Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Birt Lord Birt Crossbench 4:45 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I accept that I have a special interest, but I have yet to be bored by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on this matter. Indeed, I applaud his tenacity and hard work. The day this House discussed the royal charter was the lowest day in all my time in the House. It was a particularly distinguished debate, and there was a wide consensus on all sides that the charter was inappropriate. I do not plan to rehearse the arguments that I made on that day again, but there was wide agreement that, although we had all long believed that the charter was the right way of governing the BBC—I certainly believed that when I was the director-general—we had learned the hard way that it was not.

The royal prerogative is simply archaic; it flows from our history, with its origins in medieval times. Its shortcomings have just been unfolding in the Supreme Court; it has been found wanting there. That was a low day for me because, despite consensus across the House, the Government did not give an inch. I do not expect them to do so today. However, the good thing about this debate and about what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and his colleagues are doing is that it puts this issue firmly on the agenda. If it is not won today, I predict that it will be won one day. The BBC simply has to be put on a statutory basis.