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BBC (Funding)

Volume 577: debated on Thursday 13 March 2014

No assessment has been made at this stage. The review of the BBC’s charter will be the appropriate juncture at which to consider all aspects of the BBC, including how it is funded. We have not yet set out proposals for the timing, scope or process of the charter review.

Does the Minister agree that, despite the BBC’s annus horribilis over the past year, the licence fee has delivered the finest broadcasting company in the world, and that we should defend it? Could we have a “fit and proper person” test for the chairman of the BBC? Is it not time that we had fresh leadership at the BBC?

I am a great supporter of the chairman of the BBC Trust, to whom I think the hon. Gentleman was referring. I am also a great supporter of the BBC, and I echo what he has just said: it produces some of the finest programming in the world.

The BBC is for ever telling us that the licence fee represents excellent value for money. If that is the case, does the Minister agree that it would have nothing to fear from moving to a voluntary subscription arrangement? Presumably, everyone would be queuing down the street to pay their subscription, if it provided such excellent value for money. We certainly do not need the criminal law to force people to pay it.

One of the reasons that the licence fee represents value for money is that this Government have frozen it for the past four years.

Despite its disadvantages, the licence fee remains a good way of funding the BBC. Of course no one wants to see 50 people go to prison each year for non-payment, but given the financial implications of decriminalisation, this is clearly a matter to be considered alongside the other funding issues at the time of the royal charter renewal. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Government will reject new clause 1 to the Deregulation Bill, tabled by the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen)?

My Secretary of State is on record as saying that this is an idea that needs considering, although I do not want to get ahead of myself, because there is a question on the matter further down the Order Paper. She is also on record suggesting that the best way to consider it is as part of charter review.

11. Does the Minister agree that any change to licence fee enforcement would go against the coalition agreement of 2010, which committed to a full financial settlement for the BBC up to the end of 2016-17, given that it has been estimated that the amendment, if passed, could cost the BBC £200 million a year in revenue? (903025)

My hon. Friend illustrates the point perfectly. There are many complicated issues surrounding the debate that has started about decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee. It is important that all those factors are taken into account, which is why the Government’s position is that it is perhaps better to do so during charter review.