Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Viscount Colville of Culross Viscount Colville of Culross Crossbench 5:30 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, I too add my voice to say that it is important that the BBC’s funding should be transparent and inclusive. I listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Best on his Amendment 220, which argues for Ofcom as a possible way of looking at this. However, I read Sharon White’s evidence to his committee, in which she said that she was already going to be fairly stretched with taking on the new regulatory powers and looking after the BBC. I also listened to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and his concerns that it is rather odd to have a body that is both regulating the BBC and has the additional power to recommend the setting of licence fee levels. I rather prefer the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Wood, for an independent commission which would make a recommendation to the Secretary of State.

Even if the Minister is not prepared to accept any of these amendments, serious thought needs to be given to the future process for funding the BBC. The constant arrival of new technologies means a shortfall in the number of licence fees being paid, and I doubt that the new digital licence fee is going to provide adequate compensation. The digital age is throwing up an extraordinary array of alternative funding models. An independent body should not only investigate the level of funding for the BBC but the manner in which the public contributes to that funding.

I urge the Minister to think very seriously about facilitating legislation which would enshrine the financial independence of the BBC. Without adequate funding, this great British institution will wither and may even become irrelevant to our national life.

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