Tuesday 23 June 2015
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
English as an additional language (Pupil Support)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Government policy on support for pupils with English as an additional language.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I welcome the Minister for Schools, whom I have known for many years, to his place in the new Government.
This is a timely debate, not for outlining a detailed policy proposal or indeed criticising what has gone before, but for inviting the Department for Education and its Ministers to explore options for how they can assist a small number of localities and local education authorities to deal with the consequences of very large-scale immigration and pupil mobility, and specifically the impact of these factors, particularly on primary school education, the provision of primary school places, teacher recruitment and retention, and—most critically—educational attainment.
As someone once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” because, Mr Hollobone, you were also in the Chair when I secured a similar debate with the same Minister on 15 February 2011, which was on the pupil premium. In that Adjournment debate, I raised similar but not identical matters to those I will raise today.
On that occasion—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Jackson may now carry on. Of course, he could simply refer us to the remarks he made in the debate that he just mentioned and sit down. However, I hope that he will not do so, and that he will add some additional material.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. After that alarm, I trust that there will be no incendiary activity in the next 90 minutes.
On that occasion in 2011, I argued—evidently, it transpired, not that persuasively—that although the pupil premium was indeed an excellent idea and a useful tool to assist the most deserving pupils by the deployment of scarce resources, it was nevertheless a blunt instrument. That was because it only related to deprivation as measured by the sole indicator of access to free school meals. It was perfectly possible to nuance and finesse that criterion to drive up education standards in discrete circumstances.
That proved to be the case: in the last Parliament, the coalition Government extended the provision of the flat-rate pupil premium to looked-after children—it was called “pupil premium plus”—and later to the children of service personnel, quite rightly. The deprivation indicator and eligibility criteria were also broadened, as were the differential payment rates between deprived pupils in primary schools and secondary schools. Between 2011 and 2015, per capita funding rose from £430 to £935 for deprived pupils in secondary schools, to £1,100 for deprived pupils in primary schools and to £1,900 for looked-after children. It was £300 for service children.
I am proud to be associated with the Government that did that, and they did it for the right reason, because there is plenty of evidence that the pupil premium has had considerable impact cumulatively across a wide range of LEAs in supporting disadvantaged children and improving their educational attainment. The Department for Education report published in July 2013 under the auspices of TNS BMRB, Tecis, the Centre for Equity in Education, and the Universities of Manchester and Newcastle demonstrated such positive outcomes, as did Ofsted’s pupil premium update, which was published last July.
Naturally, I am delighted not only that the pupil premium worked but that the new Conservative Government remain committed to maintaining it. For the current financial year, it will be £2.545 billion in total. Indeed, one in six children in the Peterborough LEA were in receipt of free school meals in 2013-14.
I accept the central premise that Ministers have prayed in aid of the pupil premium, namely that the link between free school meal eligibility and underachievement is strong. That is undoubtedly the case, but must we accept that the pupil premium cannot be a more flexible vehicle in resource allocation? Let us be clear about what the pupil premium has not addressed historically, and still does not address. There is now no de facto targeted funding for those LEAs that, by dint of their economic profile or geographical circumstances, have to accommodate and deliver the best educational outcomes on an equal statutory footing with all other LEAs to students whose principal language is not English.
The pupil premium has been reconfigured, rebooted, nuanced, reset and expanded, but regrettably it still fails to take account of the real impact of large numbers of English as an additional language pupils. With the demise of the ethnic minority achievement grant, dedicated funding has effectively been removed for EAL pupils. Such funding was rolled up into the dedicated schools grant in 2011-12 and effectively subsumed into mainstream schools funding.
Current LEA funding formulae allow for support for LEA pupils only for a maximum of three years, and the bulk of LEAs elect to fund pupils for less time than that, either 12 or 24 months. That is despite the fact that research indicates that it will take between five and seven years for EAL pupils to match the performance of peers whose first language is English.
There are national initiatives, such as the British Council’s EU-funded Nexus programme. That is good as far as it goes, but it is a national programme that cannot provide bespoke local solutions that reflect the knowledge, skills and experience of teachers, governors, parents and LEAs to deliver the most appropriate local education service.
Each LEA and each school has its own priorities. For instance, if a school was seeking to get the best outcomes for a Somali or west African child in Southwark, that would be a completely different challenge from the challenge of dealing with a Slovak or Lithuanian child in Peterborough, Boston, Wisbech or other parts of eastern England.
It is disappointing that the strong advocacy and campaigning by Westminster City Council for a cash passport system for new entrant EAL pupils has yet to result in any Government action or even, as I understand it, a commitment to investigate the efficacy of such a system in a pilot scheme. I am at a loss to understand why EAL has not featured more prominently in the analysis of the impact on results of the pupil premium by both the DFE and Ofsted since 2011.
This is not a generalist complaint about schools funding, as I am well aware that the Government are committed to rebalancing historical anomalies and unfair funding allocations by providing an extra £390 million for the least well funded education authorities in the current year, 2015-16. Also, in the interests of transparency and lest I be accused by the Minister of being churlish or ungrateful, I concede that he himself committed to Peterborough LEA an exceptional circumstances grant of £1.5 million in 2010-11 to deal with the EAL-related pressures, for which we were extremely grateful. However, that does not negate my case for a strategic and systematic appraisal of such challenges over the medium and long term, and for a focus on those LEAs that are most seriously affected by these unprecedented population pressures. The fact remains that there is effectively no provision for EAL support in pupil premium funding. EAL is only one of a number of pupil-led factors used by local authorities to top up their basic allocation per pupil within the schools block grant funding. In practical terms, such considerations are effectively crowded out by other factors, such as deprivation and prior attainment.
For a small group of LEAs, the pupil premium therefore goes only part of the way in dealing with the huge societal and demographic changes and, indeed, massive challenges they face, centred on EAL issues. Peterborough is encumbered by a vast array of such challenges. It has been described as being like a ‘London Borough without the funding largesse’. Although the number of EAL pupils in England has risen by 21% since 2011, to 1.19 million, in Peterborough it has risen by 46%, from 7,100 pupils to 10,395 pupils—the equivalent of eight new two-form entry primary schools. The largest rise in Peterborough is in primary schools in years 1, 2 and 3, where over 40% of pupils are EAL. The number has risen by 34% across the city. Nearly 70% of pupils are EAL in the primary schools in my constituency.
Two Peterborough schools, Gladstone Primary and Beeches Primary, both in the Central ward, have more than 90% of EAL pupils. In one Peterborough school, 192 pupils speak a language that is called “other than English.” The biggest increase is among Lithuanian speakers, with 410 extra pupils: a 63% increase since 2012. Change is rapid. At one secondary school in Peterborough, two years ago, 40% of year 7 pupils were EAL; the figure is now 70%.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Given that it was based on the numbers of pupils involved, is he making a case for the reinstatement of the ethnic minority achievement grant as a way of solving the problem that he outlines?
I will elaborate on my reasoning, but it is a matter of public record that I cited the effective abolition of the grant, in so far as it was rolled up into the mainstream generalist dedicated schools grant in 2011. The hon. Gentleman knows that there was some specialist opposition to that decision. There was a feeling that a deprivation-linked indicator alone was not sufficient to take account of the large changes in school rolls. One of those changes is churn, which I will talk about shortly.
There has been huge organic population growth in Peterborough, driven by new house building and inward migration, rising by 17% from 156,000 to 184,000 in the 10 years to the 2011 census. It also has a younger age profile than the east of England and the UK as a whole. Since 2007, the city council has spent £110 million on a capital programme to create 8,282 new school places. Even so, Peterborough was identified by the DFE and the Local Government Association in 2013 as the fifth most over-capacity LEA in England, with its being predicted as having a 24% deficit in primary school places by 2017.
The city also has the second highest rate of in-year school admissions in England. Such churn is enormously disruptive and resource intensive, and has a major impact on educational attainment. The 2013 Royal Society of Arts report, “Between the Cracks”, estimated the effect of each change of school on a pupil as equivalent to the loss of one term’s worth of progress. Of the 1,263 headcount increase between October 2013 and October 2014, 958 of those pupils have English as an additional language: 76% of the increase.
It is not just eastern European children who present big challenges for schools. Peterborough’s long-standing Pakistani community, and the growing preponderance of Panjabi and Urdu speakers—even fourth generation—for cultural reasons, results in many young Pakistani-heritage pupils struggling with English reading and writing. In 2003, the DFE commissioned a piece of research from Leeds University, entitled “Writing in English as an Additional Language at Key Stage 2”, which examined this phenomenon.
Non-standard entry, challenging work conditions, a higher preponderance of deprivation and poor parenting and inadequate league table results at key stage 2, all make effective and suitable recruitment and retention of good and talented teachers an even bigger challenge than that faced by more traditional LEAs.
Not long ago, a well-respected primary school head told me that in the previous week a Czech Roma family of six children with no English, who were poorly socialised and parented, had been enrolled in her school. Although that is not typical, it is not untypical for Peterborough. Not every head, school or LEA has the skills, confidence or expertise to cope with that, but Peterborough has had to cope—and over many years, too.
Of course, the news is not all bad. It is appropriate to give credit to the work being undertaken in Peterborough to tackle what seems to be a series of insurmountable barriers and pay tribute to the heroic efforts of classroom teachers, teaching assistants and headteachers, and to those in the LEA, and others, who despite everything have succeeded in developing an innovative EAL strategy.
In an era when many LEAs have disbanded their in-house EAL specialist teams, Peterborough has grown its own talent and utilised the expertise from the team that developed the EAL element of the successful London Challenge programme. Thirty-eight schools have received on-site training and/or consultancy, with a focus on school-based training. West Town Primary Academy, Fulbridge Academy, Gladstone Primary, Longthorpe Primary, the Beeches Primary, Thorpe Primary, Highlees Primary Academy, and Ken Stimpson Community School in Werrington, have all led the way as hub pathfinders and exemplar institutions. An EAL reference group has been monitoring their performance and developing new ideas through school-to-school contact and online training, and data-sharing, with high-quality written materials and networking, all progressed against a detailed implementation plan.
Inevitably, this bespoke strategy comes at some cost to mainstream school budgets received through the direct schools grant. The cost to the LEA in the previous financial year was almost £750,000, a not-trivial sum for a medium-sized unitary authority. It is a mark of the strategy’s success that the LEA has been able to defray a proportion of its revenue costs, to an extent, through selling on its skills and expertise to other education professionals. It is appropriate to recognise those who have worked so hard to develop this important specialist work in the LEA and beyond. I thank Jonathan Lewis, among others, Gary Perkins and Graham Smith, who is in the Public Gallery, and the new leader of the city council, Councillor John Holdich.
In 2014, EAL attainment at key stage 2 rose by a modest seven percentage points, but that rise halved Peterborough’s EAL attainment gap. Despite this, 12 out of the city’s 54 primary schools missed the benchmark for the key stage 2 standard assessment tests in reading, writing and maths, and it was disappointing that the city languished at 148th out of 152 local authority areas for the performance of youngsters at key stage 2.
In many respects, the issues I raised in February 2011 are much the same, if not more acute and pressing. So I beg your indulgence, Mr Hollobone, because they bear repeating, and you invited me to do so. I said at the time:
“I will not go into minute detail about how resource-intensive those children are in terms of lesson planning, teacher training, and interfacing with pupils’ parents, many of whom do not speak English. Culturally, those parents do not need to speak English—many are in low-wage, low-skill occupations where the need to speak English is not apparent. For example, even if Polish children, who are extremely good at science and mathematics and are generally very gifted, are up to speed in English and mathematics, when they go home there is no cultural pre-disposition to speak English. It is very difficult for them. Other children, whose parents are less skilled, from, say, Lithuania or the Czech Republic, are in a situation where their parents’ contract for packaging fruit or picking vegetables in the fields of south Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire or Northamptonshire finishes after six months. They then leave their rented accommodation and withdraw the children from school, or they may go to another part of the UK. It is debilitating and resource-intensive to train teachers and to have the capacity to deliver real improvements and added value for those particular families.”—[Official Report, 15 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 244WH.]
The Minister and his colleagues are committed to consulting on bringing in a national schools funding formula, and EAL will inevitably play a part in such calculations. Given that the Government remain strongly committed to maintaining relatively generous ring-fenced allocations for pupil premium, is it too much to ask that they consider developing a discrete and dedicated EAL challenge fund? That fund could be aimed at a small minority of LEAs with a demonstrable record of success in creating, inter alia, EAL hubs, centres of excellence, skills and knowledge bases, human resources, leadership, and strategies that can be audited and that are outcomes-linked. The fund should be related to a small number of key performance indicators linked directly to education outcomes.
The Minister would benefit from seeing the work being undertaken in my constituency. After our debate in 2011 he came to meet the excellent team at Fulbridge Academy headed by principal Iain Erskine. The academy has gone from strength to strength, given that more than 100 languages are spoken there and it is one of the largest schools in England. It was rated as outstanding by Ofsted in the last inspection. If the Minister accepts my cordial invitation to visit my constituency, he will see for himself the exceptional difficulties faced by teachers and the city council.
I ask the Minister to honour the undertakings made to me in 2011, in good faith, to look at the issue seriously, weigh up the evidence and talk to the professionals who helped to deliver the London Challenge, as well as to do a proper, rigorous and robust cost-benefit analysis and to consider the longer-term savings that could be achieved by a modest, well-targeted and ring-fenced budget. I fear that teachers in Peterborough cannot bear the burdens placed upon them without extra help for much longer. There is a strong case to be made, but I hope merely to have provoked a much needed debate this morning.
The Minister made a superb speech last night—the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) might not concur—on Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill, speaking with great passion about the moral imperative of education, the concept of one nation and driving up standards. His words were resonant:
“The Bill is about social justice. It is another important step to ensuring that all our state schools are delivering the quality of education currently found in only the best and that our adoption system is swift and efficient, so children can escape the unhappiness of a life of neglect or the uncertainty of life in care as swiftly as possible.”
Later he said:
“We want those standards for everyone, regardless of social or economic background. That is what we mean by social justice. It involves taking on the vested interests, which is why in this Bill we are asking for the powers to say no to those who frustrate or delay improvement—enemies of aspiration and rigour. If hon. Members across the House believe in social justice…I urge them to support this Bill.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 722-723.]
Those fine words are true to the commitment to help all the children in my constituency. Whatever their background, race, creed or colour, they just happen to be in Peterborough. Irrespective of all such factors, every child in my constituency and in those of other Members deserves the best possible education. With some thought, a proper plan and a little political willpower, that is what they can get.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I will talk a bit about my experience of pupils with EAL needs in my previous job as a teacher.
Scotland has a long and rich history of multilingualism. Throughout the ages, we have had various languages running through our culture—Scots, Gaelic, Irish and English.
I thank the hon. Gentleman; I will add Welsh to that list.
Over the past 20 years, we have seen an influx of people with different languages and cultures. EAL pupils have had a huge, positive impact on our schools in Glasgow. I taught in an inner-city comprehensive in Glasgow where asylum seekers and refugees were housed in the late ’90s. We had a huge number of EAL pupils, and attainment levels increased almost instantly—not only were those pupils delighted to be in school, but they had a positive effect on the native Glaswegian pupils. Throughout the school, we saw a huge benefit from EAL pupils.
The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) talked about the impact on primary schools of large-scale immigration, in terms of teacher recruitment and attainment. I fundamentally disagree with him about attainment and I will talk more about why attainment levels benefit when there are pupils with different languages, but I agree that there is an issue with teacher recruitment. We need to be training and recruiting more teachers to support pupils with additional needs.
The Scottish Government are following the European Union with the “one plus two” languages learning policy. The “one” refers to pupils’ native tongue and the “two” to the additional languages, which could be English, French or Spanish. More and more we are seeing a rise in Gaelic-medium education; for some of those pupils, English is not their first language, so they are also getting English support. In Scotland, a lot of parents now want to send their children to Gaelic schools, and attainment levels are increasing hugely. Such pupils do not learn English until the age of seven, and by eight they have overtaken their peers in English-speaking schools.
There are huge benefits to learning two languages, and the Polish children that the hon. Member for Peterborough mentioned will have those benefits. My children attend Gaelic-medium education. Unfortunately, I have no more than pidgin Gaelic, so I cannot support them with their Gaelic education, and they speak only their native language at home, as the Polish children do. However, they are fluent in Gaelic and in English. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that Polish pupils who go home and speak only Polish will be getting two languages, so they are being further challenged and will develop far more skills.
The hon. Lady is making an interesting point, but she is missing the kernel of my argument. As far as I know, there is no district, region or parliamentary constituency in Scotland where more than about 5% of people speak Scottish Gaelic, and a small city in Scotland will certainly never have experienced a 17% population rise in 10 years, with the vast bulk of the new residents speaking Gaelic. We cannot, therefore, necessarily compare the two situations, and the hon. Lady is perhaps rather obscuring my central premise.
In areas such as the Western Isles, Gaelic is still the native tongue for many people—the figure is far more than 5%, so my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) would probably disagree with the hon. Gentleman.
On the number of pupils coming in with English as an additional language, I am not sure that any area in Scotland has a figure of 70%, but we do have figures of up to 20%. However, I am trying to explain the benefits. Certainly, in the school I was in, which had a huge number of EAL pupils—up to 50%—attainment rose greatly.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the additional funding under the pupil premium, which is for disadvantaged pupils. He spoke about using some of that money for EAL pupils, but there is an argument for looking at dedicated funding. These pupils have a positive impact, and we need to see how we can support them. Unfortunately, in Glasgow, the Labour administration recently cut 15 EAL teachers, despite the best efforts of the opposition in the city council. That was a major blow.
We need to look at the benefits that these pupils bring. It is important to remember that we have had a £20 billion net benefit from having EU immigrants in our country and our communities, but we need to look at how we fully include them in schools and training.
The all-party group on modern languages stated:
“speaking only English is as much of a disadvantage as speaking no English.”
In terms of intellectual development and pupil attainment, having multilingual pupils is a benefit and makes great educational sense.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, unless we support teachers, schools and LEAs so that they can provide a proper environment in which these pupils can learn, we will have issues.
I realise that this does not affect Scotland, but the English baccalaureate is a combination of GCSEs, including a modern language. Would the hon. Lady support the Government’s endeavours to get all pupils to take it to the age of 16, to ensure that more young people take a foreign language to GCSE?
Taking languages at GCSE is a matter for pupils at that point in their school careers. The baccalaureate system is really robust, with pupils looking at different areas and having specialisms in different subjects, and that is really positive. However, the issue is more about language learning in the early years. There will be huge benefits if we can deal with that, whatever the additional languages are—English might be the additional language for some pupils, while, for others, it might be French, Spanish or Gaelic. The way we go about language learning is not conducive to a real, deep understanding of a language. The learning must take place far earlier, and it must be far more serious. We start picking these languages up at 11 or 12, which is why the Scottish Government are introducing them much earlier, at primary level.
To finish, I would like to talk once again about the positive impact in our schools of having pupils with an additional language, be it Polish, Urdu or Gaelic. That is positive for attainment, and we welcome those pupils in our schools, but it is important that we put in place structures that will allow them to learn properly and to access the education we provide for them.
It is extremely pleasant to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) again on securing the debate. He set it on fire when he spoke—at least, the fire alarm went off when he started speaking. It might be a good idea if you made representations to the House authorities and pointed out that, if they want to carry out a routine fire alarm test, they should perhaps do so when we are not debating in this Chamber. The interruption did not, however, prevent the hon. Gentleman from making a compelling case about the issues raised in his part of the country by the numbers of schoolchildren with English as an additional language.
I would like to say from the outset—this is the tone that hon. Members have adopted—that we should celebrate the diversity and cultural richness that result from immigration to the UK, as well as the undoubted benefits to education from having such a diverse population. Yes, there are obviously challenges, which we are debating, but we should not let this moment pass without celebrating the cultural diversity and richness that immigration has brought to this country for many hundreds of years.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the pupil premium. He described the practical challenges that the abolition of the ethnic minority achievement grant is beginning to cause in the system—the pressures that are coming about as a result of getting rid of that ring-fenced, pupil numbers-based approach to provision for pupils with English as an additional language. The grant might not have been perfect or perfectly targeted, but that does not take away from the fact that it was the right approach in principle to offer additional support based on pupil numbers and the challenges faced by schools in different parts of the country.
It has been interesting, given my background—I had some interest in doing educational research—that everyone has talked eloquently about the need for teachers and teachers’ development, with teachers being able to support pupils. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that this goes beyond even the teaching profession? In Scotland, for example, we are blessed with a range of well-qualified speech and language therapists, many of whom have specialisms in dealing with pupils, particularly at the primary stages, who have multilingual assets. If we are going to support those pupils, we need to look beyond simply the teaching profession, at the specialists who surround it, who can give further support.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Of course, speech and language therapists also play a very important role in other parts of the United Kingdom. I have always believed strongly in providing services around the child, beyond the school. That was part of the children’s plan, which I was involved in drawing up under the previous Government. I recommend it to the hon. Gentleman for when he has some spare time to do some additional research, which is his background. As a researcher, he will be aware—bearing in mind some of the other comments in our debate—of Professor Steve Strand and Professor Victoria Murphy of the University of Oxford. They have done extensive research on the impact of English as an additional language in classrooms that shows that some of the lurid stories in the popular press about its having a negative impact on other children’s education are completely wrong. When we look at the evidence, we see that the contrary is the case.
The hon. Member for Peterborough made the case strongly for looking again at the need for a ring-fenced budget for EAL. I know that the Minister has a pathological dislike of anything that is ring-fenced or that directs schools to act in a particular manner, and an almost religious faith that they will always do the right thing in any circumstances, but there is a case, which the hon. Gentleman made out, to look at the matter again. I hope that the Minister will set aside his usual dislike of these things and look at it with an open mind. The hon. Gentleman quoted the Minister’s words at the end of last night’s debate. Fine words are all very well, but ultimately we have to will the means in order for a policy to have an impact. There must be a transmission mechanism for a policy to translate into action on the ground. Unless we will the means and unless the Government take a lead, the problem will continue to grow, because the budget system in place does not give an incentive or the necessary direction to ensure that resources are spent in this area.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) spoke today, and I again congratulate her on her maiden speech last night. I am sorry that the early hour at which the winding-up speeches started meant that I was not able to do so with her present. That was not her fault. It was an entirely unexpected development.
I apologise to the hon. Lady. Clearly, my memory is going if I cannot even remember what happened last evening. I do remember her very fine maiden speech and I again congratulate her on it. She pointed out today the benefits to attainment of having more than one language. I completely agree, not least as my own daughter attended a Welsh medium school and benefited greatly, as I did; my Welsh improved greatly as a result of her attendance at that school. The hon. Lady pointed out that the Gaelic language is predominant in parts of Scotland, including the constituency of her hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who often reminds us of that in the main Chamber. As she pointed out, English as an additional language need be no hindrance; in fact, it can be the opposite and be of great benefit to educational attainment.
As of June 2015, 1.2 million children in England—17.2% of all pupils—had a first language other than English. Until April 2011, as we have heard, the ethnic minority achievement grant, which was set up originally in 1999, provided funding based on the numbers of children from underachieving ethnic minority groups and of pupils with English as an additional language. In 2011, that grant amounted to about £200 million of support across the country. Now, that has been absorbed into the school grant; and as ever when these things are absorbed, somehow or other some money falls from the table. Ultimately, the amount of money in the direct schools grant may or may not reflect that funding, but certainly schools can now receive additional money for pupils with English as an additional language from their local authority and school forums. School forums decide at local level whether any school receives an EAL factor to its funding because of the number of those pupils. The minimum funding from the Government in the 2015-16 school year was £466 for primary and £1,130 for secondary. That is what they have identified would need to be spent.
The problem is that there is no compulsion for local authorities to include an EAL factor in their funding, nor for the value of that to be at the minimum level or above. The Government’s funding rules stipulate that a factor can be paid only for the first three years of compulsory schooling with respect to the pupil with English as an additional language. That is an odd stipulation, given the Government’s professed desire to allow schools to decide at local level what the best thing to do is. I hope that the Minister can explain why that rule is still in place.
Academy schools, of course, receive their funding via the Education Funding Agency, which uses the same funding formula as the local authority, so funding levels for children mirror those for neighbouring maintained schools. However, there is considerable variation among local authorities when it comes to EAL funding. Under this system, if we can call it a system, there is no accountability mechanism whatever for schools’ use of that funding, which essentially means that schools are not obliged to use the funding to meet the needs of pupils with English as an additional language.
There is a very interesting report by the Education Endowment Foundation, and this is a point of agreement between me and the Minister for Schools, although with regard to last night’s debate, perhaps he should be renamed the Academies Minister, as maintained schools never get a mention or any praise whatever from the Government in speeches in the House. Perhaps he will correct that in the future. There is one point of agreement between us, which is that the Education Endowment Foundation is a very good initiative. The Government have provided support to it, and we support that provision because in a sense the foundation is the beginnings of what I talked about last night—a NICE for education, a national institute of clear evidence, as I called it.
The Education Endowment Foundation looks at the research evidence on what works in education policy. That is extremely welcome, as so much of education policy seems to be based on think-tank quackery. The foundation’s report on English as an additional language is very interesting. One of its key findings was that the attainment of pupils with English as an additional language varies widely. At the end of reception, only 44% of EAL pupils are recorded as having achieved a good level of development, compared with 54% of non-EAL pupils. The gap narrows considerably, as we would expect, by the age of 16, when 58.3% of EAL pupils achieve five A* to C GCSEs, compared with 60.9% of non-EAL pupils; by some measures, EAL pupils do better, particularly in mathematics. However, that masks, as the report interestingly points out, the huge range of outcomes within that for different groups of EAL pupils. That makes sense, because there will be a very big difference between an EAL pupil who is the son or daughter of a French banker living in London and some of the pupils whom the hon. Member for Peterborough described, who do not have the same sorts of advantages when they go to school for the first time in this country.
In addition, the report points out that certain factors determine whether pupils are significantly more likely to underachieve. One is entry to England from abroad during a key stage at school. Such EAL pupils tend to be about a year behind their non-EAL peers. Changing school during a key stage is a significant factor. The report says:
“Students joining their primary school in Y5/6 have lower achievement than those joining in Y3/4.”
Being from particular ethnic minority groups also has an impact on pupil outcomes, with a particular impact on speakers of Somali, Lingala and Lithuanian at the age of 16. The report also finds:
“Almost half of schools with a majority of EAL pupils are located outside London.”
That emphasises the hon. Gentleman’s point that we should not simply think of this as an issue affecting London. The report also points out:
“High proportions of EAL pupils in a school do not have a negative impact on the attainment and progress of other pupils.”
It is useful to have research evidence, and the other evidence I quoted earlier, confirming that that myth is incorrect.
The hon. Gentleman says that the presence of a high proportion of EAL pupils does not have a negative impact on other pupils, but my experience is that it has an extremely positive impact on other pupils. In fact, the presence of such pupils in their class gives other students something to aim for because they can see a different way of working, which is a huge advantage.
That is my experience, but I am quoting the academic research to get us into the habit of using evidence to make education policy, which is something that has disappeared in recent years. The Education Endowment Foundation report backs up the research I quoted earlier from the University of Oxford. It says:
“the percentage of EAL students in the school had minimal association with student attainment or progress when controls for student background were included.”
EAL students obviously bring richness and cultural diversity, and they do so without affecting attainment.
As a result of its research, the Education Endowment Foundation makes certain recommendations. The Minister will be intimately aware of the details of the research, being briefed so well by his excellent civil servants and, as he is likely to have a bit of time, I hope that he will respond to those recommendations. The first recommendation is that schools should be accountable for showing attainment impact. It says:
“Schools should be held accountable for how their EAL funding contributes to improving pupil attainment”.
Schools are held accountable for the pupil premium in the same way, as the hon. Member for Peterborough said earlier. If schools are to be held accountable for how they spend the pupil premium, surely there should be a way to hold them accountable for how they use public money provided for the specific purpose of helping pupils with English as an additional language. Even if schools are not told exactly how many pennies they have to spend in their particular location, surely there should be some way in which they can be held accountable for whether they are doing what that public money is intended for. The recommendation continues:
“Although the report finds that where EAL pupils have attended English schools for the whole of a key stage they make greater progress than non-EAL pupils, and indeed that by age 16 they have caught up…this reflects a long history of considerable additional funding being directed to address language learning needs.”
Considerable under-attainment by specific groups might be masked by that general finding, so the Government need to listen to that recommendation.
The report’s second recommendation clearly follows from the first. It is that:
“EAL funding should be targeted at those most at risk of under-attainment.”
Again, the problem is that the current definition of EAL does not reflect a student’s proficiency in the English language or their exposure to it at home. Schools need to hone how they identify the language and learning needs of children within the EAL category to ensure that funds are targeted at those who most need them, and the Government should do the same because they are able to identify those parts of the country where that is a particular problem. The Minister should reflect on that and consider what action should be taken.
Obviously, the three-year cap on the availability of additional support might be more than some pupils need because of the factors associated with how proficient they are likely to become in the English language, including their home life and background, whereas other pupils are likely to need considerably more than three years. The research evidence clearly shows that it will take longer than the three years of allocated funding for some pupils, which is why I do not understand the Government’s rigidity about the three-year rule when, philosophically, they seem to be in favour of being more flexible about funding. There is a strong case for additional funding to be made available to schools with such EAL pupils to ensure that they are able to achieve their full potential. Professor Strand’s report states:
“Fluency in English is…the biggest factor influencing the degree of support an individual student will require, and schools need to be able to assess this need accurately using their own procedures and expertise.”
The third major finding of the Education Endowment Foundation report is that:
“More research is needed into the best strategies to improve outcomes for EAL pupils… there is a lack of robust research evidence on effective approaches and interventions to raise the attainment of EAL pupils. There were no…randomised controlled trials or studies where the effectiveness of the intervention was evaluated by an independent review team.”
More research certainly needs to be done, and I hope that the Minister will tell us his view on that. Is the Department helping to facilitate, undertake or fund research to ensure that such public resources as are being allocated to this are getting to the right pupils and are having the correct impact?
I have no wish to be disobliging towards the hon. Gentleman, but he says that there is not enough research into the impact of EAL on educational attainment, yet earlier he blithely agreed with the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) that EAL pupils, of themselves, are a good thing vis-à-vis the educational attainment of non-EAL children. He cannot have it both ways. Either there is robust, empirical evidence to support the former or he is right on the latter. It cannot be both.
The hon. Gentleman is never disobliging. I will examine the record very carefully. I think what I have said throughout this debate has been internally consistent, but I will check my earlier comments in case I have contradicted myself. If I have done so, I will give myself a good talking to later on, but I think I have been consistent in saying that such research as there is indicates that EAL pupils do not have a negative impact on others in the classroom. The third conclusion, which he attributed to me but is actually the conclusion of the Education Endowment Foundation—a body funded by the Government to provide us with such research—is that more research is needed into the best strategies to improve outcomes for pupils with EAL.
What assessment have the Government made of the disparities in EAL pupil achievement, and what are they doing to help such at-risk children? What are the Government doing to address the facts that EAL pupils entering school in years 5 and 6 do not achieve as well as EAL pupils entering school in years 3 and 4, and that children entering school from abroad during a key stage are, on average, 12 months behind their non-EAL peers? What are the Government doing to encourage and support better research into these issues, which affect more than 1 million children? Will the Government consider more generally the impact of bilingual education? The hon. Member for Glasgow North West mentioned the experience from across the United Kingdom. There is obviously experience in Scotland and Wales, and there are the beginnings of such education in Northern Ireland, too. Given the Minister’s support for free schools and so on, is he still rigidly opposed to bilingualism in schools? That has been the Government’s position until now, but I understand that that opposition may be decreasing, provided that it is one of their favoured free schools advocating bilingual education. What is the Government’s current position on bilingual education, and has it changed?
I am grateful for that guidance, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve again under you, although even your powerful chairmanship was unable to stop a disembodied voice from engaging in our debate; I will be interested to see how Hansard reports an unelected person taking part. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) on securing this important debate and on his excellent speech. As always, he campaigns effectively and argues coherently and persuasively for the interests of his constituency and constituents.
The Government are committed to social justice, as my hon. Friend, who supports and campaigns for it himself, acknowledges. That means that we want all pupils to achieve their full potential, including those with English as an additional language. However, I understand the challenges faced by local authorities such as Peterborough in delivering that objective.
The definition of English as an additional language is broad. It reflects pupils’ exposure to a language other than English at home, but it gives no indication of their proficiency in English. Some may use English as their everyday language and be fluent in it, while others may be new to Britain and speak very little English. The percentage of pupils in England recorded as having English as an additional language more than doubled between 1997 and 2013, from 7.6% to 16.2%, with enormous variation across the country. In the south-west, only 6% of pupils have EAL, compared with 56% in inner London.
There is also a great deal of variation between individual schools. At more than half of schools, fewer than 5% of pupils have EAL, but 8% of schools have a majority of such pupils. The evidence shows, as other hon. Members have said, that although pupils with EAL face disadvantages early in their school careers, they are not at a significant long-term disadvantage on average. Again, however, attainment levels vary. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) pointed out, swift on the heels of her excellent maiden speech last night, learning two or three languages aids educational attainment—not just in languages, but in other subjects too. We must ensure that we support all children to achieve their full potential and overcome barriers to success, whatever those barriers are. We must also recognise that some communities with high numbers of pupils with EAL face particular challenges. I welcome my hon. Friend’s focus on the issue.
At the beginning of schooling, the average performance of pupils who speak English as a second language is significantly lower than the average for all pupils, but it significantly improves by the end of key stage 4. The latest data show that about 67% of EAL pupils achieved five or more good GCSE grades A* to C, compared with about 66% of all pupils. There are examples of local authorities with very high proportions of EAL pupils that perform well against national averages for attainment. In Newham, for example, where 76% of pupils at KS2 have EAL, 83% of pupils achieved the expected levels in reading, writing and maths at that stage. That exceeds the national average of 79% for all KS2 pupils. In fact, in 2013-14, of the 18 local authorities where more than half of pupils at key stage 2 had EAL, all but two had attainment levels above the national average for all pupils.
I remember visiting Fulbridge academy in 2011; I have remembered it ever since. I was struck by the fact that it was the first school that I had visited that year where all the primary school pupils whom I tested on their multiplication tables knew them. The rate has increased steadily over the years since then, but I was struck by that particular primary school visit, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough for taking me there.
Unfortunately, EAL pupils do not perform that well across the whole country. Although 79% of EAL pupils in Westminster achieve five or more good GCSE grades A* to C, only 50% of EAL pupils in Bradford achieve the same. The disparity in the quality of education available to pupils in different parts of the country has driven us to reform the school system. We have taken steps to ensure that every child, regardless of their particular needs or background, has a greater opportunity of attaining well at school than before 2010. There are now more than 1 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools. We have intervened in more than 1,000 weak and failing schools and are delivering improvements in performance by matching them with academy sponsors. Those academies have transformed the life chances of thousands of pupils.
King Solomon academy is one example. It is an all-through school sponsored by Ark Schools. More than half the pupils are eligible for free school meals, and 65% do not have English as a first language. In its report last year, Ofsted found the school to be outstanding, stating:
“Achievement is outstanding at all key stages. All groups of pupils, including those who have special educational needs, make excellent progress. The academy is working to provide even greater challenge to the most-able pupils.”
I will come to that in my own good time. We are unapologetic about taking Labour policy by turning underperforming schools into sponsored academies. What I cannot understand is the ambiguity of Labour’s current position on the academies programme. It has proven highly effective in raising standards, and all we hear from the Labour party is carping and criticism of the policy, which began life under Lord Adonis during the last Labour Government.
There are many maintained schools. I hesitate because 60% of secondary schools are now academies, so schools that I remember as maintained schools may well have converted. Good and outstanding schools throughout the country are rushing to convert to academy status. Many of them performed extremely well as maintained schools run by local authorities, and they are performing well now as academies.
In Scotland, we do not have academies, although some schools might have the word “academy” in their title; we have comprehensive schools and private schools. Does the Minister agree that a school’s success is not down to its name but is the result of leadership within the school and the systems put in place to ensure that staff and pupils are supported fully?
I agree that a school’s success is not to do with its name, but there is something about the freedom that academy status brings that enables innovation and professional autonomy to raise standards. Again, I cite King Solomon academy. It is run by some remarkable young people, most of whom are Teach First teachers; the headteacher, Max Haimendorf, became a head teacher in his late 20s. In that school’s first GCSE results in 2014, 93% of pupils achieved five or more good GCSEs, including in English and maths. That would be a remarkable result in any school in any location, but it is particularly so given the high levels of deprivation in the area served by the school. Furthermore, 75% of pupils at the school achieved the English baccalaureate, with high levels of achievement across the ability range.
I am. I do not think King Solomon academy would have delivered that kind of educational attainment in that part of London had there not been an academies programme. It has freedom and autonomy, and the professional approach that it takes to how it teaches its children is very different from that of any local authority school that I have visited. It would not have been able to do that if it had been run directly by the local authority in that area.
There is, of course, more to do. Although the overall quality of education in England has dramatically improved, 1.5 million pupils are still taught in schools that are less than good. The Education and Adoption Bill, which we debated last night on Second Reading, will strengthen our ability to deal with failure, and much more swiftly. Its provisions are designed to speed up the process by which the least well-performing schools are transformed in order to bring about rapid and sustained improvements, making sure every child gets the best start in life.
We have made it clear that we want to improve the literacy proficiency of all pupils; improving the teaching of reading is a key priority for the Government. Our aim is to help every child become a confident, fluent and enthusiastic reader. The latest available data show that 84% of pupils for whom English is an additional language achieved level 4 or above in reading at key stage 2 in 2014. That is just below the national average for all pupils, which is 89%. It shows that we still have further to go if we want every child to be reading well by the age of 11.
Key to our approach is the use of systematic phonics instruction; the hon. Member for Cardiff West will have expected me to use those words. The evidence shows that systematic phonics is the most effective approach to teaching early reading. The latest phonics screening check results show that across the country there is a difference of less than half a percentage point between pupils whose first language is not English and those whose first language is English. Phonics has been used to great effect in local authorities such as Newham, where, in year 1, three times as many pupils have EAL as those who do not. Some 81% of all Newham’s pupils met the expected phonics standard, well above the national average of 74%.
At secondary school, we are ensuring that all pupils study the core academic subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language: the English baccalaureate. We know already that pupils with English as an additional language are above the national average for entry and achievement in respect of the English baccalaureate. Last year, 41% of pupils with English as an additional language entered the EBacc and 26% achieved it, compared with 39% of all pupils entering it and around 24% achieving it. We want more pupils, including those for whom English is an additional language, to achieve the EBacc. Such subjects give young people a strong foundation for progress into further study and for work, and they help to keep their options open.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough focused on funding. We have supported local authorities to provide additional support for EAL pupils in their local funding formulae. Local authorities can provide additional funding to pupils who speak a language other than or in addition to English, and who entered the school system in the past three years; the hon. Member for Cardiff West touched on that issue. The vast majority of local authorities include EAL as a factor in their funding formulae, and 132 local authorities allocated funding to schools teaching 450,000 pupils with English as an additional language in 2015-16. That totalled some £267 million, with schools receiving on average about £591 for each pupil who speaks English as an additional language.
We recognise that EAL pupils are more likely to be mobile and arrive in school during the academic year. Local authorities can hold money centrally to support the growth in the number of pupils below the age of 16 in schools. That growth fund allows local authorities to top up funding in-year for schools experiencing an increase in pupil numbers due to growth in the local population. Local authorities also have the power to use a mobility factor in their funding formulae. The method allows funds to be allocated to schools with a high proportion of pupils entering in-year in the previous three years. Some 66 local authorities used the factor in 2015-16, allocating a total of £24 million through it.
In Peterborough, 18% of pupils have English as an additional language. It has the 23rd largest proportion of pupils with English as an additional language among all the different authorities. The area has seen a rise of more than 5,000 such pupils in its schools from 2014-15. I note that Peterborough City Council allocated some £3.7 million for pupils with English as an additional language in 2015-16 and that it has a growth fund of about £2.25 million.
I am enormously grateful for the support that my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough has given to this issue today. He has raised important concerns. The steps that we have taken underline our ambition to give more pupils the preparation to succeed in school, whether that is getting a place at a good university, starting an apprenticeship or finding a first job. Such steps will provide the foundations of an education system with social justice at its heart, in which every young person reaches their potential. I congratulate my hon. Friend once again for airing this important debate.
We have had a wide-ranging debate; I have been privileged to sit in on this Labour and Scottish National party seminar on structures in modern British education. Unfortunately, the subject is a bit of an obsession, particularly for the official Opposition, even though it is eloquently and charmingly articulated by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan).
The substantive point has been touched on by my hon. Friend the Minister, but I want to leave him with this thought. As I made clear in my remarks, there has been an evolution in how the pupil premium has been used to drive up attainment. Could there be a competitive system—a bidding process for LEAs that have developed bespoke solutions, such as in Peterborough, that are successful and have achieved good results under their own financial steam? They could bid for ring-fenced money, although the Minister does not like ring-fenced funding, and there could be a competitive element so that the Government rewarded best practice and tackled the long-standing endemic issues to achieve what the Minister laudably aims to do: improve social justice in educational outcomes. I leave him with those thoughts.
Finally, the Minister is welcome to come to Peterborough. I look forward to a visit from him and/or the Secretary of State some time in the next few years.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Government policy on support for pupils with English as an additional language.
House of Lords Reform
I beg to move,
That this House has considered reforming the House of Lords and the number of peers.
Thank you for chairing this debate, Mr Hollobone. It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship.
This debate is not designed to diminish the Lords’ responsibility, status or powers. I am trying to find a way forward that will allow us to retain the Lords’ expertise and keep them there for life, as was originally envisioned when they were appointed. It must not be seen as ageist or in any way derogatory to what goes on in the other place. I value the Lords; the Lords are valued. Their expertise is second to none, irrespective of their type, and their constitutional role should not be underestimated.
There are currently 786 peers, with 40 peers on leave of absence or otherwise disqualified from sitting. The Conservative party has 228 peers; the Labour party has 212; there are 178 Cross Benchers; the Liberal Democrats have 102; the Democratic Unionist party has four; the UK Independence party has three; Plaid Cymru has two; the Ulster Unionist party has two; the Green party has one; there are 28 non-affiliated peers; and there are 26 Lords Spiritual. It is a bit long-winded to state how many Lords there are, but it is important that I do so because our upper Chamber is one of the most highly-subscribed democratic institutions in the developed world.
The numbers in attendance by age were supplied to me by the House of Commons Library. The analysis reveals that the mean age is currently 70.4 years—in effect, 70 years. The median is roughly the same, implying a symmetrical distribution, with roughly as many peers above that age as under it. The oldest party is the UK Independence party, at a mean age of 76.3 years, although there are only three of them. The mean age of the Cross-Bench peers is 76.2 years; for the Labour party it is 71.3; for the Conservatives it is 70, and for the Liberal Democrats it is 70.3.
It is difficult to analyse peers’ activity, yet a brief analysis using Hansard data reveals that the mean age of the 20 most active Members of the House of Commons, excluding Mr Speaker, is 64.9, which is more than five years younger than the average of the House of Lords. That may suggest that younger Members are more active, although I would be cautious about drawing that conclusion, given that it is based on only a partial analysis of the data.
In the previous Parliament, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) wanted to have a partly elected upper Chamber. He proposed that the upper Chamber continue to be known as the House of Lords for legislative purposes; that the reformed House of Lords should have 300 Members, of which 240 are elected Members and 60 are appointed independent Members; and that up to 12 Church of England bishops may sit in the house as ex-officio Lords Spiritual. His proposal would have halved the number of Lords and created a semi-elected second Chamber, which would have huge ramifications for our unwritten constitution and our intellectual talent. I believe that that would be the wrong way forward, and would cause a drought of our intellectual talent in the other place.
Dan Byles, the former Member for North Warwickshire introduced a private Member’s Bill for the retirement of Lords. Some peers have utilised that provision. I contacted Dan, and he disclosed that the retirement age was always aimed at 75, although that was never mentioned.
My proposal is to reduce the numbers in the House of Lords. It could be seen as radical, although I hope it is not. I want it to be seen as a constructive way forward. I believe that there is a better way to slim down the Lords by 250 Members, so it becomes more proportionate to the Commons over a 20-year period. I propose that the Lords eventually settles at 450 to 500 peers, who should remain in the House of Lords as life peers, but retire from the Lords as we know it at the age of 75. They may wish to retire from the Lords under Dan Byles’s law, but that would be up to them.
I propose that Lords over 75 become the Lords council. They would still be able to attend functions and use the facilities of the House of Lords. In fact, they would be able to go about their daily business as they do now. They would still be remunerated, and it would cost no more than it does now. The problem is not the number of Lords, but the number we appoint, so we have to find a way forward that enables us to value our existing Lords and appoint new ones in a manner that reflects where we want the House of Lords to be in 20 years’ time.
Members of the new Lords council would be able to sit on Committees, based on their expertise and choice. They would be able to influence their colleagues and the Government as before. However, they would not be able to attend the Chamber and vote. That would have a significant effect on getting down the numbers, improving the working environment and creating a Chamber atmosphere similar to the Commons.
The benefits of my proposal are that it would enable us to value our peers without losing them as we reduce their number over two decades. It would allow a tapered reduction to take place in a sensible and measured manner. It would allow the more active peers to debate and work on a regime suited to their stamina. Therefore, the Lords who, to put it bluntly, are getting older and cannot attend the Chamber regularly will have options. They would not be able to go into the Chamber in the first place, although they would be able to advise. It would create a career path from the Commons into the Lords, and make both Chambers more efficient. The new appointees would be strictly limited and appointed in the same way as before. However, there would be constraints that I will not mention in this debate that will have to be looked at to ensure we have the correct political system at work. We must prevent the perception that the Lords is being stacked by political means. The main benefit would be that we retain the expertise of all ages and reduce the numbers sensibly.
As the median age is currently 70—there are as many under that age as over it—the maths naturally state that if the proposal were to become law, roughly a third of peers would go into the new Lords council in the first five to 10 years. The restriction of the numbers of new appointees would ultimately reconfigure the look of the new Lords structure. I firmly believe that my proposal is a viable and credible means of reducing the number of Lords and, more importantly, preventing the loss of our valued intellectual talent that an elected second Chamber would cause. It is very simple and straightforward.
I am happy with most of what my hon. Friend said, but I am concerned about the age being fixed. Some peers are very effective beyond the age of 75. I suggest a slightly different arrangement, whereby a percentage—I will not say what that is at the moment—retires or is requested to retire, and people compete for the remaining places. How about that?
That is a valid and constructive way forward, as an annexe to what I am trying to do. I would like hon. Members reading this debate in the future to understand that this is a simplified view of what could happen. Further debates would have to take place, and legislation would have to be enacted to make it actually work. However, what my hon. Friend has just articulated very well is that we could have a percentage of Lords who assist a transition, and so still retain the intellectual expertise in the other place—that is the whole ethos behind this debate.
I have nothing more to add, but this is an important subject. For literally decades we have been trying to sort out the problem of the number of Members of the House of Lords. Although I voted for the proposals of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam in their initial stages, I did not like them. We should look into the issue in a more measured and stately way—one that suits the House of Lords as it currently stands.
I must apologise, Mr Hollobone—I have not spoken in a Westminster Hall debate before and so am not quite sure what I am doing.
I am the SNP spokesperson on the House of Lords. Our policy is no longer to have a second Chamber, but I understand that this debate is about finding a way forward by reforming the House of Lords rather than getting rid of it. The way forward that has been suggested is really interesting and would reduce the number of Lords. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) mentioned that some Lords are active and effective over the age of 75; that was an interesting point and should be taken into account.
One concern I have with the proposal of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) is that in the interim period of 20 years he suggested there is a risk that the House of Lords as a whole will continue to get older. If we are aiming to reduce the number of Lords, presumably we will not be appointing many more in that interim period, which will push the average age up, even with a cut-off point of 75.
I agree with the hon. Lady. I have looked into this, and if we do the maths, as I said earlier, the average age in the Lords is around 70, and the average active Lord is 65 years of age. She is correct that there is a mathematical schism, in that not appointing new Lords would push up the average age. However, over a period of 20 years it would come down to how many Lords were appointed in the initial stages. We could have a calculated assessment that kept in mind the ages of the Lords and how many might be around in 20 years, which would allow us to work out a taper.
Absolutely. If the youngest Lords at the moment are in their 30s and we do not appoint any more, in 20 years the youngest will be in their 50s, which is a concern.
There could be a degree of election for the pool of life peers, as well as for the hereditary peers. The SNP policy is to abolish the House of Lords entirely, but if that is not going to happen, we want something that is closer to representative democracy. That would mean some form of election, and a House that represented the breadth of the population. A mean age of 70 is nowhere near doing that—I am not in any way being ageist, but simply suggesting that there is a lack of representativeness. If there were a system whereby a group of the current life peers was chosen democratically to continue in the House, we would be more likely to have a swathe of peers who were more representative of the population.
I understand where the hon. Lady is coming from and share some of her sentiments. However, we looked at that in the previous Parliament and could not get the proposals through the House. I think the House of Lords should be kept as it is now; the issue is how we get the numbers down. I do not have a panacea and am hoping that this debate will be the start of a process. I share her sentiments, which could be looked at in future.
It is a pleasure to have you looking after our debate so carefully and in such an accomplished manner, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) on securing this important debate. The debate on this topic has gone a little quiet in the past couple of years, and it should not have. It is important that we wake it up again. My hon. Friend has made a good start on that, and has perhaps lit some blue touch paper—I will come on to that in a minute.
I should start with a small declaration of interest, as my wife has recently been appointed to the House of Lords as a life peer. We have had the conversation over the breakfast table in which I tell her that I have already voted to abolish her and replace her with an elected representative at least three or four times during this Parliament; she has each time informed me, in return—with slightly too much pleasure—that she is no longer able to vote for me in general elections. I will not detain hon. Members any longer with the politics of the Penrose breakfast table, but thought I should make sure everyone knows that part of my family background, if I can put it that way.
To return to the argument of my hon. Friend, as he said, there have been attempts, big and small, to reform the House of Lords. It is a hardy perennial of debate both in this place and in debating societies up and down the country. It prompts deep and great thoughts among constitutional experts, from historians and academics through to think-tanks and policy wonks of all kinds. It has been so important because it clearly needs to be dealt with—any democrat looking at the House of Lords thinks it looks odd.
To be fair, their lordships understand that and in the past few years a number of different measures have been introduced both from the Lords and jointly by Members of the Commons and the Lords. My hon. Friend mentioned the Bill introduced by Dan Byles and Lord Steel dealing with the retirement of peers; there was also a Bill introduced by Sir George Young and Baroness Hayman on expulsion and suspension from the House of Lords. There have been successful attempts at Lords reform, albeit on a relatively small scale, as well as less successful attempts at grander Lords reform, such as the House of Lords Reform Bill that failed to make progress during the previous Parliament.
It is therefore a little odd that this area of policy seems to have run out of steam in the past couple of years. I thought my hon. Friend’s proposals were interesting and thought-provoking. His proposal for peers who are over 75 to be part of a Lords council would retain much of the Lords’ expertise and ability to provide advice. It would also reduce the number of voting peers while retaining their advice to be drawn on if needed.
I also found it fascinating that, even during my hon. Friend’s brief remarks setting out his interesting proposal, we heard a couple of additional suggestions from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman). Each sparked off the initial idea and contributed variations and additional thoughts—right here, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale has succeeded in beginning a revision and expansion of this rather neglected area of debate.
My hon. Friend has done something important by lighting that blue touch paper, and I would like him to carry on, if he is willing. If we can get other parts of the body politic that are interested in constitutional reform to start considering the issue with a bit more energy and focus—perhaps spurred on by his ideas—we may well get a series of other proposals. They could be tremendously helpful in broadening and enriching the debate.
The Government’s election manifesto states:
“We will ensure that the House of Lords fulfils its valuable role as a chamber of legislative scrutiny”.
I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend start his remarks by saying that he thought the House of Lords fulfils that role, and that it is an important role that should continue. We want to help the Lords continue to do that, and hold the Government to account.
Also, while it is difficult to envisage a return in the immediate future to the bigger, bolder issue of massive, whole-scale Lords reform, we want to continue to consider ideas about limiting the number of peers, and further ideas around retirement. My hon. Friend’s proposals are therefore bang on the money. They are exactly about where it might be possible, as a practical measure, to take these sorts of things forward, and that is why we should encourage other people to propose alternatives, so that we are not faced with having only one idea from one brave soul who has decided to try to light this issue up again; others should participate as well.
I encourage my hon. Friend not just to talk to think-tanks or constitutional experts outside Parliament; it is crucial that he gets the Lords involved as well. It was noticeable that the two successful attempts recently have been made in close conjunction between Members of the Commons and Members of the Lords, effectively as private Members’ Bills. That element of buy-in from the upper House has been absolutely essential. Who is better placed to make proposals that might get buy-in and consent from their lordships than other Members of the House of Lords?
May I suggest one problem? Throughout the period we are considering, that process would require a denial—a self-denial—from the Prime Minister, and I am talking about not only this Prime Minister but future Prime Ministers, because the number of peers created during the last 15 years has been staggeringly high. It cannot go on at that rate. I would like to know how we can persuade Prime Ministers of all possible political colours—I realise that only one is likely to be in Government—to prevent them from using their power to create too many peers.
My hon. Friend makes my point for me, which is that I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale is pretending that his proposal is a complete answer. I think that he is putting it forward as an interesting and thought-provoking contribution to a broader debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight is quite right to point out that this question about how we reduce the size of the House of Lords will depend not only on people leaving, standing down, retiring or—as this proposal suggests—entering as councillors, but on the number of people coming in and at what age they come in. This proposal does not necessarily address that issue directly—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale was quite straightforward about that—and that is why I suggest that we ought to have other people contributing to this debate, because it will require other proposals for us to come up with a full suite of potential answers.
I know that the Minister may not be able to answer this question, but could he possibly point me in the right direction in the House of Lords to like-minded Lords who would like to take this matter further? I know that previously Dan Byles worked closely and respectfully with the Lords.
I am sure that the Whips in the Lords and the Leader of the Lords will be happy to point my hon. Friend at particular people who might be interested, and I also suggest to him that he might want to talk to some of the Lords who sponsored the two successful private Members’ Bills that have gone through recently. They might be interested themselves, or they might know other colleagues who would be interested in picking this matter up. That would be my starting point.
I hope that other people outside Westminster Hall have listened to this debate, that their interest is piqued and that they will start to consider this important and—as I have said—currently unexpectedly neglected area of constitutional reform, because we have only just started to focus on it. Therefore, this debate is an incredibly valuable starter for 10—a way of beginning a wider debate and kicking things off—but we need to be clear that it is a starting point and not the final answer. To be fair to my hon. Friend, I do not think that he is positioning it as anything else but that.
With any luck, those outside this place will listen to what we have said today and start work. If they start work and then have weighty thoughts on a variety of approaches to pursuing this important area of constitutional reform, I will be delighted to hear what they have to say.
Question put and agreed to.
Crown Prosecution Service
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the work of the Crown Prosecution Service.
I am honoured to open this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I think that this is the first time I have opened a debate with you in the Chair. It is very nice to see you there.
The debate is on the important topic of the challenges facing the Crown Prosecution Service in the light of significant cuts in resources. Its purpose is to consider whether the institution is sufficiently supported to carry out its work effectively, or whether the cuts to staff and resources are leading to a permanent decline in its performance.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the CPS to all of us. It ensures that the laws that knit together our complex society are adhered to, and that those who transgress are brought to justice in a timely way and in the best traditions of a free and fair democracy.
When people are asked to name a Great British institution, the CPS may not be on the tip of everybody’s tongue, but it plays a crucial practical role by bringing to life two of the core rights of every British citizen: the right to a fair trial; and the right to get justice as a victim of crime. It is not a criticism of the CPS to say that it is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind, because in some ways it is a measure of its success that it does not garner much attention when it is doing its job well. It is when things go wrong that the organisation is scrutinised in the brightest of public spotlights, as has happened this year. Across the press, from The Daily Telegraph to The Plymouth Herald, there have been headlines such as “Cuts plunge CPS into crisis” and “‘Shocking and unforgivable’ court delays cause more crime”. Indeed, today the Justice Secretary has added his voice to the debate.
There is no doubt that there are many talented and dedicated staff who make sure that the CPS does all it can to fulfil its obligations to society and to safeguard the core rights of every British citizen. However, serious concerns have been raised about whether the CPS, which is a demand-led service, is being sufficiently resourced to deal with the spike in historical sexual offences, child abuse cases, and those cases arising from an increasing and complex terror threat. In these circumstances, does it seem right that the CPS has experienced a 28.3% cut to its budget, which is estimated to be around £200 million per annum, since 2010? Does it seem right that the most vulnerable participants in the criminal justice system—the victims and the witnesses—are being detrimentally affected because of these cuts?
There is a legal and a moral obligation on the CPS to serve the needs of every single victim. I am proud that my party has been at the forefront of improving the position of victims in the criminal justice system by establishing a victims’ taskforce. The taskforce comprises leading criminal justice specialists and campaigners, who lead work on establishing a “victims’ law” and who advise on further improvements to the way that victims and witnesses are treated by the criminal justice system.
It does not take a rocket scientist to know that delays in case progression put increased pressure and strain on victims and witnesses, so that many of them face prolonged periods of time in limbo, not knowing where cases stand and unable to move on with their lives.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the cuts in the CPS not only lead to problems in progressing cases and in arming prosecutors with the correct information in court, but increase the number of diversions from court, which obviously also has a negative impact on victims and witnesses?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and I totally agree. Court cases are a very stressful time for people and delays just make matters more stressful.
I will say a few words about the current experiences of witnesses at criminal proceedings, although I anticipate that others may also mention it. There is a widening gulf between the ideal world of a system that should support victims and witnesses, and the real-world experience of a system that so frequently fails them.
An editorial in The Independent last year said that
“procedures are designed with little consideration of the needs of the victims and witnesses in whose interests they are supposedly working.”
Anyone who has ever attended court—I have, as a witness in a criminal case—knows how difficult it is to understand court scheduling. Someone might mentally prepare all day for an appearance that does not happen or that is adjourned till another time, and decisions are rarely explained or laid out.
Sometimes the situation is even more difficult. In my case, I was witness to a very violent crime outside my house. It was arranged that I would be able to give evidence behind a screen, so that I could not be identified. However, when I got to court, I was put in the waiting room with the family of the accused, which meant the whole experience was absolutely terrifying for me.
If courts were private businesses, witnesses would be the “customers” of court proceedings and they would be well within their rights to complain about the service they receive. The Ministry of Justice agrees with that view. It has admitted:
“For victims and witnesses, the criminal justice system can be baffling and frustrating, and their experience all too often falls below the standards they might expect from a modern public service”.
Staff cuts have hit hard. Between 2010 and 2013, the number of witness care managers, whose job is to aid victims and witnesses, fell by 43%. The services that witness care managers provide are little known to the public, especially when compared with those provided by the police and the CPS, and given the current rate of cutting, there is genuine concern about whether they will even exist in future.
My constituency is partly within the London Borough of Bexley, and the magistrates court observers panel operates in Bexley. It has suggested that if the public were more aware of witness care managers, that would encourage more victims to come forward and report crimes, especially in cases of domestic violence, hate crime and sexual assault, because awareness of such managers might give them the confidence they need to pursue a complaint.
The magistrates court observers panel has expressed its concerns, particularly about domestic violence cases and the fact that a high number of complainants
“withdraw their statements or fail to attend the trial”.
Its most recent report states that in more than 65% of the trials that it had examined in which the CPS offered no evidence, it was because the complainant or witness had withdrawn or failed to attend court.
I understand that that lesson has been learned, and that a separate team has now been set up to deal with domestic violence cases, which is an intelligent move. I hope that it will allow skilled professionals to prepare cases in a thoughtful way and give the support that is required to move matters forward.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. I certainly agree with her that we need to put the victims of crime at the centre of the criminal justice system and its work.
I have worked at Bexley magistrates court, to which the hon. Lady referred. Does she welcome the work of the witness support service there, which has assisted, over many years now, both prosecution and defence witnesses when they attend court? And does she also—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Yes, I welcome the work of the witness support service at Bexley magistrates court; it does a fantastic job. Often, when people consider coming forward as a witness or to report a crime, they are not aware that such support exists and we must do more to publicise it, because the witness support service does a very important job.
Being a witness in a criminal proceeding is hard enough. The pressures of enduring cross-examination, bewigged barristers and the alien environment of a sterile courtroom are all enough to make a witness feel massively intimidated. However, sometimes getting even basic support from a witness care manager can make the difference between having a difficult time and enduring an absolutely impossible ordeal.
In the light of the reduction of nearly 43% in witness care manager numbers, what will the Minister do to safeguard the right of every witness to receive support? If witnesses continue to be unsupported, they are less likely to come forward in the first place. They are also less likely to turn up at court, less likely to give good evidence when they are cross-examined, and less likely to look back on the experience as being anything other than demoralising.
The costs of rescheduling hearings, postponing trials and abandoning prosecutions midway through will surely outweigh any savings made through cuts. This is an area where we could actually “spend to save”, because cutting the number of witness care managers is a false economy of the worst kind.
I will say just a few words about a special category of crime that the CPS prosecutes—historical sexual abuse cases. Perhaps there are few more compelling examples of victims who need support than the victims in such cases. If we fail them, we really must look again at the logic of cutting the CPS budget.
Historical sexual abuse is a crime that, regrettably, is coming to define our times. It represents a moral stain on society’s character. The late Lord Bingham, a former senior Law Lord, was right to hold up what he called “Equality before the law” as a “cornerstone of our society”. Too often, victims of crimes that took place sometimes decades ago have felt they have been treated unequally and ignored by our society and our criminal justice system. We legislators cannot undo the terrible things that victims have had to endure, but we can strive for justice for them. We can try hard to address their concerns and their years of not being listened to—and the way we do this is by properly funding the CPS in these cases.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has requested that the Chancellor provide £50 million-worth of funding to effectively prosecute cases of historical sexual abuse. Will the Minister commit to doing everything possible to provide the funding requested for these cases and make sure that the victims are fully taken care of while undergoing such an ordeal?
It is clear that the CPS is a demand-led service and cannot function appropriately if it is not adequately resourced. The opposing forces of increasing crime and decreasing funding mean that the system is struggling to cope, and the rise in the number of terrorist suspects being investigated is a further burden on the service. Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has been forced to consider doubling the number of prosecutors to cope with the magnitude of the challenge of complex, terrorist-related cases and suspects. The complex nature of these offences means that much more time and resources have to be put into preparing them.
It is imperative that we reflect on what the CPS does well and what it is failing to do as a result of these cuts. We must ask ourselves what we can possibly expect of the service, in rising to increasing challenges, during a time of austerity and budget cuts of 28%.
It would be wrong to blame the CPS solely. Poor casework preparation and delays are not always its fault, but with staff cuts and growing workloads, administrative errors are more likely and, increasingly, cases are being dropped because of unnecessary mistakes. The CPS is trying its best to modernise: it is pursuing digital working, moving from a paper-based system to a digital one. If that is successful, it stands to save taxpayers money in the future. However, there have been huge criticisms of that service and it must be reviewed to ensure that it really is providing value for money, because expensive mistakes must be avoided.
We, as a society, depend on the CPS to bring to justice those who cannot or will not observe the laws that we make for ourselves. Will the Minister undertake to look again at where the CPS cuts are falling, not least to make sure that savings are not outweighed by money lost because of delays and lack of witness support?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for securing this debate, which certainly needed to be had.
My involvement with the Crown Prosecution Service in recent years has mainly focused on the failure to prosecute child sex abusers. We know that in the 1960s, 70s and 80s people like Cyril Smith and Victor Montagu were allowed to continue to abuse children because the CPS was unable or unwilling to bring cases against them, even when it had the evidence. It is a legacy that should shame the CPS and the entire justice system, but these failures are not just a thing of the past. The case of Lord Janner is an interesting case study of the workings of the modern day CPS and its attitude towards alleged child abusers. We know that the CPS failed to press for prosecution of Lord Janner in 1991, 2002 and 2006, and the current Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has admitted that he should have been prosecuted. Now we hear that he cannot face justice because he is too ill.
Before discussing the case in detail, I want to make the point that we cannot underestimate the effect that failed prosecutions have on the survivors of abuse. There are many people—
Order. I caution the hon. Gentleman against discussing the case of Lord Janner in detail, rather than discussing the process of the Crown Prosecution Service. I am sure that he will stay completely in order, but I am just careful to ensure that he discusses the Crown Prosecution Service and its relationship to the case, rather than the case against Lord Janner itself. That is on advice from the Clerks.
No, it is not sub judice. There is no case against Lord Janner, but it is a long-established practice of the House not to criticise Members of the other House except on a substantive motion. I will let the hon. Gentleman carry on and, if he does not mind, I will jump in if I think he is going off piste, so to speak.
Thank you, Mrs Main. I always appreciate your guidance in these matters.
The CPS’s failure to prosecute cases can have a real impact and can be extremely damaging. Research shows that child sexual abuse victims die on average 20 years early: they may commit suicide, become alcoholic or drug dependent, or just struggle to cope with life because of what has been done to them by their abusers. We know that abuse victims die in their 30s, 40s or 50s, while their abusers live into their 70s or 80s. Such a failing by the CPS also reduces the public’s faith in the justice system. It discourages people from reporting child sexual abuse because they think the CPS will say that the victims are unreliable; that it is not in the public interest; or, as in the case of Lord Janner, that the alleged perpetrator is too ill.
Most importantly, failure by the CPS emboldens the perpetrators of child abuse. When the CPS failed to prosecute Cyril Smith in the 1960s, he went on to abuse for decades; and when the CPS failed to prosecute the Rochdale grooming gang in the early 2000s, it carried on raping Girl A for years afterwards. Poor white working class boys were considered unreliable witnesses in the 1960s in relation to Cyril Smith. Fast forward and poor white working class girls were considered unreliable witnesses in the 2000s.
Returning to the case of Lord Janner, the shocking thing is that the CPS admits that the witnesses are not unreliable. It admits that Janner should face prosecution, but refuses to bring a case. I know the police are furious about this, and rightly so. Anyone who has heard the accusations would be similarly outraged. I have met Leicestershire police and discussed the allegations in some detail: children being violated, raped and tortured, some in the very building in which we now sit. The official charges are: 14 indecent assaults on a male under 16 between 1969 and 1988; two indecent assaults between ’84 and ’88; four counts of buggery of a male under 16 between ’72 and ’87; and two counts of buggery between 1977 and 1988. My office has spoken to a number of the alleged victims and heard their stories. I cannot overstate the effect that this abuse has had on their lives.
To sum up, I want to make the following points about the case. If Lord Janner really is too ill to face prosecution, why cannot the courts establish this with a fitness-to-plead process? This would clear up doubts that still linger. For example, why was he still visiting Parliament on official visits after he was declared unfit to face justice? Why is he able to contribute to the law-making process in the House of Lords, but unable to face the law himself? If it is found that he is genuinely too ill to stand trial, why not conduct a trial of the facts? This would allow the victims to tell their stories and gain some sense of justice. The DPP has said that a trial of the facts would not be in the public interest. Personally, I fail to see how the knowledge that a peer of the realm is a serial child abuser is not in the public interest.
Thank you, Mrs Main. I appreciate that.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has said that Lord Janner will not offend again. But the failure to prosecute Lord Janner offends every principle of justice. He may not abuse again, but the legacy of the abuse continues. His victims need the truth and they need to be heard.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing the debate.
Since Neath magistrates court closed last year, my constituents have had to travel to Swansea, which is more than 20 miles away, denying them access to local justice in their own community and putting an added strain on the Crown Prosecution Service. Constituents and local solicitors have told me that the closure of the local court has had a negative impact locally. Those on low incomes might have to choose between buying everyday necessities and travelling to court, causing them hardship at an already stressful time. The closure has caused great inconvenience to those in Neath who have to attend court as the victims of what might be spurious allegations or charges, or attend to find their case adjourned.
The cuts in legal aid and the two-tier criminal justice contract have left constituents without legal aid representation. When residents of Neath are arrested, they are taken to Bridewell custody suite in Bridgend, which is more than 20 miles away, and they have no way of getting home when they are released. Constituents and local solicitors have told me that policing has declined in Neath since the court’s closure. The reorganisation of courts has therefore not worked for Neath. Today’s further announcement by the Justice Secretary of more reorganisation is alarming, and I urge the Government to consider the proposals very carefully.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate.
It is more than 10 years since I first picked up files from the Crown Prosecution Service, when I was a young pupil barrister, to prosecute what was known as the magistrates list. Much has changed at the CPS since then—I used to handwrite the results of every single case on the outside of each white file. Technology has brought us an online system, and the criminal procedure rules have also streamlined the system.
However, streamlining and management changes cannot take human judgment out of the system. In reality, decisions in the Crown Prosecution Service have to be taken by individual lawyers. Of course, I welcome the role of CPS Direct at a very early stage and at the charging stage, although I gently suggest to the Solicitor General that there could be a little more clarity throughout the system about when police have to take advice from CPS Direct, particularly in cases where there is a clear lack of evidence, which would render such a step unnecessary.
The availability of lawyers, and no excessive delays at that early stage, are crucial to CPS Direct’s working well as part of the system. The charging decision itself is, of course, a matter of judgment. The Solicitor General, having practised criminal law for so many years in Cardiff, will be only too aware of the two-stage test. The evidential test of a realistic prospect of conviction, and the public interest test, are judgments that human beings have to exercise. Having fewer people exercising that judgment will mean that those left have to work longer hours, which will inevitably lead to errors becoming more commonplace. That will show in the Crown Prosecution Service performance statistics.
In addition, it is critical that Crown Prosecution Service lawyers have the time and space to prepare trials properly. For example, watching CCTV, watching a DVD or listening to audio evidence take time, and that time has to be built into the system. If it is not, there will simply be delays further down the line. The position of complainants and witnesses is critical, as is transparency in the Crown Prosecution Service’s work.
I welcome what the Director of Public Prosecutions has said about the recent consultation on greater support for witnesses in court, which I hope will lead to a strong CPS policy on pre-trial assistance. There is no conflict, in my view, between robust cross-examination by a solicitor or barrister at court and ensuring that witnesses and complainants are fully supported and familiar with the environment that they are entering. I praise the work of Victim Support and the victims’ right to review scheme, in particular in situations where there has been a decision not to charge, to discontinue or withdraw in the case of the magistrates, to offer no evidence or to leave charges on file.
We do not serve victims, complainants or witnesses well if the Crown Prosecution Service is inefficient, under-resourced and understaffed. That will have a knock-on effect throughout the criminal justice system. Delays at court, poorly prepared trials, sub-optimal charging decisions and problems in cases at a late stage all fail witnesses and victims, as well as undermining public confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole. I urge the Government not to wield the axe indiscriminately on the Crown Prosecution Service budget without carefully considering the knock-on effects and the overall corrosive effect on the system.
I am pleased to be able to make a short contribution to this debate. Before being elected to the House, I was a solicitor in private practice for some 20 years, and I spent many happy hours in courtrooms defending clients. In Scotland, we have always had an independent prosecution system, unlike in England. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) made some powerful points about child abuse, but my understanding is that the CPS came into being only in 1984, so some of the earlier decisions were police, rather than CPS decisions. It may be a bit unfair to blame the CPS for all the problems. However, the collapse of some recent high-profile trials has undoubtedly done nothing for the CPS, leading to some of the criticisms against it.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) said about people appearing in court. As a solicitor, I often cross-examined witnesses, but I, too, was once a witness in a case and found it a terrifying experience. After that, I took a much more sympathetic attitude to witnesses. It is difficult for a witness to go to court, even in a relatively simply case. Even I, who was used to the court system, found it difficult. I spent years saying to people, “Well, are you sure that’s what happened six months ago?” but when I was asked it, I realised how difficult it is to remember such things. That is an argument for getting cases to court more quickly.
Today is an interesting day for the hon. Lady to have the debate. In the Tea Room at lunchtime, I happened to read The Independent and an article headlined “Crusading Gove slams justice for the wealthy”, which was about the Justice Secretary. He is speaking today about the court system, promising
“rapid and radical reform to criminal justice through the greater use of technology, to accelerate prosecutions and make it less traumatic for witnesses to appear in court.”
He also called the existing system “creaking” and outdated, which is interesting, because that chimes with what the hon. Lady was saying. How things happen in an era of cuts to the CPS will be an interesting balance. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
Whatever the system, one of the biggest problems in dealing with cases is that people do not turn up in court. I often had the experience of turning up in court, ready to do a case, only to find that the accused or a witness had not turned up, and the whole thing collapsed. That is also difficult for the witnesses who turn up, having screwed up their courage to come along and do this, only to find that they are sent away and told to come back at some indeterminate time in the future. In Scotland, we have tried various things such as intermediate diets, or pleading diets, to avoid that happening, but it still happens in some cases—there is always a problem with human nature in such things.
I am not sure how Victim Support works in England, but certainly in the Scottish courts Victim Support Scotland does excellent work in dealing with the victims of crime who come to court, and often also with the witnesses giving evidence. Its role should not go unnoticed.
There are differences between the English and Scottish systems. We have always had an independent system, through procurators fiscal and advocates depute. They have always been independent of the police and Government, and make decisions on whether to prosecute cases and on their conduct, although for obvious reasons in both systems the police are the primary investigatory body.
One crucial difference between the two systems is the role of barristers, or advocates as we say in Scotland. Under the Scottish system, all procurators fiscal and advocates depute are full-time prosecutors, whereas my understanding of how the CPS works is that it is almost like a client and it engages barristers for particular cases; those barristers might be prosecuting one week and defending the next. That seems slightly odd to us, because, as I say, our prosecutors are full-time prosecutors—that is what they do. I am sure that barristers can compartmentalise their day-to-day cases, and many will do so, very well, but it seems a curious way to go about things.
I am not questioning the impartiality, but it seems curious. In our system, people can go from being an advocate depute to being a defending solicitor, but they would leave the Crown Office to do that—they would not do it at the same time. In our system they build up expertise in prosecution. It is a matter of personal opinion. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a long-time practitioner and I am sure that he has a different view; I am simply putting forward my view.
The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead also mentioned cuts to the service. Cuts are a concern in many areas. In Scotland, again, the system is slightly different: the Lord Advocate, who heads the Crown Office, negotiates his own funding deal directly with the Deputy First Minister, who also happens to be the Finance Minister, separate from the wider Budget. Although it is true that the Scottish system’s budget over the past few years has been largely flat in cash terms, which is a reduction in real terms, this year there has been a real-terms increase for the Crown Office. That increase was made in recognition of some of the problems in the court system.
The hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) made good points about access to justice locally. We have struggled with that issue in many areas of Scotland. Rationalisation and new technology and services are relevant here. When I was practising there were two sheriff courts—the equivalent of English magistrates courts—in my constituency. One has now been closed down and its services transferred to the other. However, there has been a lot more investment in the second court, in particular, in video technology; witnesses can give video evidence and the court has a facility for children to give evidence over video link. I am sure that much of that also happens in English courts, but it needs investment. That was the interesting thing about what the Justice Secretary said today, because greater use of technology means investment, and I question how much he will be able to do when cuts are being made.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) gave a good exposition of his own experience in the prosecution service. I do not have that experience, but I understand what he was saying.
The CPS is a good service. The principle of an independent prosecution service is important. It is unfortunate that in some ways the CPS has got a bad reputation in recent years because of some high-profile cases that have not gone well at trial or have collapsed early. However, as was rightly said at the outset, any justice system must be about making sure that everyone has a fair trial and that witnesses are dealt with properly at trial. That needs investment, and we make cuts to such systems at our peril.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate. I immediately declare an interest, as I was the Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service from 2008 to 2013. The current DPP was head of CPS London as a member of my staff and is known to me.
The CPS is a demand-led organisation that has taken significant cuts in recent years. As a result, it has significantly fewer staff and less resilience, and faces probably a greater challenge now than it has for many years. I pay tribute to the staff who work in that environment and deliver the best they can in the circumstances.
One of the unknowns for a demand-led organisation such as the CPS is the caseload. In the years that I was DPP, the number of cases coming into the service from the police undoubtedly reduced, which significantly softened the impact of some of the cuts. The difficulty as I see it, and the risk that the CPS was running when I was DPP, is that the reason for the reduction was never properly understood—no one could explain why the numbers were going down and, equally, no one could properly predict when they would twist and go up. I note the recent reports of increased numbers of sexual abuse cases coming into the CPS; those cases are highly resource intensive.
The cuts to the CPS are not dissimilar to the cuts to other parts of the criminal and civil justice systems. As the Solicitor General will know, a series of very critical reports on the cuts to the civil side, from this House and elsewhere, have indicated that the strategy for the past five years has been to cut first and look at the evidence and the impact later, rather than the other way round. That is a very serious criticism of any strategy. One of my concerns has been whether over the past five years there has truly been a criminal justice strategy that goes beyond simply taking the money out and focuses on the services to be delivered.
Against that background, and recognising what Sir Brian Leveson said in his recent report on the efficiency of the courts, namely, that there is an irreducible core minimum of funding below which we cannot deliver services, will the Solicitor General tell us what arrangements are currently in place to ensure that the Government have a line of sight on the risks being run by reducing resources for the CPS? Have there been evidence-based assessments of the impact of the reduced resources? If so, will some or all of those impact assessments be published? If, as the Lord Chancellor indicated this morning, the rights of victims will be taken more seriously in future, are there currently plans to increase resources for the CPS so that it can deal more effectively with victims?
I welcome my hon. and learned Friend to the House—his expertise is widely welcomed here—and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for securing this debate. My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the CPS staff; does he agree that it is totally unacceptable that they have to work weekends, unpaid, with an increasing workload?
There is of course concern about the workload of CPS staff. One effect of the reduction in resources is that staff have to work much harder in different circumstances and at different times. That is part of the risk when the resource of any organisation is reduced. It does not mean that one must always return to the status quo and that there cannot be change. However, it does highlight my point that there needs to be a constant risk assessment when resources are reduced in the way they have been.
I should declare an interest as somebody who has been a practising barrister—in fact, I was probably instructed by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Does he agree that culture is sometimes as important as cost when helping victims and witnesses? There has been an extraordinary change—this was the case even during his tenure as DPP—in the way victims and witnesses are treated. That ranges from victim impact statements, to the screens provided for under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, to getting counsel to meet witnesses before they give evidence, which is critical to giving them a good court experience.
I accept that, and I have always said that, if we are to provide properly for victims, we need not only resource but a culture change.
I share the concerns that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) raised about Cyril Smith and other old cases. For the record, Cyril Smith was not, of course, considered by the CPS, because it was not in existence at the time. However, the case was considered by the DPP, and I have gone on record to express my concern about the decisions that were made.
This is about making a cultural change. When I was DPP, I was concerned that there was a cultural inhibition against prosecuting some of the sexual grooming cases, and that was most acute in the Rochdale cases, but a new approach was heralded to prosecuting those cases. I accept, therefore, that, when it comes to victims, the issue is not just resource but a culture change. The culture is changing, but it needs to be pressed harder, and it needs to be pressed in other parts of the criminal justice system, although there has been good work. However, if we are to take victims more seriously, that will require more resource, and it will require us to be clear about the risks that will be taken if further money is taken out of the criminal justice system.
Let me finish by observing that the decision before the DPP on the Janner case was not an easy one; it was a stark and difficult choice between two unattractive approaches. The DPP has followed the victim right to review policy and has put the decision out for review. We should respect the independence that she has brought to the decision making and the fact that she has had the courage to put the decision out for review. To that extent, we should inhibit our comments on the case.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I suspect that I will be rudely interrupted at any moment, because we are expecting a Division on the Floor of the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate.
The CPS is going through profound changes, and it is right that we carefully consider the consequences of budget cuts and stretched resources in this demand-led service. The CPS plays a vital role in the criminal justice system. It has been well led in recent years, not least by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and, recently, by the current DPP, Alison Saunders. I have met her on a number of occasions to discuss the challenges that the service faces, and she is doing an excellent job in an extremely difficult situation.
Since 2010, we have seen cuts to the CPS budget of more than 28%, which has led to office closures and reductions in staff—the figures I have show that it has lost 571 prosecutors and 500 administrative staff. Those numbers are absolutely massive, given the previous size of the CPS. The cuts in resources are unprecedented, and they have left a gaping hole in the organisation.
Savage cuts are being made against a backdrop of historical sexual abuse cases, increases in reported child abuse and complex cases involving terrorist offences. The CPS must be afforded the flexibility to respond to complex cases when the need arises. In the last couple of years, we have seen an unprecedented and unexpected rise in the number of historical sexual abuse cases and the strain that the CPS has been put under as a consequence.
In recent weeks and months, the DPP has been on bended knee, pleading with the Chancellor, through the Attorney General, for £50 million of emergency funding so that the CPS can properly prosecute the large number of historical sexual abuse cases. I am afraid that the Chancellor is yet to award that money, and he will no doubt expect the CPS to shoulder more cuts in the forthcoming Budget. In my respectful view, that is a huge mistake. If the Chancellor and the Government decide to continue down this path, the problems in the CPS are bound to get worse.
We all agree that the criminal justice system, including the CPS, needs some reform to be fit for purpose in the 21st century. It needs to meet the complexities and challenges of modern demands. However, simply slashing the budget and hoping for the best is wrong and dangerous.
Just today, we saw the Justice Secretary come to the sudden realisation that the justice system is in disarray. He is right that victims and witnesses are adversely affected by inefficiencies and bureaucracy in the criminal justice system. The Opposition welcome his warm words, but we need to see the colour of the Chancellor’s money. Victims and witnesses are often an afterthought, and we need to see them front and centre of any reforms to the CPS and the criminal justice system.
The Lord Chancellor is right to point out that there are two nations in the justice system, although he should not be surprised—it was his Government, I am afraid, who introduced savage cuts without thinking them through. Let me say, before I am intervened on by Conservative Members, that it is true that any party coming into power in 2010 would have made cuts, but my colleagues and I would have thought very carefully about where the axe should fall. The two previous Lord Chancellors did not think their cuts through very well at all.
The move towards the CPS Direct model is taking CPS prosecutors away from local offices and police stations, which has probably led to a slowdown in charging decisions. The timeliness of such decisions has become a real issue, and there have been reports of police officers waiting to get through to CPS Direct for hours on end. Every area visited in the recent joint inspection of charging decisions had serious concerns about the mechanisms used. Worryingly, the report found serious failings in the timeliness of charging decisions, with two thirds of the calls made to CPS Direct not answered within its target of three minutes. Once officers actually make it through to a prosecutor, they are taken through a long process, which often takes more than an hour.
Cuts to the CPS have not been cost-effective, as Her Majesty’s former chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, Michael Fuller, concluded in the report he published on 15 March. The vast reductions in the workforce have meant that the CPS is unable to deliver value-for-money advocacy and the service has made poor progress in most areas.
Is it right to say that by 2013 the Crown Prosecution Service, not least because of the intervention by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), was in a better state than it was in 2008, when he took over, and certainly than it was in 2010? It is simply crude to suggest that it has all got worse since 2010. That is simply not the case.
I am bound to disagree. I am sure that vast improvements were made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras when he was at the helm of the CPS. I remember cross-examining him when I was serving on the Select Committee on Justice, and he made very well the points that the service—[Interruption.] The Solicitor General says from a sedentary position that he was there, too. I remember him being there. It is right to say that improvements were made, but the reality is this. When the Crown Prosecution Service is receiving a 28% cut without the entire criminal justice system having been reviewed, problems will materialise, and when it comes to victims of serious crime, such as historical sexual offences, we need to—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Before the Division, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who unfortunately has not yet made it back, said that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras improved the CPS in his time as Director of Public Prosecutions. I entirely agree, but the vast reductions in its workforce mean that the CPS has been unable to deliver value-for-money advocacy. Those are not my words; users of the service—victims and witnesses—are telling us that there is a definite problem. That point was made by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service. There have been reports of CPS advocates turning up for trial without being properly prepared—in some cases not having read the case at all—and not having sufficient evidence, and even of witnesses not being warned to attend court. Those advocates are not necessarily CPS in-house solicitors and barristers; it is the independent Bar, too.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently reported that there is a postcode lottery, which is troubling. In some areas of the country, prosecutors are proceeding with only a third of cases, whereas in other areas, such as my area of Humberside, the figure is closer to nine out of 10 cases—88%. Victims are being failed by a system that is obviously not coping. People should not be denied justice because they report an alleged offence in one area rather than another. Confidence in the criminal justice system is essential, but I am afraid that the system is not working. Victims must be able to come forward and report crimes with confidence that the justice system will work for them. In London, the review of Dame Elish Angiolini, QC into investigations and prosecutions of rape found the criminal justice system to have serious deficiencies in dealing with the number of rape allegations. Since 2005, there has been a 68% rise in recorded sexual offences but only a 17% increase in charges. Last week’s report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children shows a dramatic 39% rise in the number of reported cases of child abuse. Very worryingly, there is a distinct increase in terrorist-related prosecutions, with the DPP projecting that the number could top a frightening 600 this year alone. The Solicitor General will appreciate from his pre-eminent career at the criminal Bar, and from sitting as a recorder of the Crown court, that such cases are often unresolved before trial, which means that more time and resources are needed to prepare the cases, with the effect that other cases fall by the wayside.
Alongside cuts to advocates and administrators, and office closures, there has been a massive cull in the number of witness care officers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead said. Almost half of those employed to ensure that victims and witnesses are dealt with appropriately have gone—their jobs have been axed. With increased pressure on resources, there are concerns about the timeliness of case progression. There has been an increase in the number of cases dropped by the CPS, leaving many victims and witnesses in despair and feeling let down.
The Government need to decide what their vision for the criminal justice system is and what they want a 21st-century CPS to do. Their slash-and-burn approach to the CPS is putting justice at risk. Although the CPS is a demand-led organisation that must respond according to the circumstances in which it finds itself, the Government have removed vital resources and expertise. What goal are they trying to achieve? If it is cuts for the sake of cuts, without a proper review of the entire system, including legal aid—criminal solicitors, of course, also provide a vital service within the criminal justice system—I fear that the CPS is heading for further and more major difficulties.
We have heard in this debate that the CPS is struggling to cope with increased demand, and that prosecutors, whether in-house or at the independent Bar, are expected to achieve the unachievable. The combination of massive budget cuts and large increases in complex cases has created the perfect storm in which cases are not being dealt with effectively. I invite the Attorney General, through the Solicitor General, to set out what steps his office will take to remedy this worrying problem. Can the Solicitor General say whether the Chancellor will provide the £50 million requested by the Director of Public Prosecutions? What assessment have the Law Officers done of the impact on the CPS? What inquiries, investigations or even discussions have the Solicitor General and the Attorney General had with the DPP about whether the service is coping? I think that it is not coping at all well; as I said earlier, that is the evidence of service users.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras said, there must be a strategy beyond just taking the money out. It seems to me that there is no strategy, just cuts, and regrettably, the axe is falling on victims and witnesses.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this debate. I am never clear when there is a Division whether we are given injury time in the form of an extra 15 minutes. If so, be warned that I might have to use it all, because I want to ensure that I refer to the excellent contributions made by Members from all parties.
It is perhaps right of us—it is certainly right of me, as one of Her Majesty’s Law Officers—to remind the House why the Crown Prosecution Service was set up 30 years ago: to deliver justice for the public through the independent prosecution of crime across England and Wales. I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Angus (Mike Weir) about the question of independence, which is at the heart of how the criminal justice service in England and Wales operates. There are parallels between the work of employed prosecutors in Scotland and those employed by the CPS in England: while prosecutors remain in the employ of the service, conflicts should not and cannot arise, but where we have an independent referral service, such as the Bar of England and Wales, the independence and objectivity that it can bring to often difficult and sensitive cases is without parallel in the western world.
We should celebrate that, as well as the work of Crown prosecutors the length and breadth of England and Wales, and all the support staff who work so hard in offices and courts throughout the country. I speak with 20 years’ experience as a prosecutor who has worked closely with the CPS, particularly in Wales, dealing with a wide range of serious crime. I not only cherish that experience, I find it incredibly useful in my work as a Law Officer.
I am delighted to welcome not just to this debate but to this House new Members with similar experience of the criminal justice system. We have two in the room today—my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), to whose excellent speech I will return—but it would be wrong of me not to refer as well to the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who went down a more civil path in his career at the Bar but reminded us of his early days, an experience that I think several of us have shared.
The hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), of course, is also a qualified member of the Bar, which should be put on record. I am grateful to her for her contribution, albeit on an issue that is perhaps more within the purview of the Ministry of Justice. The delivery of justice is achieved by working with other agencies, and her contribution brought that into perspective. Although the CPS is a large cog in the system, it is but one part of that system; it must work with the police and court system to ensure that criminal cases are brought not only to court but to a conclusion.
The test that is applied is one that loads of us who are close to the service can probably recite in our sleep, but it is none the less important to remind ourselves of it. It is the two limb test. First, is there a realistic prospect of a conviction? Secondly, is it in the public interest to bring the prosecution? I hope that answers somewhat the criticism made by the hon. Member for Angus about the bringing of cases by the CPS that have not ended in a successful conviction and that have, in his words, brought into question the reputation of the service. With respect to him, if the CPS were to adopt a test involving risk of acquittal, no cases would ever be brought, because there will always be a risk of acquittal in taking a case to court. That should not deter Crown prosecutors from doing their job.
I agree entirely. I was merely making the point that there have been some high-profile cases in which convictions were not secured, and perhaps some in which the evidence was shaky at best. That has reflected on the CPS in the public mind. It is not a criticism of the CPS; I understand that not all cases are successful, and not all cases should be.
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but therein lies the problem. If we as politicians and commentators start making such value judgments, we undermine confidence in the independence of the prosecutorial system. We must trust an impartial and objective application of the threshold test. Any questioning of that causes me and many others great concern about the integrity of our prosecutorial system.
Does the Solicitor General agree that, when a case is charged and the judge decides that there is a case to answer, that case is properly brought, even if there is an acquittal? It is important to our criminal justice system that we adhere to that. The mere fact that a case, high-profile or otherwise, does not end in a conviction is not a test of whether the charging decision was right or wrong. A better test is whether the judge left it to the jury. If that is so, it normally means that the case should have been brought.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He presages the point that I was going to make about sufficiency, and about the checks and balances throughout the court process. Arguments can be made about the sufficiency of the evidence at the beginning of a case, at the end of the prosecution case, and, indeed, in some rare circumstances whereby judges withdraw cases from juries—it does not often happen—at the end of defence cases, but the power remains.
In making such criticisms, we are also in danger of calling into question the jury process and indeed the whole system, which is so integral to the rule of law in this country. I was asked—rhetorically, perhaps, but I will give an answer—what strategy this Government have. It is a criminal justice system that upholds the rule of law, enhances public confidence in the system and ensures that there is a consistent approach to bringing cases and sentencing, so that the public feel confident and are protected by due process within the system. That is nothing new—it has been with us for generations—but this Government believe in it as passionately as previous Governments, of whatever colour.
I want to deal with each contribution in turn, but particularly with the opening speech by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead and her experience of giving evidence in a trial. It does not sound to me as though best practice was followed in her case. I am glad she has brought it to the attention of the House, because those with responsibility for the administration of justice, not only in the magistrates court in Bexley but elsewhere, will do well to remember that the housing of witnesses for the prosecution with either defendants or their families is wholly inappropriate and leads to all sorts of complications that I need not recite here.
[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]
The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead asked specific questions about witness care officers. I accept that the numbers have been reduced in line with other staff reductions, but, importantly, those reductions have been accompanied by reforms to better target our limited resources to help witnesses who are intimidated or vulnerable, and those who are in greatest need. Even more is being done with regard to the change of culture to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham referred. For example, the Government are now improving access to information for victims through the new online and telephone-based victim information service that was launched in March. The increasing commissioning of victims’ services through local police and crime commissioners will create a more responsive service—a more localised service—that I do not believe will create a postcode lottery, but will emphasise best practice from which other areas can learn. Although I accept there have been reductions in expenditure, the change in culture that everybody in the system—counsel, solicitors, and lawyers in their role in explaining matters and reassuring and supporting witnesses and victims—has experienced continues to grow.
On precisely that point, if counsel apply the victims’ charter and explain the situation to witnesses and victims as they come to court, it can have an extraordinary impact on how they end up viewing the criminal justice system, and it does not cost a penny.
Very much so. A lot of us who pioneered such work in the ’90s now find that a lot of what we said and believed then is becoming standard practice, and that is absolutely right. We have heard reference to the victims’ right to review, and, as was made clear in an intervention on the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), there is an ongoing process in relation to a particular case that means that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. However, I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and I will come back to his point about historical child sexual exploitation in a moment.
Importantly, the new victims’ right to review scheme that was established last year gives victims a further opportunity to ask the Crown Prosecution Service, with the help of independent advice, to consider again the merits of particular decisions. So far, between June 2013 and the end of September last year, 263 decisions have been overturned by the new system. It is a small proportion of the number of Crown Prosecution decisions that are made, but it is an extra safety valve that goes a long way, as I said in relation to our strategy, to enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system.
I have referred en passant to the hon. Member for Rochdale, who talked with his usual power about child sexual exploitation. It is a national emergency. I entirely agree with him, and so do the Government. The way in which complainants were dealt with historically in towns such as Rotherham and the town that he represents was wrong. There was far too much emphasis on the reliability of the individual witness, who was often very young and vulnerable, rather than an overall view of the merits of the case. That is rightly acknowledged to have been an incorrect approach. The thrust of the work being carried out by the Crown Prosecution Service now very much reflects the fact that lessons have been learnt, and there are a number of marked successes when it comes to convictions in such cases. A number of so-called celebrities have rightly been brought to justice, and young victims in larger conspiracy-based cases involving many young and vulnerable complainants have now had their voices heard, as the hon. Gentleman says, and can now see that some justice has been brought in order to help them get on with lives that have been torn asunder by the abuse that they suffered.
The hon. Member for Torfaen rightly talked about pressure and efficiency and how decisions are to be made where there is a reduction in the number of lawyers. The way to measure that is by looking at some of the efficiency measurements that the CPS has conducted. The percentage of guilty pleas at first hearing is a good measurement, because that clearly demonstrates that there has been an excellent level of pre-trial and pre-plea preparation in terms of case management, which means that the evidence has been presented clearly and that those advising defendants can confidently tender advice in a proper way. The percentage of guilty pleas at first hearing has increased from 63.4% in 2010-11 to 70.6% in the last financial year. That is a significant increase.
Another vital piece of information relates to the percentage of magistrates court proceedings that are dropped at a third or even fourth or fifth hearing. That percentage has fallen from 44.2% to 34.1%. In the Crown court, cracked and ineffective trials owing to prosecution failure have fallen from 18.2% to 13.5%. That shows that those who are responsible for decision making and case preparation in the CPS are rising to the challenge and yielding significant results. I pay tribute to chief Crown prosecutors in regions such as the west midlands and the south-west for understanding the importance of the management of the huge volume of cases that come across the desks of prosecutors week in, week out, and for making sure that further improvements are made so that, from the CPS’s point of view, they are doing everything they can to ensure that the Courts Service is efficient.
It would be churlish of me not to put on the record my grateful thanks for the service of the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras as Director of Public Prosecutions. He came in at a time when the service already knew that it would face important financial challenges under his stewardship, and he managed them admirably. It is in no small part due to the leadership that he showed that the sorts of figures I have been able to bring to the debate today, and the improved efficiencies in the CPS have been achieved. We are grateful to him.
The hon. and learned Gentleman asked about strategy, and I have given him the answer that I think needs to be set out. He also talked about lines of sight and the risks being run with regard to the impact of reduced resources at a time when it is clear that case loads are increasing. I agree with him: case loads are increasing. We have more terrorism cases and an increase in child sexual exploitation cases. He is right to ask questions. I can reassure him that, as in his day, there continue to be regular meetings between the Director of Public Prosecutions and chief Crown prosecutors to ensure that the current director is fully aware of the impact of changes in case load and resources on individual CPS areas. Further to that, both the Attorney General and I regularly meet the CPS’s director and its chief executive, Peter Lewis, to discuss a range of measures that crucially include resources and its case load mix.
In discussions the Solicitor General has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions, has she mentioned to him and the Attorney General that the CPS urgently needs £50 million now to prosecute historical sex cases properly? What representations has he made to the Chancellor about that?
I wanted to come on to finance and I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the CPS continues actively to discuss its requirements and resourcing pressures with the Treasury. The idea that somehow there is a nonchalant, sit-back approach to that is wholly wrong.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that not only are the pressures understood, but discussions continue at the highest levels of Government with regard to making sure—[Interruption.] I reassure him that when it comes to the prosecution of serious crime, whether terrorism or child sexual exploitation, the question of resources does not come into it. What does come into it is the threshold test that I referred to at the beginning of my speech.
The CPS continues to look at the impact of resource changes and it is working with colleagues in the Treasury as part of the ongoing spending review. It would not be appropriate for me to prejudge the outcome of that review. The debate is timely and I accept that Members are impatient, but that is where we are on the ongoing pressures and risks that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras talked about.
On resources, is it not right that where there is a specific need, the Government will step in? There is no clearer example of that than when the Serious Fraud Office had to consider whether it had sufficient resources to go after so-called LIBOR fraudsters and money was found for detailed and complex investigations. When there is a need, resources are delivered.
I think my hon. Friend was talking about blockbuster funding and the SFO. It would be invidious of me to make direct comparisons, but that point is very well made indeed.
On finance, I hope to demolish the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East’s attractive but somewhat false—I will say colourful—characterisation of the Government’s approach to the CPS budget, which I think he described as a “hope for the best” approach. I am sorry to disappoint him, but that is neither accurate nor fair. As I said, under the stewardship of the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras, preparations were made before the 2010 spending review for the CPS to start to reduce its costs by, for example, releasing resources from the back-office at HQ to the frontline; renegotiating important IT contracts to achieve significant savings; introducing a new IT equipment and workstation ratio strategy; and looking at the closure of uneconomic smaller offices.
That all began before the spending review, and those policies have been taken further since then. We have seen the consolidation of operations into regional hubs, the end of occupying unnecessary buildings and the number of CPS geographical areas reduced from 42 to 13 together with a reduction in management numbers. In fact, back-office functions have taken the greatest cut, with a 50% reduction in HQ staff; 20% savings from the renegotiation of the IT and communications contracts, and the estate reduced from 95 offices in 2010 to 40 this year. With respect to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, that is not “hope for the best” or “back of a cigarette packet” stuff, but a carefully calibrated and planned structural change largely authored and led by the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras. That process continues.
When it comes to the prosecution of offences, there is no question of negotiations with the Treasury somehow having an impact on individual decisions; the independence of the Crown Prosecution Service is a self-evident truth. To reinforce that, perhaps I should look at some overall results. The CPS’s conviction rate in the magistrates courts is now 83.5%, which has increased from 80.6% back in 2004-05. Similarly, in the Crown court, the conviction rate is now 79.4%, up from just over 75% 10 years ago.
Guilty plea rates continue to rise in both Crown and magistrates courts and I am struck in particular by the increase by both volume and proportion of convictions in cases involving violence against women and girls. The past year saw the highest ever volume and proportion of cases charged: 88,359 cases, which is a rise of nearly 12,000 compared with the previous financial year. We also saw more than 107,000 defendants prosecuted to completion in the past year in cases involving violence against women and girls—the highest ever number. The number of those convicted increased from 67,380 in the previous financial year to 78,773 in the past year.
Those figures are far more eloquent testimony to the success of the Crown Prosecution Service’s continuing work than anything else that I can summon up. I commend its work to the House and thank once again the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead for giving me the opportunity to address that.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the work of the Crown Prosecution Service.
Local Government Finance (Tameside and Oldham)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered local government funding in Tameside and Oldham.
I want to use this opportunity to highlight the impact of the drastic and unfair cuts to local authority spending on local people and public services in my constituency. I also want to set out a better way.
Since 2010, the Government have cut cash funding to Tameside Council by just over 41%, forcing it to cut its budget by £104 million—more than half. The council has lost 1,700 jobs, almost half its workforce. A further £24 million in cuts is now set for 2015-16 and another £14 million for 2016-17. Together, that total of £142 million in cuts amounts to a real-terms equivalent of 53% of the total budget and more than twice Tameside’s council tax income.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on her tremendous contribution since being elected. As a former Tameside councillor, I could say much about our local government funding settlement, but the fundamental point I wish to register is that we want local authorities to continue to be the deliverers of core public services—I do, and I think there is consensus for that. However, the local government settlement system for areas such as ours is simply not sustainable.
I believe there should be an incentive system—a way of rewarding councils for house building, economic growth and so forth—but there must also be a floor to ensure that vital, core public services are met. In Tameside, we are very close to falling through that floor.
I thank my hon. Friend for illustrating what I am trying to portray. Some fantastic councils up and down the country are facing genuine difficulties.
Oldham Council, which is also within my constituency, has done even worse than Tameside Council. It has been forced to cut £200 million from its public services since 2010—the second-largest cut in Greater Manchester. Taken together, my two boroughs have already lost from their public services more than £300 million—that is, incidentally, the annual cost of running the royal household.
Across Greater Manchester, local councils are making almost £450 million of cuts, which comes after 15,000 jobs were lost from our town halls after the last round of budget reductions.
I, too, welcome my hon. Friend as the Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), I served as a Tameside councillor before entering this place.
The situation is worse than the picture my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) is painting, because such reductions in council spending have an impact on wider public services. For example, the cut in adult social care budgets has had an enormous impact on the ability of the NHS in Greater Manchester to deliver quality health services.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the impact will be felt across all the public services, which are struggling with their own cuts.
Local government is facing the biggest challenge in its history. Spending as a proportion of GDP is forecast to fall from 4% in 2010 to less than 2.5% in 2019, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. One of the consequences of the cuts she is experiencing, apart from the fact that they are disproportionately affecting areas such as Greater Manchester while more affluent areas are receiving increases, is the long-term effect on life expectancy, about which there is a solid evidence base.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. After five years of austerity, it is becoming increasingly difficult for well-run councils such as Tameside and Oldham to protect the most vulnerable from the impact of Government policies.
Demand for core services, particularly in social care—formerly, I worked in home care—continues to rise steeply, while funds are being drastically cut. Who will pay the price for the mismatch between the demand for services and the resources available to fund them? Will it be the 5,000 adult care service users in Tameside who have a physical difficultly, a frailty or a sensory impairment? Will it be the 4,000 people who use reablement services to help them live at home, or the people the council supports by providing nursing or residential care? Will it be the 1,300 mental health adult social care users, the 556 adults receiving learning disability services or the 410 vulnerable looked-after children in Tameside? What about the 1 million telephone callers to the council every year? Should staff just ignore the ringing phone, stop cleaning the 715 km of highways and footpaths every month, stop emptying the 45,000 wheelie bins and forget the 140 tonnes of street sweeping and the 290 tonnes of litter per month?
The Local Government Association believes that by 2020 the money available to fund some basic but essential council services, which we all rely on, will have shrunk by 90% in real cash terms. More than 60% of council spending will be on adult and child social care. Local authorities up and down the country are facing difficult choices.
My local authority, Salford City Council, is in a similar situation: up to £4.7 million is going to be cut from adult services alone. Its Labour mayor has tried to limit the effect of such swingeing cuts by implementing the living wage and employment standards charter, supporting local people into work with free nursery care and raising £5 million from the proceeds of crime.
My hon. Friend is right. I know her constituency well enough to realise that there is much more that unites us than divides us, not least on the issue of needing funds to provide basic services for our constituents.
Of course, not every local authority is facing the same agonising choices. Analysis by the all-party Local Government Association has shown that Labour local authorities have suffered average losses of £108 per person in spending power, while Tory councils have lost just £38 per head. Is that the Government’s one-nation Britain? Of the 50 worst-hit councils, 43 are Labour-run; of the 50 least-hit councils, 42 are Tory-run.
Even using the Government’s own carefully constructed figures on spending power, the unfairness is stark. Tameside has seen a 3.6% cut in spending power for 2015-16 alone—a cut of £74.77 for households in my constituency. Meanwhile, Oxfordshire’s spending power has risen by 1.3%, and Cheshire East’s has risen by 1.5%. Let us be clear: households in my constituency have lost almost £75 each, while households in Witney have gained almost £22 and those in the Chancellor’s Tatton constituency have become £25 richer. The number of food banks in Tameside has increased sixfold under a Prime Minister and a Chancellor who are busily feathering their own nests.
The Chancellor has announced a so-called stability Budget on 8 July, which will contain another £12 billion of cuts that will no doubt hit out-of-work benefits, disability allowances and personal social services. Inevitably, local government services will be hit once again.
The Independent Commission on Local Government Finances said today that councils are already at a cliff edge, which means that everyday services may not exist for much longer. People who depend on council services are already teetering on the edge of that cliff, and the Chancellor’s so-called stability Budget will push them over.
Tameside Council is forecasting that £4.5 million of cuts will be made to social care by the Chancellor’s stability Budget. Cuts to benefits would add another £4.5 million of extra pressure on council services. One cannot be taken without the other. Those cuts come on top of the £1 million cuts to public health services already announced in Tameside. The total in-year cut for Tameside will be up to another £10 million, and the situation in Oldham is exactly the same.
We are not alone. Sheffield Hallam University estimates that the Chancellor’s £12 billion of welfare cuts will take £5.2 billion a year out of the pockets of families in the north. Coincidentally, almost the same amount is lost in tax evasion every year. I look forward to the Tories pursuing multimillionaire tax avoiders with the same fervour as they are punishing poor working people, but I am not holding my breath.
I have no doubt that Tameside and Oldham Councils will continue the difficult work of managing the cuts and tackling the enormous challenges they face, but I fear that, for all their best intentions, many local people will inevitably suffer. There has to be a better way. I know that many Government Members genuinely believe in local democracy and local government, and will join me in congratulating Tameside, Oldham and many other local authorities for their work in stimulating private-sector investment, creating decent jobs, providing strong civic leadership, innovating services and being prepared to do things differently.
All that is at risk if local government services continue to be the whipping boy for austerity. That is why we need a new settlement for local government in our country. Devolution and more local decision making will undoubtedly play their part and I welcome the progress made, particularly in the development of the northern powerhouse. However, devolution is only part of the answer; in itself, it will not solve the funding crisis and cannot be used by central Government as an excuse to transfer responsibilities.
My hon. Friend shares my keen interest in the devo Manc proposal. In light of the facts she set out, there is concern—among northern MPs, in particular—that Ministers see it as a chance to palm off the blame rather than hand down the power. Does she agree that, whatever the final shape of local government in Manchester, resources much match responsibilities?
Once again, my hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. She anticipates my next point. If the northern powerhouse is to succeed, it cannot be used as a Trojan horse for more cuts. There must be a fairer settlement for local government: a settlement where reductions in spending do not fall on the most vulnerable in society and the places where they rely on a strong public sector; that puts public need first; that takes a place-based approach to finance, ending the madness whereby cuts to preventive local government services only fuel increasing demand for more expensive NHS treatment; and that helps to cut the appalling gap in outcomes between the most affluent and most deprived areas, ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to get on in life, regardless of where they started.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. This is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) to the House. I congratulate her on securing the debate and commend her on her speech about the situation in Tameside and Oldham. She and her colleagues are not necessarily enthusiastic about what is happening in her area as a result of the northern powerhouse talks, but I certainly take her comments today seriously.
The way local government is funded is extremely important and creates a great deal of debate. Thanks to the Government’s long-term economic plan, the deficit is falling, the economy is growing and employment is at a record high. The Government are putting public finances back on track. The past five years have seen huge changes in the way in which councils operate. Local government accounts for almost a quarter of total public expenditure. It was therefore inevitable that local government would have to play its part in reducing the deficit, but it has done so efficiently and effectively, delivering sensible savings while protecting front-line services. In fact, public satisfaction with local government services has increased or been maintained across the country over the past five years. That illustrates how successful councils have been. However, the job is not yet done, and the next five years will present further challenges. The Government still need to take difficult decisions about local government funding, to ensure that the public finances are on a sustainable path, and councils will need to continue to play their part.
Will the Minister give way?
I will in a moment, but I will make further progress first.
For Britain to be truly successful, every part of the country must thrive. With the 2015-16 settlement, the Government attempted to be fair to all of our great cities, counties, rural shires and coastal communities. The overall reduction in local authorities’ spending power in 2015-16 is 1.7%. When taking account of the funding provided to support local transformation, the overall reduction is lower still—1.5%. To answer one of questions from the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, those authorities with the greatest demand for services continue to receive substantially more in funding. Only London and the north-east have higher spending power per household than the north-west.
I will give way in a moment.
Just to put that in context, in Oldham the spending power per household is £2,400 and in Tameside it is £2,070, against a national average of £2,086. Furthermore, we have ensured that no council will face a loss of more than 6.4% in their spending power in 2015-16, the lowest level since we started out on the road to recovery.
During the past five years there have been unavoidable changes to local authority funding from central Government. We have ensured that these changes have been applied fairly and sustainably.
I will give way in a moment.
Through our reforms to the local government finance system, we have established a basis for a more self-reliant local government, and a sector that is less dependent on Whitehall and is instead increasingly confident in using the tools and incentives that we have provided to grow local economies.
The Minister talks about a fair funding settlement, but does he not appreciate that, because of their make-up, local authorities have different needs from and demands on services? Tameside and Oldham, for example, are grant-dependent because the council tax base is low and their ability to raise additional finance is therefore limited.
I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. That is why the north-west—particularly the Oldham area—has greater spending power than many other parts of the country. However, he undersells his area’s potential to raise revenue locally, through additional council tax and business rate retention. Councils have a greater stake in stimulating local growth. Authorities throughout the country are benefiting from greater powers in this sense, including—
I am going to make progress.
Councils benefiting from those powers include Newcastle, Sunderland and Northampton, which had the greatest growth in business rates retention in 2013-14, as a result of enterprise zones and new development deals. Authorities’ own estimates for 2015-16 show that 94% are expecting growth in their business rate income, above the level of assumed growth of £544 million in total. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), I remind him that Oldham and Tameside forecast growth of £1.8 million and £2.4 million respectively, putting both councils in the top 100 authorities in England in terms of additional income.
I will give way in a moment. I am just going to finish this point.
As those authorities are members of the Greater Manchester and Chester business rates pool, which benefits from a zero levy, they will avoid paying any levy on the additional income that they bring in.
Can we get to the real point of this debate, which is that Oldham in particular, which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) represent, is having to take a £200 million cut by 2017, as she said? In this current year, it is having its spending power cut by 4.3%, whereas Oxfordshire, which happens to contain the Prime Minister’s constituency, has an increase of 1.3%, and Cheshire East Council, which happens to contain the Chancellor’s constituency, is having a 1.5% increase. Does that not clearly indicate a flagrantly politically partisan distribution of resources between Tory areas, where the need is less, compared with Labour areas where it is far greater?
I should say to Opposition Members that I will not take any further interventions after the right hon. Gentleman’s lengthy contribution. He needs to put this matter in the context of the authorities that he mentioned having far less spending power than those we are discussing in this debate.
The other way that the areas in question will no doubt benefit is through the new homes bonus. Councils benefit directly from the number of new homes built in their area and from bringing empty property back into use. We have provisionally allocated £1.2 billion of new homes bonus funding to local authorities in England for 2015-16. Of that, Oldham will receive £2.1 million and Tameside £3.5 million. Since the scheme began, local authorities have been rewarded with a total of £3.4 billion.
As well as growing their economies, the best authorities are transforming how they do business and demonstrating innovation, including in how they work with local partners. We are supporting them as they do so, helping them to achieve savings and, perhaps most important, improving outcomes for the people who use local services.
In November, the Government announced the 73 projects that were successful in bidding for the transformation challenge award. The projects will receive £90 million to improve services and ultimately will save the public sector more than £900 million. I would like to give several examples, particularly one in Manchester, but I do not have time to do so during this debate.
One critical area where the Government must work with councils to transform services is adult social care. I hear what the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne says about her experience and I am sure that the House will welcome that experience. The Government are clear that the NHS and social care services must work together and move away from operating in financial silos. They must secure the best possible value from the local funding available for health and care in order to improve people’s lives. The Government are committed to making that happen, but just putting more money into the system is not the answer, despite Opposition Members’ comments. We need radical reform of how health and social care are delivered. The better care fund provides a new approach to protect social care services, breaking new ground in driving integration between health and social care.
Despite the challenges that I have mentioned, most local authorities have coped well. Most authorities froze council tax in 2015-16, helping people with the cost of living. The Government once again provided additional funding equivalent to a 1% council tax increase to help them to do so. This was the fifth successive year of freeze funding provided by Government, bringing the total package to £5 billion. That has helped to reduce council tax by 11% in real terms since 2010, with the average band D household saving up to £1,059. That is in stark contrast to the 13 years of Labour government, when council tax bills doubled.
I cannot, due to the length of the interventions that I took previously.
The financial constraints facing councils make it even more important that we deliver on our critical agenda of devolving power to local places and local people. That is one of the most exciting agendas in local government at the moment. Local government should no longer think of itself as a manager of central programmes, but should embrace its new power and responsibility.
The Government’s commitment has been demonstrated by the inclusion—the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne will have seen this—of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which has started its progress in the House of Lords. Alongside the Bill, we will be talking to councils about their ideas for devolution, so that we can agree deals that make devolution a reality. The Government want the process to be bottom up and recognise that the right approach will be different in every area. We want to devolve power to cities, rural areas and neighbourhoods. The Bill will bring about the most far-reaching decentralisation of power in living memory and in particular will create a northern powerhouse with Manchester and other northern cities. It will create a directly elected mayor responsible for co-ordinating significant powers and budgets across transport, back-to-work support and health and adult social care.
Last November, Greater Manchester and the Government agreed a devolution plan that saw powers over transport, planning and housing transferred from central Government control to the Greater Manchester combined authority. In February, building on that, 10 local authorities, including a number that Opposition Members represent, came together with 12 clinical commissioning groups and NHS providers in Greater Manchester, along with NHS England, and agreed that from April 2016 they would take joint control of the estimated £6 billion health and care budget in the region. That will enable Greater Manchester to be freer to respond to what local people want, using experience and expertise from across government and the NHS to help improve outcomes and change the way in which public money is spent.
There is little doubt that the next five years will bring further financial challenges but, with the spending review approaching, hon. Members will appreciate that I cannot say much more about our financial plans today. The Government wish to work constructively with local government on these issues, and we are ready to listen to the views of councils.
Question put and agreed to.
BBC Investment (East and West Midlands)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered BBC investment in the East and West Midlands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. The east and west midlands have a proud history of broadcasting. Looking back through time, the first regional TV station was established in Sutton Coldfield in 1949. We were also the first to have a regional radio station, which was established in Birmingham in 1922, and the first ever colour TV studio was established in Birmingham in 1969.
It is not only in broadcasting that Birmingham and the west midlands lead the way. The west midlands is, of course, the centre of Britain’s creative talents. William Shakespeare, Jerome K. Jerome and J. R. R. Tolkien were all from the west midlands. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a disgrace that, although the west midlands contributes 25% of the licence fee, the BBC spends just 2% of its budget fostering creative talent in the region?
I will speak briefly on behalf of the east midlands. The hon. Gentleman missed out that the BBC Asian Network was created in Leicester and, under current proposals, will be moved from Leicester down to London, which is totally unacceptable.
I am grateful for that intervention. From the mood in the room, it is clear that we are proud of both the east midlands and the west midlands, and it is a shame that the BBC management in London do not recognise the importance of the broadcasting ability in the midlands. As the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) indicated, more than a quarter of all licence fee money is collected from the midlands, but investment in the region is as low as 2.05%, which is outrageous. The figure is a sixth of the amount spent in the north, 21% of the amount spent in the south and less than the broadcaster spends in London every 12 days.
I have served as a Member of Parliament for the east midlands as well as for the west midlands, so I hope that I take a balanced approach to my hon. Friend’s excellent speech. Does he agree that it is astonishing that the BBC should neglect investment in Britain’s second city of Birmingham? The city is a centre for the creative arts, in addition to the point raised by the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin). The BBC is cutting off its nose to spite its face; it is missing out on the huge array of talent in the east midlands and particularly the west midlands.
I am grateful for that intervention. Many of us will remember the great facility at Pebble Mill, which closed in 2004. Currently, the midlands has no network TV studios at all. The north has dozens. Once again, that demonstrates that the BBC does not invest in the midlands and does not take us seriously.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Birmingham is the city not just of Chamberlain but of Pebble Mill. Does he agree that it is absolutely wrong that £9 out of every £10 raised from the Birmingham licence fee payer is not spent in the midlands? Will he also join me in congratulating The Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail on their outstanding advocacy of a fair share for Birmingham and the midlands?
I absolutely join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Birmingham Post. Its campaign has been a long-running one. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), who since his election to this House has been very active in pursuing the issue.
To come back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), there is a lot of history in the west midlands, particularly in Coventry, where “The Italian Job” was made. Film producers can do it in the midlands, so why cannot the BBC, when it is disposing of its resources? The west midlands could be called the economic powerhouse of this country, but we would not know that from the BBC.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. When we consider what the east and west midlands have to offer as backdrops for TV programme makers—the beautiful city of Lincoln, Sherwood Forest in my constituency—the great creative talents of Birmingham and Coventry, the spectacular restaurants of Leicestershire and the rolling hills of Derbyshire—[Interruption.] I am not familiar with what Stoke has to offer, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman will educate me.
Ms Dorries, I will not try your patience by giving a long list of the marvellous things in north Staffordshire and in Stoke-on-Trent in particular, but will make the very serious point that Birmingham and other large conurbations are hard done by, but the far-flung places in the west and east midlands, such as Stoke-on-Trent, are even more neglected.
I acknowledge that. I hope that this debate will help the BBC management to understand its poor decision-making processes.
It is worth making comparisons on a per-head basis. If spending per licence fee payer was the same in the north as in the south, £473 million would be spent in the midlands.
The hon. Gentleman is making a really important point about expenditure on broadcasting, one that was brought home to me by my constituent Jean Vincent and her children, who all work in the creative industries and are having to travel further and further from Dudley to find work. She told me that it is estimated that, for every pound the BBC spends, £2 is generated in the wider economy. That makes BBC investment even more important and means that our creative industries in the midlands are losing out on hundreds of millions of pounds. Does he agree?
I wholly agree. If we pursue the hon. Gentleman’s argument that every pound that the BBC spends creates £2 in the local economy, the economy of the east and west midlands would benefit by £786 million—a substantial amount of investment.
Let us compare the midlands with other areas. In the midlands, the BBC spends £12.40 per head. In Wales, the figure is £122.24 per head; in Northern Ireland, it is £103.14 and in Scotland, £88.73. In the north of England, it is £80.24, and in London, it is a staggering £757.24. By any stretch of the imagination, that makes the midlands the poor relation when it comes to BBC investment.
I commend my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that one fundamental problem is that the BBC’s funding mechanism—the licence fee, which is backed by criminal sanctions for non-payment—means that midlands licence fee payers have little influence over the BBC’s spending strategy? However, if the BBC’s funding were moved to a voluntary subscription mechanism, that would give subscribers in the midlands a lot more power, and the BBC would not be able to ignore them in its spending strategy.
My hon. Friend has a long-standing record of being supportive of the BBC—of being a critical friend. The licence fee and a subscription service are a separate debate for another occasion.
One could argue that the midlands has always been the poor relation, but that is not true. Since 2009, spending in the midlands has fallen by 35.25%, to well below what is spent in London. In the same period, spending in London fell by 16.5%, but investment in the north rose by 217%, and every other region has seen increased investment, apart from the midlands.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman and other east midlands MPs will join me in bidding farewell to John Hess, the BBC’s political editor in the east midlands; we wish him well. I mention that to raise a serious point. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the BBC should continue to invest in good political journalism that explains to our constituents what is going on in this place? We would not want any of that to be cut in future months.
I absolutely agree. Not only do we have John Hess, the esteemed broadcaster, on east midlands TV, but we have good journalists right across the midlands, and they hold politicians like us to account very efficiently. The amount spent in the midlands is very low, but the quality of programmes is often very high. To me, that is an argument for the BBC to invest more in that efficient model, which is delivering more bang for every buck.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to that.
Every year, the BBC spends £89 million on its Broadcasting House headquarters in London—more than on the entire midlands region. As has been identified, none of the output for Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 5, BBC 2, BBC 3 or BBC 4 was made in the midlands last year, and no peak-time BBC programmes whatever were made there.
The midlands has no network TV studios, after the closure of Pebble Mill in 2004. As I said, there are dozens of studios in the north. BBC regional spending is up by 35%. Every region has seen an increase in spending over the last five years, except the midlands. It is an outrage that the midlands is pouring in more than a quarter of the licence fee money to get only a 2% return.
Absolutely. I wholly agree. When the BBC gets programming right, my constituents certainly respect and love what it does. My argument is not with what the BBC is doing; it is that the BBC should be doing more and investing more in a model that is very good and very robust and deserves more investment and support from London.
I am conscious that many other colleagues want to speak, so I will draw my comments to a close. I recognise that the Minister’s power to influence what the BBC does with its budget is small, but he meets its representatives regularly, and I hope that he will use the influence he does have to draw their attention to investment in the midlands and to the fact that we are the poor relation compared with other regions. Other colleagues in the House will also continue to draw the attention of BBC managers to the issue. I hope that at some point the BBC will listen, so that we can make some progress and get real investment in the midlands.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) for securing the debate. He is a strong advocate for his constituency and for the midlands as a whole. I declare an interest: I worked for the BBC from 2002 until 2007. I was the BBC News personal finance and consumer affairs reporter, based—I hasten to add—in London.
The motion is about BBC investment in the east and west midlands, and the truth is that there is far too little of it. In 2014, for each £145.50 of licence fee raised in the west midlands, only £12.40 came back to the region; as has been pointed out, that compares with a staggering £757 in London. There is also what economists call a multiplier effect, whereby every pound spent multiplies through the economy and people employed. As a result, licence fee money has a massive and disproportionate impact in London and Manchester rather than in Birmingham, which is the heart of our country and the only part of it to have a trade surplus with the EU; it is a strong powerhouse that is under-represented by the BBC, a national broadcaster.
Obviously, I would never countenance mass civil disobedience over the matter, but something will certainly be shared on social media later. A lot of people are interested in the debate. I am following on my iPad the live blog by Trinity Mirror Midlands’s Birmingham Post online, which is looking into this. Perhaps that is something that will spread around.
The hon. Gentleman is the MP for Solihull, so he knows, as I do, that the central problem facing the west midlands is our inability over decades to attract new jobs in new industries to replace the ones that we lost in traditional industries. Clearly, creative industries will generate hundreds of thousands of well paid jobs in the future. Does he agree that all of us—on both sides of the House and in the wider west midlands economy—should make it a priority to establish some sort of broadcasting hub in Birmingham and the west midlands to attract such jobs? We need to get our universities and the BBC working to attract jobs to the west midlands for the future.
That is an interesting idea and I would hope that the BBC would play such a role; it would if it were doing its job properly. It is ridiculous that the Mailbox seems to be full of the HR department, rather than of people making programming for our enjoyment. If the BBC were to do its job properly and to be genuinely representative of the strength of the east and west midlands, we would be seeing greater programming and a real hub—the broadcast hub that we are talking about.
I am wondering how we got into the situation that we are in, with a bipolar organisation between London and Manchester—a carve-up, perhaps. The last time the charter came in, after the sad demise of Dr David Kelly, the Hutton report and all those things were going on, as well as the falling out between the Government and the BBC. The then director-general, Mark Thompson, decided to have what I call a “Jim Hacker” moment—as in the “Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister” programmes. Suddenly the idea was to move lots of people from one part of the country to another and to call it regional diversity. The initiative was sold to the Government in good faith as extending regional programming and as the creation of a new hub in Manchester.
Looking at the output of the BBC these days, I question the purpose of moving thousands of staff to Salford from west London to produce the same programming in a different studio. The BBC has no regional character. When I was growing up in Chester and the west midlands—Biddulph, to be precise—we used to enjoy a lot of regionality in our programming; there were many more programmes and outside broadcasts specific to our region than there are today. Many of the studios established throughout the east and west midlands have now gone, and we are left with a skeleton staff in our region.
In that context, would the hon. Gentleman question the BBC’s figure that more than 50% of its output is produced outside London? All it has done is increase regional commuting, with people travelling from London to various hubs across the nation. It has not really changed anything.
The hon. Lady is spot on. The BBC has created a bipolar organisation that transports people from London to Manchester. There is no real regional diversity to its broadcasting. I am horrified to learn of the BBC Asian Network’s being moved from Leicester to London, a prime example of that. I commend the campaign by Trinity Mirror and The Birmingham Post, and in particular the journalist Graeme Brown, who is highlighting an important matter that has brought many parties together.
We are in a bit of a dead zone for the national broadcaster in the west and east midlands. The BBC has perhaps seen regional diversity as something to be endured rather than embraced. If the BBC is to reconnect with the public at a time of mass digital communication, when we have many different ways of viewing and listening to content, it should consider drilling right down into the regions and offering something more regionally-based.
Whenever the BBC’s income stream is considered to be under threat, the first thing it says it will have to cut is regional radio in the east and west midlands, further reducing its already small presence there. Is my hon. Friend as horrified as I am at that? Should the Minister not tell the BBC at charter review that that would be completely unacceptable?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Regional broadcasting seems to be seen as an expense to be endured, rather than something that would deliver value for viewers and listeners, be valued and reconnect the BBC with the wider public once again.
Many Members here are of a certain age and can remember the time of mass broadcasting, with the shows of Morecambe and Wise getting 20 million viewers. These days, younger people, under the age of 25, will not understand the connection that many of us have with the BBC. If the BBC is going to survive in the long term, it needs to reconnect with the public. One key way of doing that is greater regional broadcasting and developing regional talent.
I appeal to BBC management to consider the case for the midlands, to redress the balance and genuinely to embrace regional diversity at the next charter renewal—not see it as some sort of sop that will buy it another seven years, which is what happened last time. We need not a bipolar organisation but one that takes its broadcasting out to individuals.
I am not that encouraged at what I have heard so far from the BBC. Its agenda for charter renewal seems to involve a crackdown on those not paying the licence fee for content on digital devices, retention of criminal sanctions against non-payers and a potential inflation of the licence fee. The BBC needs to understand that we are in the antechamber to the end of the licence fee and that we need to see a path out of it in the long term. The BBC can reconnect and offer better value for what it delivers by focusing on its core services. I argue strongly that its core service is regional broadcasting and delivering for the people of the east and west midlands.
I must declare a narrow interest: my moment of glory was on 7 May 1997, when Pat Archer was heard to say from Pebble Mill, which was in my constituency, that when Edgbaston was won, we would know we had a Labour Government. I was disappointed when the BBC moved out of Pebble Mill and I was no longer the MP for “The Archers”.
I am going to do something that may seem slightly counter-intuitive: I will partly defend the BBC, because we have to be careful what we wish for. If we want a public service broadcaster—most of the rest of the world would give their eye-teeth for the BBC and the World Service—we should realise that our desire for it has consequences. That does not mean that I agree with everything the BBC has done, but the Government do not get off scot-free. If we wish the BBC to be a public service broadcaster that can survive in the modern age, the funding structure and stream must be protected as well. What that means for the midlands is quite significant.
First, we must acknowledge that when he saw those empty offices in the Mailbox, Tony Hall was horrified. The BBC has tried to fill them, so far only with human resources staff, and it has moved its academy there. At least the BBC is moving that way. It has appointed a regional director.
For me, the bottom line is that if we do not start commissioning programmes from the midlands, nothing will flow from the midlands. We may become a production area, but for the west midlands to reflect its own culture and output, we have to commission programmes in the midlands and have commissioners there. We come across the issue on a daily basis. Turn on “Woman’s Hour”, and it will have vox pops from Manchester’s Oxford Road. The BBC is not asking people in the Bullring. The whole culture is just the wrong way.
What that means for us as MPs in the region is that we have to stress a number of things. If the BBC wants to survive in the future, we in Birmingham are the future: 40% of Birmingham’s population is under the age of 25, and 30% is under the age of 15. The ethnic diversity of the stable population in that region is enormous. It is not just the Asian Network, which started 40 years ago in the midlands, but the whole cultural production that is happening there. Frankly, if the BBC does not reflect the culture of that significant area—the chunk in the middle of England that is so easy to overlook, and it seems to be overlooked—then the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, will not fulfil its function for the whole of the country.
I say to colleagues that we have to keep up the pressure and say to the BBC, “Step by step, you are trying to move in the right direction, but you aren’t there yet.” I also say that we must be clear that if we do away with the licence fee, that will also have consequences. Let us just think for a moment. Those of us who think that the Union—the United Kingdom—is important should remember that the British Broadcasting Corporation is one of the very few British institutions that still embraces the entire British Isles and the nation.
The hon. Lady said that the BBC “embraces” the nation. However, we noted during the referendum campaign that the Scottish National party was very angry with the BBC, and claimed bias in that respect. Given that the modern BBC does not embrace regional broadcasting, as we are discussing today, is it fulfilling that true national broadcaster remit?
That is a really important point at which we should pause. The SNP would like a national broadcaster; I would like a public sector broadcaster—and there is a very important distinction between the two, which we must not lose. The BBC must fulfil its duty to the regions—for example, in the political output in radio broadcasting, which it is neglecting.
What happens in the midlands is extremely important for northern Wales, because it looks to output from the midlands more than to that of the south of Wales. To be a proper public sector broadcaster, the BBC has to represent the regions and be more than just the national broadcaster: it also needs to commission programmes in the region.
The challenge for us is to be clear about the ask to the BBC; the challenge for the BBC is that unless it starts commissioning programmes in the whole of the midlands, they will not reflect us. That takes us back to the challenge for the Government in the charter review. A public sector broadcaster requires certain funding streams that will allow the BBC to fulfil that function.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) on securing this important debate. His constituency and mine are at opposite ends of the midlands, but we have in common a sense of injustice about the poor return for our licence fee payers on the investment that they make.
What we need from the BBC is simple: a fairer share of the spend and a much firmer commitment that BBC production will be brought to our region. For far too many of my constituents and, I suspect, people across the midlands, the BBC means London, Cardiff, Salford, Bristol, Belfast and Glasgow—the big six—and indeed anywhere but our region. Various people have cited the figures; the simple fact remains that midlands licence fee payers contribute about £942 million to the BBC and get back about £80 million in investment, less than 9% of the total licence fee. I do not think that anyone would see that as fair.
We can all criticise failures in spending, but the central point that I am making is about inequitable spending. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point.
A brief that the BBC sent me for this debate reminded me that the Mailbox is the home of the academy, the workplace and outreach. That is great, but what the brief did not contain was the number of new jobs and apprenticeships associated with those initiatives. I would like to know how that compares with the £180 million new studio and the 1,000 new jobs for MediaCity in Salford. I would also like to know why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) pointed out, the bulk of production is technically still located in London.
I am told that the BBC is anxious to use Birmingham as an innovative test bed because we are the youngest city in Europe and we are truly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, but I want to know where the substance is. Where are the new formats, technologies and jobs for the midlands? It is time we saw some of the hard data. I want to know that all those promises will come true and that there is plan to work with the Ormiston academy, the Rep theatre and Birmingham City University. I have heard plenty of talk; it is time we saw some action. We need to know that there is a real programme for mentoring and apprenticeships in the midlands, and we need to know that digital innovation is more than just a form of words.
On apprenticeships, does the hon. Gentleman have any thoughts about pay differentials within the BBC? According to the latest reports, 91 BBC staff members currently earn more than the Prime Minister, while many people who do the programming, such as broadcast assistants, broadcast journalists and senior broadcast journalists, might take home a quarter of that. They are the ones putting in the work, while those who move people from place to place earn bumper salaries. What does he think about that?
It is a challenge for the director-general, and it is one of the things that he must tackle. It contributes to the sense of unfairness that many of us have about the organisation. Of course, like my hon. Friend, I welcome the news that human resources and training jobs will come to Birmingham, but it was only a couple of years ago that the BBC announced a nationwide search for new talent among disabled presenters and managed to exclude Birmingham from the process entirely. Where are the new jobs in the midlands for performers, directors and creative people?
I conclude by congratulating the hon. Member for Sherwood again on securing this debate. We need to hear that a more equitable share of the money will be included in any future discussions on charter renewal and the licence fee. We cannot contribute nearly £1 billion to the BBC pot and get back a paltry 9%.
When the east and west midlands are given an opportunity, we are really good—Notts TV, which works alongside Nottingham Trent University, has been a successful model—and it is such a shame that people in London do not recognise that and invest more in that talent.
I totally agree. There is a wealth of creative talent across the midlands. As someone said earlier, we keep hearing about the desire to help the regions to grow and rebalance their economies. One of the things we need to do is to recognise the creative potential in our region. I do not know how helpful it will be, but I have come to the conclusion that midlands licence fee payers will not tolerate the situation any longer. The game is up—they have had enough.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) on securing this debate. The Minister will understand that feeling on this issue runs deep across both the east and west midlands. The feeling is cross-party, and it will not go away. It is vital that something happens on regional broadcasting in the Government’s negotiations on charter renewal; it must not be something that is simply written in the right words in the right documents. The Government have a role to play in pushing the BBC quite hard on that in the coming period.
Members have talked about the figures, which are stark. They have talked about the contribution that licence fee payers in the east and west midlands make to the BBC and what comes back to the region. Many of us feel that we have been around this track so many times before, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and me. I have lost count of the meetings we have attended. I can just about count the directors-general and acting directors-general to whom we have put these points, and each of them has said that they agree. It might have been easier if one of them had said, “No, you are wrong. We think that the east and west midlands are a bit of a backwater and are not where the action is. We need to do what we are doing.” But every time they told us that they agreed with us and that things were going to change.
The situation was not entirely the BBC’s fault in the early phases. When Mark Thompson was director-general, a memorandum of understanding was agreed between the BBC and Birmingham City Council. At the time, the lack of ambition to put the memorandum of understanding into practice was equal on both sides. The words were all there but, when we asked afterwards what was being done to follow it up, not much was going on at all.
As somebody is meant to have said in this place, my hon. Friend may say that; I couldn’t possibly comment. [Laughter.] I will comment: she is right.
Mark Thompson was followed by a couple of other directors-general, and they both said that things were going to change. My hon. Friend is right about Tony Hall. In October 2013, a cross-party group of midlands MPs presented a petition that had been put together by the Campaign for Regional Broadcasting—I pay tribute to that group for keeping this issue in the public eye and putting up in lights the inequity in funding. In November 2013—this was significant—the BBC committed itself to a new vision for Birmingham and the midlands as a whole, with a pledge to invest £23.5 million; Birmingham is to become a new centre for digital excellence for skills, recruitment and talent, creating hundreds of jobs. That was a change—some action was taken and I like to believe that Tony Hall is serious about that.
However, I am worried that, since the announcement, everything has ground to a halt again. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak mentioned the briefing we received from the BBC. It basically says, “It’s okay, we’re doing it,” and runs through the kinds of things we have been told before—the kinds of programmes that were announced some time ago. At the end, the briefing simply says, “The BBC is committed to providing audiences with programmes and services to reflect the many communities across—”
The hon. Gentleman is right. At the risk of mixing jam metaphors with glue, the ambition that Tony Hall says he has for the BBC in Birmingham—the kind of thing we are all talking about—needs some glue to stick it all together. It needs something behind it to make it happen. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston hit the nail on the head, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak also made this point: that glue is commissioning—it is crucial. We all talk about the BBC network. Everyone I have spoken to—both in the BBC and beyond, in related creative industries—has said that networking is vital. People have to know one another. When people commission a programme, they think of who they will approach, the production companies they will use and where they will get the new talent. If the focus remains on London, we will not get change in Birmingham and the east and west midlands. The kind of change there has been in the north—the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) had this right—is not real change, as there is still that commuting south.
We therefore need a commitment by the BBC to match its ambitions for the network with real networking. It should be looking out for the new and existing talent in our regions and particularly in the east and west midlands. If that can be done, it can pull behind it the apprenticeships and the training that can make such things fly.
Under the current director-general I, too, have noticed a change from what has gone before. I hope that when he reads the transcript of the debate he will understand that we are trying to be friends. To remain friends, however, action has to follow words. If we are to be the centre for broadcasting and for digital broadcasting in the future—in many ways digital broadcasting is the future—he has to do more than he is currently doing. That means a vision beyond the HR-related and training jobs that are being brought to the midlands at the moment. Crucially, we need a focus on commissioning, production and getting in place the networks that can make the east and west midlands vital parts of the BBC’s ambition for the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) on securing this important debate and on drawing attention to the appallingly inequitable funding allocated by the BBC to our region. I will endeavour to be brief, not least because my hon. Friend set out the issue so well with his usual clarity. I must say that, on being elected to the House—I am making my first contribution in this Chamber today—I never expected to find myself as fully in agreement with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) as I am.
The proud tradition of broadcasting in the east midlands highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) extends to Leicestershire, too. For example, BBC Radio Leicester does a first-class job of serving the people of Leicester and Leicestershire. That organisations such as BBC Radio Leicester continue to be trusted and listened to in such numbers by my constituents is in large part down to the talent and hard work of the journalists and broadcasters, and not down to their receiving fair levels of BBC investment, which, as we have heard, certainly does not reflect the licence fee paid by our region.
I would like to make sure that the Chamber is fully aware of the size of the BBC. If we include BBC Worldwide in the BBC revenue stream, it gets about £5 billion a year. That is comparable with the United Nations and twice the annual budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point with force and clarity, as always. My constituents have no choice about paying their licence fee. On this occasion, I will not labour my view that non-payment should be decriminalised, but the least they should be able to expect is a fair deal and a fair share from what they pay. I hope that as we look towards charter renewal, issues such as the BBC spending bias against the midlands will feature in that debate. I fully endorse the points that the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) made about local political journalism in the east midlands and its importance to our democracy and to all of us being held to account by local journalists producing local content.
Some 25% contributed and 2% received is disgracefully unfair as an equation, however we look at it. That cannot be allowed to go on. It is time for the BBC to escape its apparent London-centric investment bias and once again fully seize on the talent and energy of the midlands by investing and producing more in our region. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the BBC receives the strength of hon. Members’ views clearly, particularly in respect of how much we and our constituents value truly local content. The point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) that the BBC needs to approach charter renewal recognising that it must continue to change and to listen to those who listen to it and who have no choice but to pay the licence fee, and not simply ask us for more money.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) for securing what has been a passionate and committed debate. I was fascinated as he went through the history and heritage of TV and radio broadcasting in the east and west midlands. I thank all hon. Members who have made speeches and interventions. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). I thank the hon. Members for Solihull (Julian Knight) and for Charnwood (Edward Argar). I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) for his perceptive and incisive interventions in this important debate.
I pay tribute to the long-time campaigners. The campaign has been truly cross-party and has the support of the new Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I also pay tribute to the campaigning of The Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Mail, which has been so important in placing the issue on the national agenda.
We are here to discuss BBC investment in the midlands. The main investment the BBC makes is in BBC Birmingham. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston is right: those of us who live in the borders of north-east Wales have seen a lot of it—sometimes by choice, sometimes through transmitter problems; we do not always get BBC Wales, which is a subject for another day. There is no question but that BBC Birmingham has a proud history, having produced “Pebble Mill at One” and “Boys from the Black Stuff”. Across the midlands, the BBC produces “Midlands Today”, “East Midlands Today”, “Look East” and online content, and there are 14 local radio stations. BBC Birmingham makes great shows, such as “Doctors”, and it is the home of the BBC Asian Network, which was mentioned earlier.
BBC Birmingham also produces the great, popular radio drama, “The Archers”—I confess that I always thought it was based somewhere in the west country, not in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston. “The Archers” is more than 65 years old, but its listeners are of all ages and live around the world. Since FM radio waves travel through space, we can confidently say it reaches as far as Pluto. It has even been suggested that the theme tune of “The Archers” should be the English national anthem. It does not quite compare to “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”, but it is pretty good, and the programme is an extraordinary international production.
There are clearly very serious concerns about this issue. For instance, a quarter of licence fee payers live in the west and east midlands, but the area receives 2% of BBC spending. Last year, that meant the BBC received £942 million, and the midlands got £80 million back. The BBC is investing only £12.40 per capita in the midlands. Such figures have real consequences for infrastructure, and therefore for programming.
The BBC has little to no commissioning or production facilities in the midlands, and no primetime BBC 1 programmes are made there. In fact, the BBC does not make anything on BBC 2, BBC 3 or BBC 4 in the midlands, nor on Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3 or Radio 5. A small chunk of investment means a small chunk of infrastructure, which means a small chunk of programming.
At least three main problems have been raised in this debate. The first is the simple matter of fairness, which has been mentioned by many hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston previously referred to it as a mismatch, and she is absolutely right. One estimate is that the midlands pays out 12 times what it gets back.
The second problem relates to the infrastructure of creativity. The BBC is the central part of the United Kingdom’s creative and cultural ecosystem, and at a national level it plays a key role in training and fostering talent, encouraging investment and exports, and raising standards across the market. The £3.5 billion we pay for it is our single biggest investment in the arts. At a regional level, it helps to ground creative clusters, which can be seen most clearly in its move to Salford. The MediaCityUK cluster of creative firms and workers is grounded by the BBC. The investment it makes in the midlands—particularly in training and digital—helps to ground the area’s growing creative scene. More investment would mean a better and more flourishing creative ecosystem.
The third problem relates to what we see on our screens and hear on our radios. The hon. Member for Solihull spoke about diversity and regional content. This issue is about not only wanting more spending, but reflecting our country back to itself. It is important that we have stories from every part of the country. In every nook and cranny of the United Kingdom there is a unique viewpoint and a voice that we need to hear in our national conversation.
The Labour party is clear that we believe in a BBC for everyone, which is why we support the existence of the licence fee. The fundamental principle is that everyone pays in and everyone gets something out. People need to feel they are getting something out and that the BBC is worth it. I accept that not everyone agrees with that, but that is where the Labour party stands.
There are major issues to be looked at, and we believe that that needs to happen in this debate on the BBC charter. It is not a little opt-out alone; the debate is much too important for that.
The BBC has recognised that there is a disparity. When Tony Hall become director-general in 2013, he visited the Mailbox and announced additional investment. In particular, the focus on training and digital was a sign of investment in the future of the BBC, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield said earlier. However, the issue has not gone away; the question is what we do now.
On 19 March, the Prime Minister was asked about BBC investment in Birmingham and the midlands. He said that
“the charter renewal is a good time to have that conversation”
“these are the questions we will be able to ask in the charter renewal process which starts after the election.”
We agree with the Prime Minister on that. We are past the election and should be getting on with charter renewal, which is the right time to have that conversation. Charter renewal is our opportunity, every decade, to ask ourselves, “What do we want the BBC to do?” We re-examine the BBC’s purposes, governance, funding and investment in the round.
The Culture Secretary’s Select Committee report, “Future of the BBC”, laid out a road map for how the process would work. It basically means copying the successful model that Tessa Jowell, Labour’s Culture Secretary, took us through 10 years ago. That was a vibrant, open, consultative, national conversation about the BBC’s future. It is time to do that again. Labour wants an open and transparent national debate to start as soon as possible. We want all the excellent campaigners to be able to make their case in an open, transparent process, so the Government need to get on with it. The last charter renewal process was three years long. In a week’s time, it will be half that—a year and a half—until the charter runs out. Today, there are only 557 days to go. It is worrying that the Government seem inactive, saying, “We’ll make an announcement in due course.”
I do not think that there is time, unfortunately. I would love to, though.
A year and a half is not long for an important debate. In recognition of that, the Culture Secretary’s report even floated the option of extending the existing charter for a year. We think that this time the Government should hand their homework in on time. They should not leave it all to the last minute and then bash something out late at night behind closed doors—exactly what they did in 2010. They certainly should not ask for an extension because the dog ate their draft charter. They need to start the charter renewal process as soon as possible to ensure an open debate. Then we can get on with debating the real issues, such as how to ensure a diversity of viewpoints and voices. Labour will be arguing for a BBC that does something for everyone. Everyone pays into it and everyone should get something out of it. The Conservatives have flirted with a different view, some of which we have heard today—if not wholesale privatisation, then drastically reducing the range and breadth of the BBC’s output. If that is the debate, very well. Let us get on with it.
It is a pleasure to appear under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I often say that when I appear before a new Chairman, but in this case I mean it. I have obviously been an enormous fan of yours since we came into the House together, and I want to celebrate you as one of Britain’s foremost authors. I am referring to the famous Four Streets trilogy: “The Four Streets”, “Hide Her Name” and “The Ballymara Road”, which was published this month. What we see before us is a multi-thousand-selling British author. It perhaps says something about the tone of arts coverage in this country that the Chairman we see before us is not as celebrated as some other authors who sell far fewer books. Thank you, Ms Dorries, for allowing me to indulge myself in this way. When I tried to praise Louise Bagshawe, when she was an MP, Mr Speaker slapped me down, but thankfully we have a more enlightened Chairman for this debate.
I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) for calling this important debate. It has been much more lively than I expected. Before talking about his remarks and those of other hon. Members, I pay special tribute to the brilliant journalist Graeme Brown, of The Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Mail, who has brought this campaign to great prominence. He has worked with many hon. Members who are in the House this afternoon to get the campaign to critical mass.
I cannot improve on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood in terms of the statistics that he talked about—the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on the licence fee by people living in the midlands and the return on investment that they get from the BBC. A more important point, because one can always play around with statistics, is that it is clear, from what he said, that investment has increased in all regions except the midlands. It has fallen in the midlands and in London, but that is not really relevant because London has huge funding already.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight). He was that rare species—a Conservative in the BBC. For that, he is to be treasured. Part of me wishes that he was still in the BBC, flying the flag for the Conservative party. One would have thought that he had been working not for the BBC but in the House for the past 25 years, such was the assured point that he made—that there is a north-south link, as it were, at the BBC, missing out the midlands.
Of course, this was not a one-sided debate. We had valuable contributions from the Opposition and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) in particular. I join with her in defending the BBC; we are its critical friends, but we want to see it thrive because it is both a fantastic asset to viewers and listeners in this country and one of our most important—if not the most important—global calling cards.
The hon. Lady made points about why the BBC should have a greater presence in the midlands as well as represent youth and diversity to a greater extent. Diversity in particular is a passion of mine and we urgently need far more diversity in our media. The BBC could lead the way and, as she pointed out, with such diverse and young communities in the constituencies represented by Members in the Chamber, the BBC should be working at that.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) made forceful points about the need for the BBC to invest in the midlands, as did the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). It was not his debut, but it was good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar)—he is also my old personal friend—make such an impassioned speech. He has only just arrived in the House, but to say that he has found his feet would be the understatement of the century.
Hon. Members here represent some fantastic cultural institutions in the midlands. I want to tell the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) how much I have enjoyed my visits to Dudley zoo, which has two of the finest tigers that I, or indeed my children, have met. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has the Curve. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) has been instrumental in trying to save the collection at the Wedgwood museum, and hopefully the potteries are now thriving even more. Of course, in Birmingham we have the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the symphony hall, the largest library in Europe and the Birmingham museum and art gallery. All hon. Members made valuable contributions that emphasized the thriving nature of culture in the midlands, but there was also an element of nostalgia for Pebble Mill studios that points us in our future direction.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, made a specific point about the BBC Asian Network. The minute he brought that up, I looked into it, and my understanding is that one programme from the BBC Asian Network is moving to London, but the network will remain split between Leicester and London.
I thank the Minister for his kind words about Wedgwood and the other magnificent potteries in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire. He mentioned Pebble Mill and much has been said about the Mailbox, but Members who have been called down to the Mailbox in recent years to take part in the “Sunday Politics” show will have seen a dramatic reduction in its facilities. Indeed, the programme is now pre-recorded on a Friday to make savings, though there is no saving in terms of battling Birmingham’s traffic on a Friday compared with a Sunday. The dumbing down, if I can use that phrase, that we have seen at the Mailbox is quite shocking.
The hon. Gentleman is not mincing his words.
I must mention contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), the hon. Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), and my hon. Friends the Members for Redditch (Karen Lumley) and for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), who has been so helpful to the BBC in the past 12 months. They, and all the other Members I have mentioned, have all made incredibly valuable points and pointed to their constituents’ concerns.
We can play fast and loose in politics, but I would not dream, for example, of taking the comments from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South out of context by saying that the Labour party was advocating a licence fee of £12.50, because that is not what he meant. He was simply trying to compare the contribution of people living in the midlands with what they receive back.
I will not take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention yet; I will make a bit of progress and then see if I have time for more interventions.
However, I will make a point that I think plays to the concerns that have been set out in Westminster Hall this afternoon. First, the BBC has a strong regional presence in many other parts of the country. If people go to Glasgow, they will see a fantastic BBC presence; in Belfast, of course; in Cardiff, where the BBC now films “Dr Who”; we know about the move to Salford and we can say whether or not that is a good or bad thing, but it has happened, although I hear the point about the BBC making a real move rather than simply a commuting move; in London; and of course in Bristol, which is the centre of the BBC’s wildlife programming.
Has Birmingham missed out? The BBC would say that it is doing what it can. For example, it points to the fact that it is making the Mailbox, which was referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston as the base for the BBC academy, the diversity unit and internal communications. The BBC is also increasing jobs there; I understand that investment will go up from £80 million this year to £89 million next year, and up to £125 million the year after. There is also a training remit, with the establishment of the drama village in Selly Oak and the digital innovation unit, too. Of course, there is drama itself, such as the highly successful “Peaky Blinders”, and the BBC has just finished filming Lenny Henry’s semi-autobiographical drama, “Danny and the Human Zoo”, which may indeed take place in my much-loved Dudley zoo.
However, the point that I think is being made here today is about much more than those things. Obviously, we should welcome what the BBC is doing to invest in Birmingham and the east and west midlands, but what I think hon. Members are calling for is much greater cultural representation, if I can put it in those terms.
I have just one example. There is a brilliant radio broadcasting series that follows world war one, day by day, in 15-minute slots. It is great, and recorded in Birmingham, but not a single storyline involves the midlands. That is the point—production on its own is not sufficient. We need commissioning that recognises the input of the midlands.
That is exactly the point. To a certain extent, where the BBC makes its programmes matters, because it effectively acts as an anchor for a creative cluster. Nobody would argue that “Dr Who” reflects Welsh culture, but people could certainly argue that it supports the Welsh creative industries, just as the BBC’s investment in S4C does. However, one would perhaps argue that the transmission of some programmes from different cities helps to reflect the wider cultural aspects of the United Kingdom.
Basically, I am but a junior Minister and I think that hon. Members in Westminster Hall today can reflect on the fact that they have the support of the Prime Minister. He has already been quoted, but I will quote him again; quoting the Prime Minister never does one any harm. He said that
“the charter renewal is a good time to have that conversation and make sure the West Midlands gets a fair bang for its buck.”
And the east midlands, but the quote is about the west midlands; the Prime Minister meant to say the west and the east midlands. And the Mayor of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has spoken, and of course the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), describes himself as a midlands MP representing Hereford. So there is strong support for this idea.
Before the recess, we will set out what we will do in terms of the charter review, so I hear what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston says about getting on with it, and I can guarantee to hon. Members in Westminster Hall today that they have made such a strong case that it will be reflected in what we set out.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No.10(14)).