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Future of the BBC — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:38 pm on 14th July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 7:38 pm, 14th July 2015

That took up a few minutes, didn’t it?

No director-general of the BBC should ever again be put in the position that the good Tony Hall has been placed in over the past few weeks but, sadly, the form book suggests that it will happen again. In 2010, the licence fee was used to pay for British foreign policy by paying for the World Service. Now, in 2015, the same licence fee payer is being asked to pay for a particularly silly piece of British welfare policy—free licences for the over-75s—with £725 million of it falling on the BBC and licence fee payers. Next time, I expect that the BBC will start paying for the NHS. After all, the NHS provides free specs and enables people to look at the television better. It is that kind of logic—or illogic—that pervades what the Government are doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Hall, is absolutely right to say that the funding of the BBC should be taken out of politics, as it partly was when I sat on the Davies committee on the licence fee back in 1999. After all, keeping politics at a distance from the BBC was one of the main logical reasons for having a licence fee in the first place—it was felt to be a payment for services and therefore out of politics—but I fear that in the corrupted politics of today, it will not happen, not while the licence fee places the hands of politicians firmly around the gonads of a body whose programmes they believe help to determine their electoral fate.

The licence fee has had a good run as a good way of funding, but maybe, just maybe, this will be the end of the road. It would be more honest to replace it with a television tax paid to the Exchequer and have five-year settlements on funding between the BBC and the Government, with the Culture Secretary thus incentivised to fight for the corporation within government rather than, as John Whittingdale has comprehensively done this time—