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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:59 am on 16 December 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee 11:59, 16 December 2022

My Lords, I am very grateful to everybody who has spoken in the debate. I am also grateful for the constructive welcome that our committee’s report has received. I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and thank my noble friend the Minister and his department for the swift response to our report. Perhaps through my colleague the Government Whip on the Front Bench I can also offer my thanks to the Government Chief Whip, who is not in her place, for scheduling this debate so swiftly. It is unusual for us to be able to have this time so soon after publication, and I am very grateful.

As I said at the start, examining how the BBC is funded is not, and should not be seen or received as, an attack on the BBC. I was pleased that most, if not all, recognised that some change is needed to the way the BBC is funded, even if that extends only to modification of the licence fee. As the noble Lord, Lord Hall, and my noble friend Lady Harding made clear in their powerful speeches, the issue is not whether the BBC should exist but what its role needs to be in the decades to come. We need clarity on that to inform decisions on how best to fund it.

I will make just a couple of other points. I was pleased that the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Rebuck, emphasised the report’s finding that the BBC should be a market shaper, not a market failure model. As our report said, and some of my colleagues have reinforced,

“the status quo is not an option.”

We need to see change from the BBC, but this presents challenges for the BBC.

The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, my noble friend Lord Vaizey, the noble Lords, Lord Hall and Lord Liddle, and some others raised concerns, which I certainly share, at recent announcements from the BBC about local radio. To me, the announcements reinforce the need for that clear, strategic purpose, and how that is driving some of these big decisions, to be known and understood. Until or unless we get that, it is very hard for anybody to evaluate the decisions the BBC makes on its operations without being confident that it is doing so for the right reasons and towards a goal we all recognise and share. Overall, we recognise the value of the BBC today and in the past, but it will have to change to remain relevant in the future.

It was disappointing not to hear from my noble friend the Minister a date for the independent review of the licence fee. I am grateful to him for outlining the process that the Government intend to follow, but we really need to get on with this. As many noble Lords have said today, leaving final decisions until the charter review is leaving things quite late. There needs to be some real progress on this much sooner than that, and I get nervous if that is the time at which these things will happen.

This was a group of cross-party and non-party Peers working together to examine an issue that previously has always been considered to be something political, or anathema to raise without provoking some kind of perception of attack. I am pleased that we have been able to demonstrate the importance of doing so and that our report has received a constructive welcome in your Lordships’ House today.

Motion agreed.