BBC: Future Funding (Communications and Digital Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:17 am on 16 December 2022.

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Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour 11:17, 16 December 2022

My Lords, I add my voice to those who have already articulated a response to this committee report, and I add my voice also in expressing appreciation for the chairing of our committee—some wild and disparate spirits were brought into focus together to achieve some reasonable outcomes, to which many people have now referred.

I am so glad that I have not even caught an echo in any contributor’s speech suggesting anything that would threaten the BBC’s future. It is integral to our national life and it would be like selling the family silver if we were too light-hearted about sacrificing it in some silly way. We need a commitment to the BBC, just as the BBC seeks to find a way of committing itself to enhancing its role as a part of our national ethos.

I have noted from the various contributions some pressure points. First, from the noble Baroness herself, the pressure on the BBC to get some strategic thinking done and get something coherent out for us all to consider, recognising that some progress has been made but that more needs to be made. The noble Lord, Lord Hall, added to that by suggesting that pressure needs to be put on all who might have views about what the BBC might need, so as to channel towards the BBC some expressions of hope and suggestions about content and other ways forward. It is not just the BBC in isolation producing its plan; rather, it is some kind of dialectic with the public at large, and the institutions that are part of the public at large, which can be helpful and symbiotic and can create something that is far richer.

The pressure on the Government has also been expressed. A much-promised review needs to take place. I add my voice to those who have expressed hope that the Minister, when he pops up, is going to have something helpful and hopeful to say that we can feel the debate has led towards. The review needs to happen, and the Government need to do their thinking. They have responded to our report but, on the other hand, more thinking needs to be done and targets need to be set.

While I am on my feet, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hall. Paragraph 83, on page 31 of our report, talks about the challenges that face the BBC in the next decade. All the challenges that are listed there, and others, were pretty much on the shoulders of the noble Lord, Lord Hall, while he was running the BBC. Therefore, the changes are not going to happen once the other pressures are resolved and a way forward is traced. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Hall, he had to respond to them as they were happening, including modifying the way the licence fee would be applied to 75 year-olds, with inflationary levels set for the next however many years until the renewal of the charter. I pay a simple tribute to the noble Lord for actually doing it as best he could, without the advantage of the process we are now involved in. We should bear that in mind.

A final pressure is that on Ofcom to be more nimble—I think that was the word—in looking at regulatory changes that may occur from time to time.

If all those pressures are responded to and produce progress that will equip those renewing the charter in 2027 with the background material and thought-through ideas that would be very useful for that process, then all the better. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkley, said, if the report and other materials can serve their purpose and act as a launching pad, then so much the better.

I am not going to take up my seven minutes; it will be a historic moment for a Welsh Methodist preacher to show that he can curtail. On the other hand, perhaps it would be indicative of a wise man who, knowing that things have already been said, does not give himself the luxury of saying them again. I end with just one word. This morning, I contributed to BBC Radio Wales’s “Breakfast” show; it is a kind of equivalent of “Thought for the Day”, which I did for 17 years for the BBC nationally, until I accepted the Labour Whip and was eliminated from its framework of reference and no longer allowed to do it because, as everybody knows, I would be desperately unbalanced—yet here I am, standing on two feet and perfectly balanced. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, that, this morning on the BBC, as I gave a little Christmas meditation. I was no longer the rock Methodist minister; I had changed my genre—it was more soul and gospel.