Ministers from DCMS questioned on the BBC licence fee
6 February 2020
Shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Minister, Tracy Brabin, asked ministers about the future of the BBC licence fee in light of yesterday's public consultation annuoncement.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for DCMS, Baroness Morgan, announced an eight-week public consultation on whether to decriminalise the BBC licence fee.
The licence fee is currently £154.50 a year, and will rise to £157.50 on 1 April 2020. If you watch or record live BBC TV or use iPlayer without a licence, then this is a criminal offence and you could go to prison.
However, decriminalisation does not necessarily mean that payment of the fee would become voluntary, but could mean that it becomes a civil offence.
Tracy Brabin MP asked if Ministers from DCMS would make a statement on the consultation.
Nigel Adams MP: "revisit the logic of criminalisation"
Responding on behalf of the Government, the Minister of State (DCMS), Nigel Adams, told the House that he recognised the BBC's global recognition and position as a "beacon of British values".
However, he emphasised that the media environment has changed, with an increasing number of competing digital services.
The Minister said that there were "legitimate concerns" about the criminalisation of licence fee evasion, which he termed "unfair and disproportionate".
The Member told MPs:
"We must revisit the logic of criminalisation and ask whether criminal penalties for consumer choice are consistent with a just and democratic society."
Tracy Brabin MP: "a deliberate strategy"
Responding on behalf of the Opposition, Shadow DCMS Minister, Tracy Brabin, stated that the BBC was "central to the lives" of constituents, with 91% of Britons using the broadcaster each week. She wondered if the BBC could carry out "core programming functions" with the possible cut to its finances.
Ms Brabin told MPs that last year only five people were imprisoned for licence fee evasion and said that decriminalisation was not a Conservative manifesto commitment, so questioned "why now, when there are so many other pressing matters?"
The Shadow Minister highlighted that making evasion a civil offence could "mean higher fines for vulnerable people and greater evasion". She also stated that the cost of transitioning to this new system would be around £25 million.
"Can he assure me that this announcement is not part of a deliberate strategy by the Government to undermine an organisation with which they have been at loggerheads?"
- Watch Parliament TV: Urgent Question on the BBC Licence Fee
- Transcripts of proceedings in the House of Commons Chamber are available in Hansard online three hours after they happen.
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