A View From the Gallery – HoL Debate
Minutes of Peers – a view from the Gallery
Where was Nicholas Parsons when needed? Why wasn’t he given an honorary peerage for an hour so he could chair the House of Lords debate on the BBC’s charter today (Thursday 10 March 2016)? Why? Because all the Peers who spoke were limited to a maximum of 60 seconds each! How ludicrous was that?
I suppose it was appropriate that our illustrious second chamber paid such homage to the BBC by aping its grand old Radio 4 stalwart “Just a Minute”.
To be fair there wasn’t much hesitation or repetition, and definitely no time for deviation – although there may have been a hint that one or two spectators in the benches were ‘resting’. Yes, erudite speakers informed the Government Minister and Chamber of their views. I doubt there was much education achieved as it seemed everyone was well informed already and had to hurriedly cherry pick a particular aspect or point. Okay, there was the odd (sic) joke but the standard of entertainment wasn’t up to much.
So the Rhethian principles were lacking. I recommend a root and branch review of the scale and scope of Parliament. Perhaps its charter should be renewed every five or ten years. Or Lord Fowler might want it to put on a statutory basis? Should it be more distinctive? Should we stop it doing all the things regional, national and international government organisations do as well and get it to concentrate more on areas not covered by others?
Congratulations to the 19 Peers and Peeresses who contributed so eloquently to this debate. Between them, they made a number of excellent strategic points which added together were a pretty good summary of the key virtues of the BBC as well as acknowledging some of its weaknesses. There was virtual unanimity about the value and importance of the BBC to the nation.
Even the Minister (Lady Neville-Rolfe) agreed the BBC must “survive and thrive”. However bearing in mind a lot of other things she said I’m not quite sure whether or not she was deviating from English as the rest of us understand it! Likewise, was it Orwellian for her to say the Government is committed to an open and transparent review process? The secret licence fee deal of last summer didn’t strike many of us as being either of those things.
Baroness Bonham-Carter had coined the phrase “the World of Whittingdale”. The Minister revealed that John W had held a roundtable last week to explore possible ways to improve children’s tv and he met Lenny henry recently because there’s a lot of support for increased diversity.
Worryingly Lady Neville-Rolfe repeated the myth that the licence fee is a tax and as such must be set by Government [in this case with no democratic recourse]. The White Paper will be published in the first half of the year [ie by 30 June] but, of course, the existing Charter could be extended if time runs out but that’s not the intention. Oh yes, and the i-Player loophole will be closed asap by secondary legislation.
The lack of democracy in all this was a common thread. The Government is still in listening mode so no answers were given to trickier (ie popular with vast majorities) questions. Debates about the White Paper in both Houses were promised. How much time will speakers get in those someone asked? But those debates don’t go to votes and the Minister let slip they would precede the Privy Council implementing the White Paper (she said nothing about any changes being made as a result of any consultations and debates about it – will it be written on tablets of stone?
There was also a concerted effort to persuade the Minister to arrange a debate about the excellent report about the BBC’s future by their very own House of Lords Communications Committee.
All that was promised was that these requests would be passed to “the usual channels” ie the House’s business managers. Hmm. I wonder when we’ll get the next edition of “Just a Minute” from Westminster?
Peter Blackman, Strategic Director, Save Our BBC
You can also find the BBC Charter short debate at HoL, including the virtually unanimous support for the BBC from Peers and Peeresses here.