust, then those are the things that I hope keep us on the straight and narrow. As you say, it is not something that you are going to get 100% right all the time.
Q194 Kelvin Hopkins: I am very interested in your attempt to be impartial, but from time to time you come under pressure from outside organisations-the Director General’s office, maybe. How much pressure is put on you? I will just give one example. I know that when Robin Cook resigned from the Government over the Iraq war, the New Labour hierarchy went to great lengths to prevent him going on Question Time. There was no attempt to get a critical Labour voice on Question Time. The BBC buckled.
Ric Bailey: I was with you until the end there, but, as the former Executive Editor of Question Time, I would say that that programme probably gets more pressure than most. It reaches a very broad audience, not just a political audience; it reaches an audience on BBC One, so people either do want to be on it or want to influence people not being on it. That is a regular part of the process of selecting a panel. On a programme like Question Time, on any one week, you have to get an appropriate panel, but also across a whole series you have to have ways of ensuring you are getting a range of voices. Often the Front Benches will take the lead part on Question Time and, in the end, scrutiny is part of its job of asking difficult questions of those in power. Of course, if you only had the Front Benches on, then there would be other opinion in the Back Benches or from former Ministers who may not come from the same point of view and you would not be hearing those voices. Part of the calculation you are trying to make across a whole series is making sure you get that range of voices on that sort of show-not just Question Time, but other shows like that.
Q195 Chair: Could I take you back for a moment to the specific Articles of the Charter? I do not know whether you have a copy in front of you, but I would like to traverse one or two of the points that arise as follows. Under Article 3 of the Charter you have obligations in relation to serving the public interest and promoting its Public Purposes. How does this apply with regards to EU legislation and the role of the European Scrutiny Committee, given that the Charter was granted after the Wilson report of 2005? Perhaps I could roll that one up with the second question. What internal papers have been issued for the guidance of BBC employees in relation to these and can you disclose those to the Committee, please? Can you answer the same question in relation to the framework agreement as well? What we are looking for is the question of what internal papers you may have within the BBC that go through the question of the relationship between Article 3 of the Charter and the question of EU legislation and the role of our Committee.
Ric Bailey: I cannot be 100% sure but I would be very surprised if there were any, Mr Chairman. In the end, public interest is about us attempting to make a judgment about what is in the public interest in terms of our journalism. I do not think we have anything internally that relates to specific areas. We have an obligation, as I have said, on citizenship to ensure that people are able to take part in democracy and I dare say we will come to that. I do not think there are any internal papers that we are hiding from you that would give you any more information.
Q196 Chair: I did not suggest you would be hiding them. I was wondering whether there were any.
Ric Bailey: Not to my knowledge.
Q197 Chair: Can you explain, in the context of European scrutiny, how the relationship between the Trust and the Executive Board operates under Article 9? In what respect are requirements imposed on the Executive Board with regard to European scrutiny and European legislation and its impact on the voters and licence fee payers?
Ric Bailey: The Trust holds the BBC to account for its journalism. It does not take any role pre-broadcast. These are editorial judgments for the Executive for which it is held to account by the BBC Trust. From time to time, the Trust will conduct reviews into various aspects of what the Executive does. There is one at the moment looking at impartiality, looking at breadth of voice. As I understand it, it is looking at that in the European context and it will be reporting later in the year and will be part of next year’s annual report. I am assuming that will pick up on elements of the Wilson report.
Q198 Chair: Article 3 specifically states that "the BBC exists to serve the public interest" and its "main object is the promotion of its Public Purposes". Then it goes on: the Public Purposes are "to sustain citizenship and civil society; promoting education and learning; stimulating creativity and cultural excellence; representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities; bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK" and so on. In the context of what I said at the beginning about the nature of our function-and we will come on in a moment to the range of matters that are published in relation to the reports that are produced by this Committee-what we are interested to know is how you interact with that in terms of these functions, which is to inform the British people about what is actually going on?
Mary Hockaday: Mr Chairman and Committee, perhaps I could bring to bear the perspective of those involved in the production of news and the editorial teams. As Ric indicates, our philosophy, our obligations under the Charter, apply to any topic that we might cover. There is not a specific responsibility in relation to Europe or this Parliament or anything in particular. We carry that responsibility across everything that we do. Alongside impartiality, we would hold very dear accuracy and independence. In many ways, those three elements are woven together in everything we do. When it comes to the Public Purposes as you outlined them, there is no doubt that within that you do get to our coverage of Europe. Of course it matters to us across the board that we are reporting on and also helping our very broad audiences understand the institutions that affect their lives. As you indicated so well at the beginning, the European institutions can have a bearing on that. We come to this through the primary purposes that we have, through citizenship, through education, through bringing the world to the UK and the UK to the world to ensure that, in all our news coverage, we are making judgments day by day about what we feel is the important news of that day. That includes things that may emanate from Europe and also from Westminster that may be of importance to our audiences, that may matter to our audiences. Our job is to report and to help them understand and see how they may connect to their lives.
Chair: There are a number of Articles, which I will not go through in detail because it might be convenient for you to reply to us in writing regarding the manner in which you use your opportunities within the BBC to comply with these Charter provisions. I will mention them now. I mentioned Article 9 but there is Article 22 and there is Article 24-that is, the functions of the Trust-and then we have Article 45, which is the interaction between the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Foreign Secretary. There is also Article 47, which is to do with the framework agreements. I will not ask you to answer those questions immediately but could you look at them and perhaps write to us and tell us how it is that you see your functions under the Charter being discharged in relation to those Articles?
Q199 Chris Heaton-Harris: Just one more question on impartiality: I was hoping you might mention something about the review announced by Lord Patten last year in October, being led by Stuart Prebble, into BBC practices after a host of complaints about impartiality on a whole range of subjects, the European Union relationship and matters of its working being one. I wondered how that review is going and what stage it is at.
Ric Bailey: I do not think it was launched after a series of complaints. It is one of a series of impartiality reviews that the Trust does.
Q200 Chris Heaton-Harris: Lord Patten said it was after a series of complaints, in a speech to the Broadcasting Press Guild on 10 October last year.
Ric Bailey: But as you say it is a BBC Trust review; it is under way. The BBC Executive is obviously taking part in it but I am not in a position to say how it is going because that is a BBC Trust matter.
Q201 Michael Connarty: Are they not reviewing you?
Ric Bailey: Yes.
Michael Connarty: You take part in something where you are being reviewed. I find that difficult to believe. Do they do it in some abstract manner?
Ric Bailey: No, there are conversations taking place and talking to people, but it would be premature for us to talk about it before we have heard what the review says.
Q202 Nia Griffith: If I can just take a step back, sometimes you get the feeling that the coverage of Europe is very similar to your coverage of a foreign country; it is not really coming from the inside. If you are covering what is happening here in Westminster, you are covering it because we are part of that country. We are also part of the European Union, but that does not seem to come across. It seems very much that it is outside. Is that interpretation of this almost a misconception? Would you think that is actually what is happening?
Mary Hockaday: We are all using this word "Europe", but Europe is many things. It is a number of countries, and sometimes we are reporting on them indeed as foreign countries where things of interest are happening. For our correspondents and our team based in Brussels, part of their remit is to report on Europe. Also a large part of this remit is to report on the European Union, and another part is to report on the eurozone. One of the things we have endeavoured to do, and needed to do, a lot in the last period is be very clear where Britain sits in relation to a given story, because of course Britain is in the European Union, but not in the eurozone and so on. A large part of my job is trying to explain how we are part of something that may be happening in Europe or not. Today, for instance, we are reporting on the European Parliament’s debate, and now they have passed the new fisheries policy. That is something for which we have been reporting the run up, the debate, the views among the MEPs, but also the views of fishermen in Scotland or Cornwall because that is something that is happening in Europe or in the European Union; but Britain is part of that debate and decisions will have consequences for the British.
Q203 Nia Griffith: That is the exception rather than the rule, if I may say. I think you have chosen a very good example of illustrating something that we are talking about, which is us being in part of a process. An awful lot of the reporting has been much more that of observer status. I fully understand: eurozone is over there and we are here; we are not part of it. Your fishing example is not something where you could give me another dozen examples of similar policies that you have examined in similar ways.
Mary Hockaday: I probably could. I could talk about tyres and how much noise they are allowed to make. We do a lot of output on different platforms for different audiences, and we are sometimes mindful of what a particular audience may be interested in or how we can help them understand what the processes in Europe may be through something that directly affects them. For example, Newsbeat is the news programme we do on Radio 1 for a younger audience; they are very interested in data roaming charges and how much mobile phone charges are across Europe. That is something we have covered. We have covered the European Court of Justice-I know that is not an EU institution but affects us-and the decision for Ryanair and the compensation issue around the ash cloud. I really can get to a dozen if you want. You can see perhaps from the examples I have given that we are very attuned to debates and decisions that may have a real impact on the lives of our audiences in a very direct way. We are also regularly, some might say relentlessly, reporting on the debate in Europe for instance about banks, banking union, banking regulation, fiscal union, because again, it may not be what is in your pocket today, but in terms of the institutions of this country, the economic welfare of this country, it is crucial. It is something that our audiences understand matters to them.
Q204 Jacob Rees-Mogg: I will move on to some of the specifics of European scrutiny and how it fits in in a parliamentary question. The question is essentially directed to you, but if I can begin by saying how much I enjoy the programmes you do, Yesterday in Parliament, Today in Parliament and the parliamentary channel. Thank you for the fair share of it I seem to get, which I am grateful for.
The issue perhaps relates more to European scrutiny than to my own personal appearances. As a context, everyone knows that European law is now a very high percentage of our laws. People argue over the specific figure, but it is an increasing amount and a high amount. Proportionate to UK laws, it gets relatively little coverage in all news outlets, but even within the parliamentary reporting that takes place, in spite of the remarkable amount this Committee does. Since September 2010, the European Scrutiny Committee has issued over 90 reports on European Union documents under its Standing Orders, including reports on any number of EU issues, including the EU Referendum Bill, the opt-ins and the European Committee debates that cover every document really that comes out of the European Union that is of standing to be worthy of debate. I wondered on how many occasions the BBC has reported on any of these 90 European Scrutiny Committee reports, broadcast proceedings or interviewed the Chairman to represent the Committee.
Peter Knowles: The simple answer in numbers is we have shown, in the last two years, four of the hearings of this Committee. In the last year, the work of this Committee has been featured in some detail four times in the Friday edition, the analytical edition, of Today in Parliament in features, including a report in November looking at this inquiry and setting up this inquiry. That is a very precise answer, but of course the way in which most people will have encountered the work of this Committee through us is in terms of your referrals, when reasoned opinions are given, you think it is most important and it is referred to the Floor of the House. That is really where we come into our own. We are able to deliver a significant audience through BBC Parliament and through Democracy Live to those proceedings on the Floor of the House live. The Members who are here today are all enthusiastic participants in those debates. They are often reported on Today in Parliament and that reaches another very large audience. It is through the Floor of the House that is the best example of how the work of this Committee is known.
Q205 Chair: I will ask just one direct question arising out of that. The Public Accounts Committee is the other main scrutiny Committee. They do the economy and private-public finances. We do the European dimension. There is Home Affairs as well. I think it would be reasonable to say that the Public Accounts Committee is on, shall we say, twice a week, the Home Affairs Committee probably likewise. I am not sure we have ever had anything on the European Scrutiny Committee in that context. Would you agree? I certainly cannot recall it.
Peter Knowles: We have filmed and broadcast the proceedings four times in two years.
Q206 Michael Connarty: Not live, though. You see them on Sunday mornings.
Peter Knowles: We have only just started, in October this year, showing any Committees live on BBC Parliament. We changed the schedules quite dramatically in mid-October with the new sitting times for the House. On Tuesday and Wednesday morning the Committees are shown live. Most of the Committees, when we take them, are shown live on Democracy Live on the web. People do have access to those but it is a relatively limited number; it is a much smaller number than the Public Accounts. There are powerful reasons for why we make that judgment. There are all sorts of things to say about this.
Let us start with the language of proceedings. In preparing for this session, I have to be impressed by the hard work that goes in by your Members in, first of all, understanding what is coming at them-these 1,000plus documents. It leads you to work with each other in what is an incredibly difficult and dense language, a thicket of acronyms and legal speak, which is terribly difficult for the normal person who does not have a specialist EU politics background. It is not a criticism of your work. It is a question for you as to whether, when you are working in that fashion, you want get a wider audience, and the importance of getting through the business efficiently such that you have to deal with each other in terms of that language. May I read two sentences from the last session that we took-the one with Mr Brokenshire? This is not the most difficult thing, but he said, "That is why ECJ jurisdiction and the implications of some form of preliminary ruling or indeed infraction proceedings arising from these measures are some of the key elements that we are examining as part of the analysis. As I am sure you will appreciate, this is a complex, multifaceted piece of work. It is not simply the Home Office; it covers a number of different Departments that have an interest in these pre-Lisbon matters". I have read it two or three times, and I am still not sure what he meant. There is no chance of a viewer at first hearing grasping that. That is a real problem. Most of the time, in terms of what the Public Accounts do, you get it first time.
It is not the only issue. The other interesting issue here is witnesses. This is a document-based Committee in terms of its work-the 1,000-plus a year. We are speechbased because we are broadcasters, so that puts us at some distance from each other. What works in terms of coverage is Committees that choose a wide range of witnesses. In an ideal hearing, it is witnesses taking contrary views; you hear one set of views then you hear a different set, in the fashion that the Lords Scrutiny Committee operates. That is something that viewers can follow. We are not filming this session but we were filming this morning-rather, we commissioned the filming through Parliament-on the block opt-out with the Director of Public Prosecutions, a senior fellow from ACPO and so forth. That does work in terms of broadcast coverage. Sorry, I have gone on.
Q207 Michael Connarty: The point that you have not noticed is that they do not have Select Committees in the Lords. What you are watching is the only thing they have that echoes the Select Committee structure. That is why they have the same format as normal Select Committees. It is not that we could somehow metamorphose into that kind of Committee because we have Select Committees doing that. Can I pursue the question of coverage? When this Committee refers something for a debate, either on the Floor of the House or particularly when it is sent to a Standing Committee, that is where the issues are debated. We are looking at what is politically, economically and legally important. But they are not covered either. The problem would appear to be what you are saying is that if it is juicy enough to get above a certain mark that might interest the public we will run it: problems in the eurozone; the question of a block opt-out maybe, because it looks like it is going to be controversial. What you were criticised for under Wilson was that "BBC reporting"-this is the accusation itself that was put to Wilson-"has failed to increase public understanding of EU issues and institutions and their impact on British life, thereby contributing to public apathy". All you have given us back is, if it is juicy enough to be in that frame of combative politics, we will run it. The rest of it is far too difficult to explain to people so we will not run it. That is a valid criticism. The accusation from the other side is that people therefore accepted the EU as a good thing.
The problem now has not got any better and I am not worried about whether they like it or not, or which side they are on in the controversial debate. It is the lack of understanding and the knowledge that really worries me about what Europe means for the day-to-day lives of our country and the day-to-day work of our businesses. If that is part of your remit, how do you do it?
Peter Knowles: In terms of the dedicated coverage, just because it is dedicated coverage does not mean that the audience is in some way a specialist audience. In December, we had a five or six-minute report on Today in Parliament on the food banks issue and the attempt to make Governments throughout the EU contribute to the way food banks operate, and it was something that was referred to a debate on the Floor of the House. The report on that in Today in Parliament will have been heard by around half a million people because that is the audience we get. We get a phenomenally strong audience to Today in Parliament. They are not specialists; that is the generality of the Radio 4 audience. It gets the highest share in its time slot of any news programme aside from bulletins; the midnight bulletin does even better. It gets the highest share of any programme, so half a million people plus will have heard that report. The same goes for the two debates referred to the Floor of the House on the very first day of this term. I know there was unhappiness about the timetabling of that debate in this Committee, but it got through to the audience because they were reported on in Today in Parliament.
We are not shy of the difficult. I will give you an example, which is highly self-serving as you are about to see. We will work with the Outreach team on some of the events they do with the Youth Parliament. One of the things they are doing at the moment that is really interesting is a series of talks or lectures aimed at university students on how Parliament works. It is a really good idea. Before Christmas, we showed a lecture on pre-legislative scrutiny. That is not me playing the ratings game. In two weeks’ time, your Chairman is giving a lecture on European scrutiny, and we will show that on Saturday evening, against Casualty, on BBC Parliament. Maybe it will not get a huge audience on Saturday night.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: No contest.
Chair: I am really worried for Casualty
Peter Knowles: But it will be repeated and it will then be available on Democracy Live. We are not shy of the difficult.
Mary Hockaday: If I answer again from the perspective of the more general output, I understand why you use the word "juicy" but it is not one I use. I would put it like this. We are having to make judgments all the time on any given day from the range of news, events, expected, unexpected across this country and abroad. Much of our output is of finite duration. You can only really tackle eight or so stories on the News at Ten. On Radio 4, at 6 o’clock in the evening, you can push perhaps towards 16 or so. Much output is constrained in the number of stories it can cover. For sure, there are times when a news story is a "gee whiz" news story and we will put it on. Most of the time, we are making judgments about what feels important. Then we are working to make it interesting. Sometimes the important is immediately interesting. Sometimes it needs us to work, and we do work hard to draw out the importance of something even when at first it may not appear very interesting. We work very hard on the clear language that we use to try to explain. We work very hard to demonstrate the relevance of issues to people and to give sufficient context for them to understand a given event on a given day.
When it comes to the issue of debates, in the general output we are not doing a lot of debate coverage. On a weekly basis, we are taking PMQs. Radio 4 audiences have TiP and YiP to go to. On other occasions, on our live continuous coverage such as the news channel, we are making judgments at the times when we think a debate is going to be of sufficient importance. For instance, yesterday, we did cover the debate in the House about gay marriage. We were also able, even on the news channel, which is getting one kind of audience, to cross-trail and indicate to people, because they really wanted to stay with it and watch the whole entire debate, that it was being covered on Peter’s channel. Also on BBC Two we have the Daily Politics show, again for audiences who have a particular interest in political coverage. There is a specific programme for them every day on a mainstream television channel. We have the Sunday Politics shows and so on. On a monthly basis, we have Politics Europe, specifically, which runs on the parliamentary channel but also on the news channel and on BBC Two.
It is a layered approach. Some of our output is taking a very detailed focus on parliamentary affairs and politics, including European politics. Other output is of a much more mixed and general nature for a broad audience. We are making judgments there about where the threshold is. What will drive us to decide that a political debate or a political moment is of sufficient importance to be included in the News at Ten, the Six O’Clock News on Radio 4 or on the front page of the website will be its salience. David Cameron’s recent speech was a huge news event with a lot of build-up to it and live coverage, where we broke away from BBC Breakfast on the news channel so we could take that speech live on the news channel, and a lot of discussion and debate afterwards with a really wide range of views from within Parliament, beyond Parliament, from business, voters and audiences and from around Europe.
You raise a point from the Wilson report about lack of understanding among audiences. It is something we all share responsibility for. We take seriously our responsibility to try to help people understand politics at whatever level-local, national, European-and to understand why it matters to them. One of the things that have changed in the last few years is the prominence of a lot of our digital services, our online platforms. There we are able to go into more depth and to offer more depth. We have Democracy Live, but also within the general news site, as well as the news reporting, we have a particular index and a section called Inside Europe that includes ongoing news stories of the day or the week, but also links to a very good series of Q&As and some very good guides to some of the European institutions, written as clearly as we can for the general reader.
Q208 Mr Clappison: I have every sympathy for the views that Mr Knowles expressed about the use of language by Ministers. We have to sit and listen to this a lot. It really is a problem for the Civil Service who are developing a separate language and vocabulary. We find it is as inaccessible as I think you do. I was intrigued by what you said a moment ago that proceedings here today are being put on a webcast but they are not being televised. It seems to me to show, if I may say, undue modesty on your part. Why was it that you decided not to show yourselves on your own programmes?
Peter Knowles: Thank you. It is a good question. There are on average 11 Committees, both select and general, which take place every sitting day in the Parliament. Select Committee activity has increased to that extent over the last few Parliaments. There are only so many hours in the day. We devote Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings to Select Committee coverage-almost all of those evenings-and also now Tuesday and Wednesday mornings live. We are able to get to seven or eight Committees in a week. But that is seven or eight out of, last week for instance, 45 Committees. That is not including the General Committees; that is just Select Committees. This week so far there are 35, but it is a number that creeps up during the course of the week.
There is a difficult choice. On Wednesday afternoon, faced with not a lot of information-because all we get is the witness list, and sometimes we do not even get that, which does make life difficult-we are looking for seven or eight Committees that we think are going to make sense if watched start to finish. There are also normally another half a dozen bits from the rest of the BBC for particular news lines or particular witnesses that they think might make news stories. We are easily the biggest customer for this service.
Q209 Chair: Do you have a tendency to say, "This is complicated, the European stuff has to be put at the bottom of the queue"? From what you were saying earlier, though you were putting it as delicately as you could, this is not the kind of thing that is terribly easy for people to follow. Therefore, however important it is, it takes a lower priority. I am not sure, if I may say, that that fits very comfortably inside the Charter requirements in relation to Public Purposes.
Ric Bailey: I think we have demonstrated that we are doing an awful lot more, across Democracy Live, across the Daily Politics, across what Peter is doing, than we were in 2005. The point remains that this is challenging stuff. We do our absolute best to make it comprehensible. One of your own colleagues, Mr Ellwood, in the paper he did recently, said there is very little appetite amongst MPs themselves for this in terms of engaging interest. That does set a big challenge for us if we are going to make that comprehensible more widely. The Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee in his evidence to you suggested there needed to be an idiot’s guide, not for the public, but for MPs. So it is a real challenge.
Peter Knowles: On this question of difficulty, we are taking this level of difficulty to the potential viewer and treating it like a kind of extreme sport. On the language here, I was being polite. I could make it worse. We have "third pillar", "Title 5", "acquis", "rapporteur".
Mr Clappison: This is EU speak though.
Peter Knowles: This is not a criticism of you using it, but when it is used in this very dense way without any explanation that is possible in the words in between, then it is not going to be comprehensible. It is truly impenetrable. To be quite honest, I ended up regretting choosing for broadcast the hearing with Mr Brokenshire. I could not follow it on first watching. I did understand it, or most of it, when I then read it from the transcript. But I cannot expect the audience to put that amount of work in.
Q210 Chair: Yet you do appreciate the vast impact that it has on people who are at the receiving end of the legislation.
Peter Knowles: The legislation has a vast impact. What is interesting here-it is a very tough question that this Committee has set itself in this inquiry-are the impacts that your findings have on policy and on law. I am hugely impressed that this Committee is taking this on. That is probably the fundamental question of this inquiry. It is very clear to me what the impact is. I think the Lords Select Committees on EU scrutiny see that their role is policy. They believe, and give evidence for it, that they influence policy, and they influence it early on in the process of creating EU legislation. You have a very different role at the other end of the process, way downstream. What would be interesting to come out of this inquiry is that demonstration of what changes as a result of all the hard work that goes on in this Committee. That is a story, but it is not very clear; it is not very easy to read that out from your reports. The best way we have of telling that, at the moment anyway, is what happens on the Floor of the House. We are passionately committed to that and we deliver an audience to it.
People do imagine that, if they are watching BBC Parliament, they are probably the only person in the world that is doing it, but it is just so much not the case. Yesterday, based on the audited figures that come from BARB, 570,000 people were watching BBC Parliament at home because of the interest in the same sex marriage debate. I have no idea how many people were watching in offices or out of the home, as there is no measurement of that. The point I made before is that, yes, it is dedicated, specialist coverage but it is a much broader audience than you would expect that we could reach with this. Fundamentally how we are doing it is through debates on the Floor of the House.
Q211 Mr Clappison: It sounds like you are making a case for sort of Terry Wogan, Eurovision-style commentary on some of these Committee proceedings.
Peter Knowles: We do have explanatory captions. There is just a limit to how much explaining any viewer is prepared to have. It is not homework.
Q212 Mr Clappison: Under the work of this Committee, we send some issues to be debated in Standing Committees in Committee Rooms. We work very hard to get more of the debates on the Floor of the House. Have you ever broadcast the debates that take place in European Standing Committees, which are a bit like the secret of the House of Commons?
Peter Knowles: No we have never broadcast one.
Mr Clappison: At all?
Peter Knowles: We did feature one, including broadcast quality audio, in the Friday edition of Today in Parliament. We did interviews as well. That was about safety on gas and oil rigs, and it was seen by this Committee as a power grab by the Commission.
Q213 Chair: Could I suggest, getting back to Michael Connarty’s point about the European Standing Committees, you look at what goes on in those Committees, and at the number of occasions where they take place and examine what actually goes on there? For example, I can say with confidence that we were way ahead on Mali. We recommended that there should be a debate on Mali. It took place long before public consciousness had caught up with what was really going on there. But that is just one example. I invite you to consider for the future that if you were to look at the European Standing Committees that have been established and then relate those to the daily news that is going on in that week, you might find, and I am sure you will, that the debate that does take place is extremely relevant to what is going on for the ordinary man on the street.
Peter Knowles: Mr Chairman, I am sure it is relevant, but there are issues, which this inquiry has discussed, about membership of those Standing Committees, the lack of dedicated membership, the lack of expertise.
Chair: Well, we are looking at that.
Peter Knowles: It is only you as Committee Members that are really putting the work in on those Committees, by and large. Those are issues that this inquiry is having. The General Committees are not advertised to the broadcasters by Parliament. They do not appear on our sheets. They are off the radar.
Q214 Michael Connarty: Can I follow up that point? This is one of my obsessions as a former Chair of the Committee, when it was decided to abandon the membership changes Standing Orders on the Floor of the House. I have said since then, it was 39 members; it was three groups of 13. They learned their trade; those Committees had specific remits and you become a bit of an expert in those remits. Then maybe you left it and went off into Government or Select Committees. That has stopped. The business community once said that the House of Commons was asleep when it came to European scrutiny, but then when we had the conversation with the gentleman who said it from the CBI, he realised he was not talking about us; he was talking about the fact that there were not many people outside this Committee who were really scrutinising what was going on. The business community lost the contacts. If you were in a particular industry with a particular thing coming up, you were a civil group, you could find those people and go and put your case, send them an email or whatever you wanted to do. In your case, though, you never used it; the media tended not to ask the people in the Committee what it was about.
It would not help if you did not cover them anyway whether the membership was permanent or not. We are asking you about your coverage and your role. You tell us you are doing lots of things. I think the citizenship and the business community are slipping away from their understanding of what goes through as European policy. This is a closed Committee normally; we are not normally taking evidence. We do most of the business in a closed Committee. Then we refer things to the open Committees for debate. They are the issues we think are not just legally and politically important, but are fundamentally going to challenge or change or damage the people whom they will affect. But it has never been seen to be worth covering. I wonder whether those who scrutinise what we do really realise that the ones we are referring for debate are the ones that we are concerned about, the issues that need to be aired where the Government has to make its case for approving or signing off, or whatever it is, the political agreement or the directive or the regulation. That is our job: to say to the Government, "We are worried about what you are doing here. We want you to prove to us and to the Parliament, and thereby hopefully to the public, that what you are doing here in signing off this is not going to be detrimental to our citizenship." That does not get covered. What gets covered is when you have the big bashes, the ones that are emotional because you can put them in a bag and people can somehow think that that is what Europe is about. In reality, those are not the big issues in Europe. The big issues in Europe are the 60% of changes in our legislation and our regulations, which people have to live by, and which do not get debated on the Floor of the House, do not tend to cause the heat. I have to say you cover lots of heat, not a lot of light.
Mary Hockaday: Peter will want to answer that from the point of view of the dedicated and specialist coverage. It is interesting what you say. In the general coverage, one of the things that we have come to understand only too well with our audiences on any topic, when there is any complexity at all, is that people care passionately about the issues but they are turned off by process. We have done some interesting conversations with audiences, and it is clear that you cannot take for granted at all the understanding of words that we would regard as readily understood. Around the economy, it was really interesting; we would ask, "Can you explain to a friend in the pub the following words: quantitative easing, even inflation?" You got down to what felt like very basic terminology and people did not necessarily understand it or feel it was easy to use or, when it was coming at them off the television or the radio, that it was readily making sense to them. Again, we get a message back that says all the time, "Do not talk to us about process; talk to us about issues and what matters."
What can happen in a positive way-I am interested in what you say about that sense of the expertise in the Committees-is that we might say not that the Committee met, etc; we might say there is a very live issue that has been discussed and debated and here is a member of the Scrutiny Committee who has a real interest in it. That sense of people who have an expertise or commitment to an issue is what we often are looking for, not to always generate heat but to shed light. Several of you, and certainly the Chairman, have regularly appeared on our output, not necessarily to talk about the Committee or a process in the Committee but to talk about the issues of responsibility and where it lies, and Britain’s place in Europe and so on. If you think through that framework about the issues, the debates, what matters, influence, that is where the locus of the general news coverage is, even if it is not in the precise process, but Peter may well want to add to that.
Peter Knowles: It is a very good point about process versus outcomes and impacts. Mr Chairman, you are always reminding people in this Committee that this is about laws that impact on people’s real lives. The issue here is that most of the work of this Committee is concerned with the process of a law coming into passage. Does it pass the test on subsidiarity, on proportionality? It is a highly technical view of the world, necessarily. The fundamental point that I probably should have got to earlier about the difference between the hearing with Mr Brokenshire and what I was listening to this morning, the Lords Select Committee, is one not just about language but also about what the function of the Committee is. With Mr Brokenshire, it was: what is the Government’s plan in terms of dealing with the block opt-out and is it respectful of Parliament? It was all about the process issues, in that hearing. That is what I heard. This morning, we were hearing about what will happen with the block optout. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? There were different points of view from witnesses who were experts and interested parties. It is a very different kind of story that is being told.
As I understand it, your most important referrals are the ones that you prioritise according to what goes to Standing Committees and what goes to the Floor of the House. You have had a degree of success over that in that a lot more issues are being taken to the Floor of the House. That, in the simplest terms, is the solution here because those issues then do get attention, and lots of it.
Q215 Nia Griffith: You have explained very well the way you see your role as trying to educate about Europe. I am not very sure that, if you go out in the street and ask somebody "Do you know whether the House of Commons has a role in looking at European legislation?" the answer you would get back would suggest that your outcomes are very positive in terms of getting that message across. The question is: what other ways do you think you can do it? We all accept that some of our sessions are closed, and some of our witnesses in this particular inquiry may have been perhaps a bit difficult to understand. But you mentioned the roaming phone thing; that was something we had a Minister in on years ago and was a session that could have been covered then. But there are also ways, as Mary mentioned, that you can report about what is going on. It is not necessarily just about the Committee; it is a spokesperson from the Committee or part of the Standing Committee role. Do you think there are ways that you could make the public more aware of the work that is going on in the Commons, looking at European legislation?
Peter Knowles: I have two thoughts. I know you publish your reasoned opinions and your reports. I am much less aware of your activity through the Press Office in terms of releasing agreed statements for the Committee-clearly it is not just Mr Chair speaking-pithily analysing what the problem is and saying, "Here is the problem and we are having a debate about it." You face a tidal wave of documents from the European Union-1,300 I think last year.
Q216 Nia Griffith: Are you suggesting that if we were to angle our decisions about what we put out to the press, in other words package it up for you, that would be more satisfactory than you trying to take an objective view about what is going on?
Peter Knowles: Not at all; this is about alerting the media, not just ourselves but the media in the press gallery, to stories.
Q217 Chair: Alex Paterson is the person responsible for the interface between the Committees and the media in this context. I will not go through the details but I can assure you there have been some mega issues, because we do not put out press releases unless we think it really matters. We have got one coming up on the primacy of the United Kingdom Parliament. Now, what does primacy mean? I will explain it to you in a second: it means who runs the United Kingdom; who governs Britain. We have got a three-hour debate coming up; we are demanding that on the Floor of the House because of the accumulated movements by Barroso and Van Rompuy and all the EU establishment to try to create equivalence between the European Parliament and the national Parliament. If that is not interesting I do not know what is.
We put out a press release on that, and we will see what happens. It has happened in the past. We had a report on the European Union and sovereignty. The word "sovereignty" may put a lot of people off but the reality is it is again about who governs Britain? When we did that, we got zero response frankly. I am saying to you, I hear what you say about the complexity. We suffer from it as well believe it or not but we have to penetrate the thicket. Some of it is process but some of it is really hard, democratic politics. That is where, as Nia is saying, we have got to work out what is the best way of ensuring, perhaps by some degree of cooperation, having regard to your independence and ours-this Committee are independent too; we are not Government-that we get across what it is that really matters in relation to the manner in which European legislation is impacting on people.
Peter Knowles: Indeed. When you get that debate in the Floor of the House, just by way of reassurance, again going back to audience figures, last Wednesday, the debate in the afternoon reached an audience of 110,000 at home-I do not know how many in offices-on BBC Parliament. When you achieve that, you are also achieving quite a lot of attention. The Backbench Business Committee in October 2011 scheduled a debate on the referendum, and we got to nearly half a million that day, so it does work.
Mary Hockaday: Again, you can hear the sense of the spread of what we offer from very general output, through to more specialist Radio 4, through to even more dedicated for Peter. Even in the most general news output that we are doing, what you have just talked about, of course, is very interesting and we know that our audiences are interested. We know that the Prime Minister’s speech, again, was something we got good audiences to across what we did, and there was real interest in that. There is no doubt that that speech was not the beginning of something; it has grown out of years of debate. Nonetheless it was an important moment that has focused audience attention, which means that this essential question of Britain’s place in Europe is very live, isn’t it?
Chair: It is indeed.
Mary Hockaday: So the debate later this week about the budget is another way of getting to the point that concerns this Committee, which is who decides what happens to Britain and its people. That is something where you can illustrate in a concrete way the jargon of repatriation of powers. You can bring that down to the European Arrest Warrant-good or bad, in or out?
Q218 Chair: Do you think there is a pro-European bias of any description in the culture of the BBC or would you say that that does not exist?
Mary Hockaday: What I live and breathe with my teams in the newsroom is all the time attempting to make independent judgments about what matters, what is important and then to make sure that we provide a really broad range of perspectives and voices.
Chair: I will give you an example. Last week, the influence in the European Union committee was set up-I forget what they call themselves now-with Kenneth Clarke, Heseltine and Mandelson, etc. At 6.20 we had the internal Commissioner Barnier, who came on. He gave his explanation of why the single market was so incredibly important to the United Kingdom. There is no suggestion that there was anything wrong with it, but that was what was said. Then we had John Curtice and a description of the European opinion polls. Then we had Paul Walsh brought on as the other side. He was asked about Diageo, and then almost immediately asked, "But why did you sign this letter supporting the Prime Minister, because you are a Tory Party donor are you not?" This seemed to me like a bit of an ambush. Then we had 10 minutes of Ken Clarke. I have to say to you that listening to that programme on that morning did not quite fit in to the description that you have just given us. I can only say that that was carefully orchestrated. That is what it looked like and that is what it sounded like. I simply want to know, is that something which you would regard as the manner in which you would expect the impartiality and Public Purposes to be put forward?
Ric Bailey: Could I have a go at that, Chairman? What we have been talking about here all the time is editors making news values. They are trying to look at the world and make judgments about what is happening. On that day, it was, as you said, something that was launched and that was something we were covering. But if you reduce every single programme down to a mathematical judgment of having to balance every single item according to a stopwatch or a formula, that is not very good journalism, frankly. Impartiality is something that a programme like the Today programme has to achieve across the range of its output. It does that by making judgments consistently about the way the stories it covers are taken, about who the guests are it invites. On any one day it may give due weight in one direction.
Q219 Chair: Do you really think that the due weight is given in the other as well?
Ric Bailey: I do, yes. We have had a very wide range of voices, right across the spectrum. If you look at what all our current programmes do, particularly the Today programme, you will see a very wide range of voices on all of these issues. That is the responsibility of the editors to do that. It is to step back and think across the range of our output, though, on any one particular day, we may have been pursuing that particular angle and we may have needed those voices. You cannot pull the audiences on to these issues before they are there, sometimes. A lot of what we are doing is trying to introduce people to these stories and analyse and explain them as they come into the news.
Q220 Kelvin Hopkins: There is one great yawning gap and that is the left critique of the European Union, which does not feature at all. I know you have difficulty because what you think of as the left comes out as Blair’s former speechwriter. He is frequently on Newsnight; I forget his name now.
Mary Hockaday: One kind of programme we have not touched on is the Radio 4 weekly current affairs stable and programmes like Analysis. Last autumn, they did a whole programme about the relationship of the left to Europe, and Gisela Stuart was a very prominent part of that. I do not think that is right. To echo what Ric says, the other thing is just because somebody appears, it does not mean they are getting a free ride. Our role with whomever we are talking to, from whichever part of the spectrum, is to ask the questions we believe the audience wants answered and to challenge and probe. One of the things that the Wilson report also said was a comment about ensuring, while it was very important that we reflected the debate about Europe from within Parliament, that we were not only seeing it through the prism of Parliament. One of the things that we have worked hard at in the last few years is ensuring that the breadth of opinion that we bring to bear comes not just from within Westminster and not just within the European parliamentary institutions but also from business. For instance, on the day of the Prime Minister’s speech, we were hearing from businesses large and small, hearing from fishermen, farmers, hauliers, doctors, all the people affected sometimes by these debates.
Q221 Chris Heaton-Harris: The three of you nodded to the Chairman, convinced of your own impartiality on these subjects. Why is there this review that the Trust is leading?
Ric Bailey: As I said, that is the Trust’s job. It is the Trust’s job to review what we do. It chooses different subjects from time to time; it has chosen impartiality and it has chosen this particular area and so we will see.
Q222 Chris Heaton-Harris: This was led by complaints from your audience about your partiality on certain subjects, the EU being one of them. It is not what the Trust does on a regular basis; it is what the Trust is having to do because it received a number of complaints about audience views on your partiality.
Ric Bailey: No, that is not true.
Chris Heaton-Harris: That is what Mr Patten said. I thought you might say that is not what it is about. I have Mr Patten’s speech to the Broadcasting Press Guild of last October up on my iPhone because I knew you would go down this particular route. It says it was led by complaints.
Ric Bailey: That is slightly different. The Trust is there to represent the licence fee payer. When the licence fee payer talks to the Trust, it will respond to that if it thinks that is an appropriate area to look into. This is a process the Trust is doing all the time. It is looking at different aspects. Can I say that, in the end, we are responsible to licence fee payers for this? On the level of impartiality and trust that the public has in the BBC as a news provider, can I just show you something? Those who chose the BBC as the most trusted news provider, including its impartiality-there is the chart-are 59%, and the next closest is 10%. The fact is, the British public and the licence fee payer trusts the BBC more, by absolute streets, than it does any other news provider. If you look at all of those, the most trusted news provider, even amongst those people who do not choose the BBC as their first provider of news, is still the BBC by a long way.
We are not complacent about this; I promise you we are not. We absolutely understand that impartiality has to be our most important, unique feature in the way that we are funded, in the way we have a relationship with the British public. We do not take that for granted. We spend an awful lot of time and self-analysis trying to get that right. We do not get it right all the time. But that is foremost in the mind of every journalist I have ever worked with in the BBC-all of Mary’s journalists, all of Peter’s journalists, whenever I talk to them. I have never met a BBC journalist who did not have impartiality right up there as their most important feature.
Q223 Kelvin Hopkins: I am a passionate believer and supporter of the BBC. It is like the NHS; it is something in my DNA. There is no question there. But on certain political issues, and in particular European issues, I know you have difficulty. In innocence you pick a Labour spokesperson, a Liberal Democrat and a Conservative. But you might choose, for example, Mandelson, Heseltine and David Laws. They are indistinguishable from each other in their views on Europe. In fact, Lord Heseltine might well be to the left of the other two. But if you picked Liam Fox, Menzies Campbell and Tony Benn, you might get a different approach. You might get a focus on, in my view, the complete failure of the eurozone economies, which is leading to devastating problems for Spain and Greece and whatever.
Ric Bailey: We are aware of those distinctions. Certainly on the European debate, we do not just go down party lines; it clearly does not make any sense because there are different views across all the parties.
Q224 Chair: That is one of the points that might be made. The Public Purposes in itself is not defined by reference to party. It is public policy and because the European issue covers such a range of matters on which the British economy as a whole depends, and which is related to it, then the question of impartiality, ensuring that within Public Purposes you get the range of opinions, is essential. This is what I think Kelvin is rightly referring to. It is absolutely essential not to have a whole stream of people who are coming from one corner of the argument. It is vital that people can get a balanced view.
Mary Hockaday: Absolutely.
Ric Bailey: I would agree with that.
Q225 Mr Clappison: I hear what you say on this, can I gently suggest to you an example of where you failed either to be impartial or to give the public a proper understanding in the not-too-distant past? It is one that may have implications for the future. That was the way the BBC dealt with the Treaty of Lisbon, which is now about five years ago. We had a series of debates on the Floor of the House of Commons and they were hardly shown on BBC television at all. I do not think any effort was made to explain the significance of the Treaty of Lisbon and the changes which it was making, giving more power to the European Union. If I may say this, and I do not mean it as a personal criticism, the then European correspondent of the BBC-not the present one by any means-dealt with the views of those who were critical of the Treaty of Lisbon in a very dismissive way. How do you respond to those complaints?
Mary Hockaday: I could, but I will not, read a long list of the coverage of the Lisbon Treaty. Like many of these stories, it was a really dominant one. With the long run-up, then the long process of argument, ratification, referendums, then the signing and the final ratification in coming to law, a story like that we would cover, and we did cover, very thoroughly from a really wide range of perspectives. Of course Mark Mardell, our Europe Editor then, was very prominent in the coverage. I do not think that he did treat people with disrespect in the way that you say. Our Westminster team and our politics correspondents were also very involved, as were some of our business and economics team, and indeed some of the specialists involved in particular areas of policies.
Q226 Mr Clappison: If I may interrupt, your first answer is very interesting. You covered the process whereby the Treaty came into being, whereby it was ratified originally at the end of 2007 by Gordon Brown. The debates in Parliament came after that. You never mentioned those at all. They were not shown on television; no effort was made to say that Parliament was debating this very important treaty that was changing the way in which we are being governed. I have great respect for what you have said so far. But on this issue, that was the way it was, I have to say.
Mary Hockaday: It was the thread through all the coverage, including the aftermath. From memory-as you say, it was a few years ago-in general news terms we did report because so much was at stake. We all understood that. That was the thread right the way through. We knew perfectly well this represented a really important constitutional moment for this country, as it did for all the countries of Europe, which is why the passage of it and the arguments that happened in many different countries and populations was a very important part of the coverage; it was a way of illuminating exactly what you are saying in terms of what was at stake.
Mr Clappison: Correct me if I am wrong. In our Parliament, the debates we had over a series of days were hardly ever shown on your general news broadcasts.
Chair: Maybe we can resolve that one when you have a chance to go back to have a look at that.
Mr Clappison: I am not criticising the present European correspondent at all.
Q227 Chair: Could I come back to the Wilson review? I would like to concentrate on this for a moment. Following the Wilson review, which was in 2005, the BBC governors issued a statement responding to the criticisms, which James and Chris have just referred to. What urgent action was taken? I am referring to paragraph 3 of the report. What new measures were adopted-paragraph 5? Where is the evidence that this was done? What did the report on progress state in the summer of 2005? What is the evidence of the completion of the implementation of those new measures and the proposals for monitoring the progress by May 2006? In other words, what happened as a result of Wilson? What do the papers demonstrate?
Ric Bailey: The first, most prominent thing that happened, which has already been alluded to, and which came right out of the Wilson report, to give more prominence to the European story in our domestic output and to give a higher level of expertise in the Brussels bureau, was the appointment of a Europe Editor, Mark Mardell. That did make a change because it put it in the sense that you have your Political Editor, your Business Editor; to give somebody that status does make an impact on the bulletins and I think it made a big difference to-
Q228 Chair: A great deal can depend-and I am not criticising individuals here-on what the views are, if they are views held by an individual who may or may not come at it from a particular point of view. I am not talking about the participants in programmes, because you can balance those off. But if you have somebody-
Mary Hockaday: It is irrelevant what the views of somebody who takes a BBC job like this are. Their job is to report the facts as they find them and impartially. Their own views do not come into that.
Mary Hockaday: We talked in general terms about the audience’s regard for the trustworthiness of BBC news. That includes on Europe. They regard us as the best provider and the most trustworthy provider for coverage of Europe.
Q229 Chair: I will move on to the BBC management response to the review. This was a serious review. There were very high powered people on it. They looked at it and said urgent action was needed. You are telling us that the urgent action has been taken. We are now asking the question where that is going to-that is all. In respect of the then proposals for the referendum, because there were very specific proposals, can the Committee see the details of the work that was done on that? It is all in the can, as it were. How do the EU planning meetings take account of European scrutiny proposals? Do you have planning meetings that deal with them?
Mary Hockaday: We have a whole series of planning meetings, which cover a great range. The Parliament team here and in Brussels will be focusing on their particular areas. As Peter said, the information and the press releases about all parliamentary business will come through and be available for the planning meetings to look at and make decisions about. There are other important recommendations in the Wilson report around training.
Q230 Chair: What I am driving at is: you have a report, it comes up with some specific proposals and it is urgent, it is required, it has to be done. All we are asking is, what happened?
Ric Bailey: The biggest single thing, which made a real impact on air, was the appointment of a Europe Editor, and that was a direct result of the recommendations from Wilson and the management’s response to it. It also called for a broader range of voices. That was something that, if you look at our coverage since then, we have started to take into account as much as possible.
Q231 Chair: We are making progress; is that the answer?
Ric Bailey: If you look at Daily Politics, for instance, it is covering the whole of politics, but the amount of coverage of what happens in Europe in the Daily Politics, irrespective of the special Politics Europe programme it does once a month, just in its normal coverage, is enormous. With what has happened online, with Democracy Live and its own area about Europe, there is an awful lot more, and there are more opportunities. What is also important is the link between them is there as well. When we are covering European stories on the main bulletins-and it is hard to break though sometimes with more detailed stuff-when we get the opportunity to do big European stories, you will often see the link to the online site where people who want to know more about it get the opportunity to do it. There is the trailing to what Peter is doing on Parliament. The ability to get across to more of our audience what we are doing and to do more has changed quite a lot.
Q232 Chair: Do you find it a bit irritating that we are asking these questions?
Ric Bailey: No.
Mary Hockaday: Not at all.
Q233 Chair: Good. I am so glad, because this is the first dialogue that has taken place on this question within Parliament on the European question. The Wilson Committee report was 2005; there were requirements to complete the stuff by 2006. The Charter then took over in 2006, and some might wonder what happened to all the work, now that you have the Charter?
Ric Bailey: The other thing that came out of that was the need for better training for journalists. A few years after Wilson, there was a mandatory online course for well over 2,000 journalists who went through a reporting the EU course. Soon after that, the College of Journalism was developed and that has its own area.
Q234 Chair: You could not have done it better. You got my next question straight on the nail. I was going to ask you, what is the curriculum for the College of Journalism in relation to European matters and scrutiny of European legislation? It would be interesting to hear.
Mary Hockaday: The College of Journalism website is now externally facing, as well as internally facing for our own journalists. Anybody who is interested can see this material. A lot of it is about trying to explain the institutions, what they are, how they work, what their focus is on. There are particular sections on the decision-making process, on the budget process and how the money works. There is background material on key figures, and also material that helps understand your point, which is about how what happens in Europe relates to this country.
Q235 Chair: What are the qualifications? You get people who have degrees in various subjects giving the lectures, all that sort of thing. As somebody who takes an interest in the extent to which people have looked at these questions in detail and in the broad landscape, what sort of qualifications do they have? Do they come from academic institutions?
Mary Hockaday: The material is offered as a series of online modules. They are developed by our own College of Journalism.
Q236 Chair: Can we see them?
Ric Bailey: They are publicly available.
Mary Hockaday: It is not so much lectures or outside experts, although a lot of outside expertise has been drawn on. To be honest, it is a bit like what we try to do with the audience for our own journalists. For busy journalists, we are trying to make the training modules clear, easily accessible, divided into chunks so you do not necessarily have to do it all at the same time, to serve the purpose of helping them do their basic journalistic job better.
Peter Knowles: The correspondents on Today in Parliament have contributed a lot to those training modules. That is a real centre of expertise and knowledge.
Q237 Chair: I hope you do not think that we are somehow asking questions that should not be asked.
Mary Hockaday: No, not at all.
Chair: I am sure you agree that these are very important. It is the old business of who guards the guardians? The question is, who are the people who are providing the basic information? Where are they coming from? When the researchers sit down in the middle of the night, for example for the Today programme-I cannot believe John Humphrys and the others invent all the questions off the cuff; they are sitting there and being fed certain lines of inquiry-it is not unnatural that we would be interested in the base of the research that goes into that.
Ric Bailey: In the end, that is the job of journalism; that is what journalists do.
Chair: That is what we do in the Select Committee. We ask questions, like you do.
Ric Bailey: Absolutely. Part of that is to make sure that the people who are doing that work understand the EU and the issues, and I think the level of understanding now, compared to where we were in 2005, is much, much greater. There is much more material for them to go at. Here we are looking ahead now to 2017 and a future referendum. That will only develop. At some stage, we will need to give that another level of priority as we move towards that and it becomes more and more dominant.
Q238 Chair: If you look at each of the five principles that the Prime Minister enunciated, and then you ask the question, "Who has views on this side of the equation; who has views on that?" then you are moving quite rapidly into an area where you can get the kind of balance that is required.
Ric Bailey: We are at too early a stage to think of it in a binary way, if I am being honest. There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge before we get there. Certainly, the more prominent it becomes, the more we will have to explore that. As we get nearer to a referendum, then it will at some stage become that very binary issue.
Q239 Kelvin Hopkins: I am still concerned about the pressures on you from outside. I accept what you say. There are pressures, though. I remember some 12 years ago, Alastair Campbell came to speak to a group of Labour MPs and we had a big meeting. The subtext of what he was saying was very clear. Unless the BBC gets in line with us, we will make trouble for them. That was his subtext. It was very clear. The pressure coming from that particular regime was very powerful indeed. I think it may have relaxed since then; I hope it has. At that time, the BBC was under some threat. I was very worried about it. Can you say those kinds of pressures have gone away?
Ric Bailey: No, not at all. It is part of the job. People on all sides have always wanted to influence and pressure the BBC for those very reasons-because of that chart I showed you. People believe what our journalists and our news bulletins say. So, of course, people want to influence that. They want to be part of it. They want to get their faces on. They want to stop people being on that they do not want to be on. Part of our job is to resist that pressure. If we were all being very chummy about it and we were never getting pressured, then we would probably not be doing our job properly.
Q240 Kelvin Hopkins: There is one other point, which happens here in politics, less so now than it did, because we now have elections of Select Committees and Chairs and so on; it is much more democratic since the Wright reforms. There was a time when we would have Select Committees which would have numbers of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members, but certain key people were kept off Committees. I was one of them; I could not get on a Select Committee for love or money for five years. After the Robin Cook report, I got on a Select Committee. My good friend Diane Abbott was taken off the Treasury Select Committee because her views did not fit. In all spheres, if you have one person who might take a dissenting view or a very different view then it might cause difficulties. Very quietly, you manipulate the membership so it is quiescent, it goes along and there will not be any problems, even though they might have labels that say Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, or whatever. Politics works like that in here. I wondered if, at the BBC, those who appoint people to positions and committees are subtly making sure that the more difficult people do not get into the more sensitive jobs.
Ric Bailey: Sorry, which jobs are these?
Kelvin Hopkins: Journalists, editors, producers of programmes.
Ric Bailey: That does not ring any bells with me whatsoever.
Q241 Kelvin Hopkins: You have obviously not been in Parliament.
Ric Bailey: In Parliament, we are used to that all the time. If you are talking about casting Question Time or Any Questions or anything else, there is a lot of pressure from the parties to have on who they want to have on.
Q242 Chair: And who they do not want on. I have never been on Question Time or any of the other programmes.
Ric Bailey: Sorry, I did not want to go there, Chairman. It is part of the cut and thrust of our editorial independence and decision making. Sometimes those are the people we will want on, and sometimes they are not. There is a weekly tussle in those areas. That seems to me part of a perfectly normal and not particularly sinister way of conducting quite a healthy politics.
Peter Knowles: The analogy I would draw in Parliament is the effectiveness of the Backbench Business Committee. It has been hugely effective at bringing debates onto the Floor of the House that parliamentarians want to discuss, not necessarily Government. Time after time, it has found issues that both Parliament and the world outside want to talk about.
Q243 Chair: Are you entirely happy in your own minds-I am not asking this in a difficult sense, I hope-in the wake of Wilson, in the wake of what is coming through Prebble, because of the increasing impact of the European question both in respect of our own European scrutiny and the legislative process in Parliament as a whole, that you are getting into the right arena? As far as you are concerned, whatever the past may have been, are you now fully engaged with making sure that the British people have a completely impartial, very well balanced contribution from both sides of the equation, not on party political lines but in terms of Public Purposes? I suppose that is one of the things we are interested to know about: that you feel comfortable that you are getting into this and you are going to do it really well.
Peter Knowles: Before we hear some broader answers, there is one specific thing that does relate to your question and it is something I have been hearing at several points in this inquiry. It is really interesting. It is the idea around having dedicated Europe questions taken on the Floor of the House. I realise what the problem of that is in terms of its cross-cutting nature, which Ministers appear and how you do it. Given the increasing focus on Europe, for the reasons you have given, Mr Chairman, I could see that a regular Europe questions slot on the Floor of the House, in terms of my output, would be really useful.
Q244 Chair: You do, I am sure, appreciate that as a Select Committee we are not beholden to the Government. You are not beholden to the Government. We both have our own independent view. We are an all-party Committee and we come at it from different points of view. The reality, therefore, is that we ought to be aiming at and trying to achieve the same objective. We have a duty to the public at large to ensure that they get a balanced view of what is going on. That is why we select our witnesses very carefully to make sure they do not come from any one side of the equation. In the same way, perhaps I might invite you to consider how your interviewees are chosen, what questions are put to them and what are not put to them. We are all in the same boat in this respect. If there was any suggestion that somehow either you or we were falling down in that impartiality and that independence, then we would both therefore feel that we were not doing the job that we were set up to do. Would you not agree with that?
Mary Hockaday: To answer your question, we are enormously engaged in the mission you described in terms of-
Q245 Chair: Are you glad that you came along today to discuss it?
Mary Hockaday: Perfectly happy; it beats what I might have been doing back in the office. More seriously, you asked whether we are satisfied. I would say that I am broadly satisfied but never complacent. To the point you make, it is about being engaged in a continuous way. We reflect very hard on what we do to ensure that we are all the time on behalf of our audiences fulfilling our Charter obligations, including impartiality.
Q246 Chair: Do you think you will be looking at the European scrutiny programme, the way in which our Committees are constructed and all that goes with it?
Peter Knowles: I would be very interested to hear what the findings of this inquiry are. As I have said earlier on, you have taken a very difficult question and are tackling it head on, which is what is effective in terms of European scrutiny, what makes a difference. It will be really interesting to know what you conclude.
Chair: Scrutiny into scrutiny.
Q247 Nia Griffith: I would like to ask you about regional coverage, how your regional teams access information about European issues and if they are aware of the House of Commons outreach teams who can advise. Would you like to comment on whether you think there is a difference between the way the regional teams in England approach this, and how the teams you have in Wales and in Scotland and their own devolved administrations approach the matter?
Peter Knowles: I know there are examples of work in the regions with the regional outreach offices. My awareness here is of the outreach effort that is based centrally at Westminster and that comes through in terms of the lecture we talked about that the Chairman is giving, the Youth Parliament, and a whole range of other activities. If the regional outreach teams wish to make contact with us and see if there are other ways we can work with them, they would be most welcome to get in touch.
Q248 Nia Griffith: How do your regional people usually access information about European issues; just through your ordinary feed internally or what?
Ric Bailey: We are very well hooked up these days. They have representation in Brussels and Westminster. The regions are now part of the same departments. Structurally, they are part of BBC News, in that sense.
Chair: I think that is everything for this afternoon. Thank you very much indeed. I will call the meeting to an end.