8 Constitutional basis |
341. The main alternatives to a Royal Charter are
to establish the BBC through either an Act of Parliament (i.e.
the BBC would be a statutory corporation), or as a limited company.
The BBC Trust believes neither alternative provides the same level
of protection for the BBC's independence as the current system.
Nonetheless, as we have set out above, it is questionable how
successful the Charter is in practice in protecting the independence
of the BBC from Governments and politicians in light of the 2010
licence fee settlement, where the BBC was pressured to take on
342. According to the BBC Executive, the Charter
terms are subject to extensive political debate at the time of
Charter Review, ensuring appropriate parliamentary and public
scrutiny, but with a relatively fixed period to provide room for
the BBC to deliver on its commitments.
The BBC considered a ten-year term gives it a sufficient horizon
over which to plan investment and helps to keep decisions on the
BBC's remit out of step with the electoral cycle. However, this
may not be the case if five-year fixed-term parliaments continue.
The BBC also believed that the Charter has a "symbolic value",
emphasising for the UK public and others the special role and
responsibilities which the BBC has as an independent broadcaster
and "trusted national institution".
343. We have received no representations calling
for the BBC to have a statutory footing. The majority of witnesses
told us that a ten-year Royal Charter remained the best mechanism
for insulating the BBC and securing its independence. A key feature
of Charter Review is that it provides the opportunity to allow
external bodies to hold the BBC to account and allows committees
such as ours to examine the BBC and the key strategic issues such
as what the BBC is for, how it is governed and run, what resources
it needs and how these might be delivered. Lord Burns considered
a ten-year Charter was a good device for avoiding political interference
in the BBC's affairs but allowing opportunity to remould the BBC
to meet the needs of the next decade. However, he observed that
last time Parliament should have had more involvement in the process
of reviewing the BBC's Charter:
Although I would not like to see it dealt with
in the same way as legislation whereby each line of the charter
is worked over, I think there is something that is slightly strange
to be able to bring forward such a complicated set of proposals,
including also the issue of the level of the licence fee, and
not to have a rather better oversight and discussion within Parliament
about this. There is a moment in this whole process where Government
suddenly has a great deal of power. I would like to find some
mechanism that would somehow combine the benefits of the strength
of the charter in giving independence to the BBC but where Parliament
also has a part to play in this whole consultation and the process
of reaching a decision. If I look back to last time, I would say
the people who were least consulted in all of this were the two
344. Philip Graf believed that there might be an
argument for a limited mid-term review of the BBC Charter given
the speed and change of the broadcasting environment and the uncertainty
ahead but that such a review should not re-open the debate on
all aspects of the BBC.
Others argued that this could compromise the security and independence
that the Charter gives.
However, as our report demonstrates, much of the detailed arrangements
setting out the BBC's responsibilities are contained within the
Framework Agreement with the Secretary of State and, if anything,
there is a much greater need for this document to be subject to
more rigorous scrutiny, as well as a debate about whether aspects
contained within it should be incorporated into the Charter instead.
Lord Hall was open to the idea of a mid-term review of the BBC's
I think the independence of the BBC is crucial
and that would point me towards a 10-year period. If you were
to say that because things move quickly, the industry changes
quickly, there needs to be some sort of five-year "how are
you doing" follow-up, I would be more than happy to say yes
to that. Again, it is about accountability.
Ed Richards pointed out that the setting of the licence
fee should allow a type of mid-Charter Review
but, as we have set out earlier, the 2010 settlement did not involve
any consultation of the public or Parliament. It has also been
the case that amendments to the Framework Agreement receive little
or no involvement by Parliament.
345. We believe there would be merit in holding five-yearly
reviews of the Framework Agreement but that should not involve
opening up a much wider debate on the constitutional issues and
core purposes of the BBC, which a mid-term review of the Charter
would inevitably lead to. For instance, a review of the Framework
could consider issues such as the funding and range of the BBC's
provision of services. Parliament
must have an increased role in scrutinising the BBC's Agreement
with the Secretary of State, and any amendments to it, and in
scrutinising the draft Charter itself. This should conclude with
a debate on the draft Charter and Agreement on the Floor of the
346. Our report's conclusions and recommendations
have set out the questions and issues that must be considered
during the Charter Review process on the BBC's position beyond
2016. It will be important these issues are properly considered
and that the process is a consultative one so that Charter Review
allows the UK public opportunity to influence what a future BBC
should look like and how it should be funded.
347. We believe
that the BBC Royal Charter has stood the test of time and that
it remains the best constitutional arrangement for establishing
the BBC. We conclude that a ten-year Charter would provide the
BBC with the security it requires, and certainty for the wider
broadcasting, media and communications and technology sectors.
If full consultation and consideration can be given before the
expiry of the current Charter, we recommend that the BBC be granted
a further ten-year Charter, with a mid-term review of the Framework
Agreement with Government or, alternatively, at any time, when
substantial amendments are made to this document.
there be insufficient time to complete a comprehensive review
of the BBC before the present Charter's expiry, or to implement
the Committee's recommendations on governance, we recommend that
the BBC is granted a short supplementary Charter of no more than
a two-year period enabling the full review to take place and to
implement detailed plans to replace the Trust.
349. We recommend
that the Public Service Broadcasting Commission is established
as a statutory body rather than having a parallel charter to that
of the BBC.
380 BBC Trust (FBB0096) Back
BBC (FBB0097), para 64 Back
Q294 (Lord Burns) Back
Q294 (Philip Graf) Back