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Public Bodies Bill [HL] — Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 1st December 2010.

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Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative 9:45 pm, 1st December 2010

My Lords, as the Minister said, it is a disappointing reply. Frankly, I think that we are going backwards, because the previous Secretary of State in the previous Administration made a darn-sight more radical assessment of the royal charter than the Minister has. He is now repeating all the things that we were told about four or five years ago. It is exactly the same script as the Department for Culture issued at the time. This stuff about the public having been asked is complete rubbish; I really do think that the department might at least take that out of its script if nothing else. I am sorry to get heated about this, but it is fairly dismal.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. It has been a useful debate. What the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said was extremely interesting. I do not think that the royal charter is a gold standard. It has not worked for the BBC. It is frankly just a deal, as I said, between the Secretary of State on the one side and the chairman of the BBC on the other. We can set up select committees to kingdom come, but some of us have to take notice of those Select Committees, and the record of that has not been great. When we come to Select Committees, I would point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that the Select Committee in the House of Lords and the Select Committee in the House of Commons have both said that the BBC should be placed upon a statutory basis. There is no doubt about that. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, raised an interesting and important point about the statutory basis and the dangers that it could have and I do not wish to decry that. I also remember him arguing passionately in the Select Committee that the only democratic representatives, as far as the licence fee was concerned, were Members of Parliament.

The noble Baroness said that the BBC has been battered. She might consider that one reason it has been battered is that it has no strong chairman, no strong board and no one to respond for it. She asked, why now? We cannot have a debate now. I would point out that I have had a request for a debate on the Order Paper for the last 12 months. There are not that many opportunities for debates in this House. The crucial question, the crucial issue is this. Sir Michael Lyons, the chairman of the BBC Trust, is resigning. It gives us an opportunity to rethink.

Of course I will withdraw this amendment, but I warn the House that when both the government and opposition Front Benches agree on a policy, then the Back Benches need to think very carefully indeed. With that in mind I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 23A withdrawn.

House resumed.