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Report strongly critical of Government and BBC

25 March 2015

European Scrutiny Committee publishes Scrutiny Reform follow-up and Legacy Report on Wednesday 25 March.

The Scrutiny Committee criticises the Government for refusing to schedule debates it recommended on such highly-charged issues as the free movement of EU citizens and the EU Budget.

It is particularly ironic, the Report points out, that at the same time as treating the House's EU scrutiny process in such a cavalier way UK Ministers were speaking across the EU extolling the importance of national parliaments in providing democratic legitimacy for the EU.

The Report follows up the Committee's November 2013 recommendations about the coverage of EU scrutiny in the House, and EU issues more widely, by the BBC.

Lack of confidence in BBC

The Scrutiny Committee held oral evidence sessions with Rona Fairhead, Chairman of the BBC Trust, in January and Lord Hall, Director-General of the BBC, in March.  Lord Hall refused the Committee's invitation on three occasions before agreeing to appear. 

The Committee states that it remains deeply concerned about the manner in which the BBC treats EU issues, and concludes that the BBC has not yet demonstrated that it commands wide confidence in its coverage of the EU. 

This will be a key issue to be considered in the run up to any referendum on EU membership and, more broadly, raises wider questions about the BBC's accountability to Parliament which must be taken into account as part of the forthcoming review of the BBC Charter.

Chair's comments

Launching the Report, Sir William Cash MP, Chairman of the Committee said

"Our Scrutiny Reform Report was a game-changer, proposing radical constitutional reform - a form of national veto and unilateral disapplication of EU law - alongside a coherent package of reforms to the House of Commons EU scrutiny system. 

At a time when there is so much cynicism about politics and such a need for informed debate on these controversial issues, we are highly critical of the Government’s decision not to accept key recommendations nor to schedule a series of key EU debates over the last eight months. 

We also took this opportunity to review how the BBC covers the EU scrutiny process and EU issues.

We deplore the fact that we had to repeatedly press for Lord Hall, the Director-General of the BBC and its Editor-in-Chief, as well as the previous BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten, to appear before us.

As the nation's public service broadcaster the BBC has very particular obligations under its Charter and Framework Agreement, both to be impartial and also to educate and inform.  We do not believe this is currently being achieved in the context of the BBC’s EU coverage. Furthermore the BBC has not properly carried through its compliance with its own published aims following the serious criticisms made of the BBC by the Report by Lord Wilson of Dinton in 2005 relating to the BBC’s coverage of EU issues. 

Accountability to Parliament and proper impartiality must be a key factor in the forthcoming review of the BBC Charter."

Further information