I beg to move,
That this House notes the crucial cultural role the BBC plays in modern Britain; welcomes the fact that one of the public purposes outlined in the BBC Charter is to represent the UK, its nations, regions and communities; notes with concern that the last employment census in 2012 showed the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic people working in the UK creative media fell by 30.9 per cent between 2006 and 2012; believes that a BBC target of 14.2 per cent for 2017 is insufficient; further notes that this target falls short of other UK broadcasters; and calls on the Government to recognise these failings when considering the BBC’s charter renewal and make representations to the BBC to ensure that the corporation is not failing in any of its diversity objectives, including, but not limited to, delivering high quality programming which reflects modern Britain accurately and authentically and that the Corporation must advance equal opportunities to diversify and develop its workforce and senior leaders so that they better reflect audiences.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me to bring this motion before the House today, and to my colleagues the hon. Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) for co-sponsoring this debate.
Over the past few weeks I have met and spoken to many people, both black and white, who work in our creative industries. They do an extraordinary job, and our creative industries rightly have an envied international reputation. I am acutely aware that this is the first time in the history of the BBC that matters of diversity have been debated on the Floor of this House.
This is certainly not, however, a new issue. I must begin by acknowledging those who have called for many years for greater diversity in the arts, especially in television. I salute the work my good friend Lenny Henry has done. Back in 2013 he called on me to help him as he began to think about the issues more deeply. In 2014 he laid out his plan for the BBC to set aside money for black, Asian and minority ethnic shows. Earlier this year, Idris Elba came to Parliament and spoke of the
“disconnect between the real world and the TV world”,
and the even bigger gap
“between people who make TV, and people who watch TV”.
I pay tribute to the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, who is in his place. In his six years in post he has been a champion of diversity in the media. I absolutely agree with his comments on “Channel 4 News” last week, when he said that the current position on diversity across our broadcasters is unacceptable and that more progress is needed. He has taken our broadcasters and the wider arts and culture sector and held their feet to the fire. I am grateful to him for doing so. On this issue, there is very little between us.
Let me make it clear that diversity is not of course just about black and minority ethnic individuals; there is still significant work to be done to improve the representation within broadcasting and across our public life of women; of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals; and of people with disabilities. It is also right to say that class and social mobility play a role in representation across the BBC. I am quite sure that colleagues in the House are also concerned that, despite some progress, there is a north-south divide in England. There is still some way to go, particularly on the representation of the depth and range of voices across the north of this country.
Diversity is an issue across the whole media sector, not just in broadcasting and certainly not just within the BBC. From Fleet Street to Hollywood, there are clearly many more rivers to cross. City University’s latest survey, conducted just last month, found that British journalism as a whole is 94% white, and that there was not a single BAME face among the entire list of nominees for the 2016 Oscars. In 2006, representation of BAME people in the creative media industries stood at 7.4%; yet in 2012, the figure fell to 5.4%, and in television it fell from 9.9% to 7.5%, so it is going in the wrong direction.
Directors UK has said that the number of BAME directors working in UK TV is “critically low”. A sample of 55,000 episodes drawn from 546 titles found that only 1.29% of programmes were made by black, Asian and minority ethnic directors. In some areas—period dramas, talk shows, panel shows and sketch shows—not a single episode had been made by a black, Asian or minority ethnic director. This is just not good enough in 2016.
We are privileged in this country to enjoy so much public broadcasting. That goes beyond the BBC: ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, S4C, STV and UTV have a public service broadcasting remit, meaning that they operate for the public benefit rather than purely for commercial purposes. Taken together, those channels account for 70% of all TV watched in the UK.
The statistic the right hon. Gentleman read out about programmes produced by black and ethnic minority people is shocking. I would support his argument by pointing out that when a population of 60,000—I am talking about the Gaelic speakers of Scotland—is given the opportunity, tremendous talent comes forward and great programmes are made. I think the point he is making is that if that opportunity was available to others, the same would happen. I support him in that.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have gone beyond the point where we say, “The talent is not there. Can we do some training?” The talent exists. Can we now bring it forward and get the change that is required?
One of the central statutory responsibilities of public service broadcasters, as outlined in the Communications Act 2003, is to ensure that the diversity of the UK is reflected in their output. They must broadcast
“programmes that reflect the lives and concerns of different communities…within the United Kingdom”.
Ofcom has made it clear that all public sector broadcasters must do more on diversity and the portrayal of under-represented groups. Its latest research found that 26% of black viewers saw people from black ethnic groups on TV daily. Over half of black viewers feel both under-represented and unfairly portrayed across our public service broadcasts. Some 55% of viewers from a black ethnic group felt there were
“too few people from black ethnic groups on TV”
and 51% felt that black, Asian and minority ethnic people were shown negatively on TV.
Since its inception at Alexandra Palace in Haringey, my home borough, the BBC has time and again proved its worth as a national broadcaster in the quality, depth and breadth of its output. Its great programmes bring the nation together, its outstanding journalism brings stories to life, and its online offering has seen the Beeb continue to flourish and serve its audience in the digital age.
Over the years, the BBC has made significant strides in reflecting Britain’s increasing diversity. In 1964, it made the groundbreaking documentary “The Colony”, about West Indian immigrants living in Birmingham. In 1967 “Rainbow City” was the first drama series that saw a black man in a leading role. There was not a huge number of black actors on television when I was growing up, but Benny in “Grange Hill” was one of them and I was grateful for him. I remember Moira Stuart reading the news, beginning in 1981; the Tavernier family arriving on the set of “EastEnders”; and Diane-Louise Jordan presenting “Blue Peter” for the first time, as I made my way to university—not to mention great shows such as “Black Britain”, “The Lenny Henry Show”, “The Real McCoy” and “Goodness Gracious Me”.
Seeing black faces on the BBC, the national broadcaster, has helped show Britain’s black community that they belong and that they are part of the nation’s social fabric. The BBC is the cornerstone of public service broadcasting in our country and our most important cultural institution. Most of all, it is the recipient of huge amounts of money, receiving £3.7 billion from the licence fee. Tony Hall, the director-general, has admitted that although this is “a truly cross-industry challenge”,
“the BBC must take the lead because of our unique funding and responsibility to licence fee payers”,
which comes with that funding.
Let me state categorically that I am a friend of the BBC; I love its output. Today, my remarks are strong because I think my friend is in trouble. Too many people from ethnic minority backgrounds who work in the organisation have contacted my office over the past few weeks to say that they cannot speak up because they do not want to be labelled a troublemaker. Well, I have no problem with being called a troublemaker. That is why I and so many colleagues are in this House to speak up on their behalf.
Between 1999 and the inquiry of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport into the future of the BBC in 2014—within 15 years—the BBC ran 29 initiatives aimed at black and ethnic minorities, but the situation is still not improving. In September 1999, it published a statement of promises, pledging better to reflect the UK’s diversity. In 2000, it published a cultural diversity action plan, promising that the corporation would
“reflect the UK’s diversity in our programmes, our services and workforce”.
It set up a new recruitment agency to reach out to “different communities”, a mentoring programme and a development scheme to enable
“minority ethnic staff to compete for senior positions within the BBC”.
In 2011, the BBC published “Everyone has a story: The BBC’s Diversity Strategy 2011-15”, which outlined its
“determination to visibly increase our diversity on and off air”
and five separate
“strategic equality and diversity objectives”.
Diversity was outsourced to various divisions, which were told to create divisional diversity action plans and diversity action groups.
In 2014, Tony Hall unveiled yet another action plan to tackle on and off-air representation, stating
“we need to do more”.
He announced a senior leadership development programme, under which six talented people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds would come forward, and a diversity creative talent fund.
We heard last year, and we are hearing it again, that at the end of this month the BBC will publish an equality and diversity report. Yet another one is coming very shortly, and it is all going to be fixed—£3.7 billion! It will be another strategy to get our teeth sunk into, and we will fix this challenge. If the BBC is genuinely a universal broadcaster, we have to ask these questions. This can no longer be about skills training. The skills are there. This is about the institution and the change that is now required. That is why we brought this debate forward.
I am growing tired of strategies, new approaches, action plans, initiatives and press releases. The net result of all these strategies and initiatives is, sadly, very little. Despite the good intentions, the rhetoric has not been matched by real progress. In 2011, the proportion of the BBC’s workforce that was from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background was 12.2%. Tracked against the progress of its 2011-15 strategy, we see modest rises to 12.3% in 2012, 12.4% in 2013, 12.6% in 2014 and 13.1% in 2015. In four years, we have seen a 0.9 increase. In 2003, BAME employment was 10%, so in 12 years, it has increased the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff by just 2.2 percentage points.
That is still not reflected by an increase in management roles in the organisation. We can all go into Broadcasting House and see black staff in security and at the junior end, but when we walk into that newsroom and think about the editorial decisions that are being made, we must ask ourselves, “Is this really representative of our country as a whole?”
Everyone I have spoken to recognises that over the past two to three years, on-screen representation has improved significantly. There are areas of the BBC’s output that, frankly, are fantastic. I have young children, and children’s television is one of the areas that is really diverse. Anyone here who has teenagers or slightly older children who watch BBC Three’s output will know that it is really diverse. Documentary-making is another strong area. Last year, my constituency was portrayed in a documentary called “This Is Tottenham”, which showed the lives of people in that part of north London. However, in many areas, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.
Let us take the headlines around the BBC’s new drama, “Undercover”, which people can see on BBC iPlayer at the moment. It is a great drama, but it was announced with great fanfare as, “The first time we’ve had a drama with two black leads.” In 2016? That was not news in the 20th century, let alone in this century.
We must also ask questions about current affairs. I love sitting next to Andrew Neil on a Thursday night, when I occasionally stand in for my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). Andrew Marr is a great guy, as are John Humphrys and David Dimbleby—when they allow me on the show, which they have not for almost five years. But they are white, patrician men. What does that communicate about our country—that there cannot be a voice that is not a southern one? That there cannot be a woman? That there cannot be someone from a diverse background? Those men are the arbiters of current affairs in this country. We have to be brave and hold our public broadcaster to account. It cannot just appoint the same old faces from the same old schools to the same old jobs. That is not acceptable from a public broadcaster that takes licence fee money from all our constituents. We must hold it to account and say that yes, those individuals are brilliant, but more needs to be done to get that diversity across the spectrum.
A lot of this comes back to senior management, and with systemic change what really matters is who the decision makers are. As I have said, there has been a lot of focus on training schemes and apprenticeships to open up the industry, but we need to change the culture and practices that stop black, Asian and minority ethnic people rising to the top; it should not just be that new schemes are set up to encourage more people to get in from the bottom. Only one of the BBC Trust’s 16 trustees is from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. The executive directors are really important, as they are the controllers—the people who really govern the decisions on the executive board. Of the BBC’s eight executive directors, none is from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background, and only two are women.
My question to the BBC is simple: what will it take to see a black, Asian or minority ethnic channel controller? When will we get there, I wonder? What have we got to do to see a black commissioner in an important area—current affairs, or drama—in the BBC? Is our public broadcaster really saying that across the population of this great country there are no individuals from a BAME background who could take up those posts today? That is what it has to explain to us over the coming weeks as it heads towards its diversity strategy.
Given the lack of diversity at the very top of the BBC, on its board, is it not now time to think about having a radical reorganisation of the BBC’s top management, potentially with elected directors for the board?
My hon. Friend is good at radical ideas—he is known for them—and that is certainly one. I am not going to stake my name today on what the change should be, but clearly we have come to a point—perhaps that is why the issue is on the Floor of the House for the first time—where we want step change. Change cannot be incremental any longer. I say that because if we treasure our public service broadcaster and the universality that it represents, I am afraid that in a multi-platform world, where people can turn to other services, that broadcaster is going to be in deep trouble if it does not step up pretty quickly.
In 2015, 9.2% of the BBC’s senior leadership were black, Asian and minority ethnic. Looking beneath the surface, in TV the percentage drops to 7.1%; in news, the figure for senior leaders who are BAME drops to 5.8%. The lack of diversity at management and senior levels creates a dangerous vicious circle. If those decision makers are not from diverse backgrounds, content and programming will lack fresh narratives and insight, and will not speak to the breadth of this country. When we have all the same people at the top, hiring people in their own image, the circle simply stays closed.
I really commend the right hon. Gentleman on his speech, which has highlighted the issue to me and educated me. I hope very much that, because of the brilliance of his speech and the force with which it is being given, the BBC board will insist on change.
Well, I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, but I am only halfway through—just hold fire.
Let us look at targets. The BBC has set itself a target of increasing representation in its workforce to 14.2% and increasing onscreen portrayal to 15%. As I have outlined, the track record does not fill me with absolute confidence that those targets will be met. The targets also fall short of those set by other broadcasters. Take Sky, for example. It has said that all new TV shows in Sky Entertainment will have people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in at least 20% of significant onscreen roles. All original Sky Entertainment productions will have someone from a BAME background in at least one senior role, either producer, series producer, executive producer, director or head of production—my God, that is tall. It has also said that 20% of writers on all team-written shows across all Sky Entertainment productions will be from a BAME background. Looking at the statistics from January and February 2016, Sky has also made progress in current affairs and news: on “Sky News” 15% of interviewers were BAME; on “Murnaghan”, the figure was 17%; on “Sunrise” it was 22%; and it was 17% on “Ian King Live”.
Let us look at Channel 4’s targets in its “360° Diversity Charter”. One is that by 2020 20% of all Channel 4 staff will be BAME, a 33% increase from the 15% figure in 2015. Another is that of the top 120 people in the Channel 4 organisation—executive teams, heads of department and senior commissioning executives—15% will be from a BAME background, a big increase on the current figure of 8%.
Instead of being behind the curve, the BBC should be setting the gold standard. This issue does not affect only in-house teams. Broadcasters commission a lot of their work from independent production companies. The relationship between the BBC and those third-party suppliers is growing in importance, because the BBC is moving towards a new, more fluid production model, whereby BBC Studios will operate in the market and produce programmes for other broadcasters, and the BBC will allow independents to compete for more of the corporation’s commissioning spend.
If we look at the BBC’s editorial guidelines, which apply to all content made by a third party working for the BBC, we will see 19 separate subsections and eight appendices, but not one is specifically related to diversity and representation. Nudity, violence, the watershed, the right of reply, privacy, religion, editorial integrity and conflicts of interest are all covered specifically and in great detail, but there is not a single section on diversity. In a 228-page document, there is not even a mention of the 14.2% target that the BBC is setting for itself internally. In section 4, on impartiality, production companies sign up to providing a breadth and diversity of opinion, but they do not sign up to any diversity in terms of equality and representation.
The BBC’s latest equality and diversity report, published in 2015, made this promise:
“We will be clear with our suppliers about our diversity requirements so that they are able to deliver on them.”
To find out just how clear the BBC is with its suppliers about diversity, I submitted a freedom of information request asking to see the agreements that BBC makes with its supplier for one show, “Question Time”. I was told that the information would not be supplied to me because it is
“held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature”.
Although the BBC is promising to be clear with its suppliers about diversity requirements, it is altogether less clear with its audience and those who pay the licence fee about what exactly those diversity requirements are. I therefore ask the Minister to look at the freedom of information rules that are enabling the BBC to be less than wholly transparent on these issues. I am sure that he, and all Members here today, would agree that a publicly funded body must adhere to the highest standards of openness. Over 50% of the FOI requests put to that organisation are denied. That cannot be right.
The right hon. Gentleman’s point about transparency and openness is very important. The Liberal Democrats used to be in the position that the Scottish National party is in now, and I have asked “Question Time” and “Any Questions” for an impression of what the Liberal Democrat representation on those programmes was like compared with the representation of the SNP at the moment. An answer was not forthcoming.
The hon. Gentleman makes his case.
By comparison, Channel 4’s diversity commissioning guidelines cover on-screen and off-screen diversity, and all commissions must adhere to one guideline in each section. For example, at least one lead character must be black or minority ethnic, disabled or LGBT. At least one senior off-screen role—executive producer, director, series editor, or executive producer—for all factual and scripted programmes must be from an ethnic minority or have a disability, and at least 15% of the entire production team or crew of a factual or scripted programme must be from an ethnic minority or have a disability. Channel 4’s expectations seem altogether much clearer, which means that production companies know exactly what is expected of them.
Last month, Trevor Phillips presented research to the Oxford Media Convention that showed that in 2015 BBC 1 had a 21.9% audience share, but only 13.3% of BAME audience share. BBC 2 had a 5.7% share of the total audience, which falls to 3.3% for the BAME audience. Because the BBC is failing in its duty to reflect modern Britain, ethnic minorities are well within their rights to ask why they should continue to pay their licence fee at all, given that it is used to fund a service that does not serve them.
The BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky have come together to create a diversity monitoring scheme to provide detailed, consistent and comparative data on diversity, and that will go live imminently. Project DIAMOND is a groundbreaking project that will shine a light on the industry, and provide independent data to show where we are with diversity in broadcasting so that we can make comparisons. Its monitoring and transparency will be clear, which I welcome, and I am sure the Minister will say more about that.
The current BBC charter runs to the end of this year, so renewal provides a vital opportunity to drive real change if the BBC wants to be serious about being a leader in delivering diversity. I believe that diversity requirements should be stated clearly in the new charter as one of the BBC’s public purposes, and a core value at the heart of what the BBC does. We need something stronger, more ambitious and—importantly—more tangible than the current requirement for it to represent the UK, its nations and communities, which is frankly too woolly. I call on the Minister to assure the House that diversity will be front and centre of new ongoing debates about the BBC charter.
A new public purpose should be written into the BBC charter, including a specific commitment accurately to reflect the diversity of the UK in its on-screen and off-screen workforce, and in its programming, including, but not limited to, promoting equal opportunities irrespective of age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender reassignment. It is time to update the BBC’s founding mission for the 21st century so that it becomes “to inform, educate, entertain and reflect”. Writing diversity into the heart of the charter would be a bold first step. If we are to have another strategy at the end of this month and more initiatives, the BBC must propose specific actions to secure progress each year, together with details of how that progress will be measured objectively. To be taken seriously, we need answers to the questions of “how?” and “when?”
Money talks, and money alone will drive real change. We have hard evidence of what works when it comes to addressing under-representation. The BBC had a problem when it came to representing the nations and regions, so it did something about that which involved a dedicated pot of money. It did not rely on mentorship or apprenticeship schemes—there was structural change, and the move to Salford was part of that. Since 2003, there has been a 400% increase in the number of network programmes produced in the English regions. As of this year, half the network spend will be outside the M25, and the amount of spend in Scotland and Wales has matched or exceeded the size of the population since 2014. I absolutely agree with that direction. I was a Culture Minister at that time, and there were real concerns in Scotland because it paid 9% of the licence fee and had none of the programming. That has changed in recent times, although I am sure there is more to do.
The BBC’s core purpose is to represent the UK’s nations, regions and communities. It seems to have got there or beyond for the first two, but what about BAME communities? I am sure that moving production spend out of London has not led to more employment for people of Chinese heritage in Liverpool, of Somalian heritage in Cardiff, or of Pakistani heritage in Glasgow. A focus on improving the representation of nations and regions has also seen areas with high concentrations of BAME people—such as Birmingham and London—lose out. We need something similar to act as a counterbalance, and if that is not in this next strategy, it will have failed. The holistic approach has not worked. After 15 years of focusing on people, skills and mentoring, it has not delivered the step change that we need in the institution.
This is a seminal moment for the BBC and its position as our national broadcaster, and it must rise to the challenge. It is not enough for the director general to make the right noises. The will is clearly there, but the institution is big and it will take more than good intentions to turn such a huge tanker around. We cannot rely on individuals pushing the agenda; we need systemic change.
Charter renewal is around the corner. We have reached a point of fragmentation in the TV industry where more content is available than ever before and viewers are consuming it online, and watching it on demand and through Netflix and Amazon Prime. They are challenging the BBC’s position at the centre of our national conversation. That national conversation is hugely important, especially when things go wrong and we see something awful. I was culture Minister in 2005 when there were those terrible bombs in London, and we looked to the BBC for that national conversation.
Let us get it right. We cannot have people from BAME backgrounds turning to mother-tongue cable stations because they do not see themselves represented on the BBC. Take the Chinese community in this country. My God, it has been here for more than 100 years—talk about invisible! That community is not just invisible in this House—I recognise that the Government have made some progress on their Benches—but it is totally invisible among our broadcasters. I secured this debate because it is time for change, and I welcome the leadership shown by the Minister, and the fact that so many people have gathered across the House to debate these issues this afternoon.
In December 2014 the Royal Television Society produced a video called, “Behind the Scenes at Newsnight”. It was an information film for young people about the TV industry and ran for 11 minutes, yet not a single person from a BME background was included—by BME I am referring to people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Seven months ago in September 2015, the controller of Radio 5 Live gave a 16-minute presentation about his ambitions for the station. In it he made no reference to the BME audience and included no BME voices. The video that went with the presentation showed no BME staff or any other BME people on screen. The embarrassment continues anecdotally, with many public figures commenting on the lack of diversity at the BBC. When he was BBC director general, Greg Dyke described his organisation as “hideously white”, and the current director general, Tony Hall, has said that it needs “to do better”.
I expect that colleagues will cite other shortcomings in the BBC’s diversity record, and yes, there is much more to be done and it needs to do better. However, I have also seen it show leadership and create positive change in several areas in recent years. For example, as a result of Barbara Slater’s vision as head of sport at the BBC, and her close work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, a step-change was achieved in the media coverage of women’s sport in the UK. Sky and BT Sport played their part, but the BBC was an essential part of the mix, and that should not be taken away from it. To my mind, if the BBC can tackle gender diversity in sport—not easy—then why not racial diversity within its own organisation?
Perhaps we are starting to see some encouraging signs. In 2014, the BBC launched a plan, with targets and a budget, to address some of the issues I have raised. Eighteen months later, some progress has been made in the recruitment and commissioning of BME writers. Sky and Channel 4 have their plans, too, with even more ambitious targets and budgets. A word of caution to all, however. The metrics are important for measuring and monitoring, but they can sometimes be driven by short-term thinking and quick wins. That will not achieve sustainable change. For real change, the dinosaurs really do have to go, with the body corporate rewired and an organisation created with diversity running through its veins; an organisation where people can be recruited and promoted, can feel comfortable and part of the place, and are able to succeed at every single level not for the sake of tokenism and targets, but because they have the right skills and reflect the world in which we live.
Does the hon. Lady share my view that there will not be real change on a whole series of accountability questions until ordinary licence fee payers have the opportunity to have a direct say in who runs the BBC at the very top? BME licence fee payers are not really going to be able to hold the BBC to account on diversity at the BBC until they have the opportunity to directly elect at least one or two BBC directors.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I note the radical ideas expressed by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). To get this right, we need to have unusual ideas put into the mix, and they need to be discussed. In some ways, people talk with their purse. At the end of the day, if the British people are not happy with representation in BBC programming they will not pay the licence fee. In a way they do have a direct say, because they will not spend their money. However, I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says. I think it is interesting.
A nation’s diversity is something to be celebrated and broadcast far and wide, especially in places where racism and discrimination abound. The BBC could and should be leading the way on this, with 23 million viewers every week worldwide in 33 different languages. Just before Armistice Day last year, the BBC ran some programmes about soldiers and spies who made a big difference during the war. One featured a Sikh man and another featured a Muslim man, both of whom fought very bravely to defend our country and made incredible sacrifices. This coverage at a time of great national pride illustrated the very positive link between Britishness and multi-culture. I am in no doubt that the stories will have changed some perceptions and some behaviour, but we need the BBC to make more programmes like this: programmes that attract a diverse audience while still entertaining the wider population. If such programmes were commonplace, then so too would be the demand for production teams, writers and actors from a BME background. The Lenny Henry plan for ring-fenced budgets could greatly assist this much-needed step-change.
It would seem that younger graduates tend to have difficulty in finding work at the BBC. Yvonne Thompson, from the European Federation of Black Women Business Owners, remarked rather sarcastically that perhaps applicants should use English-sounding names such as Camilla Winterbottom or Jonty and see if they get a call-back then. A similar point was made by our Prime Minister at party conference last year, not specifically in relation to the BBC but in relation to discrimination in recruitment generally. Since then, the Government have announced that companies and organisations that together employ more than 1.8 million people will recruit on a name-blind basis. To its credit, the BBC is a participant, but it could go even further. It could disclose, on a voluntary basis, detailed BME data on recruitment, retention, promotion and pay. This type of transparency not only helps to focus the mind, but sets a great example for others to follow. Some BME data were published in one of the annexes to the BBC’s 2015 diversity report, but the tables were not user-friendly. They were very hard to read—I spent several hours on them. There was no real narrative that drew conclusions and no real analysis, so we remain pretty blind to the facts in an area where greater transparency is desperately needed, and where lessons could and should be learned.
Does the hon. Lady agree that there would be some benefit in redacting not just the names of people on applications but the school and university they went to as well, taking into account the impact Oxbridge and what schools people attend, in particular independent schools, have on people gaining employment? Recent research by the Sutton Trust shows that in the fields of law and journalism and so on, the school and university that people have gone to have a massive impact on applications.
That is a very interesting idea. We have to do everything we can to make sure we attract the most diverse talent, especially in the BBC and on other stations. The more diverse the talent, the better the programmes and the higher the ratings. The business case is made. I think this is a moving target. Let us see how the name-blind goes, but we have to look at everything.
The Government have a significant role to play, too. I want to take this opportunity to mention the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). His personal commitment and personal determination to shine a light on the need for diversity in the creative arts and media is absolutely commendable. I know it is very close to his heart. I hope all Ministers across all Government Departments take a note of his fine example as they strive, over the next four years, to achieve the Prime Minister’s 2020 vision for equality and diversity.
Charter renewal is an ideal opportunity for the Government. During the process, they could really help to drive change and position the BBC as a world leader in delivering diversity. I would like to see the remit of the public person strengthened, too. Diversity commitments should be secured and diversity targets set to run over the lifetime of the next charter. Governance must be tightened, too, to truly represent the UK—its nations, regions and communities. The BBC’s governing body, the Trust, must itself better reflect diversity in the UK. In the 2015 BBC diversity report, of 23 senior people employed by the Trust, none was from a BME background. Currently, only one of the 12 trustees is non-white.
Culture change is never an easy process, but it is the only way to achieve real change. Channel 4 is managing it and is doing it really well. It has done it because of three key factors: commitment, leadership and money. The BBC needs to embrace this issue honestly and from the very top. It has done the surveys, set the targets, and has its plans and its budget. It knows exactly what the problems are. It just needs to get on now and do it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Just before I call the next speaker, we have more or less the right amount of time for every single Member to get in with about 10 to 12 minutes, but not much more than that if we want to start the wind-ups at 4.30 pm. With that in mind, I call Julie Elliott.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing, with help from the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), this interesting and important debate. The British public’s love of, interest in, and concern about the BBC is an issue that crosses party lines.
Since joining the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport in October last year, I have spent much of my time reading written submissions from the BBC and attending oral evidence sessions on BBC charter renewal. I am therefore pleased to have this opportunity to speak on an issue I feel strongly about: regional diversity and fair funding at the BBC. I acknowledge all the issues raised about the diversity agenda, and I am sure I will agree with other such issues raised in the course of the debate. That is one of the points about this debate: it is so wide-ranging. It is not a narrow area of diversity we are concerned about but a very broad one.
I pay tribute to the BBC. It is not perfect—I will shortly make some constructive criticisms about things it is not getting right and some suggested improvements—but it is worth reiterating that I and many of my constituents feel a deep well of affection for the BBC and its unique position in British society. Arts Council England was right when it described the BBC as
“an invaluable cultural asset to the UK, it is an internationally recognised example of what British creativity and commitment can achieve”.
The BBC charter, which runs until the end of the year, is clear in stating the BBC’s public purposes, which include representing the nations, regions and communities of the UK. At present, it is falling short on this commitment. There are two central issues at stake: one is financial, and the other—more intangible but no less important—is reflecting diverse experiences. I will start with the financials. At £873 million, the north of England’s contribution to the BBC licence fee is the second highest in the country, yet the north comes last when it comes to the BBC’s spending per region, with just £48 million. This compares with £150 million for Wales and £2.5 billion for London.
The migration of BBC services, production and output to Salford has been successful in somewhat rebalancing the concentration of BBC services away from London, but just as London is not the UK, so Salford is not the north—or rather it is not where the north ends. The north extends all the way to Sunderland and beyond. It is a misplaced belief that if the BBC places staff and commissioning services in Salford, it can tick off the north from its checklist; that is not the case. There is certainly no lack of talent outside London and Salford. The University of Sunderland, in my constituency, has one of the best journalism courses in the country in its outstanding faculty of art, design and media. The BBC has a role in working with these types of young, talented, enthusiastic people to support them in building their careers.
As a major player, the BBC has enormous spending power and provides a major stream of capital to the UK’s creative industries. In 2013, the BBC spent £2.4 billion across television, radio and online, making it the single largest source of funding for original content, excluding sport. For every pound of the licence fee the BBC spends, it generates £2 of economic activity. By failing to spend money in all areas of the country, the BBC is denying regions such as the north-east the economic benefits that licence fee spending can bring.
The BBC has been making progress. The north of England accounts for just under a quarter of the UK’s population, and programming spending has increased from just over 10% in 2007 to over 17% in 2013. This improvement is welcome, but clearly there is further to go. I understand that the BBC is under pressure to reduce costs and that there is a danger of it spreading investment too thinly, but it must be possible for a national broadcaster at least to have commissioning bases in all the major regional centres, and to develop a fair commissioning and business strategy that encourages production across all parts of the country.
My second point is about the representation of regions such as the north-east on BBC television, radio and online. Perhaps the greatest strength of the BBC is that it is a truly national organisation, engendering shared experiences and making our imagined community a little more real, but this will begin to break down if people do not feel that their experiences are being reflected in the BBC’s output. Figures from the BBC Trust in 2014 showed that only 52% of UK adults believed that the BBC performed well in representing their nation or region.
We must not underestimate the impact on a young child’s life and development when they see and hear someone on the television, be it in drama or newsrooms, who looks and sounds like them. It gives them the reassurance that their life experience is not a lonely one, and that people like them are going through many of the same issues. In children’s television, my region has a history of success, with programmes such as “Byker Grove”, “The Story of Tracy Beaker” and “The Dumping Ground”. I think also of Byker Grove’s very own Ant and Dec, probably two of the most successful people in television today. [Hon. Members: “They’re from Newcastle!”] I’ll let them off being from Newcastle. There is diverse talent, reflecting different experiences, geographies, cultures, cuisines and accents.
We expect a lot from the BBC, both as licence fee payers and as viewers. We expect BBC output to be high quality, original, innovative, challenging, engaging and trustworthy; to reflect the diverse British experience; and to be widely available. Every region and country has the right to see itself represented by the national broadcaster. At present, the BBC falls short on this commitment, and I look forward to working with it, as a constituency MP and a member of the Select Committee, to ensure that this commitment is met, and to help make the BBC even better.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this Back-Bench debate. He focused on the important and interesting topic of black and ethnic minority diversity in the BBC, and I can see that he is worried that he will just get plans; he wants action.
I would like specifically to consider diversity of opinion on the BBC. Britain has always been proud to have a broadcaster free from advertisements and Government interference, but I cannot be proud of a supposedly impartial public service that, time after time, takes the opportunity to promote political opinions. This relentless promotion of opinion is not right, mainly because impartiality is supposed to be at the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audience. Impartiality should ensure that its output can be trusted by people of all political opinions in the UK’s cities, towns and villages, but I believe that that trust is increasingly being lost.
Last December, the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, took evidence from Rona Fairhead and Richard Ayre of the BBC Trust. During the sessions, it became clear that the BBC’s impartiality relied on three safeguards: the editorial judgment of programme makers using the editorial guidelines, the impartiality reviews, and the feedback from
“50 million viewers and listeners”.
First, there are the trust’s editorial guidelines, which are intended to help editors and producers to produce work that meets the highest ethical and editorial standards. They include a chapter on impartiality, because the royal charter requires impartial coverage. However, the chapter is only a framework enabling editors and producers to interpret the impartiality requirements. In an organisation as large as the BBC, that is simply not sufficient as a primary safeguard. Furthermore, it has been shown that minor editorial decisions build up to form a larger pattern that, cumulatively, creates unintentional bias.
Secondly, there are the trust’s regular impartiality reviews, which are intended to serve as studies to establish how content evolves over a significant period, and are also said to produce objective and in-depth analysis. The Bridcut report of 2007 is quite a good example of how an impartiality review should not be conducted. Almost 70% of the committee that produced the report consisted of BBC staff and trustees. Its members did not aim to look for systematic bias, so, unsurprisingly, they did not find it.
Then there was the Prebble review of 2012, which was intended to be a
“Review of the Breadth of Opinion…in the BBC’s Output”.
In other words, the authors of that report were also not directly looking for systematic bias. News-watch, the public service monitor, has found that problems were ignored by the researchers. For instance, the report failed to explain a 50% drop in the number of UK Independence party appearances during the five years between 2007 and the time leading up to the report. Instead, it suggested that the UKIP’s views were represented by the Conservative party. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would disagree robustly with that conclusion.
The final safeguard is supposedly the complaints procedure, with feedback received from those
“millions of views and listeners”.
However, the complaints procedure is patronising, complicated and inefficient. In fact, News-watch went so far as to say that the procedure’s automatic response was to discourage and dismiss complainants.
The next issue that I wish to raise involves programme content. The BBC is not allowed to express opinions on current affairs. Can it be right that, as the Daily Mail tells us, Jonathan Dimbleby urged his audience to write to their MPs to save the BBC from further cuts? The alleged incident took place just a week after the Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a critical report about the BBC. Dimbleby’s call to arms was made at the end of “Any Questions?”, in front of the Hereford audience.
Let me first congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on initiating the debate. Does the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) really believe that the Daily Mail is the best arbiter of the impartiality or otherwise of a great institution like the BBC?
I was not requiring it to do that. I was requiring it to quote what Mr Dimbleby said, and what he said was a fact, quoted by the Daily Mail. What he said was never broadcast by the BBC, because that would have been a massive breach of its agreement.
There are still many people who believe in the BBC’s strong ethos of impartiality, and believe that editors’ judgment is enough to protect it. The impartiality of the BBC is ingrained in our national psyche. However, we see the BBC fail in that regard over and over again. Earlier this year, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) resigned from his post as a shadow Foreign Office Minister live on “Daily Politics”. The programme was criticised for the decision to broadcast the Minister’s resignation. The BBC defended itself, saying that it was supposed to break news stories, but an output editor on “Daily Politics”, Andrew Alexander, revealed in a blog that BBC News political editor Laura Kuenssberg had made a deal with the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on his resignation before the show was filmed. The fact that the blog post was later deleted suggests that the BBC was not breaking the news, but planning to create a central bit of the news story; that is the difference.
For most television, viewings and awards determine the right to exist. Programme makers follow the sensational path to attract an audience, and that is understandable, but the BBC does not need to create sensation, as its existence is protected through the royal charter and the accompanying agreement; on the contrary, the BBC is charged with reflecting the UK’s diversity, being independent and upholding impartiality.
Robert Mosey, a former editorial director and the director of London 2012 at the BBC, gave his view on 25 February in the New Statesman:
“I do not believe that there is systemic bias. The BBC will be meticulous in allocating airtime for contributors and its journalists will display their characteristic professionalism – but they will also need to have some empathy with the opposing camps.”
That is correct. Mosey unintentionally demonstrates a point. Systemic bias is difficult to detect, and it is especially difficult to detect when it is a minor decision that leads to a larger pattern of systemic bias. It is obvious that the employees of a company will determine the tone of the output, and that is what is fundamentally wrong with the BBC. It is the inability of staff to be objective about the overall output. What has the BBC done to rectify those issues when they have been voiced? It has done nothing other than discourage and dismiss them. The BBC’s bias is a big issue, but it is not the thing that worries me most; it is its unwillingness to examine itself and its output critically that worries me. If the BBC’s own complaints procedure lacks independence and the organisation rejects criticism, something must be fundamentally wrong.
Finally, this is not a criticism of the majority of staff and editors working for the BBC. They cannot be expected to solve a problem that has been created by the system in which they work. The answer must be stronger and more efficient safeguards; consideration of the cumulative output of the BBC, rather than of individual programmes; and a new willingness to look self-critically to ensure that it continues to deserve its unique and privileged position. All of that can come only from the trustees.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) on securing this important debate.
I wish to talk about two things: optics and solutions. The optics of what we do are very important, both in this place and in the BBC. There is the saying, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Sometimes, I like to change that to, “You can be what you can see”, which means that we need to see more diversity in the BBC. I accompany that with a short story.
A friend of mine—an actor—and I were talking many years ago. He said he could not find any jobs in the UK, although he had been on “Absolutely Fabulous”, and he was going to America. We had a big debate on whether that was a good idea. I was sad to see him leave, but he did very well—his name is Idris Elba, and he is now a household name. It is a shame that we could not keep his talent in-house in the first place.
Black people get very excited when they see other black people on TV. I remember the days of T-Mobile, when the phone would ring after 7 o’clock—the calls were free then—and someone would ask, “Did you see that black person on this TV station?” It was the talk of the community. Optics are just so important.
I am loving my hon. Friend’s speech; she is so right. When she talks about programmes, I think of “Desmond’s” and the legendary “The Real McCoy”. She illustrates the fact that it is not just who is in front of the camera that matters; commissioning editors and producers are equally important if our different communities are to be accurately portrayed on the BBC, rather than the stereotyping of different communities that, unfortunately, we have seen year after year after year.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and I shall return to it later in my speech.
I do not watch the BBC that often, but I remember watching “EastEnders” in my younger days and thinking how strange it was, given that I am from the east end, that there were hardly any black people in the programme. When a black person did appear, they were totally unrepresentative of any black person I had ever known. It was rather shocking, and that point applies to commissioners and the way in which programmes are made. It is so important to get this right, but if we do not understand the culture or what it means to be, say, a disabled person, a black person or a woman, we will get it wrong.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham mentioned a new BBC drama, “Undercover”. When I saw the trailers, I immediately put the programme on my record settings. I have not watched it yet, but I recorded it only because there were two black lead actors, and I got excited again—also, Adrian Lester is quite hot! [Laughter.] You have come in at the right time, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Shonda Rhimes, a producer, director and writer of amazing shows such as “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Scandal” was once asked how she felt about the diversity she brings to TV. She responded that what she is actually doing is “normalising” what we watch on TV. I hope the Minister will take that on board and demand that the BBC be normalised in this way.
The Olympics provide another example. Black people are extensively seen on the field and some are very well known in sport, yet during the coverage of the Olympics we rarely saw any black presenters. That made me wonder how that could happen. I am not sure whether a report was produced at the end of the Olympics coverage in 2012.
According to Directors UK, only 1.5% of programmes are directed by black, Asian or minority ethnic people. That is the fundamental root of many of the problems we face with programmes and programming. The number of BAME people working on TV fell dramatically when BBC and Channel 4 moved their productions outside London. Why was that problem not considered when they were thinking about the move? Why did they not think of retaining at least the BAME people they had, if not building on their number?
The BBC has a problem with recruitment; it always recruits internally first, which means it will recruit only from the people currently employed. If they are already “hideously white”, only white people will be recruited and promoted. The BBC’s recruitment process therefore needs to change. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) mentioned the industry professionals, and it is difficult for them to see and understand the beauty and diversity of written or other materials if they do not understand them. The only way to address the problem is to change some of the industry’s professionals. It is incumbent on the Minister to ensure that the BBC does that—and does it quickly.
I am thinking about the people who are concerned about the number of outs, as opposed to the number of remains, who are employed by the BBC. I bet it is rather little.
I am not quite sure that I follow the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I thought it was linked to the EU.
It has already been said that anything and everything the Government think is important is written into the BBC charter. There is no excuse for that not to happen. The charter already takes into consideration how many current affairs programmes and children’s programmes should be made, as well as the number of programmes that should be made in Scotland and Wales and so on. If the BBC and the Government are serious about diversity, this should be written into the charter with the threat of the BBC losing money if it does not fulfil its obligations. I hope that the Minister will tell us that that will be the case.
Ofcom oversees the television industry but not the BBC. I hope that will change. In my opinion, and according to many of the people who were asked, the BBC board needs to be completely independent. Scottish, Welsh, Irish and English audience panels represent the interests of their regions to Ofcom, but there is no BAME audience panel. Money has gone into the parts that are represented by audience panels, so it stands to reason that establishing such a panel is the way to go if we want to see more money go into the black, Asian and minority ethnic area.
A few seconds ago my hon. Friend said she thought the BBC board ought to be completely independent and, presumably, free from Government interference over its appointments. Would she be willing to consider elections to the board as a way of achieving true independence?
True to form, my hon. Friend offers a radical solution. Yes, I agree that there should be elections. They would produce interesting results, and that is what we need.
Ofcom should ensure that the black, Asian and minority ethnic population has a systematic process to allow the industry to hear its views and concerns by setting up an advisory board. I cannot stress strongly enough to the Minister how important such a solution is. We often talk about problems in this place, without talking about the solutions. I hope that the Minister will take this on board.
Where we see the hard end, where things go wrong if we do not have appropriate diversity, is in the representation of our Muslim communities. The rise in Islamophobia is due in no small part to certain broadcasters—this applies to the BBC and to others—putting up so-called community leaders who purport to speak for their community but have no mandate whatever to do so. Having a panel of the kind that my hon. Friend describes would increase the chances of the BBC and others getting this right and properly representing the Muslim community in particular.
Absolutely. This is an important solution to the problem. We would not have to rely on people thinking they knew who to go to. It would open and widen the field to members of the community who actually knew who to go to.
The advisory board would be based on the same model as the advisory committees in each nation that provide Ofcom with detailed expert insight into the challenges facing citizens and consumers in different parts of the UK.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic interests would be served through representation on Ofcom’s content board and the Communications Consumer Panel. The UK’s BAME community currently represents a larger proportion of the population than any specific nation apart from England, yet often makes up less than 12% of any advisory board, meaning that its voice is not heard as clearly as those of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Minister has a chance to put that right and, with his enthusiasm and commitment to the cause, I am sure he will.
I want to help the hon. Lady by saying that I hope her ambition is greater than just matching the voice of people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I hope that the ethnic minority voice will be stronger than ours, which we sometimes feel is not strong at all. I wish her well.
Order. We have an informal 10-minute limit, and the Members who are intervening were hoping to be next on the list. I would not like to have to put them down the list.
I am coming to the end of my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. My ambitions for my community are always as big as possible and know no bounds.
My next plea relates to the “The Real McCoy”. There has been a long-standing campaign for the BBC to bring the show back, but one of the reasons that has not happened is that the archive has apparently been lost. If so, that says to me that the BBC felt—[Interruption.] An hon. Member in a sedentary position just kissed his teeth, which I am sure Hansard would not be able to print, but it basically means that what happened was very bad. [Laughter.] Will the Minister please investigate whether the archive has been lost? If it has, it is a shame and it shows that the BBC had little regard for such a funny, legendary programme.
Finally, the BBC is under threat from the internet. Many groups and communities run their own programmes online because their voices are not being heard. I was part of Star Media and had a show to connect with the Somali community. It will be a shame if the BBC does not grasp the nettle and run with our suggestions.
Like others who have spoken, I am a BBC enthusiast, yet I find myself sharing the essential analysis of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who demanded not yet more good intentions from the BBC on diversity but serious structural and systemic change. I will use my few words to advocate one aspect of what that change might look like.
Much of my constituency does not feel properly represented in the BBC’s output. I cannot think of any programme that positively portrays a leading figure from the Tamil community. I have large Pakistani and Gujarati communities, and the way in which they are portrayed, if at all, is often far from positive. Somali and Chinese constituents will also wonder whether the BBC properly represents their communities. There will be greater chance of the BBC offering a more diverse output, with more opportunities for black and minority ethnic staff and actors, and of more resource being generated from the UK’s regions—a point made strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott)—if the BBC’s governance is significantly changed. There has always been a consensus in the House—sometimes somewhat reluctant and sometimes somewhat disguised—whereby Ministers, of whichever party, believed that overall control of the BBC Trust should be in their hands and that they should appoint to the BBC Trust or the board the great and good with whom they felt comfortable. The Government’s proposals for change reflect that ongoing consensus, albeit perhaps with less enthusiasm for the BBC than previous Conservative Governments have shown. I do not think a 13-strong unitary board, which I understand is currently envisaged—all appointed in one shape or form—is likely to achieve the governance needed to ensure the more diverse and representative BBC output that many of us want.
I therefore wonder whether it is now time to have a serious debate about converting the BBC’s governance at the top into a more mutual form, whereby licence fee payers elect all, or even just some, of the board’s directors. I commend the imagination of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker)—he is not in the House today—who joined me in a letter to The Times urging the BBC and the Government to contemplate converting the BBC into a mutual. Elections, although they will probably not be held immediately, will lead to a more diverse board. An elected board is more likely to have to take into account the need for more diverse output, as would-be directors would have to secure election.
As licence fee payers and citizens, we nominally own the BBC, but in practice we have very little influence over the way in which its management behave—the financial decisions they take; the strategy they choose; the output they deliver; the commissioning decisions they take; the pay of senior executives; or any other key decision they care to make. Our nominal ownership is a long way from real ownership. In practice, our ownership responsibilities as licence fee payers have been outsourced to Ministers and to the great and good they choose to put in place. The BBC has an ownership deficit and an accountability gap. In practice, the current BBC Trust is accountable to no one beyond Ministers. Merging the Trust and the management board, with its members again largely chosen by Ministers, albeit perhaps with a little more external regulation, will still fail to address either that ownership deficit or that accountability gap.
The BBC operates in a highly competitive marketplace, as the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) said. The days when 20 million people would sit down at the same time to watch “EastEnders”, important programme though it still is, are all but gone. The companies and organisations that are succeeding are more likely to be the ones moving beyond a merely transactional relationship with their customers—and indeed their workforce—and building a real connection and relationship with them. The chance to vote every Sunday on who is axed from “Strictly Come Dancing” is not enough; a more radical and strategic involvement in shaping the decisions of the BBC should be available to our constituents, the licence fee payers.
The Co-operative party, which I am privileged to chair, has for some time been running a people’s BBC petition calling for the BBC to be mutualised, allowing licence fee payers to become members and owners, solving the ownership deficit and accountability gap at the same time. There are a number of ways in which those membership and ownership rights could be exercised, but the key is the right of members to choose representatives to sit on the board. That would require the Government to give up the bulk of their powers to appoint the BBC board and would achieve the independence my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) rightly cherishes so much.
Thorny issues such as executive remuneration or accountability on diversity, and tough decisions about how to prioritise resources, could be debated and decided at an AGM, open to all to attend in person or online. That would increase the accountability of those at the top of the BBC as they go about exercising their responsibilities. It would begin to deal with the accountability gap and would be an important line of defence against political interference.
Many organisations across the public and private sectors already have similar mutual structures. They include employee-owned businesses that are national treasures, such as John Lewis, whose board directors are elected. The National Trust, which is responsible for crucial assets that we all value, elects a members council from which its board is drawn. Nationwide gives all its customers a vote on the composition of the board. Foundation hospitals give patients a chance to influence who sits on key decision-making bodies. Many private sector companies across Europe, including big companies such as Deutsche Bank and EDF in France, ensure that at least one board member is directly elected by their employees. If mutual structures can work in other parts of the private and public sectors, surely it is time now to think about whether they can solve some of the challenges that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham and others have rightly pointed out, still exist in the BBC.
Tapadh leibh. I hope that I can add another layer of diversity, and something else that we can think about, to this excellent debate, led by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I congratulate him on bringing it to the Floor of the House.
Diversity is very important. It is certainly very important for somewhere like the BBC. I believe that a broadcaster should be a mirror to the society it seeks to serve when giving impressions of that country. The days are long past when we had the 1950s cut-glass accent as the only voice of our broadcaster. If other voices exist, they should be reflected on television—it should not just be received pronunciation accents, such as my own Hebridean accent, of course. The BBC must serve more widely; it must serve from across the world. A recent example, on which it should be congratulated, is the tremendous Icelandic drama suspense series “Trapped”, set in Seydisfjördur in Iceland, which managed to get the whole Faroese ferry as a background prop. That, coming out of a nation with a population of 300,000, is quite something. It is something we should acknowledge and that I hope to develop later.
When the message is the UK and the vehicle that is being carried is the UK, the family of nations that are still in the UK and the people within those nations, in all their diversity, should be included in them. That is why I strongly support the right hon. Gentleman’s words. One of the first issues I had with the BBC when I was elected to this House in 2005 was that it had, in its infinite wisdom, decided to change the weather map. It changed the angle of the map, which meant that Scotland was hardly seen at all. That had important knock-on effects for many in my constituency who relied on the BBC’s isobar chart as their most important way of looking at the wind for the coming days. The BBC, with a bit of pressure, moved the weather map to a better angle to represent Scotland, but Scotland still does not have a proper geographical representation on BBC weather maps, and, of course, it is not getting the accurate forecasts that it deserves, although those who work there do a good job with that policy. In the meantime, other providers, such as XCWeather online, have replaced some of the services that the BBC was relied on to provide. I hope that even a decade later the BBC can revisit the policy of not having a map that is geographically representative, which I always thought was the purpose of maps.
I long since heard the line, “Life imitates art”—I think it was back in 1992 in New York. It is a powerful line. People should see themselves portrayed accurately, fairly and without stereotypes. That has to be true of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Liverpool, Sunderland, Tottenham or wherever. It has to be true also of women and ethnic minorities. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his quest again to be on “Question Time”. Happily, I have not been pestered to go into that bear pit myself, but I will certainly watch if he is on, and I wish him well.
The BBC has to reflect the languages of these islands, especially the older languages of Britain that pre-date the migration of English into Britain. I refer to Welsh and Gaelic, both Scottish and Irish Gaelic, as well as Cornish. I hope Cornish is being heard on the nation’s airwaves.
On the languages of the nations of the UK, does my hon. Friend agree that not only was it wrong of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to cut £1 million, which was 100% of the budget for BBC Alba, but it was particularly insensitive at a time when the Department was announcing £150 million for museums in London—although there is nothing wrong with supporting museums?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I wonder if he is telepathic, as he guesses what I am about to say. It was very disappointing to see in the autumn statement that £1 million was to be cut by the Westminster Government from the Gaelic service of BBC Alba. That was virtually all the funding that the Westminster Government provided. It cannot be argued that that was part of the wider voodoo economics that is the Chancellor’s austerity cult, because as my hon. Friend said, it was at the time of the autumn statement, when an extra £150 million was found for museums in London. I understand the frustration of the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), who feels that the north of England is being penalised, to the benefit of the south-east of England.
We look for diversity in broadcasting, and we look to the Government to maintain a little diversity in the funding of broadcasting across the UK. We have to ask ourselves what exactly is being funded. To me as a consumer of Gaelic TV and radio, it is a fantastic addition to life in Scotland. A recent series on Radio nan Gàidheal was outstanding, containing testimonies from old recordings of world war one veterans.
Listening to that, it struck me that a whole history of the UK—a whole history of global conflict, perhaps—was closed to many people who did not speak the language and did not understand the testimony of soldiers, their poems and songs from world war one, many composed in the trenches. But at least that material was being broadcast and brought to life, and was understood by those who spoke the language. In conversations afterwards I was able to make others aware, as I hope I am doing today, of that resource. I was left with the impression that my inability to speak Welsh means that another aspect of life in the UK—these islands in the north-west of Europe—and other experiences from world war one or world war two are closed to me. The job of broadcasters is to reflect the diversity of the languages as well as the ethnicities in the UK.
Radio nan Gàidheal does not just broadcast fantastic historical programmes. One of the programmes that I enjoy most, which gives me a laugh every night when I listen to it, is “Siubhal gu Seachd”. The pre-seven o’clock light entertainment programme with an old friend of mine, Derek “Pluto” Moireach, is excellent. I hope and pray that he is never spotted and poached by English broadcasting. I hope he would not take the shilling and would stay with Radio nan Gàidheal.
On television, “Bannan” has been a greatly acclaimed drama series. Perhaps it could be exported to Iceland. If I have any criticism of BBC Alba, it is that it could import programmes more widely from other parts of the world and use Gaelic subtitles, not just English subtitles. I hope those at BBC Alba will listen to that friendly idea. Certainly, BBC Alba has opened up the Gaelic language to a wider audience in Scotland, with many who do not speak Gaelic tuning in regularly to listen to BBC Alba. The news programme “An Là”, shows that the Gaelic side of the BBC in Scotland—at least BBC Alba—can deal with the world, whereas the English side at Pacific Quay navel-gazes or seems not to have the full confidence of its bosses. I think that is changing—I certainly hope it is—because it certainly has my confidence, and that of my party, to be as good at producing flagship news programmes as broadcasters in Copenhagen, Dublin, Reykjavik, and maybe even London. To be honest, I actually think that it would be better than London, because it would be more relevant to life in Scotland.
I flag that up in order to support the opening remarks from the right hon. Member for Tottenham—and to boast to an extent—because if a language pool of 68,000 is producing that fantastic television and radio, I have no doubt that a larger talent pool of ethnic minorities can produce absolutely fantastic programming. Furthermore, they will bring new and different perspectives that will enhance our lives as viewers and consumers. I wish him and his colleagues well in achieving exactly that. Some of us might even have our lives further enriched by learning phrases of Urdu, Punjabi or some of the African languages, which I hope are still thriving within the UK’s immigrant communities. After all, “Nation shall speak unto nation” was meant to be a two-way process.
I also note the comment from the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) that on a weekly basis 34 languages are broadcast by the BBC internationally across the World Service, which is a great resource and an almost unique selling point for the UK. It is a crown jewel and an access point. We have not had such a great international reputation in recently years—that relates to our earlier debate on the Iraq inquiry—but we do have a good international reputation with the BBC World Service.
Other UK broadcasters have to be commended on the issue of wider diversity. Sky has broadcast the Irish game of hurling in recent years, which has become my favourite sport to watch on television, although I would certainly not like to play it, having played the Scottish version, shinty, which is not as aerial. Having once had to get 10 stiches in my forehead after playing shinty, I would not like to see how I get on with hurling. At least Sky is showing a greater diversity, informing us, widening our horizons and giving us different experiences. I must also commend Sky. I had a conversation with Andy Cairns, the chief of Sky Sports, and praised him for broadcasting hurling and Gaelic football and said, “What about shinty?” It was not too long before he had a programme about Ronald Ross, the “Ronaldo of the Glens”, the fantastic shinty player from Kingussie. There is much more to be done on a sporting and general diversity basis.
Another plea I make to broadcasters on the diversity front is not just to be diverse within the UK, but to look at extending diversity across borders—again, nations shall speak unto nations. There is TG Ceathair in Ireland, and a number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland would like to get over the border and open the closed door that is the Irish Gaelic language, and more exposure to it would help us. Likewise, perhaps the Irish Republic might benefit from the tremendous programmes of BBC Alba. There is probably an opportunity for cross-fertilization there.
I again congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate, which hopefully is useful for the public. I certainly hope that it will go some way towards influencing thinking at high levels of the BBC about the range of ideas and the diversity present in this debate.
I will start by commenting on why the view of the BBC from this particular corner of London might be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) said, quite different from the view from other parts of the UK. The clock and bell that form part of this parliamentary complex are among the most iconic symbols used by the BBC, and they can be read as symbolic of two significant characteristics of the BBC. The first is its close identification with London, from Alexandra Palace to Broadcasting House and Television Centre. They were not just bases for commissioning, recording and broadcasting programmes; they also often contributed to the identity of some programmes.
The period from the 1930s to the arrival of ITV in the 1950s was clearly a halcyon era for the BBC. At the time it genuinely provided part of the glue for the fabric of the UK, as people across the diverse nations and regions listened to and watched the same programmes. Despite the increase in self-directed programming, the majority of us still consume broadcasting live. What makes it to the schedule, at what time, and who appears on screen or behind the microphone help set the cultural context for people right across the UK. The views and values that determine the content of entertainment, news and current affairs programmes have an impact on listeners’ and viewers’ perception of society around them.
Looking backwards, despite having had a Scot, John Reith, as its chief for the first 16 years of its existence, the BBC, particularly in respect of television, has been undeniably dominated by London. After leaving the BBC, Reith was briefly a member of this House before being transferred along the corridor to another place. He spoke seldom in his time there, but he briefly intervened on the subject of broadcasting, making a telling comment about the BBC:
“To-day…British broadcasting commands the respect and admiration of the whole world; an institution of which England—yes, and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland—can be proud”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 May 1952; Vol. 176, c. 1297.]
That is an interesting formulation for someone from Stonehaven who was so closely associated with the corporation. Tacking the other nations of the UK on as an afterthought is not an unreasonable illustration of how the BBC works. That has certainly been the case when it comes to dividing up the budget.
The second issue that is flagged up by the use of these symbols is the BBC’s links to the centre of political power in the UK. Throughout the 20th century, to become a BBC governor, it seemed obligatory to be a Member of, or to secure elevation to, their lordships’ House. Of the 65 people who served as BBC governors, more than 50 were Members of the House of Lords when they were appointed or became Members after their appointment. I found only one governor who was known to have refused an honour when it was offered. Nine of the 65 governors were born into the aristocracy or into well established political families, and 90% of governors had a degree, more than half from Oxbridge. My point is that those who directed BBC strategy for much of its life made no effort to make it look like us, in all our diversity.
My constituency is one of the most diverse in Scotland, and we are the richer for that. My children are proud to have both Scottish and Indian heritage. Our society is made up of people with different backgrounds, different lives and different perspectives, and our public broadcasting system should, surely, reflect and portray us all accurately and without stereotype. We need producers, writers, technicians and artists from all sorts of different backgrounds, with different genders, races, sexual orientations, disabilities and religions. We need that as a matter of course, not as an add-on. However, the BBC seems to find it difficult to accept that there are disparate voices that are entitled to be heard, and that those people are entitled to see their lives and experiences reflected by the broadcaster that they help to fund.
None of that is to suggest that the technical or artistic quality of what the BBC produces is not high. In very many instances, it quite clearly is. Because the BBC is free from many of the commercial pressures that bear down on private media companies, we should, surely, expect it to make the investment that is needed to build relationships with its audiences. If it had done so effectively, we might not be having this debate.
The BBC seems to find it difficult to get its position right when it tries to address the drain that it places on Scotland’s licence fees to sustain its London operation. I have to say to Tony Hall that the BBC’s approach to meeting Scotland’s expenditure quota is just not good enough. Rebadging an established programme such as “Question Time” as a Glasgow production is not an adequate response. “Question Time” is produced by a Welsh company that moves around the UK every week. The show was recently broadcast from somewhere that was labelled as Dundee; as someone who is originally from Dundee, it seemed to me to be closer to Brigadoon. That short-term fix is no substitute for grown-up commissioning, located in Scotland and with a budget that recognises the scale of Scotland’s licence fee contribution.
There are so many great productions coming from Scotland that would make for fantastic television. I would have liked to see the award-winning play “Black Watch” adapted for the screen. That play had former service personnel in America on their feet at its portrayal of the reality of the war in Iraq. If the play had been adapted, perhaps some of the creative Scots who had to move to London to break into media might have found it possible to stay.
It is long past time that Auntie BBC in London let go of her purse strings. Continued resistance to the demands of large sections of the audience, whether they be in the nations, the regions or in sections of the black, minority ethnic and other communities, will diminish support for licence fee-funded public service broadcasting. Of course, that might serve the purposes of some Members of this House and their friends in the private sector. Continued stalling by the BBC will certainly fuel demands from Scotland for control of broadcasting to pass to Holyrood. For my part and that of my hon. Friends, we would certainly be happy for that to happen.
These sentiments are not just mine; they are also reflected in the fact that Scots rate the BBC less positively than other parts of the UK. I was interested to hear of a debate in Edinburgh last night on the future of public sector broadcasting, and to hear David Puttnam’s endorsement of the view that what we have at present is too London-centric. He is right to identify the need to address how Scotland connects to the new governance structures being put in place as part of charter renewal. John McCormick, a former controller of BBC Scotland, made the telling point that the BBC has yet to catch up with devolution: it has the same structure now as it did before the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999. I look forward to seeing how that issue is addressed in the Puttnam report. It is clear that the disconnect extends to many within the BBC. When grand schemes are announced and then are not delivered, people’s motivation drops. Lenny Henry identified 29 diversity initiatives over 15 years, which is clearly a problem. I look forward to hearing him report on the result of his work into that.
As someone with a background in managing change and having responsibility for making sure diversity was taken seriously as an issue, embedded and made core to the business, I was keen to look for evidence that diversity is taken seriously by those in charge of the BBC. An essential requirement of such a change is commitment from those at the top not just to use fine words, but to walk the walk. Unless that happens, change will not be effected.
As Members will be aware, after a very long transition period, the BBC has moved away from having governors to having a board of trustees. I was pleased that the trustees are a more diverse group than their predecessors, but there is still an overreliance on certain key sectors. This time, the key sector is not politics, but financial services. However, I pay tribute to trustee Sonita Alleyne, who came closest to pursuing equalities as one of her personal objectives when she declared she was
“passionate about ensuring that all audiences are served by the BBC and see their lives reflected in the programmes they watch and listen to.”
I wish her every success.
The BBC workforce diversity monitoring page is still advertising system changes due to take place in 2013 and referencing 2012 figures, so we must ask how anyone inside the BBC—never mind us outside it—is supposed to know what is going on. That rather stale attitude is reflected in other ways, such as how the BBC deals with audience selection. I have seen a form in which it asks prospective audience members whether they “suffered” from a disability. I know that words are just words, but such an attitude to disability is most unhelpful and not what we expect from our public service broadcaster. Interestingly, the TV workforce are considerably less likely than the working population to declare themselves as having a disability.
I will finish by touching on the issue of gender equality at the BBC. As with many large organisations, the BBC demonstrates a failure to attract, nurture and develop female talent. The corporation shows an all too common step down in the proportion of women among the higher grades of staff. With it now on its 18th director general, every one of them male, it is worth asking what a woman has to do to get appointed to the top job. If those at the BBC get cold feet at the prospect of appointing a woman to such a job, I have two words for them—Stella Rimington. If the boys who wanted to be Bond can stand having a woman in charge, I am sure the BBC can cope. If the BBC can take the risk of putting someone in the top job who does not fit the mould, that may be the biggest signal the corporation can send that the change it needs is under way. I pass that challenge to the BBC and the Equality and Human Rights Commission for them to address before the next vacancy is upon us.
I am from a generation in which the cathode ray tube ruled supreme. Many moments of my life have been mediated through the idiot box—sometimes it has been in the foreground, forcing me to sit up and take notice; sometimes it has been in the background, flickering like a fireplace.
When I first went to school, we were probably the only family on the block, in the hood or whatever we call it—I was dragged up—to have a black and white set. Among my early memories of TV is watching “The Black and White Minstrel Show” on a monochrome set. Even at my tender age, it was baffling to me. For those too young to remember that light entertainment show—is that what we would call it?—it ran for 20 years, from 1958 to 1978. It had white actors and singers blacked up to imitate American minstrels of the 19th century. At best, that can be described as bad taste, and there are many other words—unparliamentary language—that we could use to describe the programme. Even in the ’70s when I was tuning in, the accusation could have been made that the BBC was not representative of the population in modern Britain.
I welcome this debate and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on bringing this subject to the House. There are parallels with this place. Ethnic minority representation both on TV and in politics is a case of “could do better”.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady’s speech, but I have sat through 45 minutes of this debate—I apologise that I was not here at the beginning, Mr Deputy Speaker—and must point out that this is an issue across the media. I suggest to the hon. Lady that the situation in this House, though bad, is considerably better than that across a large portion of the print media. I am surprised that journalism and political journalists have not been brought up. This is a broader problem, not just one at the BBC, and it is a much more acute problem at newspapers, magazines and across the print media.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that at The Guardian newspaper, they have all been to one of the two greatest—sorry, oldest—universities in this nation. I went to one of them myself, so perhaps I should not say that—pot calling kettle and all that.
I will plough on because other people want to speak. I imagine the hon. Gentleman went there. He did—he was a contemporary of my sister at that place wasn’t he?
Indeed, I was. The Guardian is the only newspaper that consistently misspells my name. I just wanted to get that out.
On that basis, we will want to know when it improves.
That is a hazard for people with a name like mine or the hon. Gentleman’s. The sooner we take steps to acknowledge and address this situation, as we are doing today, the better. He is right that this is a sector-wide issue across the media.
It goes without saying that the nation’s front rooms should be illuminated by more than just white people, and clichéd representatives of white people at that. The late sociologist Stuart Hall used to talk about representations and reality. There is a circuit between them and they feed off each other.
Sadly, “The Black and White Minstrel Show” was not a complete one-off. As my viewing habits progressed, there was ITV’s “Love Thy Neighbour”, which ran from 1972 to 1976—a situation comedy in which the situation was having a black family next door. It seems absurd now. Astonishingly, the TV Times trailed the programme with the line:
“You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your neighbours”.
Also on ITV, there was “Mixed Blessings”, which the British Film Institute describes thus:
“Christopher and Muriel are in love. But since he is white and she is black, their marriage raises tensions among their respective families.”
The BFI—this programme is now a BFI classic—says that it
“understandably reflects the confused racial attitudes of the time”.
Confused.com! The racist ranter Alf Garnett in “Till Death Do Us Part” was on the BBC. We can excuse the other two because they were on a commercial broadcaster. All of these things are now excused. It is like Jimmy Savile’s crimes. These things were acceptable in the ’70s, which was a pre-politically correct time.
We can cite examples of where we have not really moved forward. Sorry, I missed another programme—“It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”. There is a bit of a pattern in these things, because they all demonstrate an inferiority. In that show, it was with Asians. There are academic theories that show that things like slavery are based on the inferiority of another race. These programmes, to some extent, had that sort of attitude at their core.
A current programme I would cite, which has been going since 2012, is “Citizen Khan”. If I did not know what the year was—I do not know if people know that programme. It is the everyday tale of a Birmingham family of Muslims, but they are really quite backward. Again, it relates to the point about Islamophobia made by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who is no longer in his place. There is a beardy-weirdy chap. They are not quite cutting off people’s hands, but I could imagine that being in a future episode.
I just want to give a contrast to the terrible programmes the hon. Lady has recalled, which I remember too. I want to mention one positive and diverse story that I saw this morning on “BBC Breakfast”. It was about the 276 girls from Chibok in Nigeria who were abducted by Boko Haram. It was a brilliant story that was well done and well produced. It was the BBC at its best. It has also allowed me to say a little in this Chamber to highlight the fact that today is the second anniversary of the abduction of those girls. It is two years on and the vast majority are still not back. It is important that these girls are remembered. We must not forget them and must do everything we can to campaign for their safe return.
The hon. Lady’s excellent point anticipates a later part of my speech, which is about the difference between black and Asian people over there, compared with the ones here.
I do not want to bash the BBC. I am a former employee of the corporation. Ealing and Acton are very BBC places—the wage slips we used to get were issued from Villiers House in Ealing Broadway. Ealing Studios is in my seat, as is the wig and prop department in Acton, where there are various warehouses. It is a very BBC area, on the whole. I have had 361 separate communications from people begging me to argue that the charter renewal should go through and that the Reithian principles—to educate, inform and entertain—should be preserved in the new settlement.
I do not want to attack the BBC, and the point has been correctly made that the examples that have been chosen are selective. People see the BBC as a world standard. My cousins in Bangladesh always say that when they want to know the truth they turn on the BBC to hear what is going on, which chimes with the hon. Lady’s point. But with power comes responsibility—it is an old phrase—and the mainstream media have enormous power. They do not have simply to reinforce; they can also challenge. If there is any broadcaster that does not run only on supply-oriented lines, it is the BBC.
As many Members have said, diversity does not just stop at ethnic diversity. There was the case of the “Countryfile” presenter Miriam O’Reilly, a woman in her 50s who was discriminated against just for reaching her half century. We could do a Venn diagram of all these things: gender, ethnicity—I would fit into quite a few of them—sexuality, regional diversity and class representation, because we want to see the people downstairs as well as those upstairs. We also need to know what is going on off screen as well as on; it is all very well having a pretty person who can read the autocue, but we need to know what is happening at board level.
To go back to my couch potato days, Michael Buerk’s reporting on Ethiopia in the 1980s put the issues underlying what became LiveAid and BandAid on the agenda, but there is a worry that sometimes factual broadcasting can resort to clichés, showing gangs, or Muslims who are repressed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham mentioned the character of Benny in “Grange Hill”; at the same time, all the Asian people in the programme were victims of the bully, Gripper. That gave me, as an Asian person, a very negative portrayal.
I did not want to make my speech about statistics, because other Members can do that better than me, but there is progress. For example, I am encouraged that Aaqil Ahmed—I do not know him personally, but that is definitely not a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant name—is the commissioning editor for religious broadcasting at the BBC. John Pienaar got the amazing interview with my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) when it came out that she had been mistaken in the lift for a cleaner—sadly, many of us have had similar experiences, although not perhaps as extreme as that. I have just heard today that he has been promoted to deputy political editor at the BBC.
That perhaps reflects progress in this House, with the new Serjeant at Arms, who is British-Moroccan, and the chaplain Rose Hudson-Wilkin, who also represents progress. Again, however, we need to look at things like hyphenated identities, because the Serjeant at Arms is British-Moroccan. Old slogans like “Black, white, unite” make it sound as if people can be only one category, but mixed race is predicted to be the biggest demographic segment in global megacities such as ours before long. We need to represent that. We should also think about Chinese people and Jewish people; there are Irish stereotypes on “Mrs Brown’s Boys”—all of those things. [Interruption.] Okay. I need a killer conclusion.
Many people have referred to “hideously white”, the famous slogan of Greg Dyke when he was director-general. Sometimes it feels as though progress is painfully slow.
I am not sure that I can really follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), but I will give it a go. I thank her for that trip down memory lane. I was also dragged up on those television programmes, and fortunately things have improved slightly since then.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this debate, and the hon. Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) on their contributions. As a Greater Manchester MP, I am proud that the BBC is now based in MediaCityUK in Salford; that has opened up great new job opportunities in my area. We had a jobs fair in Rochdale a while ago, and it was fantastic to see the BBC opening up great opportunities for working-class kids that were not previously available to them. We are proud to have the BBC in Salford in Greater Manchester. It is also fantastic to switch on Radio 4 or Radio 5 Live and hear northern accents. That is really refreshing, and it is great that the BBC is doing that, now that it is based in Manchester.
Last July I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on diversity in public sector broadcasting, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah)—she is now the shadow Minister and will be winding up this debate. That was not long ago, but we should ask what progress has been made on increasing diversity in the BBC on television and radio and, importantly, behind the scenes.
During this debate I have been looking at #bbcdiversity, and I was struck by one comment:
“There is not enough diversity in the BBC, by which I mean British Born Chinese”.
I thought that deserved a mention. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham highlighted in his opening speech the appalling under-representation of Chinese people. The BBC needs to address that, so I thank that tweeter for giving me that line. It will stay with me.
The White Paper from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport made it clear that
“Public-funded culture should reflect the diversity of our country”,
“The government expects the cultural sectors to represent our diverse society in their artistic talent, workforce and audiences.”
Public sector broadcasting, especially the BBC, is rightly held in high regard in this country, and it must be protected and properly funded. Lord Reith summarised the BBC’s purpose in three words—inform, educate, entertain—and that remains part of the organisation’s mission statement to this day. However, public sector broadcasting must also address other duties, such as inclusivity, diversity, equality, fairness and representation.
Let me slightly change the direction of the debate and talk about the representation of disabled people, because there are simply not enough disabled people on television. The BBC announced plans to quadruple the number of people with disabilities that it puts on television by 2017, and for disabled people that was a welcome initiative. However, the plans sound slightly more impressive than they are. Just 1.2% of people on BBC television are disabled, and quadrupling that figure will only take it to 5%. Disabled people make up about 18% of the population, so even 5% is 13% too few. For BBC television to represent the disabled community fairly and reflect British society accurately, the percentage of disabled people that it shows must be multiplied by not four, but 15. As I said, the disabled community make up 18% of Britain’s population, but I would never have known that from watching British TV, and neither would any young person growing up with a disability, or any able-bodied person who has never considered the substantial role that disabled people play in British life.
I have just been to a meeting, organised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, in which a disabled actor said that disabled people were portrayed as either scroungers or superhuman. How true that is. On television, disabled people are a minority. In reality, disabled people are a large and important section of society. They are a cross-section of society, too. There are disabled people of every age, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and political inclination. People with disabilities are frequently robbed of self-representation. In film, disabled characters are too often portrayed by able-bodied people. I am glad that the BBC has created the position of disability correspondent, but for disabled people to be integrated properly into television, they need to appear constantly in programming that is not wholly about disability. It would be good if the BBC met its targets for increasing the number of people with disabilities in scripted entertainment by ensuring that more disabled characters were created, and more disabled actors employed to play them. An equally excellent and important strategy would be to ensure that more disabled actors were cast in roles in which it is immaterial whether the character is disabled or not. A similar principle should apply to factual programming.
The BBC’s new initiative is an admirable first step on a long journey. At present, just over one in every 100 people on BBC television is disabled. For our national broadcaster to reflect our nation, that number needs to be just over one in six. No one could expect the percentage of disabled people on TV to leap from 1.2% to 18% immediately or even soon, but if the BBC is serious about a long-term commitment to equality for people with disabilities, it could publicly set that figure as its long-term target.
I want to talk briefly about the representation of women. Watching or listening to a news broadcast might give the impression that there are plenty of women involved in news and current affairs broadcasting. On the surface, women appear to be well represented. However, a closer look at the statistics shows that, despite making up more than half the population and a larger proportion of the TV and radio audience, women are severely under-represented, on and off air, in news and current affairs broadcasting. The House of Lords Communications Committee’s report on women in news and current affairs, published last year, highlighted concerns about the representation of women in news and current affairs broadcasting because of the genre’s wide reach and role in shaping public perceptions about society. It is well documented that although women make up a significant share of broadcasters’ workforces, they are under-represented in flagship news. One study showed that there are three male reporters in flagship news programmes for every female reporter.
The House of Lords Communications Committee argued that women are also poorly represented as experts in news and current affairs coverage. It heard evidence that women make up only 26% of the people interviewed as experts or commentators, and 26% of those interviewed as spokespersons. In a typical month, about 72% of the BBC’s “Question Time” contributors, and 84% of reporters and guests on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, are men. The situation for older women is particularly bad. The Lords Committee heard from a number of journalists, including Miriam O’Reilly, who as we know, won an age discrimination case against the BBC. It is extremely important that older women are represented on television as role models for younger women.
I want to finish by talking about Angela Rippon, who, ironically, at the age of 71 is currently appearing in a BBC programme entitled “How to Stay Young”. I heard her being interviewed the other day, and she says that she takes no responsibility for that title. The title was decided by others as one that would pull in viewers. Perhaps a programme entitled “Fitness and Health for the Over-70s”, or even “How to Stay Alive”, would not drag in the same number of viewers. She tells the story of John Birt suggesting to her when she was 50 that she might consider a career change. He actually told her, “You’ve had your day.” That was 20 years ago, but the case of Miriam O’Reilly shows that the BBC has not come a long way since then in its treatment of older women. I hope that that point will be taken on board.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on starting the debate with a powerful and thoughtful speech. I also congratulate the other speakers, who touched on an incredible range of diversity needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) talked about the need for language diversity and for Gaelic to be taken seriously, and I am particularly grateful to him for mentioning Kingussie and shinty.
I was struck by the words of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) about the important issue of disabled people and their dramatic under-representation. They should be represented much more thoroughly. She mentioned the words “inform”, “educate” and—I have forgotten the other one. [Hon. Members: “Entertain”.] Entertain! It is the important one for the theme of my speech, so I should have remembered it. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), who raised the issue of women’s representation in the BBC, for mentioning the incredible interest that people have in the BBC and its duty to represent people. She also mentioned Scotland’s contribution to the BBC licence fee and the Scottish people’s rating of the BBC.
Today, a row is erupting between the Scottish professional football league and the BBC that has the potential to stop broadcasts of football in Scotland. The chairman of the SPFL, Ralph Topping, is asking the BBC for £3 million to £4 million for Scottish football rights. The figure is currently just over £1 million. That is around half Gary Lineker’s salary. The BBC has the ability to do football extremely well.
I am sure I speak for many Scottish MPs when I say that Ralph Topping has our full support. As far as I understand it, not only is it about half Gary Lineker’s salary, but one production of “Match of the Day” costs as much as the BBC puts into Scottish football annually. More power to Ralph Topping’s elbow!
I completely agree. The issue has been picked up by James Dornan, MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, who has Hampden Park in his constituency, and who, reflecting on the fact that Scotland pays 10% of the licence fee, said:
“The future of Scottish football is very important, and our domestic game needs a proportionate share of money in order to help build for the future.”
He pointed out that football accountancy experts estimate that Scottish football rights are worth 10 times what is being paid for them.
It is not that the BBC cannot do a good job with Scottish football. Three of my favourite games in recent years have been the 2012 Scottish cup final, when Heart of Midlothian—I declare an interest as a fan—beat Hibs 5-1 in a terrific game; the 2015 Scottish cup final, which I am delighted to say was in my constituency, when Inverness Caledonian Thistle beat Falkirk 2-1; and this year’s league cup final, when Ross County beat Hibs 2-1. I mention those games for a good reason—because there is a great deal of exciting stuff going on in Scottish football just now: the split, the play-offs, the question of whether people will get promoted in the championship, the interest in the Scottish premiership, with Aberdeen and Hearts, and, as I said, Caley Thistle winning the Scottish cup and Ross County holding the league cup.
In my view, BBC radio coverage has been pretty good, but “Sportscene”, the BBC’s television coverage of Scottish football, is absolutely appalling. It operates on a Sunday night—a day later than England gets its football coverage—with a tiny budget. It is a blink-and-you-miss-it highlights programme. The camera angles would frustrate anyone watching premiership games in England. There might be a seagull’s eye view, from one fixed position, of a goal being scored. That is not good enough, and football fans are reacting. These are the people who are expecting to be entertained by the BBC. Only today, on the Hearts forum “Jambos Kickback”, “Doctor Jambo” said:
“I don’t even watch it anymore. It used to be a staple in our house. I record the games on ALBA.”
As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, even BBC Alba is under threat. “Doctor Jambo” added:
“Sitting up to watch it then filtering through all the manure for 1 minute of Hearts footage? Nah.”
Inverness Caley Thistle fans say that it is even worse for them. Evelyn, a constituent of mine, says:
“If you are a fan of a team in the Highlands, even though the Highlands hold the League and Scottish cups and are well established Premiership teams the level of coverage is beyond poor.”
Ralph Topping, the SPFL chairman, has pointed out that the BBC pays £68 million a year for the rights to the English premiership and other leagues, as opposed to £1 million for football rights in Scotland. The BBC’s director of sport, Barbara Slater, has admitted that there has been “inequality”.
Given that the BBC has made that admission, should it not redress past injustice and inequality, and make good the deficit in its funding for sport in Scotland?
Absolutely. I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for making that point. There has been a long period of injustice: this is not just about the last couple of years.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for intervening at this point. He is making a compelling speech. However, in respect of the rights and the amounts of money spent on them, I must point out that in many instances—although I am not referring specifically to the one that he has mentioned—the price is market-driven. If it is felt that, in order to secure rights for the English premiership, the BBC must pay £68 million, that is a price that it may have to pay if other bidders in the market are willing to pay up to the same amount.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because it allows me to highlight once again that Scotland is paying 10% of the licence fee. The BBC is paying what it believes is a market price of £68 million for the premiership and other league rights in England, yet it is unwilling to pay more than £1 million or so when the marketable value is estimated to be about £10 million. All that is being asked for is between £3 million and £4 million. That is a serious inequity.
It should also be pointed out that the BBC is driving that market. The BBC has actually eclipsed the market, because without the public money coming from television licence fees in both Scotland and England, that price would not be achieved by football. Licence payers’ money is beating the market to produce that £68 million, and 10% of the money that is spent in England should, as a matter of natural justice, be spent in Scotland.
I could not agree more. My hon. Friend has made the point compellingly that this is an injustice that needs to be addressed. The BBC has a right to educate, inform and entertain—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will press on and finish my speech, because I have been given the icy stare by the Deputy Speaker.
This is a long-standing injustice, as will be clear to anyone who speaks about football to fans in Scotland. Heaven forfend, by the way, that what has happened to the international game at the top level should also happen to women’s football, and that we should lose it to public broadcasting altogether. However, that is a side issue.
The inequity in Scottish football has been going on for far too long. We have had to put up with coverage that does not encourage people to watch the games, and does not encourage young people to get involved in the sport. Football is a huge source of advertising, and everyone knows how that works around the world. It is about time that the BBC addressed this injustice, and corrected the position for the fans of Scottish football and, indeed, the people of Scotland.
Let me say what a pleasure it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) and, indeed, to listen to this whole debate.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on instigating the debate. He told us he was tired of BBC strategies, and that it was time for ambitious targets. I agree, although I slightly diverge from him when he says that only patricians now appear on Andrew Neil’s programme. I have been on the programme four times in the past 12 months and I am as common as muck, so perhaps there is hope for the rest of us.
For the record, I did not say that only patricians appeared on the show. I appear on the show, and I would like to appear on it again.
The right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly made that very clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) made a passionate call for fairer funding and representation for Gaelic. Alas, as he knows, I am the first member of my family not to speak the language of my island family and bitterly regret it.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) gave us a fascinating tour d’horizon, illustrating the shamefully narrow social background of BBC governors through the ages.
The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) also walked us down memory lane with “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, Alf Garnett and the black and white minstrels. How we all shuddered. I shudder every time I watch Mr Humphries. [Interruption.] I was terrified that that would become a natural part of my growing development as a teenage gay boy.
There has been a remarkable amount of agreement in all parts of the House, which highlights the important role that the BBC plays in our national life and the responsibility it has as a public service broadcaster to ensure diversity on our television screens and, crucially, within the organisation itself.
As the motion recognises and many speakers have reiterated, one of the key public purposes outlined in the BBC’s charter is to represent the UK, its nations, regions and communities. The BBC should mirror the society in which we live. We are not all white, able-bodied, English, heterosexual men, and the BBC should reflect us in all our glorious diversity, but for too long it has not. It is clear, however, that Members of this House want to see greater progress in the representation, both on and off screen, of under-represented groups, such as gay and lesbian people and older women.
The BBC must acknowledge the different needs of the nations of the UK and cater more effectively for them, not least in the provision of news. During this period of BBC charter renewal, there is a perfect opportunity to enshrine further the principles of diversity and ensure that the people of these islands see themselves portrayed accurately, fairly and without stereotypes.
On screen, the BBC has its work cut out to persuade ethnic minority viewers that it reflects them. The BBC Trust’s purpose remit survey found that less than one third of black people believe that the BBC was good at representing them—the worst performance in the public remit survey. Critics of the BBC argue that ethnic representation on screen is often just window dressing. Simon Albury of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality says:
“On-screen representation which is not matched by off-screen employment is a hollow, deceptive and superficial gesture. Editorial power and influence lie behind the screen not on it.”
He is right. I know. I spent my television career on screen.
Although the BBC’s black, Asian and ethnic minority workforce is at an all-time high, data from the Broadcast Equality and Training Regulator show that only 5% of those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds become executives in the TV industry. Other broadcasters have been significantly bolder in their attempts to diversify. Sky is on target to have people from BME backgrounds in at least 20% of significant on-screen roles, to have 20% of all writers on entertainment shows from BME backgrounds, and for every production to have someone from a BME background in at least one senior role.
Does the hon. Gentleman find it strange that the publicly owned BBC should perform so immeasurably worse on these measures than the private sector represented by Sky?
Yes, I do.
Sky will announce this July whether it has been on target. I know many Members would like the BBC to emulate Sky’s ambitions, and it has made strides in placing women in senior executive roles—and should be applauded for it. Some 41.5% of senior managers are now female, but there are still significant areas of weakness on screen. While John Humphrys and David Dimbleby stride manfully through their eighth decade at the helm of BBC flagship shows, anyone would be hard pressed to find a woman over 60, let alone 70, in a prominent role.
When Miriam O’Reilly was booted off “Countryfile”, she had to fight BBC bosses tooth and nail to prove her unfair dismissal on grounds of age. Only after their defeat in an employment tribunal did they apologise and offer to change. It was BBC management arrogance at its worst. Olenka Frenkiel, an award-winning BBC correspondent and superb broadcaster, had this to say in her article in The Guardian about her treatment as a woman over 50 at the BBC:
“I could see the guys of my age thriving but the women were gone…No more films were being commissioned from me. It was a struggle to get any assignments. HR had no record of me and my managers had omitted to appraise me for three years…I was treated as though I wasn’t there”—
even though she had been working for it for 20 years. Before they are pensioned off, of course, women are often placed in a subordinate role on TV—and not just in the news, where we all know they always sit on the right.
A cause close to my own heart as a gay man is the representation of LGBT people. The creative skillset survey reports that 8% of the television workforce are gay, which is probably a fair representation of the UK population. What is certainly not fair, however, is the on-screen representation. Equity has noted its concern at the scarcity of incidental gay characters in drama—characters whose raison d’?tre is not their gayness. While we all know much-loved gay TV personalities, they are overwhelmingly in light entertainment and comedy, as they were when I was a child. Gay people are seldom seen on screen in serious authoritative roles.
I can speak from personal experience. I came out as gay when I was presenting “BBC Breakfast” on BBC 1, which I did for a number of years. To my astonishment, I found I was the first mainstream TV news presenter to do so. When I told BBC press officers that I had been interviewed by the Daily Mail and asked whether my home life had been honest, they were alarmed rather than supportive. I would go so far as to say that the reaction of some of my bosses was hostile. That was in 2000, and I am not sure that much has changed. In fact, I cannot think of a single BBC 1 news anchor who has been openly gay since. Why does it matter? It matters for many reasons, but not least this: gay kids growing up should be able to dream that they can do anything and play any role in society, not just the stereotypical ones.
One television channel that has been a trailblazer for minorities and women is Channel 4. “Channel 4 News” has a higher proportion, at 14%, of BAME viewers than any other public service broadcaster in the UK. The figure for “BBC 1 News” is a lamentable 5%. In 2014, audiences rated Channel 4 as the best public service broadcaster for representing BAME viewers fairly. Channel 4 scored 30%; BBC 1 got 14%. Channel 4 was rated best for reflecting lesbian and gay people, at 28%. The figure for the BBC was 5%. And for people with disabilities Channel 4 again beat the BBC, by 26% to 9%.
Channel 4’s commitment to diversity stems from its statutory remit to appeal to culturally diverse groups, to offer alternative perspectives and to nurture new talent. This is all underpinned by Channel 4’s unique not-for-profit model. How ironic it is, therefore, that as we debate how to advance diversity at the BBC, the UK Government are putting one of our best and most diverse public service broadcasters at risk through a threatened, albeit sleekitly planned, privatisation.
Let me turn to Scotland. “Channel 4 News” was one of the few news outlets where viewers felt the Scottish independence referendum was covered fairly. Few thought, by contrast, that the BBC covered itself in glory.
So how could it change? I believe that if the BBC is to reflect properly the UK’s diverse nations and regions, it must decentralise and devolve greater financial and editorial control. News is a particularly good example. In recent months, the BBC “News at Six” has deluged Scottish viewers with stories about the English junior doctors strikes and English schools becoming academies. I do not doubt that Scottish viewers watch the coverage and think, “There but for the grace of God”.
This applies in politics as well. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) has said, in a pithy and telling line:
“UKIP is a party which gets beamed into Scotland courtesy of the BBC”.
That is all due to a lack of local editorial control in Scotland.
I entirely take my hon. Friend’s point.
The BBC network news agenda is relentlessly, and often unthinkingly, Anglocentric. The solution, as the BBC now recognises, is a Scottish “News at Six” with national, UK and international stories on the running order, based on news values—a grown-up news programme, rather than the couthie opt-out currently on offer. That is not an especially radical proposal. It already happens on Radio Scotland and the Gaelic medium TV channel BBC Alba.
We on the SNP Benches are unapologetic champions of public service broadcasting. Although we have been trenchant critics of the BBC in recent years, we see it perhaps as a lover who has strayed and whom we want to see return true and honest. Ours is a very different position from many on the Tory Benches, whose hostility towards the BBC speaks more of post-divorce visceral hatred. But the BBC has to change. It has to be more ambitious in the way it reflects its audience. It has to catch up with the needs of post-referendum Scotland. Throughout the UK it has to be less pale and male. It has to join the 21st century in its attitude towards older women and gay people on screen. It has to demonstrate that its fine words of aspiration are translated into action.
This has been an excellent and diverse debate. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it, and the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) for requesting it. I particularly want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for securing the debate and for being the outspoken champion of diversity and equality that he is. This was made clear by his barnstorming introductory speech.
The Labour party agrees with the 73% of respondents to the charter renewal consultation who support the BBC’s continuing independence. It is as friends—indeed, as fans—of the BBC that we strongly welcome this debate. It is in the interests of the BBC to do better when it comes to diversity. I need to declare a familial interest, in that my brother and sister both worked for the BBC as filmmakers, although they no longer do so. Their experience has informed my views, not always positively. Indeed, on my sister’s first day as a director at the BBC, she was automatically shown to the cleaning room to join the cleaning team, which was not what she expected when she was recruited to direct a series. That was one of the reasons why I called for a debate in Westminster Hall last July on diversity in public service broadcasting. It is good that we are now debating the subject on the Floor of the House and giving it the importance that it deserves
Our creative industries, of which our public service broadcasters are at the forefront, are worth £84 billion a year, or £9.6 million an hour, to the UK’s economy. As a truly world-class broadcaster, the BBC represents the UK across the globe, and we are proud of that. However, it also has a duty to represent Britain to the public as the vibrant, diverse, complex and sometimes eccentric country that it is. I am sorry to say that the BBC, as we have heard, is failing to do that in certain areas. Last month, for example, BBC 2 attracted 5.7% of Britain’s total audience, but only managed to get 3.3% of black, Asian and minority ethnic viewers to switch on.
The motion refers to BAME diversity, but it is also important to consider, as many hon. Members have, other strands such as gender, disability, LGBT and age. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) put particular emphasis on gender and disability. In my debate last year, I focused on socioeconomic background and region, which still get little coverage and few initiatives. Indeed, the Minister promised then to bring a casting agent to a state school in Newcastle, so that some state pupils can have the opportunities often enjoyed by those at public school, and I look forward to hearing about his progress on that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) said, the BBC needs more working-class people from outside the M25 both on air and deciding what should go on air. It really should not need to be told that.
Diversity matters, not just in terms of principle and fairness, but because it is proven that organisations and industries do better when they make the most of everything that is on offer. Whether on screen, on radio, writing scripts, researching programme guests, operating cameras or in the boardroom, it is only right and fair that all our diverse communities get a fair crack of the whip. There is also an economic and business case. Organisations that do not take advantage of the wide array of creativity and talent on offer in this country are depriving themselves of potential. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), we are losing that creativity—and in some cases the “hotness”—to other countries. Why is it that so many of our BAME actors and writers have to go abroad to get their chance? It is great to have shows such as “Luther” and “Undercover” featuring heavyweight British acting talent, but if a lead black actor wants to feature in a mainstream British show, they seem to need to have their Oscar, BAFTA, Tony or Emmy up their sleeve. White actors do not need that kind of validation. Equally, BAME writers and directors often find it easier to get something green-lit outside the cosy circle of BBC commissioners. Those at the very top of the BBC tell me that they recognise the importance and value of diversity, and I believe them. They do tend to focus on on-air diversity, even though we know that having diverse executives, commissioners, producers and writers is crucial. As we have heard, they also tend to emphasise training and entry-level opportunities, as if no existing BAME talent could take up senior roles.
My hon. Friend is delivering an excellent speech from the Opposition Front Bench. Is the issue not also that many from ethnic minorities have left the BBC? Many of us know names that we expected to advance and make it into those roles as controllers and big creators in the organisation, but they leave. What is the point of training people if 10 or 15 years down the line they exit because of the culture?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In fact, I have a list of many of the talented BBC producers, directors and others who have left. I considered reading it out, but I thought that might embarrass them and the BBC. Should we be having a similar debate in a year’s time, however, I may feel more tempted to do so.
The BBC acknowledges that it has a problem but, as my right hon. said, it has addressed that with 29 initiatives aimed at increasing BAME representation alone and yet it seems unable to effect real change in its own organisation. Of course it is difficult to change a large organisation, but surely it is not beyond the wit of an organisation as creative and world-leading as the BBC. True determination would mean more resources, and proper targets and incentives, through monitoring and mainstreaming the challenge so that a wide range of executives, commissioners and producers are accountable. We need to see a real push from the top all the way through the BBC’s management.
I, too, wish to pay tribute to Channel 4 and the efforts of Oona King on its “360° Diversity Charter” and its ambitious diversity targets; I know they are working because my friends in the film and television industry are complaining to me about them, which is a sign that they are getting through. As we have heard, Sky has also set ambitious targets, so I would like the BBC to be more ambitious. My right hon. Friend has talked of a dedicated fund, which was something Lenny Henry also suggested last year. That idea deserves serious consideration; where resources are scarce, nothing concentrates people’s minds as much as money.
As I said in my opening remarks, the Labour party and I have long been friends of the BBC. I am an unequivocal champion of the BBC, except in three areas: accountability; diversity; and humility. Although today’s debate may have been more about critique than friendship, we must recognise that those at the top of the BBC may have their minds on issues that are, for them at least, more immediate than the long-standing challenge of diversity, and Ministers must take responsibility for that. Burdening the BBC with the financing of free TV licences for over-75s has already threatened the future independence and finances of the BBC; that is money that is not available to finance a catalyst fund for diverse commissions, for example. The dragging out of the charter renewal also hampers the BBC’s ability to act more decisively and give this matter the attention it deserves. As my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has said:
“The Government has already created a cloud of uncertainty over the future of the BBC, damaging the Corporation’s ability to function and plan ahead. To cast further doubt on the BBC’s future by delaying the White Paper and extending the current charter would be a disgraceful failure.”
Ministers have their reasons for doing that. I am sure that the Secretary of State is delighted to be able to exert this level of pressure on the BBC at a time when he would like it to air his views on the European Union referendum more favourably. The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy might agree with me on that, even if he might not feel able to say so.
I hope that the Minister can tell the House what the reasons are for the continued delay on charter renewal, when he expects it to be completed and whether it will be completed this year with no need for short-term renewal. I hope that he can also tell the House what work the Government have been doing in the year since we last debated this issue.
I pay tribute to the Minister, who speaks passionately of the importance of diversity, but he must recognise that we need less talk and more results. I hope that he will hear that, stop threatening the BBC’s treasured independence in future through charter renewal and, instead, support it in reflecting the country that loves and treasures it so.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, to have the chance to respond to this important debate. When a Minister is told that he has to spend a Thursday afternoon responding to a debate, particularly on the day of the Tory parliamentary away day, and realises that by being in the Chamber he will miss the company of his colleagues at a luxury country hotel—you can imagine the thoughts that went through my mind. But the cloud was lifted when I saw the subject of the debate. As many Members will know, this is a subject close to my heart and I am grateful for the kind words that have been said about some of my work.
Before I move on to the issues, I want to pay significant tribute to the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for his barnstorming speech. It was an absolute tour de force—the great MP at his best, reminding us of his great qualities, lighting up Twitter like a fire and making some points that, in my view, were completely unanswerable. He set the tone of the debate, and the other reason the cloud has lifted is that all hon. Members have made fantastic speeches bringing great passion, emotion and knowledge to the debate. It has been dominated by the issue of BME representation in broadcasting, but I must acknowledge those Members who have stretched the definition of diversity.
Let me briefly acknowledge, although he is no longer in the Chamber, for reasons I cannot fathom, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), who took diversity to mean more coverage of Brexit.
May I just say that the h G did advise the Chair that he needed to get to Oxford, even if others did not?
I cannot believe, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you have given away the secret location of the parliamentary away day.
It is the third time it has been in use; I think we are all getting used to it, luxury hotels and all.
Anyway, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight has apparently gone to an undisclosed location, so I apologise for misrepresenting him. If he had been here, he would have heard the Opposition spokesman explain that the Secretary of State has the director-general of the BBC in a small room and is dictating that the BBC covers only Brexit opinion, so that point is covered.
The hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), who sits on the Select Committee, rightly brought up the importance of the BBC’s representing the whole nation as regards the regions and as regards its presence throughout the country. I acknowledge what she said both about where the BBC is physically present and about the people who are represented and who work for the corporation. Those points were well made.
My old friend the Member for the Outer Hebrides, the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), representing the top—we had my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) in the Chamber earlier, representing the bottom, as it were—pointed out the importance of language diversity and talked about the huge success of BBC Alba. It was good to hear his colleagues acknowledge the additional funding that the coalition Government pushed towards that—that is, the extra 2 million quid that BBC Alba was not expecting to get, which was fantastic.
The prize has to go to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), who took “diversity” to mean more Scottish football on the telly. We all want to see some Scottish clubs playing in the league cup. We would like the English league cup to turn into a league cup where Scottish clubs can play English clubs. That is what viewers want. If anyone wonders about the importance of sport, that simple statement by me will dominate all news coverage.
The ambitions of Scotland are higher. We do not want to play just across this island. We want to dominate in Europe again, as Celtic did so magnificently in 1967, being the first non-Latin team to win the European cup. But the Scottish team will do that only if it gets the funding. The broadcasters have to step up to the mark to make sure that the money is coming in as it should.
We must be careful not to get into history, which is where Scottish football may take us.
Having said that my remarks might dominate the news, I think the Deputy Speaker has outdone me.
I acknowledge what was said, but I shall continue on the subject of diversity in broadcasting. My former ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), gave a brilliant speech about the importance of culture change and praised Channel 4. The hon. Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) gave fantastic speeches, with some brilliant comments. The hon. Member for Brent Central mentioned “Undercover” in order to let us know that she regards Adrian Lester as “quite hot”. She did not say “quite hot and happily married”, both of which are true, but she made an important point about perception.
I was struck by an article that I read this week on BuzzFeed by Bim Adewunmi. The BBC may make some great points about “Undercover”, but her fundamental point goes to the heart of what we are discussing. “The creator of the show, Peter Moffatt”, she says, “highlighted a peculiar thing in the optics”—that was the word that the hon. Member for Brent Central used—“of one scene.” Peter Moffat told The Guardian:
“Here was a black family sitting around the dinner table eating pasta. So normal and yet I had never ever, not once, seen that on mainstream TV”.
That is really what we are talking about.
When we speak about BAME representation, it is important to acknowledge as well the representation of people with disabilities, the representation of the lesbian and gay community, mentioned by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson), and the representation of women. These are all important issues that have to be addressed. We should make it clear that this is about on-screen representation, as well as representation behind the screen. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the power lies with the commissioning editors and the producers.
The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) made some valuable points about regional representation. The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) wants to introduce elected members of the BBC—an admirable nod to his addiction to democracy, which I acknowledge. No doubt he will respond to the White Paper.
I have been involved in this issue for some three years. I had a meeting with Lenny Henry, Adrian Lester—I now know who to invite to the next one—and David Harewood. They told me stories which brought the issue alive for me. It is important to acknowledge that. People have only to look at me to know what my background is. If I had been responding to this debate three years ago, I probably would have read out a very well drafted civil service speech, which would have been full of all the right-sounding statistics about the progress that was being made, but it would not have rung true to this audience and it would not have been true. Those actors opened my eyes to the issue and I have become passionate about it because I think we can make a difference.
We have brought the broadcasters in and talked to them about how they can make a difference. There is a league table of broadcasters in this regard, and in my view—a subjective view, I acknowledge—Sky is way at the top. There was a commissioning editor at Sky—I think he might have left—called Stuart Murphy. He uses a lot of Anglo-Saxon words, the meaning of which is effectively, “Let’s just do it.” And he has just done it. He has looked at who is commissioning his programmes and who is appearing in them, and he has just made a difference. The effect has been relatively dramatic, and it keeps coming. In fact, tonight Sky is broadcasting “The Pledge” with June Sarpong, who has been happily retweeting many of the best things said in today’s debate. I think that Sky has done a very good job.
Next I would acknowledge Channel 4. Members have rightly pointed out its 360° work on diversity, and I have worked closely with Oona King on the issue. Channel 4 is slightly bureaucratic, but it has made a difference. It did not want to move for a while because of the legal complications that it felt were brought about by the Equality Act 2010, but we got over that hurdle by commissioning work from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It produced an excellent report last autumn showing in practical terms what broadcasters can do. It busts a hell of a lot of myths, particularly on things like quotas.
Then comes ITV, which I think hides behind the fact that it commissions a lot of independent production companies. I do not get the sense that ITV has the same passion for this issue that Sky and Channel 4 have. I would like to see it do a lot more, and I feel strongly its complete absence from this debate since the initial flurry. We had a debate when we started this issue, and it was suggested that they would have to keep having meetings and talking, and that there would come a time when people said, “Well, that was just a flurry of action and nothing happened.” That is not the case with Sky or Channel 4, but it probably is the case with ITV—at least, that is how it feels. Perhaps it would like to get in touch. Of course, Channel Five, even though it has now been bought by Viacom, appears to have done absolutely nothing in this area, so I wait to hear from it, or maybe I will go and talk to it. Those are the main broadcasters, apart from the BBC, which I will talk about later.
I want to talk briefly about the arts, because when we published our culture White Paper we put diversity front and centre. The Arts Council has made some big moves on diversity and is beginning some proper monitoring. It is pushing its national portfolio organisations to change. Within the arts sector we have seen the Chineke! Orchestra, with Chi-chi Nwanoku of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, who has made a big difference by highlighting not the lack of BME classical musicians, but their absence from our orchestras. Danny Lee Wynter and Act for Change are pushing for change in the theatre. We can see what happens when we get great leadership. When Rufus Norris came to the National Theatre, he said that he would make a difference, and we have seen a dramatic difference in representation. Change is happening, but it needs to happen much more quickly.
I also want to mention the British Film Institute, which kicked this whole process off with Ben Roberts and his “three ticks” initiative. It was the first really big public organisation to say, “We’re not going to fund you unless you can show us what you are doing in practical terms about diversity.” He has been fantastically well assisted by Deborah Williams, who has become a good friend of mine. She is a fantastically knowledgeable advocate on diversity issues across the board. She has been a real boon to the BFI, and I know that she will continue to work with it to really encourage the difference that the BFI is beginning to make.
Along the way I have been helped by many people, including Simon Albury, who will have been glowing following the references made by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire, Nigel Warner from Creative Access, Floella Benjamin and Jane Bonham Carter. They have all participated and helped move this along.
We are talking about the BBC, and the tone of the debate has been absolutely right. The BBC has, of course, sent me a brief about the incredible work that it is doing, but we want it to move further and faster. If I may pick up on what the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), the Opposition spokesman, has said, I think we need to work with the BBC, if that does not sound too defeatist. I thought at the beginning of the debate that I might just go for the applause lines and give it a good kicking, but I think that it is changing. It is an extraordinarily bureaucratic organisation, but it is changing. We need to acknowledge those changes, because I can imagine that a BBC executive who has made those changes might listen to the debate and think, “Nothing that I am doing seems to be making a difference.”
I must wind up, so I will briefly tell the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, about the pounds, shillings and pence in terms of what the Government are doing. The hon. Member for Brent Central mentioned audience panels. The BBC has an independent diversity board, which the director-general created last year and which holds the BBC to account on those issues. I am also keen to know whether it is effective, and I will work with the hon. Lady on that. I want to find the tapes of “The Real McCoy”, and I will make sure that that happens. I found a trumpet in the Royal College of Art—that is a whole different story—so I am sure I can find those tapes.
Diversity will be prominent in the White Paper, of which I have seen an early draft. We are going to publish it in May, and we will get the charter renewed in time for the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central.
This has been a good debate, and I am grateful for the fact that we have had it. I want to thank some of the people and organisations who have made it happen. I am grateful to Simon Albury, Floella Benjamin, Connie St Louis, Bonnie Greer and Kurt Barling; and to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Ofcom, Creative Skillset, the Creative Diversity Network, the Creative Industries Federation, the Media Trust, Act for Change and the TV Collective.
The bottom line is—I think that this is felt across the House—that we have to see a step change. We will see a strategy at the end of the month, and we will all look at it in detail. The overwhelming thrust of the debate has been that we love and treasure the BBC, and we are proud of our public service broadcaster. That is the spirit in which I have secured the debate. But we need to do considerably better, and that cannot just be rhetoric; it needs action. Money is a key part of that action, and we need to see more of that in the coming weeks.
It is important that diversity is centre stage in relation to charter renewal. Until those in charge look like the people of this country—that means women, people with northern voices, black people, brown people, Chinese people and lesbian and gay people who can make it and become the DG of the BBC—we cannot say that we have arrived. We are a long way from that point, and more skills training will not deliver it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes the crucial cultural role the BBC plays in modern Britain; welcomes the fact that one of the public purposes outlined in the BBC Charter is to represent the UK, its nations, regions and communities; notes with concern that the last employment census in 2012 showed the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic people working in the UK creative media fell by 30.9 per cent between 2006 and 2012; believes that a BBC target of 14.2 per cent for 2017 is insufficient; further notes that this target falls short of other UK broadcasters; and calls on the Government to recognise these failings when considering the BBC’s charter renewal and make representations to the BBC to ensure that the corporation is not failing in any of its diversity objectives, including, but not limited to, delivering high quality programming which reflects modern Britain accurately and authentically and that the Corporation must advance equal opportunities to diversify and develop its workforce and senior leaders so that they better reflect audiences.