Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat 5:15 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his amendment. I agree with the object, but not the means. In fact there are not three but four options open to the Minister. The first, and most pathetically moderate, is of course my original one in Amendment 219, where I borrowed from the way that we deal with judicial salaries and revenue by proposing in new subsections (9) and (10) that “the board”—that is to say, the BBC board—

“must publish a recommendation to the Secretary of State on the amount of funding that the Secretary of State should make available”.

This is on the basis that the BBC should know best what it needs. Then the Secretary of State publishes,

“a response to each recommendation made under subsection (9)”.

If this is rejected, we are in a completely hopeless position so far as this subject is concerned.

My problem with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Best, is that it is a bit odd to give the regulator the function of recommending an increase in the licence fee. That is why I have produced Amendment 222A to create an independent body—the licence fee commission. The disadvantage of this is that we do not like creating a whole lot of new bodies unless there is some very important reason. Then the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Wood of Anfield, have a more modest way of achieving the same thing: they would have a BBC licence fee commission to do it. Those are, I think, the four options. My own view is that the Government should now accept one of them or come up with a formula of their own that we can agree on Report. I am optimistic that this will happen, so I am now watching this space with great enthusiasm—and suspense.