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My Lords, we look to government to be at its wisest when the challenge is at its greatest, yet twice in five years we have seen not wisdom but opportunistic, expedient and unprincipled diktats issued to the BBC in the dead of night, a pistol to its head, absent any democratic debate—diktats that have sidelined the licence fee payers, the trust that represents them, the department concerned and Parliament itself. Above all, these diktats have trampled on the independence of the BBC.
Twice in five years, neither the trust nor the executive but the Treasury has determined how an enormous slice of licence funding—25% in total—should be spent, earmarked for a long string of obligations to which the BBC Trust would never voluntarily have agreed.
This year we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Runnymede, when the arbitrary use of power was first curtailed. It is plain that we now need a Magna Carta for the BBC itself. We need a framework, enshrined in statute and agreed by Parliament, which ensures that nothing like this can ever happen again; which sets out the proper roles of government, the BBC’s regulators and its executive; which outlines a considered, involving and transparent process for settling the level of the licence fee or for amending the BBC’s remit; and which enshrines the independence of an institution that is never, ever perfect, but which we should all safeguard and cherish.