MPs approve Lord Patten for BBC Trust chair

The appointment of former Hong Kong governor Lord Patten as the chairman of the BBC Trust has been approved by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Lord Patten, who addressed the committee in a pre-appointment hearing on Thursday last week, is the Government’s preferred candidate to replace Sir Michael Lyons, whose term ends on April 30.

The committee published its report declaring the former Conservative Party chairman a “suitable candidate,” but recommending he gives up more outside interests before taking up the job, on Saturday.

Members also raised concerns about his “limited” knowledge of the BBC’s radio and television output, but said they were “reassured” that he would be able to maintain the independence needed for the role of trust chairman despite his “strong affiliations” to the Conservative Party.

Lord Patten told the committee he had already given up several jobs, including positions on the Global Leadership Foundation, the International Crisis Group and Medical Aid to Palestine, to make time for the role but said he would remain on the Advisory Board of BP and chancellor of the University of Oxford.

The report said: “Lord Patten has a large number of significant responsibilities, particularly his Chancellorship of Oxford University; his membership of the House of Lords; and his advisory roles in relation to BP, Bridgepoint and Hutchinson Whampoa.

“Especially given the context of Sir Michael Lyons’ resignation letter, which suggested that the time needed to effectively carry out the role was greater than the time available, we were concerned that Lord Patten would have insufficient time to carry out his role as Chairman of the BBC Trust.

“He assured us that the role would be his priority but we believe that he should further reduce his other commitments should that become necessary.”

The report added: “The Committee is also surprised that Lord Patten’s knowledge of the BBC’s output on television and radio is limited.

However, having questioned Lord Patten we consider him a suitable candidate for the post, and we look forward to working with him in the future.”

When he announced he was leaving the position last year, Lyons said the growing workload for the part-time position had made him “increasingly concerned” that it was squeezing out other demands on his time.

In his letter, he said the post “has been far more demanding than the nominal three to four days a week in the job specification”.

During the committee hearing, Labour MP Tom Watson told Lord Patten: “I think you’re keeping too much on, I think you’re a busy guy”.

The former MP and cabinet member, who said he was a fan of BBC4 and BBC2 television as well as Radio 3 and Radio 4, admitted to having high-brow tastes.

He said: “That is who I am. I’m 66, I’m white and I’m reasonably well-educated.”

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he welcomed the committee’s conclusion and would now recommend Lord Patten for the job.

In a letter sent to committee chairman John Whittingdale MP, he said he would request the approval of the Queen “under the provisions of the BBC Royal Charter”.

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