BBC Charter Review — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 16th July 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 2:46 pm, 16th July 2015

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement read earlier in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

“I have today laid before Parliament a BBC charter review consultation paper, copies of which are being deposited in the House Libraries.

The British Broadcasting Corporation is cherished and admired not only in this country but around the world. At its best, the BBC sets international standards of quality. Even in a multimedia age, its most popular programmes continue to draw the country together in a shared experience, as with the London Olympics and world-beating dramas such as ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Doctor Who’. The BBC reaches 97% of the UK population every week, and it has a pivotal role in helping the United Kingdom to reach every corner of the globe, as reflected in a recent report that found that the UK leads the world in terms of soft power.

The BBC is almost 100 years old. There have been many changes in this time, but the scale of change in the media sector over the last decade has been unprecedented. People are consuming a vast array of content from multiple sources, using technology that either did not exist or was in its infancy 10 years ago. Ten years ago, when a Government last conducted a charter review, millions of households still received just five television channels. Much of the social media that is now ubiquitous was, at most, at an embryonic stage, and few of us owned the sort of devices that colleagues use daily, including in this Chamber.

One of the few things that is certain about the media landscape of the future is that we cannot be sure how it will look, not least because we cannot predict how much will stay the same. Predictions about the demise of television have proven premature, undoubtedly in part because technology has evolved, but also because many people still enjoy sitting down to watch TV in their living room. Radio also retains an important place in people’s daily lives.

The current BBC royal charter will expire at the end of 2016. This paper launches the Government’s consultation, which will inform a number of decisions that we need to take about the future of the BBC. The BBC Trust will play an integral role in the process by running a series of public seminars and events. Fundamentally, we need to consider four questions. What is the overall purpose of the BBC? What services and content should the BBC provide? How should the BBC be funded? How should the BBC be governed and regulated?

First, on the BBC’s mission, purpose and values, the BBC has six public purposes, which were set out at the last charter review. They are: sustaining citizenship and civil society; promoting education and learning; stimulating creativity and cultural excellence; representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities; bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK; and delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications. We need to ask whether these purposes are relevant and right.

One key task is to assess whether the idea of universality still holds water. With so much more choice in what to consume and how to consume it, we must at least question whether the BBC should try to be all things to all people—to serve everyone across every platform—or if it should have a more precisely targeted mission.

Along with considering the mission and purpose of the BBC, we will consider whether the Charter should also define its values—and what those values should be.

Secondly, on the BBC’s scale and scope, the public purposes set the framework for what the BBC should be seeking to achieve, and the charter and supporting framework agreement articulate what activities it should undertake to accomplish this. The upcoming charter review will look at whether the scale and scope of the BBC is right for the current and future media environment and delivers what audiences are willing to pay for.

Twenty years ago the BBC had two television channels, five national radio stations and a local radio presence. It is now the largest public service broadcaster in the world, with nine television channels, five UK-wide radio stations, six radio stations that reach one of the home nations, 40 local radio stations and a vast online presence. This charter review will look at whether this particular range of services best serves licence fee payers. It will also assess what impact the BBC has on the commercial sector. There is evidence that the BBC helps to drive up standards and boosts investment, but also concern that public funding should not undermine commercial business models for TV, radio and online.

The BBC is highly used and valued by the majority of people in this country. But variations exist, and there are particular challenges in reaching people from certain ethnic minority backgrounds and in meeting the needs of younger people, who increasingly access content online. Variations exist among the different nations and regions, too. These are issues which we will need to take into account throughout the process of the charter review.

The BBC’s global reputation is second to none and the BBC has a central role in determining how the UK is perceived internationally. Each week, BBC services reach more than 300 million people across the world, and the director-general has set a target of 500 million.

The charter review also gives us an opportunity to look at the content the BBC provides, both in terms of the mixture of that content and its quality. We will analyse the way that the BBC’s content is produced. This is essentially shaped by two main elements: the broader regulatory framework, including the terms of trade which set out how the BBC and other broadcasters work with independent producers, and the BBC’s quota systems.

The BBC executive has made some radical proposals that would remove quotas and turn the BBC’s production arm into a commercial subsidiary. These and other reform options will need to be considered as part of the charter review. We will also look at BBC Worldwide, which contributes a substantial amount of additional income to the BBC.

I turn now to the third question—BBC funding—a subject on which I know that many honourable and right honourable Members in the other place hold strong views. The licence fee has proven to be a very resilient income stream for the BBC, bringing in £3.7 billion last year, but it is not without its challenges.

There is no easy solution to the broad question of how the BBC should be funded. The licence fee is levied at a flat rate, meaning that it is regressive. A subscription model could well be an option in the longer term, but cannot work in the short term because the technology is not yet in every home to control access. Therefore, the three options for change that are viable in the shorter term are: a reformed licence fee, a household levy, or a hybrid funding model. In the longer term we should consider whether there is a case for moving to a full subscription model. All have advantages and disadvantages.

There are a number of other funding issues that the charter review will cover. We have already announced that the BBC, rather than taxpayers, will meet the cost of free TV licences for over-75 year-olds. This will be phased in from 2018-19, with the BBC taking on the full costs from 2020-21. We also anticipate that the licence fee will rise in line with the consumer prices index over the next charter review period, but this is dependent on the BBC keeping pace with efficiency savings elsewhere in the public sector and it is also subject to whatever conclusions are drawn from the charter review about the BBC’s scope and purpose.

I am grateful to David Perry QC, who has conducted an independent review of the sanctions appropriate for non-payment of the licence fee. The TV licence fee enforcement review, which is being published today, has concluded that decriminalisation would not be appropriate under the current funding model. The Government will now consider the case for decriminalisation as part of the charter review. I am today laying before Parliament the TV licence fee enforcement review and placing copies in the House Libraries.

More people, especially younger people, now access catch-up television exclusively online and without a licence. This is perfectly legal, as the existing legislation was drawn up when the iPlayer did not even exist. The Government have committed to updating the legislation.

We will also analyse the merits of a contestable public service funding pot that would not be limited just to the BBC, and we will look again at what areas and activities should have their funding protected in future. Broadband rollout, digital switchover, local television, the World Service and the Welsh language channel S4C were protected in the last charter period. As I announced the other day, the broadband ring-fence is to be phased out by 2020-21, and S4C will be expected to find similar savings to those in the BBC.

Finally, there is the matter of how the BBC is governed and regulated. Any organisation as large as the BBC needs effective governance and regulation. There have been occasions when the BBC has fallen well short of the standards that we expect of it.

Editorial failures in the light of the Jimmy Savile revelations, the aborted digital media initiative, and the level of salaries and severance payments are among the issues that have caused disquiet. A lack of clarity in the BBC’s governance structures has contributed to these failures.

The last charter brought in a new regulatory model, creating the BBC Trust, which exists to represent licence fee payers and hold the BBC to account. This structure has been widely criticised and the chair of the BBC Trust herself has called for reform. There are three broad options: reforming the Trust model, creating a unitary board and a new stand-alone oversight body or moving external regulation wholesale to Ofcom. As with funding options, each of these has pros and cons.

While the BBC’s editorial independence must not be compromised, that does not mean that we are not entitled to ask whether the BBC could be more transparent and to scrutinise how the BBC relates to the public, to Parliament and to government. Any public body should be fully accountable to the public. People should be able to give voice to how well they think the BBC spends public money—some £30 billion over the current charter period—and how well it meets its myriad other responsibilities.

The British Broadcasting Corporation is part of the fabric of this country, and a source of great pride. We want it to thrive in the years to come. This consultation paper sets out the framework for what I hope will be a wide-ranging and informative national debate about the future of the BBC. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 2:58 pm, 16th July 2015

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement given by the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport in the other place.

However, we now know for certain that, as part of their zealous drive to destroy the public realm in this country, this Government have the BBC in their sights. Those who care about these matters, who—from the evidence of recent debates in your Lordships’ House—are to be found in every party, all around the Chamber and are in a majority, certainly know that we now have a fight on our hands.

The BBC is established by royal charter, and has been so from the very early days of its existence. The first charter ran from 1 January 1927 to 31 December 1936, and we are now approaching the end of the ninth charter. You would have thought that running a process for the 10th time would mean we had developed a standardised approach; and that certain questions about the BBC’s role, functions and structure would have been agreed as settled business. There is surely a need for stability and security in all organisations if they are to thrive and deliver their best. So my first question is: why is the current charter review so different from its predecessors?

Compare where we are today with what happened last time, when the Government published a similar Green Paper entitled—and perhaps this should be noted—A Strong BBC, Independent of Government.

Then, the review process involved significant public engagement, including a range of events, consultation, research and focused analysis. What public engagement preceded this Green Paper? How many people responded, and will the evidence from that engagement be published? Then, the department’s work was closely informed by the work of an expert panel. There is a panel this time, but has it met yet? What will its role be? It was not even mentioned in the Statement. Will the Minister please elaborate on this?

Then, the Government conducted a major programme of survey research, to support and inform the consultation proposed in the Green Paper and ensure that it reflected the views of all sections of the population. This programme encompassed qualitative, deliberative and quantitative survey research, and was published. Has the department done the same this year, and will this be published?

Then, the department also conducted four independent reviews of the BBC’s services, which fed into the Green Paper. The Statement makes a lot of noise about the technical uncertainties faced by the BBC and makes a number of unsupported judgments about issues that it may be facing, but has the department carried out reviews comparable to the Lambert review of BBC News, the Graf review of BBC Online, the Barwise review of the BBC’s digital television services and the Gardam review of the BBC’s digital radio services? If not, what evidence have the Government relied on to make these judgments, and will that evidence be published?

Then, the independent panel chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, held a series of 11 seminars looking in detail at all aspects of the BBC, from funding and governance to educational and international issues. The panel published its conclusions. Will the new panel follow suit, what will the timescale be and will it publish its conclusions? The Green Paper invites comments between now and October, but certain decisions have already been taken so it is not really comparable with what happened in 2005-06.

My second question is whether the Government really understand, or want to understand, what the BBC is for. In the Statement, the Secretary of State merely says:

The British Broadcasting Corporation is cherished and admired, not only in this country but around the world. At its best, the BBC sets international standards of quality”.

In a debate earlier this week, the Minister said:

“The BBC is a world-renowned institution … It retains a unique importance in the UK’s broadcasting industry and in our collective sense of identity, and it is a brand that is respected and valued around the world—a world beater, indeed”.

That is certainly better, but talk about damning with faint praise. I put it to her that it would make a huge difference to the tone of the forthcoming review and the debates that it will engender if she would at the very least associate herself with the words that I and others used during the QSD of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, this week. In case she does not have the reference to hand, I remind her that I said that the BBC is,

“the cornerstone of the sort of open and accountable society that we want in this country, the gold standard for other broadcasters, the fulcrum for a competition for quality in broadcasting, and the guarantee of impartiality and fair coverage throughout the United Kingdom”.—[ Official Report , 14/7/15; col. 533.]

Could she please respond to the House on whether she agrees with this?

I am sure that others will want to make detailed points and ask questions, including about protection for the World Service and S4C, as well as more generally on the charter review announced today, but there are three or four points that I ask the Minister to respond to particularly. Could she say more about how the Government are to deal with the question of universality? Does this imply that the Government no longer accept the formulation, which has stood the test of time, that the BBC should be big enough to deliver the service that audiences demand but as small as its mission allows? If not, does she have an alternative plan for how the broadcasting system is to sustain, for example, its contribution to the health of the creative economy by research, training and production?

Could she say more about how the Government intend to assess the distinctiveness of BBC output? In the past, it has been broadly accepted that the BBC should remain a cultural institution of real size and scope and not only be a broadcaster of minority-interest programming. It should provide a wide range of different programmes to a wide range of different audiences, and only with this scale and scope can the BBC meet the public purposes that were set for it. I hope that the Government will continue to continue to accept these, as the people of this country certainly seem to. What evidence does she have to suggest that people no longer support the current range of BBC services? Can she confirm in particular that when it finishes the charter review, the Government will not require the BBC to shut down or privatise any of its current services?

The Statement outlines only three scenarios for dealing with governance issues, which I agree need to be addressed. Have other options in effect now been ruled out? In response to a question asked by my right honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State in the other place, the Secretary of State implied that the question of changing to a subscription model to replace the BBC licence fee was only a matter of not having the right technology. Is that right? Have the Government already decided in principle that they will change to subscription? If that is the case, can she reassure us that the licence fee is to be retained for the whole of the next charter period?

Given that the TV licence fee enforcement review has recommended that while the current licence fee collection system is in operation the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained, will the Minister elaborate on what was meant by the comment in the Statement that:

“The Government will now consider the case for decriminalisation as part of the Charter Review”?

That sounds to me as if the excellent report by David Perry QC—and it is extremely good—has been rejected. Has it?

We are at the beginning of what looks like a quick and dirty charter review process, one that is not worthy of the sort of concern and interest that every Government should have in one of their principal public institutions. As I have indicated, we on this side are concerned about the general approach being taken, the tone of the public consultation document and the sense that, taken along with the recent Budget decisions, the Government have already decided to cut the BBC “down to size”. As the BBC itself has said today,

“this Green Paper would appear to herald a much diminished, less popular BBC”.

We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on what should happen to the BBC over the next charter period, albeit at the same time worrying that most of the decisions have in effect already been taken and will not be in the interests of Britain. As I said in the earlier debate, the biggest tragedy in all this is that at a time when we should all be thinking of ways to improve the BBC, many of us will be forced to defend it, warts and all.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. No one could be more splenetic about the BBC’s coverage during the election than our party. Its appalling coverage of the Liberal Democrats’ absence from one of the leader debates, due entirely to the BBC’s own negotiating failures, will live with me for some time to come. However, this party and these Benches will not succumb to venom where vision is required. Whatever the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s personal views, this is the time for the bigger picture.

The BBC is a world leader in soft power, as we learnt this week. One has only to listen to the now entirely BBC-funded World Service and its interviews from Iran on the new nuclear settlement to understand the unique place that it has in the world. It is a major player in the creative industries, which are the fastest-growing sector of the economy. The Statement rightly acknowledges the challenges of reaching younger people and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. It is worth noting that “The Voice” alone has a more diverse audience than other outlets or programmes. However, the Green Paper suggests that it is too costly. I seek reassurance from the Minister that such programmes will not be discouraged, as suggested in the Sunday Times. I heard the Secretary of State compare that weekend article to Booker Prize fiction, so I ask the Minister whether the journalist, Tim Shipman, is accurate when he says that the Government question whether the BBC,

“should stop chasing viewers and provide more public service programmes”.

Which is it—fact or fiction?

The Statement asks for greater transparency from the BBC. I am sure that the Minister would like to match that by making available the processes by which the new advisory panel was recruited. Formal or informal, it provides a clear signal about past opinions that the new Secretary of State has given on the BBC. Perhaps she could make available to us in this House the process by which the panel was recruited and the rationale for each of its members’ appointments. Is there an intention—it is already possible to infer this from the Green Paper—to make the BBC smaller?

Does any evidence therefore currently exist that licence fee payers are asking for less, rather than more, from their BBC?

Lastly, the chair of the BBC Trust seems to be under the impression that she has the Chancellor’s word that, unless there is a massive change, the licence fee will rise by CPI in the first five years of the charter. Does the Minister believe that she is right to have that impression?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My Lords, the BBC is not in our sights. We want it to flourish and we want it to change. Actually, I detect the forces of conservatism on the other Benches. We need to keep up to date. Technology is changing and it is right that at this time we have an 18-month review of all aspects of the BBC. I welcome this and very much hope that others will engage in it and give us the benefit of their experience and views. This is very important. This is the start of the process. That is the answer to the parallel that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has sought to bring.

The noble Lord also asked how the public engagement will work. There will be a panel, which I will come on to in a minute. There will also be a process of public engagement which the BBC Trust has agreed to lead, events and public consultations, and the opportunity to write in and to submit views online. We really care about what the public think about this great institution and will be listening to them during the consultation process.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked a number of questions, and for most of them the answer is that these are exactly the kind of issues that will be addressed during the review, but I will touch on one or two. He will know that we share a huge passion for keeping the creative industries healthy and growing. Our musicians, writers and television producers are a special part of Britain and, of course, are helped by the demand that the BBC provides.

We have indeed set out the governance models we are looking at, and I think it is helpful to set out options so that we can get comments in during the consultation period. Of course, in a review process people can make other proposals and they will also be looked at.

We have explained that, as I said in the Statement, moving to a subscription model cannot happen straightaway because the technology does not exist. Again, we are going to look at options for the best way to fund the BBC and to bring in public broadcasting catch-up TV. That is one of the big changes and an essential part of the agreement between the Government and the BBC on the whole question of funding, which I believe gives a useful envelope for the future discussions to take place.

As noble Lords will note from the consultation, we have also set out specific questions on universality and the BBC’s content and services. We have not ruled any options in or out because this is the start of the process. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, sought to tweak my tail about the Sunday Times. We cannot be responsible for what is written in the Sunday Times, the Daily Mail or any of the other great papers. I am a strong believer in the freedom of the press but this has other aspects to it and it is often not clear whether things are fact or fiction. We have published the Green Paper. We are making a full Statement. We wish to consult the nation, both Houses of Parliament and indeed our specialist panel about the right way ahead. I was trying, as you can imagine, to keep the Statement as succinct as possible. We will certainly write with a full list of the members of the panel. We have issued a press release on that, and the expertise varies from ex-members of the BBC to people who are expert in internet issues. It is an advisory panel. The decision on the future is obviously for the Government.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative 3:14 pm, 16th July 2015

My Lords, I hope the Minister will note that if, back in 2006, the then Government had listened to the Lords Select Committee on Communications, we would not have had the BBC Trust in the first place. Perhaps the lesson there is that Governments might do better to listen to parliamentary committees rather than committees of so-called outside experts.

Do not two points come out of this Statement? First, is it not clear from everything the Secretary of State said in the paper and in Questions that his eventual aim is a subscription model for the BBC? That is a profound change, particularly for an organisation which the Secretary of State himself says is part of the fabric of this country. Though it will doubtless be welcomed by advisers with their special interests, it will be strongly opposed by many of the public.

Secondly, there was much talk prior to this paper that the BBC was guilty of biased reporting. As far as I can see, there is little or nothing in the paper on that. Does that mean that the Government have now dropped that foolish charge? Does it mean that they now agree that the BBC’s standards of journalism are exceptionally high, and that this is a strong argument for preserving its news services as they currently stand?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My Lords, I agree that we should listen to parliamentary committees, especially ones in this House, which often bring a great deal of expertise. The point about looking forward Cassandra-like at the BBC Trust was a point well made. We have made it clear that we are now looking at options for governance, and the chair of the BBC Trust has obviously raised questions about the way the trust works.

On subscription, the Green Paper asks an open question about how the BBC should be funded. We want to engage with the public on whether the licence fee only continues to be the right model or whether it makes sense to have a more mixed economy. The BBC already has a certain amount of commercial income and that has improved in recent years. We would like to see more of that, provided it fits in with the total broadcasting landscape and continues to encourage the creativity and independence of the supply chain that we so much want. Subscription is one of several options we are asking for views on. No decisions have been made. The Secretary of State has a great background because of his previous chairmanship of the DCMS Committee in the other place. He knows that subscription is one of the things we need to look at, but just looking at them does not mean we have come to a particular conclusion.

Objectivity and impartiality are very important features of the BBC. There has to be a system that keeps an eagle eye on them at all times. I have been frustrated sometimes at what the BBC says and does, despite my passion for the freedom of the press, which I certainly apply to it. We will, of course, be looking at that aspect in the charter review. However, as my noble friend says, it is not huge and in lights, in the way that perhaps you might have expected from some of the previous comments.

Photo of Lord Birt Lord Birt Crossbench

My Lords, charter review is a proper, healthy and entirely necessary process. It is entirely right that from time to time we look at the scale, scope, purpose and governance of the BBC. I have just had a very quick skim read of the Green Paper. It appears to be characterised by a certain lack of generosity of spirit about the BBC, but more importantly—unless I have simply missed it—there is a hugely important issue missing from the paper: UK original production. I refer the Minister to Ofcom’s analysis, with which I am sure she is very familiar, of the scale of UK original production not only in the BBC but among public service broadcasters at large. It is a scary picture: over the last six years we have seen a drop of something like a sixth. Will this issue be put on the table during the charter review process, looking at what sort of scale is justified in this context to maintain the long and valued tradition of UK original production?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My Lords, we want the BBC to support the UK creative industries. As I have already said, they are a proving ground for those industries, and this will be studied in the charter review. More than half of PSB investment in original content is BBC expenditure.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

The Minister said, rightly, that the BBC is immensely popular with the public throughout the United Kingdom. Bearing that in mind, can she tell us how the Government plan to consult the wider public, given the profound importance of the changes that are being discussed?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My Lords, as I have already explained, a programme of public consultation will begin shortly and last right through the summer. The BBC Trust will be putting forward a plan. I am sure that, as that gets communicated to the public at large, we can provide fuller information to Members of this House with an interest, and I am sure that there will be full details on our websites. We want to hear the public’s views on the scale and scope of the BBC, what people like about it and what they like less. That is an absolutely prime objective of the consultation.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat

Since the ministerial Statement indicated that 97% of the UK population is reached by the BBC every week, why are the Government proposing to question the idea of universality? Are the Government able to say what the scale of public representation has been at this stage regarding the licence fee system of raising funds? Why have they put forward three alternatives when, for so long, the licence fee has commended itself to the public?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

The noble Lord makes a good point but the world is changing. The whole television, radio and online world is changing, and online is part of this review. We need to look at models and ways in which income might be raised as well as by the licence fee. This is an open review and there are different views. I remind noble Lords that the BBC has a 35% market share of the TV audience. In March, the top 10 most popular programmes were BBC programmes, although I think that that is partly down to the “Poldark” effect. However, we have a big responsibility to make sure that money is provided in the right way for the BBC and that it is spent in the right way.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, before the Green Paper came out, the idea was floated that it might be a good idea to pool the licence fee and for the BBC and other television production companies to bid for parts of it so that they could make quality public-interest programmes. Is that option still a runner?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My noble friend will be interested to know that I made a brief reference to that in the Statement. I think it is called contestable funding. It is part of the consultation and it would in principle allow new entrants, such as small Welsh production companies, to play a greater part in the creation of TV and radio programmes and online content in the future.

Photo of Lord Puttnam Lord Puttnam Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right: the world is changing rapidly. Somewhat to my surprise, it has been very widely reported this week that the UK has come top in the world for its use of, and reputation for, soft power. Would she like to suggest any other organisation in this country that contributes more to that reputation than the BBC?

Photo of Lord Wrigglesworth Lord Wrigglesworth Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that this review is taking place against a background of persistent attacks upon the BBC from Conservative Members of Parliament and from some on the Benches opposite, as well as from commercial interests that support the Conservative Party. Can she therefore reassure the House that the outcome of this review will be based on the evidence given to the review and not on the prejudice of those in the Conservative Party who are antagonistic towards the BBC or of the commercial interests that support them?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I assure the noble Lord that evidence will be looked at—the review will be evidence-based. We will also take account of what the public think—a point that I have sought to emphasise—as well as taking account of the very important expert advisory panel, whose members are a challenging lot and who will, I think, enable us to ask better questions during the consultation process. However, there have been some difficult issues in the BBC in recent years—

Savile, pay-offs for senior executives, the digital media initiative and so on—and one needs to look at these as well as at the very strong, wonderful things about the BBC in considering what the right framework is for the future, including the BBC’s governance and regulation.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister read out the reference in the Statement to S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster. Does she appreciate that that body holds a very particular commission, given to it in the first instance by Her Majesty’s Government when it was created—namely, to be responsible for the future and welfare of the Welsh language? It is therefore imperative that its viability in a financial context should be safeguarded and its independence preserved. In the circumstances, would Her Majesty’s Government be prepared to say in principle that a niche should be found in the new charter clearly setting out these entrenched rights, unless of course some other, more appropriate locale of a statutory nature can be discovered?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, for providing that history, which I was not aware of. We are committed to the provision of minority language broadcasting, including S4C, and that is a key part of the charter review. The Secretary of State spoke to S4C ahead of today’s Statement and is planning to talk to the Welsh Office. I think that our determination is demonstrated by the £7 million of direct funding that we currently provide for S4C. Our firm but fair agreement means that we have to make some choices about how the licence fee is spent. Of course, S4C has to be part of that process but Welsh language broadcasting is incredibly important for exactly the reasons stated by the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will have seen the comment to the effect that the advisory panel, to which she referred just now, is just as stacked against the BBC as the other interests which the noble Lord mentioned earlier—people with ideological and commercial grudges against the BBC. Can the Minister give us more reassurance about the impartial nature of the advisory panel?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My Lords, I do not agree. The panel includes a former board member of the BBC and I think that one or two of the other members have links. It is drawn from the media industry, where there is quite a lot of circulation of talent. However, it is an advisory group—as I have already explained, it is advising the Secretary of State on the consultation process. We are also looking at other sources of advice, including your Lordships, as well as, fundamentally and very importantly, the British public, who pay for the BBC through the licence fee.

Photo of Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury Conservative

My Lords, in responding to those in this House who think that the Green Paper has been motivated by hostility, is my noble friend the Minister aware that on the BBC “One O’Clock News” today the BBC media correspondent Mark Easton said specifically that the BBC did not regard the Green Paper as hostile?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My Lords, I was not aware of that, but it is clearly very good news. I know that the chairman of the BBC Trust said that the Green Paper recognised the enormous contribution that the BBC had made, that she valued that and that there would be a wide debate involving the public. These are all important points that we must not lose sight of because of concern about a particular paragraph or figure.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I hesitate to interrupt but I want to correct what has just been said. In front of me—thanks to the iPad and other new technologies—I have the statement from the BBC. It says:

“We believe that this Green Paper would appear to herald a much diminished, less popular BBC. That would be bad for Britain and would not be the BBC that the public has known and loved for over 90 years”.

I do not think that that squares well with what was said.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

Does the Minister recognise that all around the House—and in the Statement itself—there is recognition that the World Service and the vernacular programmes are hugely important to this country and its soft power. However, what I am missing is any indication of how the Government are going to protect those services from being squeezed if there is a reduction in resources, or some change in the mandate, for the rest of the BBC. I would welcome the Minister’s response as to whether those outside these shores will also be consulted.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

My Lords, asking overseas listeners is an interesting idea, and one I will feed into the process. I have already said that the BBC World Service is a key priority. We cannot prejudge the review, as I have said on every other question. However, I can assure noble Lords that this soft power role that we were congratulating the BBC on earlier is a vital part, and comes through the existing objectives, which we are looking at and can be reiterated in whole or in part.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, the Statement says that the review will also look at the impact the BBC has on the commercial sector. It goes on to say, however, that there is evidence that the BBC helps drive up standards and boost investment, but also concern that public funding does not undermine commercial business. On the one hand we have evidence and on the other concerns. Can the noble Baroness tell us who has these concerns, other than the commercial business models for TV, radio and online, and how will they be tested?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

This point will, I am sure, be closely scrutinised by the review process. It is at the heart of the issue. The BBC is large, and that brings responsibility. There is evidence on the positive side and there is evidence on the other side. Some of it will come from the commercial operators; that is entirely right. When considering industry policy and competition policy in our country we try to look not only at—in this case—the BBC, but at how that how that affects the whole infrastructure, the talent and the way things feed in. This seems an entirely appropriate question for the review to consider. However, I note the noble Baroness’s concern and I thank her for the question.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, there is a perception that some recent decisions about the BBC, such as the one about licences for the over-75s, did not come from DCMS but from the Treasury. Can we have an assurance that there will be a proper basis for moving forward with the BBC without pressure from the Treasury, with saving money being the dominant factor?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

The Government will conduct the review and will come to their conclusions in an entirely proper way. Funding and matters of value for money are important issues. As I was saying earlier, there is some advantage in having an understanding of the financial envelope in which the charter review can be looked at. There are some positives for the BBC. I have talked to their executives about some of the positives that have come out of the deal that has been done: the change to broadband funding, the CPI—which was mentioned earlier—and this vital point about taking account of changes in new technology and finding a way of bringing in the catch-up market which, as we know from our children, is set to mushroom very rapidly.