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Future of the BBC — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:42 pm on 14th July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat 7:42 pm, 14th July 2015

My Lords, I entirely agree. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. We have just witnessed a smash-and-grab raid. As five years ago, the Chancellor has treated the licence fee as a piggy bank. The director-general has had no alternative but to look cheerful about it, and all the while the Murdoch press gleefully gets government exclusives. I share the disappointment expressed by Rona Fairhead in her letter to the Chancellor last week about there having been no public debate at all about the licence fee. I think the CMS Secretary’s former colleagues on the Select Committee will be astonished, too.

Despite this, there are still major uncertainties. A Perry report recommendation to decriminalise could have an impact of £200 million. The CPI settlement now also appears conditional. We now at least have a debate going forward about the scope of activity of the BBC and the appropriate form of governance for the BBC, but the Secretary of State for CMS and the Chancellor seem to be in disagreement about whether the BBC should continue with popular programming. There is much talk of the BBC’s online presence but, as the example of Channel 4 shows, younger audiences are increasingly migrating to the internet, catch-up and streaming for television consumption.

There are issues to be discussed, in particular whether the BBC should or could move to a publisher broadcaster model. On the trust, my colleagues and I have never felt that the current structure properly resolves the issues of responsibility for the regulation, governance and management of the BBC. Like the CMS Select Committee, I would favour handing responsibility for regulation, including service licences, to Ofcom, as well as the existing responsibility for the public value test. We must have an open debate, and I ask the Minister: is the Green Paper on track for this week?