House of Lords
Wednesday, 12 February 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.
Schools: Arts Subjects
My Lords, the Government believe strongly that every child should experience a high-quality arts education. Music and art and design are statutory subjects for key stages 1 to 3 in the new national curriculum. The arts remain an entitlement area at key stage 4. From 2016, our new Progress 8 accountability measure provides schools with more incentive to enter pupils for arts subjects. Up to three can be included. Discount codes for drama and dance are being reviewed.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and welcome the review of the discount codes. In the light of the figures recently released by DCMS on the value of the arts and creative industries to the economy, will the DfE seek to reverse the continuing trend towards fewer arts GCSEs being studied within schools? Will the Government review the discount codes which group together many disparate GCSE art and design subjects so that they count as one subject only towards performance tables, biasing the tables and, indeed, schools against the arts?
I share the noble Earl’s passion for the arts and know that it is an area in which he has great experience. I am happy to report that key stage 4 entries for arts subjects have not significantly changed since 2007 and currently account for 9% of all key stage 4 entries. I assure the noble Earl that we take discounting very seriously. We are looking specifically at how it works as it is so important that schools are not incentivised to offer pupils a narrow curriculum, although it is equally important that pupils take subjects that are distinct from each other. We are reviewing how the discount codes for dance and drama work, and we are also considering whether to allow appeals against the discounting decisions that have been made in other areas if there is evidence to support reconsidering our initial consideration.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that not only does studying the arts enrich the lives of those who study them but that there are marvellous careers in the arts and crafts and we ought to do more to encourage young people to consider such careers?
I entirely agree with my noble friend. It is important that we give all our students that core cultural capital that Diane Abbott has acknowledged in the other place as being essential, particularly for underprivileged children, to enable them to get on in life and that we encourage more careers. We now have a number of university technical colleges focused on the creative industries.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that many young people develop their passion and talent for the arts by attending Saturday clubs, such as the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts 4:19 Part-Time Academy. Parents pay for this privilege. How can we ensure that children, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, can also access those Saturday club resources?
I know of the contribution in this area of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, which the noble Lord knows well and whose lead patron is Sir Paul McCartney. Indeed, we have approved it to open a primary free school, which will use the creative and performing arts to encourage a lasting enthusiasm for learning. Pupil premium funding is allocated to schools to decide how to improve the outcome for disadvantaged pupils. Ofsted now inspects against this and it will be very difficult for schools to get an outstanding rating if they are not making good progress for their pupil premium pupils. All schools have to publish online how they are spending their pupil premium money and its impact.
My Lords, may I recommend to the noble Lord that he looks at a report from Professor Ken Robinson that was co-commissioned by his department, as it then was, and the DCMS more than a decade ago? In the report Professor Robinson explained in great detail the value of creative education, broadly, both educationally and socially. Can the noble Lord tell the House how relations between his department and the DCMS currently are, because I am afraid that Professor Robinson’s report fell slightly foul of a lack of co-ordination between them at the time? Can he say whether his department is well acquainted with the wide range of educational opportunities provided by arts organisations to enhance the curriculum in the way that he seeks?
The noble Baroness raises a good point. I am not aware of the report, but she is of course vastly experienced in this area as a former chief executive of the Royal Opera House and principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Cross-departmental working is never a smooth affair. We had some success with my noble friend in the Children and Families Bill, and I would be very interested to look into this in more detail. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that all schools should engage with wider organisations. My own school engages with a wide range of charities and organisations to enhance our arts and drama offer.
Music is very important for young people at primary school and there are some very good charities operating in this area, such as London Music Masters. I was inspired to see a KIPP school in Harlem in New York, where every pupil is in the orchestra. That is certainly something that all primary schools should focus on.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Sistema project in the Raploch, in Stirling, Scotland, established by Richard Holloway following the success in Venezuela? Would he or one of the other Ministers be willing to visit that project and see the incredible impact that it has had on children in one of the most deprived community schemes in Britain, who are all now training to learn an instrument and playing in the most incredible concerts—entertaining not just locals but nationally through television as well?
My Lords, pursuant to the ante-penultimate question, my noble friend’s department published an excellent analysis of 14 schools’ arts departments about 30 years ago—the 14 presumably being chosen to include an independent school. Has such an analysis been mounted during the past 30 years and, if not, would my noble friend consider one?
My Lords, is the Minister aware of just how disillusioned the arts community is with the Government’s education reforms? Certainly, in all the meetings that I have with the arts community, it consistently sends out a message about how it feels that arts education in schools is marginalised and devalued. I think that the Secretary of State bears some responsibility for this. Going back to the noble Earl’s original Question, when is the Secretary of State going to champion the arts, speak up for them and recognise the massive contribution that they make to our economy and society?
I am extremely glad that the noble Baroness asked me that question. Under Labour, the number of pupils entering key academic subjects fell from 49.9% to 22%, as a number of extremely dotty subjects such as the level 2 diploma in fish husbandry—which accounted for four GCSE equivalents—were perpetrated into the system to give the appearance of success. Noble Lords will be delighted to hear that under this Government we are back to pre-Labour levels for arts subjects. We are determined to ensure that all pupils get the core cultural capital they need and study a broad sweep of poetry and writing. It is not possible to accuse my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for not being absolutely passionate about arts subjects.
My Lords, it cannot be concluded from the recent analysis in the Independent newspaper that sex-selective abortions are taking place. We are absolutely clear that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is against the law and completely unacceptable.
My Lords, does my noble friend recall that when I last asked a Question on this matter in October, the House was informed that it was impossible to prosecute doctors known to be aborting on gender grounds because the evidence was not strong enough? However, has the Minister noted the findings of the national census of 2011, which show that between 1,400 and 4,700 fewer girls have been born recently? This, it was said, can be explained only by the fact that termination of girl babies is going on, even though my noble friend has said this morning and NHS spokesmen have warned that such operations are,
“against the law and completely unacceptable”.
When are the Government going to stop this practice, and what are the implications if they do not do so?
My Lords, the analysis recently reported in the Independent newspaper was based on census data, as my noble friend pointed out, for households with usually-resident dependent children. The gender balance of dependent children in these households is affected by a number of events that occur after birth, such as the age at which dependent children leave the parental home. As there are a number of alternative explanations for these observations, it cannot be concluded from the Independent’s analysis that sex-selective abortions are taking place. The best available data on which to base gender ratio analysis continue to be births data, which were the basis on which we did our analysis last year. I can tell my noble friend that that analysis will be updated on an annual basis when new data are available.
My Lords, gender-selection abortions are an extreme form of gender discrimination. Sadly, it is all too prevalent in sub-continent communities. The Sikh guru, Guru Nanak, taught from day one the total equality of women; they can join in and lead any part of the Sikh service. Unfortunately, culture sometimes gets the better of religion; even in the Sikh community, that sort of discrimination can take place. Will the Minister ensure that funding given to sub-continent communities is conditional—indeed, is predicated—on promoting gender equality and respect for women because, at the moment, it often feels as if it is given to those who shout the loudest?
My Lords, the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 must be adhered to by all who provide a public service. Any specific allegations about gender-selective abortions being undertaken will be reported to the police. Abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal, as I have said. The Abortion Act is very clear on that point.
Have my noble friend and his department had any discussions with the General Medical Council on this matter? It needs to be made publicly clear that, as he said, whatever happens in other countries, this practice is not acceptable in this country.
My Lords, there is an opportunity coming up where this can be underlined. At the moment, the procedures for the approval of independent sector places for the termination of pregnancy are being revised. Will Her Majesty’s Government undertake to ensure that they spell out clearly and unequivocally that termination on grounds of gender alone is illegal and that an appeal on gender alone is insufficient to satisfy the mental health criteria of the Abortion Act?
The Minister has explained the issue extremely clearly. When the next tranche of research on live births comes through, will the Government undertake to dig deep into it to ensure that illegal sex-selective abortions are not taking place? Secondly, there is a statement in today’s Daily Telegraph about 36 abortion centres that are giving unreliable and misleading advice to women who wish to discuss terminations—for example, by telling them that if they have a termination they may get breast cancer. I know that the Department of Health has issued guidelines on this but I would like to know what the Government intend to do about it.
On the noble Baroness’s first question, the detailed analysis that we did last year was quality-assured by the methodology team at the Office for National Statistics. I can tell her that the team will quality-assure the future analysis of data each year. On the story in the Daily Telegraph, patients should be able to expect impartial advice from the NHS. CCGs and NHS providers must account for the counselling services that they recommend. Guidance on the provision of non-judgmental counselling was included in the Government’s framework for sexual health improvement, published in March last year.
My Lords, at the spending reviews in October 2010 and June 2013, the UK Government provided sufficient funding to deliver 0.7% of gross national income as official development assistance—ODA—in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Government will continue to keep GNI movements under review to ensure that sufficient resources are available to deliver the 0.7% target.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer and commend the Secretary of State and her predecessor, my right honourable friend Mr Andrew Mitchell, on putting economic development as a DfID core priority. How much more money will we give this year through the DfID budget, given the current rate of GDP growth? Can the Minister tell your Lordships the actual sum that we give over and above the DfID 0.7% once we have included the registered official development aid—that is, money—from other government departments, such as the MoD’s expenditure on training the Afghan police?
ODA is grouped together. As my noble friend recognises, it is not all spent through DfID, although the vast majority of it is. A number of other government departments contribute to deliver some of this—for example, DECC contributes on climate change—although, as I said, most goes through DfID. In the 2013 Budget, the Treasury projected that £11.6 billion would need to be spent to achieve the target of 0.7%. At the Autumn Statement 2013, that figure rose to £11.9 billion—an increase of about £300 million.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness please ensure that the Government continue rightly to resist the calls to divert overseas aid money to tackle the floods? Will she also take the opportunity to clarify from where the money to help flood victims in the south will come, given the confusion wrought by the recent words of the Prime Minister?
I thought that the Prime Minister was extremely clear in his support. I can also point out that we have spent £3.1 billion on flood management and protection. However, I think that the noble Lord is right and I welcome the cross-party support. This is a false choice. I received an e-mail this morning from Justin Forsyth of Save the Children. He said:
“To raid this money that literally saves millions of lives would be immoral”.
Surely he is right.
My Lords, is it possible to press the authorities which decide the ODA definitions to provide a wider definition that would allow, for instance, the expenditure by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in support of the BBC World Service—or however it is to be supported in the future—to be included in the overall figure? Can these definitions be changed to extend in that direction?
My Lords, now that the Prime Minister has made crystal clear that money for flood victims is not a problem, can the noble Baroness confirm that her department is not considering transferring any money at all from her department’s funds to help in this instance?
Maybe I might answer by saying what we have done in Pakistan in terms of floods. The UK committed £134 million overall in aid for the 2010-11 Pakistan floods. The floods left 20 million people in need of serious assistance, including 2,000 dead; destroyed 1.7 million homes; and affected an area four times the size of Britain.
My Lords, the Minister has already referred to Pakistan. I was going to draw her attention to the Bangladeshi floods of 1998, which resulted in the loss of 30 million homes and cost the economy of that country 4.8% of its GDP. Does the Minister agree that the spending of money generally on countries which are affected terribly by climate change is both in our national interest and a moral responsibility?
When do the Government plan to fulfil their promise to legislate to put into law the UK’s commitment for 0.7% of GNI to be given in overseas aid? Surely, as the noble Baroness has already said, with cross-party support, there is no reason not to do this. Or is the fear of another Tory Back-Bench rebellion the real reason?
The key issue is whether we have made this commitment. We, this Government, have, and it is the first time that any G8 or G20 country has done so. I realise that a number of Scandinavian countries are ahead of us, but we are ahead of the previous Government, who, as the noble Lord knows, sank down to 0.3% in what they gave. In fact, before that, in 1999, it was just above 0.2%—a drop from the previous Government.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend and the Department for International Development on transforming the lives of many poor people by encouraging the development of small businesses at local level and creating more accessible markets, particularly in Tanzania. Can my noble friend look at how we could further reduce poverty for those involved in agriculture? An example of this is the Mtwara region in Tanzania where there is access to 40 million hectares of arable land, of which only 25% is used.
That is an example of the work that DfID is undertaking as it seeks to transform agriculture and therefore the livelihoods of people in some of the poorest countries in the world. In Tanzania, DfID is currently working with the Aga Khan Development Network to try to increase productivity levels of farmers growing rice and sesame.
Female Genital Mutilation
My Lords, last week, to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Ministers met with charities and stakeholders and announced a range of measures to combat this harmful practice both in the UK and internationally. These measures include the appointment of a consortium of leading anti-FGM campaigners to deliver a global campaign to end FGM. Ministers from across government have also signed a declaration to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to tackle this practice both in the UK and abroad.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and I commend the Government on their efforts over the past year. I also particularly commend the work of Keir Starmer, the previous Director of Public Prosecutions. Does the Minister realise that it is now more than 10 years since the all-party parliamentary group that I chair produced a report on female genital mutilation, but that during that time, despite many Members of this House and the other place raising the issue, very little progress has been made? Can he explain why over those years there have been many prosecutions in France and other European countries for this horrible, painful and quite disgraceful practice, which is an abuse of young girls, while in this country we have had no prosecutions at all?
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her work in this respect, and indeed to many noble Lords across the Chamber. Taking her last question first, I am sure that she and many noble Lords will be aware that in France there is a prescriptive nature to the examination of young girls across the board. At the moment that is not something which the Government are considering initiating here. That said, as the noble Baroness herself has acknowledged, since 2011 there has been a range of initiatives and positive steps. Perhaps I may mention a few. In November 2012, the document A Statement Opposing Female Genital Mutilation was launched, which sets out the potential criminal penalties that can be used against those who allow FGM to take place. In the same month the Crown Prosecution Service launched an action plan for prosecuting cases of FGM. From the international perspective, in March 2013 DfID announced a £35 million programme on FGM, and in June last year the NSPCC, in partnership with the Home Office, launched a dedicated FGM helpline. The Government believe, as do all noble Lords, that this is a heinous practice; it is a crime which has to be tackled both outside and within the community, and they are working with partners to ensure that that happens.
My Lords, far from being almost eliminated, the practice of FGM continues and, indeed, is on the increase. The cause is largely because more communities are coming into the country and bringing this culture with them. Enormous publicity has been given to FGM lately, which one is glad to see, but that does not deal with the basic problem. Does the Minister agree that the best thing would be a successful prosecution, which might have a deterrent effect? We understand that many of the people who perpetrate FGM do not know what the law is, cannot read about it, and believe that what they are doing is good.
Again, I pay tribute to the work that the noble Baroness does in this field. I agree with her: prosecutions have not taken place. This law was on the statute book in its original form almost 30 years ago and nothing has happened. The CPS is currently reviewing four existing cases plus six new cases to see whether an evidence base is there to ensure that prosecutions take place. Coupled with that, it is important that we raise awareness of this offence out there within communities. There is a 14-year sentence for anyone convicted of this offence, and we are working with communities to ensure that that message gets out very clearly.
While I appreciate that a whole range of initiatives is relevant in this matter, is there any reason why in relation to medical personnel and teachers there should not be the same absolute requirement and obligation to detect and report, as there is in the case of abuse of children?
Again, I agree with the noble Lord. As he may be aware, on 6 February my honourable friend Jane Ellison announced that it is now incumbent on every NHS trust to report and share evidence of such practice. I also know that my right honourable friend Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is meeting campaigners in this regard to discuss whether communications across schools should perhaps be looked at and revised, but that will be subject to the outcome of that meeting.
Is my noble friend aware of reports that people are bringing their daughters to this country from other European countries where the measures to prevent this practice are more effective than they are here? Are the Government monitoring this situation? Is there any real evidence that that is happening?
Buckinghamshire County Council (Filming on Highways) [HL]
Bill read a second time and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.
Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 18 December 2013 be approved.
Relevant documents: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 28th and 30th Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 10 February.
Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Consumer Credit) (Designated Activities) Order 2014
Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) Order 2014
Motions to Approve
Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2014
Tribunal Security Order 2014
Motions to Approve
Automatic Enrolment (Earnings Trigger and Qualifying Earnings Band) Order 2014
Statutory Sick Pay Percentage Threshold (Revocations, Transitional and Saving Provisions) (Great Britain and Northern Ireland) Order 2014
Motions to Approve
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very grateful to have secured this debate and to noble Lords who are participating. My standing up to speak does not normally empty a room quite as fast, but I realise that this issue may not affect everybody.
This debate is about securing the licensing of water cannon for London, or perhaps for the whole of Britain—we do not know yet. I and many others have a lot of concerns about the use of water cannon. It is important to recognise that it is not just a London issue; it is of national importance. It could have an impact on many people UK-wide.
Boris Johnson, as the notional police and crime commissioner for London, is running an engagement with Londoners about water cannon, explaining why they are necessary, but his office has made clear that the response will not change the outcome. That is, the Met has asked for them, so the Met shall have them. In a recent letter, the Home Secretary appears to be under the impression that a proper consultation is going on with Londoners, but there most definitely is not. I would not want the Government or your Lordships to be misled on that.
I shall talk about three things—cost, use and potential targets—and I will pose three questions for which I should be grateful for an answer. In a sense, cost is not that much of an issue, because the Met budget, although reduced, is still £3.25 billion. I have been told that the Met hopes to buy second-hand from Germany at a cost of only about £30,000 each, so I guess that the total cost would be about £100,000, expecting the water cannons to last two to three years. New machines cost about £1 million each. However, then there is the cost of training, which must be ongoing over the years, plus storage in central London, plus maintenance. The Met recently had to be coerced into funding a £100,000 budget to continue the work of the Wildlife Crime Unit, which fights international organised crime networks that traffick endangered animals or parts of endangered animals.
Your Lordships may know that today, the UK is hosting a two-day international conference on the illegal wildlife trade, involving two future Kings of our country and world leaders from 50 nations invited by the Prime Minister, but the Met police has a team of five people going up against an illegal trade estimated to be worth £19 billion a year. If there is some spare cash in the Met budget, why is it prioritising a weapon that it will hardly ever use over a global economic crime with links to trafficking of drugs and people and even to terrorism, not to mention threatening some of the planet’s most iconic animals with extinction? I suspect that a lot of people would rather that it was spent there than on water cannon—or even on another priority altogether. I would be interested to know the Government’s view about the Met’s priorities.
As to the use of water cannon, what is their tactical potential and tactical limitations? Hugh Orde, who is president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and one of only two officers to have deployed water cannon says:
“Water cannon could act as an effective deterrent to stop protests gaining momentum … What it does, is buy you space, it keeps people apart, and people at distance”.
Is that really what London needs? In Northern Ireland, there was disputed territory of which two or more groups wanted possession to march in. That simply is not true of London. The sort of disorder that has happened in the past few years often involves small groups of people moving quickly, staying in touch by mobile phones and social media. Water cannon would be useless in that situation, as the police themselves have admitted. These machines are slow and not very manoeuvrable within our mostly narrow streets. They are heavy and take some stopping. They need wide roads or spaces to be effective.
There is a very big civil liberties concern. My fear is that innocent people will be affected, if not by being hosed down with water at a few degrees above freezing, perhaps by being deterred from protesting at all. Water cannon could stifle attendance at legitimate democratic protests, which the Met has a duty to protect.
Please do not believe anyone saying that they are not dangerous. In one famous example in 2010, pensioner Dietrich Wagner was permanently blinded by water cannon in Germany. He was part of a protest ride to prevent developers cutting down some trees. As well as suffering major bruising, Wagner’s eyelids were torn and on one side, part of his orbital bone, the bone which protects the eye, was fractured. He hopes to be here in London next week to speak out on the use of water cannon.
When would water cannon be used? Who would be the targets? We have been hearing that water cannon would be rarely seen and rarely used. When asked exactly when they would be used, the Met answers that they would not be used against peaceful protesters and they are obviously not for small-scale violent rioting in narrow places. They would be for people throwing petrol bombs, who obviously would not hide themselves in a large crowd of peaceful protesters, or the Met could pick them off, or something—a highly speculative scenario.
The Met have also claimed that water cannon could have saved the Reeves furniture store in Croydon, but that night there were fires in Clapham, Enfield and Peckham, plus rioting in a total of 22 boroughs. One set of three water cannon, broken up or deployed as a threesome, might have been deployed to one of the fires and may have got there in time to be useful, but would the Met have been able to use them to do very much else? That seems unlikely because of the travelling time alone, let alone co-ordinating with local police command and the fire brigade about the exact needs.
There is quite a lot of opposition to the use of water cannon, not all from the usual suspects. Of course, there is opposition from organisations such as Liberty but also from senior police officers. Five of the six largest forces in England and Wales said that they were against deploying water cannon on their streets and one police and crime commissioner dismissed them as being,
“as much use as a chocolate teapot”,
for quelling disorder. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, former Met commissioner, has written to me and has allowed me to read out the contents of his letter:
“Since I left office, I have deliberately not commented on matters which are for decision by my successors but in this case I am prepared to do so. Water cannon have proved useful in Northern Ireland to keep two identifiable and violent factions apart or to protect public buildings or particular community enclaves from sectarian attack. In my opinion, much more explanation needs to be given as to how they would be of use in public order situations including violent and non-violent participants or in deterring very mobile rioters carrying out widely dispersed attacks as in the 2011 riots. I am not suggesting a case cannot be made: but I do not believe it has been so far”.
The Government will probably say that this is an operational issue and they therefore have to listen to police advice. I realise that it is very hard for a party that is—or expects to be—in government to appear to look soft on law and order, and it is true that deploying these weapons will be an operational decision for the police forces owning them. Licensing them is most definitely a political decision, though, and doing a Pontius Pilate on this is really not good enough. So I ask the Government when they think these machines will be used.
There is something very ironic about the Met police justifying the purchase of these water cannon because of the 2011 riots, when it was Met actions that triggered the disorder. If the Met had not shot an unarmed man and had treated the Duggan family with more respect and professionalism, those riots may never have been sparked and the grumbling discontent of poverty and hardship may never have broken the surface in London and other parts of Britain. However, the Met did shoot an unarmed man, did not treat the Duggan family well and the rest is history, but water cannon would probably not have helped in any way.
We are told that the Met want water cannon by the summer, yet they admit that they have no intelligence about possible disturbances. Do the Government have such intelligence, or do they think the case has been made for the use of water cannon? My view is that the case has not been made, and the public must be convinced to be taken with the police, if we are still to have policing by consent. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to pause before licensing water cannon for anywhere on the British mainland.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing and as an adviser to technology companies that, as far as I know, have no interest in providing water cannon to the policing service in this country. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on securing this debate and giving us an opportunity to discuss what I consider to be potentially an extremely important issue.
First, though, we have to ask ourselves why we are discussing this at all. I am normally someone who is regarded as being supportive—some would say oversupportive—of the police service in this country, but I have to say that I have the gravest reservations as to why we are even talking about this. The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that I know many noble Lords will believe is the fount of all possible wisdom on many matters, told us on 23 January that it is because senior police officers now believe that the risks of future protests against the Government are so great, and those protests will be so large and difficult to control, that only the deployment of water cannon on the streets of mainland Britain will enable public order to be maintained. Indeed, according to the Telegraph,
“Police warn they expect water cannon will be required because ‘the ongoing and potential future austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest’”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has said that the police have no specific intelligence on this. Maybe the Minister can tell us that he has intelligence about some future plan of the Government which will be so awesome in terms of the austerity measures introduced, or so offensive to the public, that this sort of response will be triggered. I do not doubt that there will be public protest about the Government. There will no doubt be public protest about the Government’s future austerity measures. But really? So large? So difficult to control? So far beyond anything that we have seen before? So much bigger? So much larger? More than the 250,000 or 500,000 who demonstrated against government cuts in public spending in March 2011? More than the 750,000 or 1 million who demonstrated against the Iraq war in February 2003? Water cannon were not needed then, so why do we envisage that they may be needed in the foreseeable future?
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has told us of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, who is not in his place today. He also spoke to me. He says that he does not believe that the case has been made. His successor as Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, Sir Paul Stephenson, said in 2010, following the student tuition fee riots, that he was opposed to water cannon, saying that it would lead to an unsuitably paramilitary style of policing. Only two years ago, the present Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, warned of the limitations of water cannon in these sorts of situations.
Now we are told that the Metropolitan Police want this facility—but for what? It is actually quite difficult to work it out. Chief Constable David Shaw, who prepared a report on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, concedes that the water cannon would not have been a useful tactic, would not have been effective, during the August 2011 riots. That makes sense. Water cannon are effective at dispersing a large crowd, or at keeping two large crowds apart. That is the experience in Northern Ireland. However, the disturbances in August 2011 were not like that. Rioters were already dispersed. They were highly mobile. That was the problem. The police could not be in a sufficient number of locations quickly enough. They could not be everywhere all of the time. They could not respond to a rapidly moving situation, where crowds and individuals were moving from one place to another very quickly. Why would you want a water cannon to disperse a crowd that was already dispersed? Indeed, if anything, it would make your problem in policing that situation even worse. It would therefore have been no use in the August 2011 disturbances.
The ACPO report cites three occasions in the past decade on which water cannon might have been used: the Countryside Alliance demonstration in Parliament Square in 2004; the Gaza demonstrations against the Israeli embassy in 2008-09; and, potentially—it says “potentially”—the student protests of 2010. On the other hand, the Metropolitan Police are saying that water cannon would be rarely used and rarely seen. In fact, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley has given a pledge that the Met would never use them against protests, which would seem to rule out any of the three occasions suggested by the Association of Chief Police Officers. I am not suggesting for one moment that the Association of Chief Police Officers does not speak as with one voice with the senior leadership of the Metropolitan Police on all matters, but it seems that on this particular issue they were not entirely in accord.
What would have been the implications had water cannon been deployed on those occasions cited by ACPO? Let us consider the Countryside Alliance demonstration; a number of your Lordships may recall what that was like. During that, there was a point when the police were concerned that the demonstrators might break through their ranks and storm Parliament. That was a serious situation, which was eventually resolved by conventional policing—slightly messily, but it was resolved. However, the only way that water cannon might have assisted in those circumstances would have been if they had already been deployed, in advance of the police knowing that potentially they might lose control of the situation and that it was deteriorating. Who could have predicted in advance that the welly-clad, middle-class, pro-hunting brigade would be so violent on that particular day? The only way that the water cannon could have been deployed would have been to park them inside the precincts of Parliament, inside the Palace of Westminster, facing outwards. Does anyone really believe that that would have been sanctioned —in advance and on the basis of no intelligence that anything was going to happen—by Mr Speaker or the Lord Speaker? What sort of message would we have put out to the rest of the world? Imagine the images of the mother of Parliaments with water cannon firing jets of water out from New Palace Yard.
What about the student protests of 2010? The problem there was that an unexpected—I stress that—splinter group chose to attack Conservative Central Office. That was a break-away group which acted unpredictably. That there would be a break-away group may have been predictable, but what they would do and when they would do it was unpredictable. Therefore water cannon would not have been in the right place at the right time. Had their activities been foreseen, normal policing could have controlled the situation—enough police would have been surrounding Conservative Central Office. What if such activities are not foreseen? The break-away faction is a risk in all otherwise peaceful demonstrations, as it is mixed in with all sorts of ordinary demonstrators who are not planning to be as objectionable. Break-away factions are by their nature unpredictable—it is not possible to foresee when they will break away—so you will not have the water cannon deployed and in the right place at the right time.
What is this all about? Is it another mayoral vanity project? Maybe I am being too kind. What psychology is involved with a mayor who wants to have a large hose to douse the lower orders? I suspect that the timeline began with one of the Taliban-tendency Tory Back-Benchers, who said after the 2011 riots: “The Met needs water cannon”. The Home Secretary, who wishes to be the next Tory leader and therefore never says to a Tory Back-Bencher, “You are out of your tiny mind”, replied, “If the police think they will need them, we will consider it”. The mayor, who also wants to be the next Tory leader—possibly even more than the Home Secretary—but who certainly does not want to be out-righted by her and certainly also wants to curry favour with the same Taliban tendency, said to the Met: “Are you sure you might not need them?”. The Met said, “Okay—we’ll think about it”, and so the process starts. Before you know it we are in the process of buying three clapped-out German water cannon no one else wants, which no one knows when they might need to use, and we run the risk of them being deployed, which would make a difficult situation worse and further alienate those with a grievance.
British policing has a worldwide, proud record of managing public order events. Why are we trying to throw that away?
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for enabling us to debate this issue. I agree with a number of remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, although unlike the other two previous speakers I shall try to avoid making party-political points.
During my 30 years of service for the Metropolitan Police I was involved in public order policing at every rank. I started off with the Grunwick trade dispute, was involved in the Lewisham, Southall and Brixton riots, and was later trained as one of a cadre of advanced, trained public order senior police officers. Not only was I trained in dealing with serious public disorder, but I have been involved in it.
It was following those incidents to which I have referred that the Metropolitan Police acquired and tested water cannon at its public order training centre, at that time in Greenwich, in the 1980s. We found that the water cannon we had were too slow and lacked manoeuvrability. They took too long to fill up from the mains water supply and, once full, the water lasted only a few minutes in use. It was decided that water cannon was not a practical option and the idea was abandoned.
There is one, and only one situation, where, in my professional experience, I believe that water cannon may be of use to the police service, and that is to create distance between large stationary crowds throwing missiles at, or in hand-to-hand combat with, police officers who are trying to hold a line. The only significant example I can think of, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, is the Countryside Alliance protest of 2004 where, in order to try to create distance between police officers and protesters who appeared to want to invade Parliament, terrible injuries were inflicted on the crowd by officers using batons. Water cannon might have been effective in reducing those injuries in those circumstances. While the injuries were regrettable, Parliament being prevented from carrying out its democratic functions when in session would have been worse.
However, the question has to be asked whether water cannon would have been used in such a situation, even if the Met had them available. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, rightly pointed out, the police on that occasion were caught out by the strength of feeling and the ferocity of the attack on their lines. They had no idea that what they believed would be a peaceful protest would result in such a determined effort to overrun them. If they had thought this might happen, they would have put police cordons at the entrances to Parliament Square and across Abingdon Street, and used a network of barriers as well as police lines to split and contain the crowd. If the crowd had been kept at some distance from its target, it would probably not have been so determined to surge into Parliament. My point is this: rarely do events happen on the UK mainland where water cannon would be useful. Those situations usually result when the police are surprised by the ferocity of the situation, and in such situations water cannon would not be deployed in any event.
We are supposed to be reassured by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the Mayor of London’s comments that water cannon would be,
“rarely used and rarely seen”.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, if they are rarely to be seen, they will not be on standby at every demonstration in case things get out of hand. This begs two questions: why, then, are water cannon used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and why is the Metropolitan Police Service asking for them now? I come to somewhat different conclusions on that from those of the noble Lord, Lord Harris. Water cannon are used in Northern Ireland reluctantly when, all too frequently, the police come under attack trying to enforce the route of a march, or when two communities attack each other at well known, traditional flashpoints. Such situations are, sadly, not rare and, sadly, predictable.
As Sir Hugh Orde, the former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and now the president of ACPO, said in 2011, he used water cannon in Northern Ireland “with a heavy heart” when his officers were,
“being attacked by blast bombs and live fire”.
Quite frankly, even in the riots that swept London and some other cities in 2011, we did not see the level of violence that has been seen in Northern Ireland, and what we need is a proportionate response to violence on the streets. In 2011, Sir Hugh Orde said:
“What we have seen so far from these riots, involving fast moving and small groups of lawless people, is a situation that merits the opposite end of public-order policing”,
from the use of water cannon. I agree.
Sir Hugh Orde has carried out a rapid U-turn—something a water cannon is incapable of doing—by now supporting the use of water cannon on the UK mainland. Appearing before the London Assembly recently, he still described water cannon as “unwieldy” and “huge lumps”, but said that they could be used only in certain locations, such as:
“In Whitehall, outside Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, there are places where they can be used in terms of geography”.
The whole premise for the introduction of water cannon is to prevent the sort of disorder we saw in the 2011 riots. Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who has already been mentioned, said that water cannon would be of particular use when there was a clear target, citing the burning of shops in Croydon during the riots and scenes in Millbank during the student protests as examples. The Mayor of London, in the same meeting, in flat contradiction to the assistant commissioner, when asked about the London riots and water cannon, said that it,
“would not have made a blind bit of difference”.
Nor would he have authorised their use during the student protests. Despite this, he supports and is prepared to pay for Metropolitan Police water cannon. That does not seem to make much sense.
Let us be clear, policing in this country is based on consent—on the public co-operating with and working with the police. The police must do all they can to appear approachable, to be as much like ordinary people as possible, and to be citizens in uniform doing what we would do if we had their powers and training. What they must not do is appear to be some alien force that has so little respect that the only way they can maintain order is by force and the use of such weapons as water cannon.
Water cannon could usefully be deployed only in very rare situations, and even then the police are unlikely to have them available because these are situations that they were not expecting. Almost without exception, conventional public-order tactics coupled with good intelligence and pre-planning have been and will continue to be successful. Licensing the use of water cannon, their purchase and use on the UK mainland would be disproportionate and damaging to the reputation of the police service. Whichever way we look at it, water cannon are just not worth it.
My Lords, I shall, if I may, make a brief intervention in the gap. I served for 10 years on the Northern Ireland Police Authority and, as has been referred to, we deployed water cannon on a number of occasions—but rare occasions. The principal purpose of having them is to provide separation between two groups or between one group and the police. The reason for using them is to prevent having to move one step up: to using baton rounds, which can be lethal. Water cannon is a less lethal form of crowd control.
Mention has been made of August 2011. The noble Baroness, Lady Browning, as a Home Office Minister at that stage when we had a special sitting of this House, called a meeting to discuss reactions. People were talking about water cannons right, left and centre. In August 2011 they would have been utterly useless because they do not work with skirmishing or fast-moving crowds. They are of value only in providing space between the police and a crowd or between two crowds. They are not manoeuvrable and do not have the flexibility needed.
I suggest that there are occasions when it could happen. We have this sort of almost arrogant reaction that somehow policing in this country is so wonderful that we should not lower ourselves to the level of some of our European partners which use them in their street situations. I am afraid that things are changing. Public disorder will change in character over the years. We are not in the era of “Dixon of Dock Green” any more. I could not say that we should rule out water cannon, but I ask the Minister to consider, in discussions with ACPO and others, whether there would be a stock of UK-wide availability of water cannon, rather than each police service having to purchase its own. They could be drawn down from time to time. For instance, the Northern Ireland police has loaned water cannon to the Brussels police when farmers demonstrated, so that type of thing does happen.
Instead of having these expensive machines all over the place it might be better to have a national stock that could be drawn down in an emergency. They are for defending fixed points. They are a less lethal use of force than baton rounds, which we have to be extremely careful with. I, therefore, suggest that we do not get ourselves too worked up about this. It is a rare situation but it is not entirely unpredictable. If the police have availability, at least that is one step below using baton rounds.
My Lords, it is a tragic irony that we are discussing water cannon at a time when significant parts of the country are desperate for water pumps. However, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on securing this timely and relevant debate as the Mayor of London is currently undertaking what some would call a consultation, and he calls an engagement, on the use of water cannon in London. Water cannon have never been used in London or anywhere else in England, Scotland or Wales. But, as we have heard, they have had some use in Northern Ireland at times of extreme and violent disorder as an alternative to AEPs—attenuating energy projectiles or baton rounds—or at a stage before employing AEPs to try to avoid doing so. I understand that although the use of cannon is an operational decision by the police, the Home Secretary has to license their use in other parts of the UK before the police can purchase them or decide whether it is appropriate to use them.
The London riots of 2011 led to some consideration of whether water cannon could be used in similar circumstances. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has written to the Home Secretary saying that he is,
“broadly convinced of the value of having water cannon available to the MPS”.
He then states that he will undertake a “short period of engagement”, to confirm support in London. He adds:
“Should the engagement plan reveal serious, as yet unidentified, concerns I will, of course, take these into consideration and share them with you”—
the Home Secretary—
“before you make any decision to license this non-lethal tool”.
However, if we look at the views of ACPO in its useful report of 8 January 2014, in reference to the safety of water cannon, ACPO relies wisely on the evidence from the independent Science Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons. The term “less lethal” is used, as opposed to the “non-lethal” used by the Mayor of London, because ACPO accepts,
“that water cannon are capable of causing serious injury or even death”.
ACPO also stresses the training and experience of officers and that there have been no reported injuries when used by the PSNI.
I am not going to be alarmist over their use. I appreciate that they do not have to be used at full velocity and that officers are trained to use the cannon in different ways, from full jet to a diffused spray as a mist. I also know that to avoid medical problems, bizarrely, the water has to be heated before it can be used from a water cannon. However, I question why the mayor has informed the Home Secretary that this is a non-lethal weapon when ACPO clearly advises that it is less lethal. There is a difference. The risks may be minimal, but they must be accurately weighed up and taken into account.
However, other noble Lords have raised the crucial question for this debate: why would the Mayor of London want to deploy water cannon in London? I find the circumstances in which ACPO indicated that they might have been used extraordinary. I am very pleased to note that my noble friend Lord Harris referred to the Daily Telegraph as his source of information. I confess that I got the same quote from the Guardian. It could even have been in the Daily Mail. However, the newspapers clearly accurately report the ACPO justification for asking for water cannon because of the need to police protests resulting,
“from ongoing and potential future austerity measures”,
which was exactly the comment that raised concern with me.
Do the Mayor of London and the Government really anticipate that their policies will cause such widespread civil and violent disorder that there will be no alternative but to douse protesters with water? Apparently so, according to the Home Office spokesperson. In the same newspaper, possibly also in the Telegraph, they said:
“We are keen to ensure forces have the tools and powers they need to maintain order on our streets. We are currently providing advice to the police on the authorisation process as they build the case for the use of water cannon”.
While admitting that the use of water cannon has little effect on the kind of fast, agile disorder that we have seen in London, the report gave examples, as previously referred to, of when they could have been used. One was the Countryside Alliance march of 2010. I bow to the superior policing knowledge of my noble friend Lord Harris and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and I am no particular fan of the Countryside Alliance given its obsession with fox hunting, as noble Lords will know. However, the idea that the Met, on that occasion, could have used water cannon against members of the Countryside Alliance would have done absolutely nothing to improve the perception of some on that march that it was a town versus country issue.
I cannot see how it would in any way have improved relations in the city to use water cannon on that occasion, or indeed during the student protests last year. There were those who behaved appallingly and dangerously, and there were some who behaved violently but it was a long way from the kind of violent disorder that we saw when cannons were used in Northern Ireland. For example, at the protests at Whiterock and the Ardoyne in 2005, the police were under fire from live rounds, cars were being set on fire and missiles were being thrown. That is a very different situation from those we have seen in London, whether with students or the Countryside Alliance. The scenes of protest seen in Brazil recently travelled round the world in real time. Following the Belfast protests last year, there was a huge fear of their economic impact and of an international reputation being destroyed. What impact would it have around the world to see London under siege and cannons being employed? What would be the impact on the economy of London, or on our visitors and tourists?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, the costs are well documented: you do not buy cheap cannons. However, the Mayor of London has indicated that although the Home Secretary has declined to contribute to the costs, he will find the money should she license the use of the cannon. Initially, there was some expectation that other police forces would have wanted to contribute to the costs of police cannon. That now seems unlikely. Already one police chief, as we have heard, said that they would be,
“as much use as a chocolate teapot”,
for quelling disorder and there was no support from five of the six largest forces in the country with the PCCs for Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Merseyside and Thames Valley all rejecting the plans. It therefore seems highly unlikely that they would be willing to share the costs.
Tony Lloyd, the PCC for Greater Manchester, remains sceptical. He said:
“No convincing argument has been made about how water cannons could improve policing or community safety … Before we moved anywhere close to using them on our streets, there would need to be a full and proper public debate about when they would be used, how they would be used and why they would be used. For example, they would have been completely ineffective on the streets of Manchester and Salford during the 2011 riots”.
The chief constable of Greater Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy, is in complete agreement with Tony Lloyd on that issue. Jane Kennedy, the PPC for Merseyside, where Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe once served, was also dismissive. She said:
“The chief constable, Jon Murphy, and I have considered the use of water cannon”—
so they have considered it—
“and believe them to be of limited value for Merseyside. I would not want to see precious resources diverted to purchase such vehicles when their value is yet to be proven”.
There is little support outside London on operational grounds.
The Mayor of London and ACPO have failed to convince their colleagues across the country that involving water cannon in policing demonstrations against the Government is a good use of resources. There are now 3,000 fewer police officers in London than when the Government took office and I wonder whether local police officers think that water cannon is the better use of police resources in those circumstances. London is a wonderful capital city. Like all cities, it has its problems but, in terms of policing priorities, I have not been convinced yet by the arguments put forward that water cannon are the answer. If the Home Secretary is to grant a licence and if the Mayor of London wants to use Londoners’ money to buy water cannon, the case needs to be far stronger than it is at present.
My Lords, I would like to conclude this debate by first thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for raising this Question. All noble Lords who have spoken in the debate have demonstrated their genuine interest in and concern about this issue. I know that the noble Baroness is concerned and she is therefore right to use this opportunity to raise the issue. We have heard a lot of interesting comments. I fundamentally disagree with her analysis of the cause of the August 2011 riots but I have been interested in the points made by noble Lords around the Chamber.
This Government are keen to ensure that the police have the tools and powers that they need to maintain order on our streets. The police, including the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service and Chief Constable David Shaw, the national policing lead for conflict management, have indicated that water cannon, alongside other tactics, may be of use in future in tackling the most serious disorder.
Policing in England and Wales is, however, firmly grounded in the principle of policing by consent. As such, it is quite right that that the introduction of new police tools and equipment is the subject of public and parliamentary debate. It is for this reason that I am pleased that the Lord Mayor of London—I am sorry, the Mayor of London, who is not a Member of this place; I apologise for that slip of the tongue—is engaging the public on the potential use of water cannon in the capital and why I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this matter here today.
There is a well established process in place for authorising the police to use equipment and systems that, without safeguards, have the capacity to cause harm. Tasers and attenuating energy projectiles, which we all know as baton rounds, have both been covered by this process, which includes a final decision on authorisation being made by the Home Secretary.
This process will be followed for water cannon. It would require a formal request for authorisation from the police and the submission of detailed operational, technical and medical information on the likely impact of the proposed system. This would include police statements setting out the justification for the use of water cannon and how they will be used. It would also include police guidance on the training and checks and balances in place to ensure that their use is effective and proportionate. A community impact assessment and an assessment by the Scientific Advisory Committee on the Medical Implications of Less-Lethal Weapons, commonly referred to as SACMILL, would help ensure that the risks associated with their use were properly identified, understood and mitigated. The Home Secretary would then consider carefully the request and the documentation presented to her before making her decision. Parliament would be notified of the Home Secretary’s decision, and the relevant documentation would be laid in the House Library.
So where are we in the authorisation process for water cannon? The police have indicated publicly that they would like water cannon and are developing the materials necessary to support a request for authorisation. A briefing document from the national policing lead for conflict management, Chief Constable David Shaw, sets out the way in which the police would use water cannon, the operational gap they consider would be filled, and the checks and balances that would be in place. This information is publicly available.
The MPS commissioner has declared his desire to have water cannon. The Mayor of London has said that he wants to enable Londoners to have their say before confirming his agreement. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as a member of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee, is very close to this matter and is rightly ensuring that a wide range of views are sought and debated. This debate is part of that process. However, in the interests of transparency and informing the current debate, the police have made information publicly available on the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime website. I believe that some noble Lords will already have been advised of that link by my office.
Perhaps I could just respond to a few of the questions raised by noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was concerned that the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, would take no notice of the London engagement programme. I will read an extract from the letter that he sent to the Home Secretary, which says:
“In order to confirm the support in London for the use of water cannon in the most extreme circumstances, I will be undertaking a short period of engagement … Should the engagement plan reveal serious, as yet unidentified, concerns I will, of course, take these into consideration and share them with you”—
namely, the Home Secretary.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked about the sort of incidents in which water cannon might be used. The police have indicated that they want to have access to water cannon as one of their tools and tactics to deal with serious and violent disorder. The examples that they have given include defending a fixed and vulnerable or iconic location; separation of hostile crowds during demonstration or disorder; creating distance between police and opposing factions; and facilitating the advance of police resources and other emergency services to deal with life-at-risk incidents during incidents of severe disorder. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, demonstrated how they had been used effectively in Northern Ireland in those sorts of instances. So there is some value in water cannon to policing, and the police have explained that, if faced with the need to protect vulnerable premises or disperse a crowd, water cannon would be useful.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, drew attention to the use of water cannon on the continent, and quoted an incident in Stuttgart where injuries had been caused. It is not accurate to compare the use of water cannon in this country with the use in other countries, because the use of water cannon in Northern Ireland had no reported injuries. The regulatory regime for their use in this country would be determined by SACMILL, as I explained, to ensure that injuries were not the consequence of their use.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, also asked whether there would be an opportunity for water cannon to be used elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I have to emphasise that the position on this is for local police units, and we have heard that not all local police and crime commissioners and heads of regional police forces in this country agree with the Met on this issue. It would be unreal to see water cannon based here in London being shipped up to deal with activity somewhere else in the country; the timelines do not, to my mind, make that a viable proposition. So I think that we should disabuse ourselves of that particular idea.
The biggest challenge was presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asking me whether the Government believe that the police have made their case. The Government’s position is that they are keen to ensure that the police have the tools and powers that they need to tackle disorder on our streets. The Home Secretary will make a decision on the use of water cannon when she receives the authorisation package from the chief constable, David Shaw. At that point, she will consider the factors and she will no doubt consider things that have been said here in the debate today. But it is her decision and she will make it on the principles that she considers the right ones at the time.
It is important that we have had this debate. This is a serious issue and I thank the noble Baroness for bringing it to the House’s attention.
Arts and Cultural Organisations
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, the arts are currently facing two significant challenges: first, cuts to arts education in schools; and, secondly, cuts in funding, especially from local authorities. This difficult financial landscape within which arts and cultural organisations now sit is seen by some as an irresolvable crisis. For others, however, there are opportunities to create more innovative and entrepreneurial approaches that can enhance and expand arts and culture. I would like to suggest that a new, more entrepreneurial approach is now essential if many arts organisations are to survive and thrive. Worryingly, the evidence suggests that this is not happening at either the pace or scale that it needs to. We must ask ourselves why.
Numerous evaluations demonstrate that the arts have a profound impact, especially on disadvantaged children. I know this first-hand from 30 years of work in east London, where the largest artistic community outside New York lives. I have worked with many talented artists and musicians over the years, developing successful projects and business start-ups with local children and residents in some of the poorest housing estates in this country. Arts organisations are essential to the well-being of our society, and let us not forget that the arts and culture industry is also central to our economy’s well-being. In 2007, the cultural and creative industries accounted for 7.3% of the overall economy of this country—comparable in size to the financial services industry. I and many colleagues working in the arts believe that a vibrant arts and cultural sector relies on a mixed economy and that intelligent public investment is a part of that mix. As the economy shows signs of recovery, I hope that the Government will prudently adopt a long-term approach and constantly review public support of the arts.
What of the present? The majority of arts organisations across this country are struggling to adapt to the Government’s cuts in statutory funding, especially at the local authority level. The Government urgently need to do more to encourage and support arts organisations to think as creatively about their business models as they do about their art. One of the most significant changes in our society over the past 30 years is the rise of the wealthy individual. We are told that 1% of the population now pay one-third of all income tax, yet 40% of the cultural and creative industries receive no private investment. While larger organisations such as the Royal Opera House and the National Theatre, which also receive the largest amounts of subsidy, are successfully cultivating high net-worth donors, smaller arts organisations often do not have the infrastructure to attract this type of donor. They also understandably feel that they do not have a product that is high profile enough for large donors to be interested in.
I understand that one of Baroness Thatcher’s regrets was that the increase in personal wealth during her time in office did not translate into an increase in giving. We all know that the story is very different in the US. It seems that few British arts organisations have the practical knowledge to harness opportunities, such as social investing, to rethink or enhance their business models. We must help them to broaden their appeal beyond trusts, foundations, government and big business to focus on coming up with innovative ways to encourage individuals to support arts and culture, through both philanthropy and social investment.
It has consistently been my experience that individuals involved in building practical projects speak far more effectively on our key social and economic issues than many of our politicians and so-called experts. Perhaps, then, the way to part-address our current cultural crises is to raise the profile and disseminate the practice of arts organisations that have been successful in taking entrepreneurial approaches to diversify their income base. They include organisations such as the Derby Theatre, partnering with the University of Derby as a live venue and training centre; the Albany in south-east London, which bids for contracted services and is now running the library; and the Live Theatre Company in Newcastle, which uses innovative development of capital assets to provide sustainable income streams. These organisations are bucking the trend and taking on board a more entrepreneurial approach.
I am proud to have been recently involved in one such innovative arts project—the Conservatoire in Blackheath, south-east London, and here I declare an interest as chairman of the trustees. I thought that it might be helpful if I shared with the House the journey that this organisation has undertaken during the past year, the lessons we have learnt and the key practical outcomes that we have delivered. I was asked to chair the Conservatoire in Blackheath 14 months ago. This arts charity was founded in south-east London in 1881 and is the city’s oldest multi-arts venue, offering music and art lessons to local children and adults. Each week, around 100 talented tutors teach music and art to more than 1,600 people, ranging in age from six months to 90 years.
In January 2013, the Conservatoire was a week away from handing over its keys to the bank that financed it. Its core business model was unsustainable: the margins on music lessons did not cover the costs, the buildings were neglected and cash flow was critical. The organisation was facing foreclosure and staff and tutors had faced empty pay packets before Christmas. Most organisations would have folded, but the Conservatoire was fortunate. It had a new CEO—an American social entrepreneur called Sydney Thornbury, who invited me to take the helm and bring in a new group of experienced trustees. We entrepreneurs saw the problem as an opportunity for fresh thinking.
Our ambitious plan focused on creating a sustainable business model for the new financial landscape. It included forging a crucial strategic partnership with City Lit, Europe’s leading provider of adult education, and bringing together an American pyramid fundraising model to raise the £175,000 of bridge funding that we needed to get from the old model to the new. In just six weeks, the fundraising campaign smashed its target, raising a total of £220,000. Donors included an angel donor, who gave an incredible £25,000, as well as local children who donated their pocket money. Money quite clearly followed ideas and commitment. The fundraising campaign enabled the Conservatoire to embark on an ambitious plan of building works, renovation and development.
The Conservatoire has positioned itself back in the heart of its community. The community came together in an extraordinary display of support to save the Conservatoire. Now, the Conservatoire can once again successfully serve its community because our strategic plan has provided us with both a long-term sustainable income model and a major enhancement of the organisation’s offer for the community. The new vision positions the Conservatoire as a dynamic arts organisation reaching people from a cross-section of the community through both its paid classes and large-scale social impact projects.
Our plans do not stop there: we are thinking ahead. With the first phase of City Lit classes successfully up and running, the Conservatoire is now embarking on raising the money needed to launch phase two of the plan. This will see the development of the final two studios that are necessary to fulfil its sustainable income model and enable 300 additional classes to run, bringing the organisation to self-sufficiency and beyond. The Conservatoire will source these funds through both traditional fundraising and social investment loans from individuals who want to take advantage of the Government’s new tax incentives for social investing.
The best way to find new and enhanced national models of fundraising for the arts is, first, to demonstrate new thinking locally. The Conservatoire is still navigating deep waters but we hope, in time, to connect our pioneering model to the wider legacy developments to the north in the Lower Lea Valley. This development will, it is hoped, inspire a more creative and entrepreneurial rethink of arts funding nationally.
However, if we are to help the arts sector to survive and learn not just from this project but from the other entrepreneurial projects mentioned previously, the Government need to join in the grown-up, challenging and even radical conversation that we are initiating. How does the sector revolutionise and enhance funding models for sustainability in the “new normal”? This is a particularly important conversation to be had at local authority level, and we want to work closely with the LGA.
Peter Bazalgette, the chairman of Arts Council England, said recently:
“If you can find a way of getting the arts and culture, local government, business and higher education to work together then you have something really powerful”.
I think that he is right, but how do we translate these fine words into reality? First, government needs to value practical people. Civil servants often think their way into action; entrepreneurs are about learning by doing and acting their way into thinking. Let us value, support and publicly recognise pioneers in the arts sector. Secondly, government needs to actively enable an entrepreneurial culture to flourish. The Government’s new tax breaks on social investing, which the Conservatoire plans to put to use in April this year, will do much to develop a vibrant social finance sector. But far more practical support needs to be given to arts organisations if they are successfully to learn to operate in an enterprise economy.
I can see that my time is up. I will sit down with the Minister privately and suggest some practical ways in which we might do this.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for introducing this debate, and I am sure that we all wish him well with his plans for this conservatoire. I would just say to him, and indeed to my noble friend the Minister, that if they take the trouble to go to the Library and to dust down the unanimous report of the Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts, published in another place in 1983, they will find many recommendations which the Government could still profitably benefit from. I was much involved with that report and had the honour of chairing most of the committee sittings that led up to it. I suggest both to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and to my noble friend that it is worth looking at.
In a brief debate like this I just want to concentrate my remarks on one particular thing. People whose lives are enriched by the arts, as they are, and people who come to this country and enrich it because of our arts and our heritage are all, I think, very moved by some of our greatest buildings. One thinks of the great public buildings in London but I think particularly of the cathedrals and parish churches of this country. I say to my noble friend that I am one of those who is very concerned by recent proposed changes in English Heritage. I completely understand why the Government have decided that they want to divide English Heritage and give it an endowment to look after the buildings under its own control—there are some very fine and marvellous buildings—and why they wish to have another branch, probably to be called Historic England, which will give all the technical advice and support and be in charge of listing and all the rest of it. But there is a potential catastrophe in this change because English Heritage’s powers to give grants to buildings which it does not itself possess will have gone.
I have the great good fortune of living in the wonderful city of Lincoln, which has—I do not want to be provocative or divisive—what I consider to be the finest of all our cathedrals, but what everybody, I think, would agree is one of our greatest cathedrals. It costs £50,000 a week to keep Lincoln Cathedral open, without a penny being spent on restoration or maintenance. Over recent years Lincoln Cathedral has been able to look to English Heritage, which is extremely generous and helpful and has given £250,000 most years. That has now gone. There is a real problem, and that problem can be repeated up and down the country. Some people might ask, “What about the Heritage Lottery Fund?”. That is a wonderful organisation and we in Lincoln are benefiting from it at the moment in that we have had a grant of £12 million towards a project called Lincoln Castle Revealed.
However, the Heritage Lottery Fund has its criteria, which include inclusiveness and how many people come and what sort of people. I do not quarrel with that at all. But what I do say is that there has to be a source of funds directed to buildings for their intrinsic beauty, worth and historic interest. That source used to be English Heritage; it will be no more. I believe that, in the case of our great historic cathedrals—we have 27 truly important medieval cathedrals in this country, and there are 42 in all—we ought to have a separate endowment fund, similar to the endowment fund that the Government are giving to English Heritage for its own purposes, to sustain our cathedrals. Any country that allowed the west front of Wells or Lincoln, the spire of Salisbury, the tower of Durham or any of our great edifices to be in danger of collapse could not begin to call itself civilised, or claim that it had a proper Government of a civilised country.
I know that the present Government would never wish to be in that position, but what I would say to my noble friend who is to reply to the debate is this. We have to recognise that these buildings are of incomparable worth, where one comes perhaps closer to the soul of our nation than anywhere else. They demand and cry out for the sort of support that is not currently being given but that will need to be given in the future.
My Lords, I sit as a trustee on a number of organisations involved in the arts, and they are all recorded in the register. I am also a working filmmaker. I feel that it is necessary to declare to the House that I am married to a writer who has been most vigorous in his campaign against cuts to the arts and libraries in his home town of Newcastle.
In April of last year, the Culture Secretary, the right honourable Maria Miller MP, told us:
“When times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact”.
Although she acknowledged that this argument would not be to “everyone’s taste”, she did call for all of us to accept this “fundamental premise”. Ironically, my own discipline of film is something of a poster child for those who believe that the value of an art form can be measured by the wealth it produces, having contributed £4.6 billion to the UK economy in 2011 and a wealth of provocative, engaging and beautiful moving image. But while it is easy to quantify art that successfully makes an economic impact, it is harder to account for the delicate ecosystem which allows that success to flourish. A spreadsheet tells only part of the story.
The insistence on an arts sector measured in economic outputs creates a bias towards certain kinds of art, a bias towards the capital, and a bias towards large, well funded institutions which leaves the vast majority of the arts and practitioners of the arts behind. The November 2013 report, Rebalancing our Cultural Capital, illustrates in great detail the growing gap in arts spend outside London over the past two decades. Further work by the same authors shows that just four institutions in the capital receive more lottery funding than do the 33 local authorities, home to 6 million people, at the bottom of the list. These local authorities are predominantly although not exclusively in the north, but they all cover areas that are already challenged by other symptoms of deprivation and where current and prospective local authority cuts are biting most deeply. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation predicts that local authorities will have to cut any services they have no legal obligation to provide. I think we all know that local authority funding is disproportionately important to the artistic community outside the capital.
London benefits not only from a disproportionate amount of lottery funding, it receives the greatest proportion of public investment in other ways and attracts the lion’s share of business sponsorship and private philanthropy. I would vigorously assert the need for world-class arts organisations in the capital, but we must consider how to protect and deliver the same values and benefits to citizens elsewhere. Many of them are major contributors to the lottery through the purchase of tickets, but they suffer a measurable deficit of benefit.
Sir Nicholas Hytner, at the end of what was considered to be a triumphant decade as artistic director at the National Theatre, wrote very movingly in the Daily Telegraph of the importance of “innovation”, and the vital role of government subsidy in that innovation, rather than the role of sponsorship and philanthropy—about which he also has much to say and much to be grateful for. What starts as an experiment in the National Theatre studio so often ends up in the West End. London West End theatre brought in more than half a billion pounds in 2012 alone.
Just as the National Theatre feeds the West End, the National itself relies on an ecosystem where talent is nurtured in regional theatres all over the UK. For decades, the artistic directors of the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and many other of our great theatres—and the greatest proportion of their creative contributors—have honed their skills in regional theatre. What we fund now, in all corners of the UK, will create the practitioners and aesthetic of the future—a vibrant and ever changing aesthetic that has made our theatre envied and loved the world over. Starving the ecosystem of the tiny, the local, the experimental, the site-specific and the amateur groups, or insisting that this same list become little businesses, will simply kill the juggernaut of British theatre which has conquered Broadway and beyond. This ecosystem, mirrored in dance, in music, in the visual and voluntary arts, in the digital arts and other performing arts, has palpable effects on other industries, from tourism to tech. Talent is not centred in London; appreciation is not centred in London; the need to see oneself reflected in our world is not centred in London.
I want to ask the Minister just these questions. Since Her Majesty’s Government have placed great emphasis on sponsorship and philanthropy, what steps will they take to protect the small, the experimental and the regional arts institutions that are traditionally of so little interest to commercial sponsors? How would the Minister suggest that the communities that contribute most to lottery funds ensure that they benefit proportionally from their distribution? Given the enormous cuts to local authority funding at a time when their duties have increased and their efficiency savings are largely complete, could not Her Majesty’s Government consider making arts funding a legal requirement of local authorities and provide the resources to support that requirement, in order that we do not decimate arts provision outside the golden circle of the M25 and, in doing so, deprive ourselves of the artists and art of the future?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for securing this debate and I pay tribute to the wonderful work that he has done in this area over many years, as I do to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, who has similarly done wonderful work. I claim no particular expertise, although I am passionate about the arts—perhaps that is something to do with the fact that it is sometimes said that many clergy are failed actors.
It is fortuitous that this debate is happening on the day of the launch of a study, report and review by the British Academy, Prospering Wisely: How the Humanities and Social Sciences Enrich our Lives. That report makes it clear that this country’s exemplary record in taking seriously these disciplines and the arts and learning from them is one of the major factors which make it as civilised as it is. They hold up a mirror to society and enable us to reflect on what makes for a good life and a healthy society. The same is true of the arts in general. In an age when the triumph of utilitarianism and consumerism sometimes seems to me to be almost complete, we need to remember that phrase, “prospering wisely”, which comes from King Alfred the Great.
However, there are real difficulties, as has been suggested, particularly in the provinces. Worcester boasts a wonderful arts organisation, Worcester Live, which is entrepreneurial in just the way that has been commended, but it is labouring under very difficult conditions because the green shoots of recovery have not yet found their way into people’s pockets. At the same time, county council funding has been reduced by 90% and there is no Arts Council funding, which, as been pointed out, tends to go to flagship venues. That is a matter of real concern. I suggest that one way to ease the situation would be for the Government to consider the distribution of lottery funding, which used to be much easier to apply for and broader in its remit.
There is good news in the midst of this era of financial stringency. The city of Worcester has at its centre a wonderful, imaginative new development entitled The Hive, which is a joint venture by the city council and the University of Worcester. They have together built The Hive, a library. The fact that they are working together in just the sort of partnership that has been commended is of great benefit to both the city and university in terms of availability of publications, opening hours and sharing of costs. It is an example of the imaginative partnership that should be encouraged elsewhere. At the same time, partly through the generosity of a local benefactor, there is an exciting plan soon to turn a part of the old porcelain factory into a state-of-the-art arts centre, so that Worcester’s fine artistic tradition can be developed yet further.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made clear, churches and cathedrals are at the centre of our cultural heritage and make an enormous contribution to the ongoing cultural and artistic life of this country. That is very much true of Worcester, which will be holding the Three Choirs festival again this year.
Despite all the pressures that exist on funding, I hope that, as a result of this debate, the Government will consider some of the suggestions that have already been proffered in order to do everything possible to encourage the arts and culture: in particular, by facilitating philanthropy, which has benefited us very greatly in Worcester, although it is still not as well developed as it might be; by enabling the sort of imaginative partnerships to which reference has been made during the course of the debate; and by looking again at how lottery funding is distributed.
Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested, the Government should recognise that cathedrals and churches stand at the very heart of our cultural heritage and, as he put it so beautifully, reflect the soul of this country. They receive no direct government funding at the moment. The parish churches of our country, a wonderful gem, are looked after and maintained by small numbers of worshippers. It would be good if the Government recognised the importance of those buildings to our culture, in the way that the noble Lord suggested, by thinking again about what is happening with English Heritage. They are everyone’s heritage. It is to our benefit as a nation that they should be maintained and developed.
My Lords, at the latest Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting last month, we heard a presentation of the second Delphi study, In Battalions, by Fin Kennedy and Helen Campbell Pickford. I came away from that presentation with three concerns in particular. The first is the key question they identified from discussion with those working in theatre: in what ways can theatre-makers, theatres and the Arts Council work together to help to protect risk-taking on new work and new talent, without creating significant expense?
The second concern which became clear was that the arts organisation most at risk is the organisation of one, the playwright, the individual artist who, if not wholly, certainly significantly provides the raison d’être for the existence of the larger arts organisations, the theatres and companies which facilitate new work. That is after acknowledging that there is much collaborative work within the theatre, as within the arts as a whole. If that crucial individual risk-taking and experimentation is not nurtured, the arts will not progress but stagnate.
At the same event, we heard presentations from Giles Croft, artistic director of the Nottingham Playhouse, and from Elizabeth Newman, associate director of the Bolton Octagon. The message that rang out loud and clear was how increasingly difficult and time-consuming it is to try to balance the books and bring through new work, rather than rely on tried and tested productions.
My third concern is that it is entirely clear to those working in the arts, if not to the Government, that there is no substitute for public funding. Nothing really replaces what it achieves. Arts organisations are being told to “adapt”, a euphemism for becoming more commercial so that they may survive, but that change means that the very thing that made them worth while in the first place is in danger of being lost. This potential loss of risk-taking, entirely due to a lack of funding, becomes a more critical problem the further away we go from London.
In the year since the regional debate on the arts introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, much has already changed. We have had the report Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, mentioned by noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, showing that public spending on the arts is now 15 times greater in London than in the regions. Indeed, the Nottingham Playhouse, which is facing a possible 100% cut in grant from the local council, is located in the East Midlands region, which this report identifies as being the most affected. The devastating Local Government Association report of 2012 is now joined by last year’s equally devastating Joseph Rowntree Foundation study, which predicts that arts and cultural funding by local councils may fall within a few years to almost nothing, and in December we had further local authority funding cuts.
In the short term, I am pessimistic about the discrepancy of funding between London and the regions. The discrepancy is increasing mainly because public funding is being cut—local authority funding, of course, but also the decreased reserves of core funding that will inevitably be hoovered up by London and the bigger institutions. Things will not change substantially until two things happen: first, the funding cuts are reversed and, secondly, the regions and the regional cities obtain greater autonomy, because arts and culture will follow political power. In this sense, of course, the arts are in the same boat as every other area of government subsidy. The regions need to be making their own funding decisions for their own arts production as well as services, and they need to have the money to do so. In addition, a future Government must bring in statutory provision for the arts.
We have a Government who are interested in the arts and creative industries as an export product and for tourism, but are less interested in how the arts are nurtured and produced. I ask the Minister whether the DCMS could take a careful look at the composition of the Creative Industries Council, which helps to formulate policy and which has both a strong global and London-centric feel. It looks outwards but it does not back inwards towards arts production across the whole of the UK. There is no sense of that geography, and that is important.
My other question for the Minister is the same one that I posed to the noble Lord, Lord Nash, at Question Time today. How important do the Government think arts education in schools is as a pipeline into the creative industries, which we hear are now worth £8 million an hour to the UK economy? If the Government think that it is important then the DCMS should be concerned at the continuing fall in the take-up of art and design subjects in schools, as well as the threat that exists to arts higher education.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mawson has done well to give arts and culture a brief look-in before we rise for the Recess. I shall focus on classical music but it is clear from the debate so far that many of the issues are widely shared across the cultural sector. Two weeks ago the Times had an article headlined, “Orchestras gain fans but lose money”, based on a recent survey by the Association of British Orchestras. This highlighted concerns that real-terms reductions in funding could lead to UK orchestras losing their place in the top flight internationally.
One of the strengths of the UK arts funding model is that it is based on a mix of funding sources. Public funding, from national bodies such as the Arts Council and the National Lottery as well as from local authorities, is a vital part of the mix, representing over one-third of orchestras’ income, but it is supplemented by private contributions—almost 20% of the total—while nearly half of orchestras’ income is earned through ticket sales and other commercial activities. In the current financial landscape, all these funding sources are under pressure: Arts Council funding is declining, but not as sharply as that of many local authorities; ticket income is down, despite rising audiences; and business support is flat at best. Individual philanthropy shows a welcome increase, but is not nearly enough to begin to replace public funds, is concentrated in London much more than in the regions and is often focused on specific projects rather than on core funding.
In preparing for this debate, I have heard about challenges facing virtually all music organisations and activities. There are concerns about the future funding of music education and the delivery of the national plan for music education. The quality of the training provided by the UK’s leading music conservatoires is a key factor in creating and sustaining the UK’s international success in all forms of music. This depends heavily on the premium funding they receive to help cover the shortfall between the tuition fees that they can charge their students and the actual cost of providing that individual, intensive, one-on-one tuition, which can be up to £15,000 or £17,000.This funding has not yet been confirmed for 2014-15.
Specialist training bodies, such as the National Opera Studio, of which I am a modest supporter, depend on the availability of funding and support to develop the talents of young performers with the potential to become the leading artists of their generation. The music sector generally is concerned at the possible impact of planned copyright exceptions, representing a potential shift of value away from content creators, without corresponding compensation or benefits.
I recognise that the Government share the desire to support the creative sector, and also that it would be unrealistic to expect substantial extra funding for music and other art forms from either central or local government at present. I therefore hope that the Minister will look into other ways of easing some of the pressures on music organisations. First, everything possible should be done to protect the existing level of public funding for music and arts organisations, including from local authorities, where the challenges may be greatest. I was hugely impressed by a recent visit to High House Production Park in Purfleet, where the Royal Opera House is working in partnership with other creative sector bodies and Thurrock Borough Council to plan and deliver an ambitious cultural entitlement agenda for the borough, including a scenery workshop, a planned costume centre, a training centre offering creative sector apprenticeships, artists’ studios and more. What can the Minister do to encourage more such initiatives?
Conservatoires could be helped to plan ahead with greater confidence by giving them some reassurance about the continuation of the exceptional funding they receive, preferably for more than one year ahead. Young artists undergoing training should be eligible for schemes to promote skills development and employment of young people, perhaps by extending the Arts Council’s well regarded Creative Employment Programme to support more initiatives such as the UK Music Skills Academy. I applaud the Government’s desire to promote individual philanthropy, but there is surely scope for further encouragement and incentives, such as extending gift aid on admissions to include arts charities.
Creative content providers must get a fair deal from copyright exceptions. Young people interested in the creative sector need to be made aware of the importance of intellectual property issues. The Intellectual Property Office, in partnership with UK Music, has just launched an app, Music Inc, aimed at 14 to 18 year-olds for this very purpose. What can the Minister do to encourage take-up by schools?
I also strongly support my noble friend Lord Mawson’s plea, echoed by my noble friend Lord Clancarty, for the Government to help the music sector apply its own creative and entrepreneurial skills to expand its sources of support, for example through crowdfunding or social media-based initiatives.
Music and the arts represent a huge and valuable asset to the UK. Of course money is tight, but with the vast array of talent available among our musicians, schools, conservatoires, training bodies, orchestras and opera companies, and the goodwill and support of government at all levels, and of all of us who are passionate about the arts, the UK can surely continue to lead the world in the range, quality and sheer brilliance of its music and cultural organisations, to our enormous cultural and economic benefit.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling this debate today and pay tribute to his ground-breaking work as a social entrepreneur. I also thank all other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate today. I apologise if I do not, in the short time available, pick up all the points that have been made.
It is a topical and challenging question: to what extent should government subsidise the arts and to what extent should they be expected to stand alone? It is impossible to address this without taking stock of the current arts-funding landscape, as a number of noble Lords have already done today.
First, we have to acknowledge the backdrop to this debate, which is that of course the arts make a substantial economic contribution to this country. They make Britain an attractive place to visit, to live, and to invest in. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made a good point about the delicate ecosystem that underpins this arrangement. It is not just about economic advantage. A whole range of other advantages come from our thriving arts culture, including improvements to the nation’s health and well-being and the provision of a critical impetus for regional economic regeneration around the country.
However, there is a real danger that we are taking this global advantage for granted rather than investing in and nurturing the next generation of creative performers and leaders. Nowhere is that complacency starker than in the sidelining of arts subjects in the national curriculum, which this House has debated on a number of occasions. Those subjects are being systematically dropped by ambitious schools that want to be seen to be performing well and moving up the league tables. As a result, the take-up of GCSEs in subjects like music, art and drama is falling. That is combined with a squeeze on funding for specialist teachers in schools and the failure of alternative initiatives such as the community music hubs to take off in a systematic way.
As a number of noble Lords have already argued, this neglect of the arts in schools is exacerbated by the funding pressures on local community and regional arts centres. Those are the places where young people get their first real taste of watching or participating in live events. They can inspire and thrill, sowing the seeds of a lifelong love of the arts in young people—and in those places we find the risk takers and innovators of the future.
However, local councils are increasingly being forced to prioritise their limited spending on the statutory services for which they are responsible. Therefore, even though many of them understand the importance of the arts as having value in themselves and also playing a role in attracting businesses and visitors, the burden of the 33% cuts takes an inevitable toll on the local cultural life they are able to fund. The Arts Council has repeatedly made the point that it cannot be expected to plug the hole in local government arts expenditure. In any case how could it, when its own grant from central government has faced substantial cuts—reduced by 30% in one year alone?
Sadly, therefore, the picture on the ground of local and regional art centres is of retreat and decline, with many places losing the skills and expertise necessary to find new sources of funding such as new sponsors, grants or earned income. Therefore when the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, challenges us to find new ways to help fund arts organisations, my answer is that he is right to pose the question, but the prerequisite must be a greater recognition across government of the centrality of the arts to our nation’s success, both now and in the future. That cross-government challenge is not being addressed appropriately by the Government at this time. Perhaps the Minister can address that in his response.
What is lacking is a sustainable funding model that has buy-in from all sectors. It should include a statutory provision for national and local government and a new definition of the role of arm’s-length bodies and of the lottery, as well as identifying newer sources of funding, including the role that innovative tax incentives can play. For example, the Government have made great play of the increased role that individuals can play, and undoubtedly more can be done. However, all the evidence so far points to philanthropic giving being focused on the large institutions, with smaller local and regional organisations being squeezed out. We could also do a great deal more to transform the banking sector so that it better understands the role that the cultural sector can play and is prepared to invest in those start-ups.
What is lacking is a cross-departmental plan to look at the sector afresh, realise the many benefits it brings in cash and in kind and underpin it with a realistic financial strategy. The alternative is a route of decline and frustration which will rob our economy of a great opportunity and our young people of a vibrant, creative future. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response to those concerns.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, on securing this debate and, indeed, acknowledge the great practical experience that he brings to it. The debate has been illuminating with so much expertise having been shown across the House. Some of your Lordships have expressed concern about this issue but I say at the outset that the Government strongly support the arts and culture. I hope that, during the few moments I have in which to speak, I can demonstrate how and why the Government feel so strongly about them.
Over the lifetime of this Parliament, the Government have put in about £7 billion of public and lottery funding into the arts, museums and heritage sectors. Despite necessary pressures on government spending—your Lordships are aware of the economic climate in which we live—the importance of the arts and museums was recognised in the previous spending round. The DCMS provides grant in aid funding to the Arts Council England, the British Film Institute, 15 sponsored museums, the British Library and the Renaissance programme for regional museums. Many of your Lordships have mentioned the regions, which I will also refer to. We also secured a strong capital settlement for English Heritage, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Churches Conservation Trust. My noble friend Lord Cormack spoke passionately about cathedrals and I know that Lincoln Cathedral has a very special place in his heart. I am aware of its at-risk status, so I am very conscious of what he said. I am also very conscious of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester said about cathedrals and churches. The Government are actively considering ways to support cathedrals. I would very much welcome having a conversation with my noble friend and, indeed, the right reverend Prelate, after this debate so that we can have a proper talk about these matters because cathedrals and churches are very much part of the fabric of our nation.
Our rich heritage and vibrant culture of art, film, literature, dance and music delight and inspire the nation as well as the world. I make no apology for saying that the UK creative industries were worth £71.4 billion in 2012 and are, indeed, outperforming many other sectors of our economy. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, with all her experience of filmmaking, sees much going on which is of great value to many people.
From April 2012, we increased the share of National Lottery funding for the arts to 20%, which I think was a very positive step. The Arts Council’s investment programme for 2015 is now open, with £570 million available from the Arts Council to invest in the arts and museums in 2015-16. The Arts Council also offered an additional fund for libraries as well as a creative industry finance scheme offering business development support for creative industry enterprises. In addition, the Heritage Lottery Fund has around £375 million a year to invest in new projects.
As regards philanthropy, we are working with cultural organisations in London and the regions to encourage the development of other sources of income, including philanthropic giving and independent fundraising. In our opinion, philanthropy is not a substitute for public subsidy but should be seen as one element of a mixed-funding model. The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, spoke powerfully about this mix and gave examples of success derived from the entrepreneurial spirit and, indeed, most importantly, from community engagement. I congratulate him and the local community at Blackheath on providing such a great asset for the community and beyond. Being an “original green”, I was very taken by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on the ecosystem because we want to secure a future for talent across the country. The skills and apprenticeships in the creative industries are a vital part of the next generation being part of this great sector.
The department, in partnership with the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, established a £100-million Catalyst programme—a private-giving investment initiative for arts and heritage organisations. Indeed, I read the article on orchestras that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, spoke about, and I was relieved that a number of orchestras have been supported through the Catalyst endowments awards fund. I was also interested in what your Lordships said about regional funding. I make no particular plug for London, having so many interests outside London. I am thinking here of the Philharmonia Orchestra, which may be based in London and gains funding, but which spends much of its existence outside London touring, as do so many organisations in the theatre world. The Arts Council has invested £400 million over this Parliament in classical music organisations. I am, however, very much aware of what was said in that article and we need to see whether there are ways in which we can sustain and support them in what are challenging times. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for raising that point.
Catalyst has awarded more than 400 grants to help numerous organisations strengthen their fundraising abilities and diversify their revenue sources. The DCMS is also looking at ways in which private giving can be increased through tax incentives. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, talked of tax reliefs. The film, high-end TV and animation tax reliefs have been vital in supporting our creative industries, and we will be consulting shortly on a theatre tax relief, which will be helpful in both London and the regions.
Turning to the community arts sector, there are approximately 49,000 community arts groups in England, with an estimated 9.4 million people participating in arts-based activities on a regular basis. I suspect that many of those are the sorts of people that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, would be thinking of. Unlocking new revenue streams can be challenging for those organisations, and the Cabinet Office, alongside the Arts Council, the DCMS and a group of other organisations, is exploring the development of a fund to provide long-term social investment capital to arts organisations. I shall certainly be reporting back on this debate and the remarks that have been made by your Lordships, particularly those made by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, on the entrepreneurial spirit and, indeed, his own experiences of that.
This group has also designed a programme to help arts organisations to take on investment through the Cabinet Office’s existing investment and contract readiness fund—a £10-million fund which provides grants to social ventures. There are many ways in which this Government support culture across the country beyond direct monetary investment. To promote our exceptional arts, cultural and heritage institutions overseas, the Government’s GREAT campaign continues to promote the best of what Britain has to offer. In 2013, the total value of tourism spend directly and indirectly in Britain is projected to be £127 billion—9% of the UK economy. I say that not just for the economy, as it were. I speak of it because of the employment that it provides, and the entrepreneurial and apprenticeship opportunities. That is the mix that we should be seeking to secure. Culture is central to that campaign. Our iconic cultural assets are often the most easily recognisable statement of what makes Britain great.
I would like to refer quickly to the First World War centenary because there will be a very significant cultural programme as part of the commemoration of the four years of that simply dreadful war.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, mentioned the Creative Industries Council. It was set up by government but it is now industry-led. I am conscious of what the noble Earl said and I will report back on it. The council has been working to identify key barriers to growth for the sector, with activities focusing on access to finance, skills, exports and inward investment, copyright, and data collection. We are working with the industry to see how it can best implement its growth strategy, which will be published later this year.
Culture in this country is delivered by a great many organisations and, as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, reminded us, by people—artists, scientists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, actors and so many more. I was also particularly interested in the reference by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester to the Hive, this great new opportunity of partnership, and the National Libraries Day last Saturday. But many national organisations are supporting smaller regional organisations and a great deal of lottery funding is going into the regions.
As time is not on my side, I would like to write more fully on where we are with regional funding of the arts because there are some particular figures on Arts Council and lottery funding, which take over 70% into the regions. It would be best if I referred to that more fully then.
I am conscious of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, particularly about cuts. I acknowledge those. I understand why there is concern. It is why many councils are looking innovatively at how they develop services differently and more efficiently. That is why the Arts Council has a part to play in assisting and promoting culture with local authorities and there are so many examples—whether you look at the Hepworth Wakefield, the Mary Rose in Portsmouth or the City of Culture in Hull—where much good work is being done.
There is so much to say on arts and culture. On education, for example, the Government believe that there should be strong artistic, arts and music elements to education. I will write more fully about that. We are looking at ways in which we can support arts and culture in innovative ways to find new ways of doing things and setting up new partnerships. That is where we should be. That is why for all the reasons and many more that have been articulated today, particularly so ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, we all seek a thriving future for arts and culture. We should champion them.
Forestry: Independent Panel Report
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, you may wonder why, when all has been quiet on the forest front for some time, I tabled this Question for Short Debate. Well, the long silence was my catalyst. It is more than 18 months since the Independent Panel on Forestry published its excellent report and more than a year since the Government published their Government Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement, which incorporated their response to the report. It is also almost the anniversary of the debate initiated by the Bishop of Liverpool, who did such a splendid job as chair of the independent panel and whom we miss greatly.
I am delighted that the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Worcester and the Bishop of St Albans, are speaking today. I can see the diocese of the former from the Forest of Dean and the former Bishop of St Albans, Bishop Christopher, was born in the forest so I feel a very strong link. Bishops up and down the country, including my own right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Gloucester, and my friend and almost neighbour, the former Bishop of Guildford, have done a superb job in supporting our forests and woodlands.
My own interest in this issue is clear and strong. I live in the Forest of Dean, I am a forester, and I am proud of our strong community and our thriving culture and traditions which are rooted in the forest. Indeed, “We like the trees seek the light” was my school’s motto. I am also a member of the steering committee of Hands Off Our Forest—HOOF—the campaign that led the country in its fight against the sale of our forests, when people from all parts of the country and all walks of life rose in protest.
In their statement published last January the Government said that they would establish,
“via legislation a new, operationally-independent Public Forest Estate management body to hold the Estate in trust for the nation. It will be charged with generating a greater proportion of its income through appropriate commercial activity and with maximising the social, environmental and economic value of the assets under its care”.
There was much anticipation, and I know that Defra has had many discussions, including with the National Forestry Forum, but there has been no visible action in terms of legislation. The Minister, told me in a letter of 6 January, for which I am grateful, that,
“we remain committed to bringing forward legislation to establish the new public body to manage the Public Forest Estate when parliamentary time allows”,
“that we intend to subject draft legislation on this matter to full pre-legislative scrutiny”.
I welcome both those commitments but I cannot accept that the legislation has not been forthcoming because of a lack of parliamentary time. The Commons have been twiddling their legislative thumbs for weeks, with most of their days filled with Back-Bench and Opposition debates. There was ample time to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny on a draft Bill and then perhaps make the Bill a carryover.
As everyone including the Minister recognised, there needs to be a long consultation on a Bill that in essence determines the future of our forests and woodlands. I fear that the Government are now running out of time. I would be grateful for an assurance that a Bill will be announced in the Queen’s Speech and that adequate time will be made available for consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny before it begins its legislative process through both Houses. I am conscious of the fact that, knowing that the general election will take place in 448 days, time is of the essence.
Noble Lords may wonder why I am so anxious to have a Bill. The people living in and around our forests, the people who enjoy all that they have to offer and the fantastic people who work for the Forestry Commission are concerned about lack of action. Everyone was delighted by the Government’s very positive response to the independent panel’s report and by the commitment to retaining the public forest estate in public ownership and to extending it, but what now? There is a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity.
The Forestry Commission is still doing a magnificent job but its challenges grow by the day as its numbers dwindle. I would be grateful if the Minister could update us on the number of people currently working for the commission, the number of jobs lost since 2010 and the number of jobs that are still to be lost. I realise that all departments have had to make cuts and that the burdens on Defra are immense due to the floods—burdens which are likely to be increased as a result of climate change—but the management of our forests and woodlands should be a priority, not least because of their role in a low-carbon economy and climate change mitigation. We should not forget that the Forestry Commission is the largest provider of countryside recreation opportunities in England and that those have a real impact on the physical and mental health and well-being of the nation.
I turn to what the Government Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement—Implementation Plan stated will be,
“a new, operationally-independent Public Forest Estate management body to hold the estate in trust for the nation and manage its resources effectively to maximise the value of the land, trees and other assets under its care”.
I remind noble Lords of the recommendation from the independent panel. It said:
“We propose that the public forest estate should remain in public ownership and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation. A Charter should be created for the English public forest estate, to be renewed every ten years. The Charter should specify the public benefit mission and statutory duties, and should be delivered through a group of Guardians, or Trustees, who will be accountable to Parliament. The Guardians will oversee the new public forest management organisation evolved from Forest Enterprise England.”
That is very good.
Defra has published 10 core principles for the PFE management body. Those are welcome and reflect much of the ethos of the independent report, although they lack one core duty which was recommended: to promote, expand and enhance public access to woodlands. I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that this important principle has not been lost. That notwithstanding, the principles appear to offer a welcome framework but no information has been forthcoming about the body itself, and that raises concerns for many people in the Forest of Dean and, I suspect, the people of Cannock Chase, Sherwood Forest and Delamere Forest to name but a few. What sort of PFE management body is being proposed and is it in line with the panel’s recommendations?
There are rumours that the body will be a public corporation with an executive board. If this were to be the case, there would be much anxiety about the future of our forests and the potential threat of future privatisation. I well understand that the Government have categorically said that the public forest estate must remain in public ownership, and I am grateful, but it is imperative that the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure that our public forests are truly secure. Establishing a body that could be prey to future privatisation does not provide that security. Indeed, I suggest that the setting up of a public corporation could facilitate rather than inhibit future privatisation of the estate, in whole or in part.
What about the membership of the board? I ask for an assurance that it would be a mixed board with proper representation of stakeholders, for example from forest communities, NGOs and forest industries. Naturally, I recognise that the board must consider economic objectives as well as public value with commercial freedoms while protecting the estate, but there must be a balance, and this balance must be reflected in the membership of the board. The board must value the estate in terms of wildlife, access, recreation, education and cultural heritage as well as considering income generation.
I mentioned earlier the charter and the guardians which were critical recommendations from the panel. I understand that it is the Government’s intention to publish a charter alongside a draft Bill. This must mean that the charter will have no statutory authority, and I wonder whether it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I very much hope that it will be. Its purpose is too important to relegate it to a mere mission statement.
I believe that the role of the guardians is fundamental to the protection of the public forest estate but also to public confidence. The independent panel was clear that their role was vital, but I fear that the Government are intent on watering down their envisaged role. A right to appeal to the Secretary of State against decisions taken by the board of the new public body is simply not enough. They need powers to intervene when decisions are taken by the board which are detrimental to the public forest estate, for example in relation to land sales. Will the Minister confirm that it is currently the Government’s intention that the Secretary of State will be the only person with the power of veto on land disposals or change of land use?
I realise that we have travelled a long way since the publication of the original Public Bodies Bill in 2010, and I pay tribute to the way in which the Government have listened, consulted and embraced many of the challenges set by the Bishop of Liverpool and his colleagues, but we are still on a journey and neither my party nor my friends in the forest will rest until we are confident that the future of our publicly owned forests and woodlands is truly secure, and this means confidence in the establishment of the new management body, the charter and the guardians. I have to agree with the concern expressed by the RSPB in its very good briefing that the recommendations of the independent panel are being lost in translation during the Bill drafting stages.
I urge the Government to maintain the integrity of the recommendations in the draft Bill that I hope that they will bring forward in the very near future. This would demonstrate that they really can see the wood for the trees. I finish by thanking the Minister and all noble Lords for participating in this debate and by quoting the poetic words of Bishop James:
“Our forests and woods are nature’s playground for the adventurous, museum for the curious, hospital for the stressed, cathedral for the spiritual, and a livelihood for the entrepreneur. They are a microcosm of the cycle of life in which each and every part is dependent on the other; forest and woods are the benefactor of all, purifying the air that we breathe and distilling the water of life. In short, trees are for life”.
My Lords, I am sure the whole House thanks the noble Baroness for tabling this Question. I will echo some of the points that she made during her interesting speech.
I shall start by once again congratulating the Bishop of Liverpool and his team on the report of the Independent Panel on Forestry. It is well crafted, comprehensive and constructive. I also welcome the Government’s new policy and proposals for the public forest estate. We are fortunate that at Defra we have a very strong team of Ministers, among whom is my noble friend who is replying to this debate. He has real understanding, experience and knowledge of environmental issues. The Ministers are supported by many enlightened officials whose advice I know is frequently sought far beyond these shores. I am optimistic that we are possibly on the brink of exciting developments in the forestry sector, but forgive me if my optimism is tempered by some degree of caution.
For a moment I want to look at the international scene. Despite meetings, conventions and declarations of good intentions, the destruction of our tropical rainforest continues. Tree cover, so crucial for worldwide climate conditions, is still being ravaged to make way for oil palms, soya and cattle. I know that this is not the occasion and I do not have the time to go into it in any detail but, unless we take the warnings seriously enough, it may prove to be too late for effective action to preserve what remains.
For decades, His Royal Highness Prince Charles has spelt out the dire consequences that will follow if we carry on damaging the environment on which we depend. Being a largely urban population, we are in danger of becoming too remote from the natural world. Very often, we have no idea what is being done in our name. Consider for a moment the operation of the food chain. A recent publication, called Farmageddon, describes how, to satisfy mass demand for milk, eggs, bacon and other foods, the treatment of our domestic animals is in some cases horrendous.
While I am cautiously optimistic, I see these proposals on forestry as a much needed step change in our attitude towards the natural world. We should try to avoid approaching it piecemeal; we need to look at it nationwide, over our land as a whole. But how will all this be achieved? There is a remarkable array of agencies, organisations and initiatives, all committed to supporting biodiversity and sustainable growth in our woods and forests. The hope must be that they will work together and co-ordinate their endeavours, but even more is needed. We should go beyond government to businesses, landowners, schools and societies such as the RSPB, the Ramblers and the National Trust, as well as to the designers and contractors of road and rail communications and, most importantly, the broadcast media. The BBC, through its wonderful wildlife programmes, has shown what can be done to educate the public about the realities of nature, which must also apply to trying to achieve wider knowledge and understanding of the significance and importance of tree cover in our country.
In addition, there is the most impressive list of supporters for Grown in Britain, a brilliant concept. As the Secretary of State Owen Paterson wrote in his foreword to the report,
“Dr Bonfield sets out the actions taken to put forestry on a firmer economic footing”.
I stress the words “economic footing”. That is a point that needs to register with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although it may not be possible to set it out in strictly monetary terms, there is economic value attaching to all our woods and forests and in the wonderful biodiversity of our beautiful landscape. That should be a factor in every corporate, local government and national balance sheet.
In conclusion, I have to ask again: how will all this be achieved? The answer has to be through leadership from the top. We would be right to look to the Prime Minister to set a firm timetable for progress. I hope that then, as these plans for the public forest estate come to fruition, increasing numbers of people, young and old alike, will experience the values and many benefits that can come from a walk along a path through the woods.
I add my thanks to those of my noble friend to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for securing this debate today and for being such a formidable champion on behalf of our precious trees.
The noble Baroness said that there was strong support for the Government’s forestry and woodlands policy statement in January last year, which set out a clear vision for expanding England’s woodland cover while protecting our trees from the ever-increasing range and scale of threats, recognising that woodland assets would deliver benefits for society and the environment as well as contributing to economic growth. A commitment to legislate for a new forestry body was a central plank in the delivery of that vision.
The stakeholder consultation closed on the funding, governance and purposes of our new body. The presentation to the National Forestry Stakeholder Forum on 29 January outlined, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, the 10 core principles underpinning Defra’s plans. While they were broadly welcomed, they left much unsaid. Big questions remain about the contractual relationship of the body with Defra, and the body’s remit, scope and duties. I add my voice to hers in asking when the Government intend to bring forward a draft Bill to allow for necessary pre-legislative scrutiny.
It is clear that woodland and forests offer good opportunities to deliver manifold environmental and public goods, from carbon capture to providing habitats for wildlife and flora, and places that people want to share. They want to go out and explore our glorious countryside. At a time like this, we should not forget how afforestation can help to reduce the risk of flooding.
I want to pick up on one of those 10 principles outlined to stakeholders on 29 January—that the new public forestry body should be a pioneer in natural capital accounting and payment for ecosystem services. As the Woodland Trust said, this is an opportunity for the forestry sector to,
“demonstrate its value to society”.
One way to ensure that development does not lead to erosion of natural capital assets is a well designed biodiversity offsetting scheme. The Government’s Green Paper consultation on biodiversity offsetting is now concluded. Liberal Democrats are clear that the guiding principle for any offsetting scheme should be that there is a net environmental and biodiversity gain. Equally, and in contrast to the views of the Secretary of State, habitats such as ancient woodlands are irreplaceable, and as such should not be included in any scheme.
Decisions about biodiversity offsetting are important for the future of the public forest estate, given that it has huge potential to provide offset sites for any market-based scheme. It is ideally placed to deliver landscape-scale projects and the wider benefits that they can deliver. The Lawton report in 2010 made clear that nature areas that are linked together have a greater ecological value than similar areas of natural environment that are broken up and separated. This view was endorsed in the Government’s 2011 environment White Paper. Given its importance to the future of the public forest estate, can the Minister say when the Government will make clear their intentions about introducing a biodiversity offsetting scheme?
All three legislatures in England, Scotland and Wales are keen to see substantial levels of new woodland planting over a substantial period. It is important that non-market values are taken into account in decisions about the future locations of Britain’s new woodlands, thereby ensuring that we maximise the value for agriculture and timber outputs, climate change mitigation and recreational opportunities. This would make a reality of the threefold mandate, as outlined in the core principles for the new public forestry estate of enhancing the estate for the benefit of people, nature and the economy.
If we do not do that, we face the danger of locating new forests in areas that do not deliver all the benefits that society and the economy need. We could pick locations, for example, that maximise value of timber production but do not help tackle flooding in key catchments, or maximise greenhouse gas capture but do not help to increase recreational opportunities near our major urban conurbations. Such decisions need to be looked at using the right decision-making framework, and I therefore look forward this spring to the annual update from the Natural Capital Committee, set up by this Government, on its work in ensuring that natural capital accounting is embedded in decision-making. The successful completion of that work could be as important in delivering the future we all want for our British forests and woodland as the legislation necessary to put the public forest estate on a more sustainable footing.
My Lords, I was eager to participate in this debate and I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for raising this vital issue, which has touched the nerves of so many people right across the country, in every part of our nation. I want to pick up four details of the Government’s response. They are minor, not major, points but I hope that they will be helpful.
The first is to build on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about the unprecedented levels of flooding that we are having in the UK. Over the past week, I have been in touch with many individuals and groups across the country who are working in the 13 dioceses most badly affected by flooding —noble Lords will be aware of many of them; indeed, many will know some of them—in preparation for a meeting that I had yesterday morning with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. I am very grateful to him for giving me, two of my colleagues and some staff time to talk about some of the issues.
A typical response that I received was from the chair of the Plymouth and Exeter district of the Methodist Church, who wrote precisely about the connection between trees and flooding:
“The failure to dredge the rivers is only part of the problem. Not only are measures needed to increase the flow of water off the moors and levels, but the flow onto them is just as much a problem.
Over the last 30 years there has been little integrated thinking about the whole river catchment area—essentially the whole of Somerset and a small part of Dorset. In the upstream areas changes of crop patterns, removal of hedgerows and land drainage improvements, as well as domestic building, have increased flow levels into the rivers. 30 years ago, according to one of our church stewards, a farmer, it took two days between rain and the flooding of the levels. Today it can be as little as two hours. In the last two days flood levels … were raised by a metre overnight.
This is a complex ecosystem which needs to be treated as a single system not as lots of bits under different organisations, drainage boards, district councils, county council, Environment Agency etc.
The solution is not just dredging, though this will help, but tree planting in the upper reaches of the system and other measures to slow flows onto the levels down. A 5 year old tree plantation can absorb 60 times the water of pasture land and much more than this compared to harvested maize fields which after an autumn harvest leave bare, compacted earth over acres of the catchment area”.
It seemed to me that that was an extraordinary thing to receive in the past couple of days, and I wanted to raise it with your Lordships.
In this debate, we are concerned not just with leisure and the economy—although that is terribly important for woodland—but with the protection of thousands of homes and businesses. Flood protection, and the planting of trees to help with that, has a strong economic benefit. Can Her Majesty’s Government ensure that there is as much joined-up thinking as possible in the aftermath of this flooding, including tree planting?
Secondly, some weeks ago I put down a Written Question to ask Her Majesty’s Government,
“whether they are taking steps to ensure that the collective knowledge and experience of Regional Advisory Committee staff is being retained within the new Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committees”.
Again, I am grateful for the response from the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. He replied:
“Around 40% of the current Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee membership previously served on the Regional Advisory Committees”.—[Official Report, 15/1/14; col. WA 22.]
Unfortunately, in the past we have seen examples where we have lost from such bodies experienced people who understand woodlands. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that we do not lose the contribution of such skilled people so that we not only maintain our woodlands but increase them.
Thirdly, the report of the Independent Panel on Forestry contained a section on “Trees in our neighbourhoods”. The section entitled “Aspiration” states that it believes that we need,
“more, and better maintained trees, close to where people live. This means more trees on urban streets, more trees in town parks, and tree ‘corridors’ from the centre of towns and cities out to local woods and forests with good access”.
I am glad that the Big Tree Plant funding scheme, run by Forestry Commission England, is giving £4 million in grants to community organisations between 2011 and 2015 to support the planting of 1 million trees, but the question I want to ask is: what will happen after 2015? This needs to be a long-term project that enhances the urban environment. Anecdotally, I know of two communities that feel that their local council positively discourages tree planting in urban areas. I hope that local councils will be required to address this important area in the legislation for which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is rightly calling.
Finally, perhaps I may share a thought about the potential of woodland in addressing another challenge—namely the acute shortage of land for burial. There are now around 40 woodland burial sites in the UK. In my own diocese of St Albans we have our own St Albans Woodland Burial Trust, which is in north Bedfordshire near the village of Keysoe. It is 12 acres of land surrounded by 60 acres of woodland. There is a very real and sensible concern, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, pointed out, about the economics of how all this will work—how we are to pay for the upkeep of our woodlands as the surpluses from the sale of timber are likely to decline because we have, of course, been harvesting it rather effectively. In some places there is the potential—admittedly very small potential—for a small section of woodland to be used for green burials. In our woodland burial site, a single grave space costs £700; to bury cremated remains costs £180. You have to be buried in a biodegradable coffin. You can have only a wooden memorial—you cannot have stone headstones—so eventually they will simply disintegrate and rot way and the woodland will be left as woodland. In addition, many people want to plant a tree in memory of their loved one, and for that privilege they are paying £100 a time. In other words, they are paying to plant the forest. Some of these sites are cared for by volunteers, so the cost is small—just a few hours’ administration, as in our own diocesan woodland burial site. Could this not be one small way in which we can pay for the planting of more trees and find a modest amount of further funding for our woodlands?
I am very happy to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans in his very clear exposé of the close links between flooding and forestry and woodlands, and I agree with everything that he said. However, one way of mitigating flood risk is by trees in catchment areas fixing soil and diminishing run-off, whether they are part of the public or the private forest estate. A great strength of the independent panel’s report is that it does not erect a conceptual iron curtain between the two spheres in its powerful recommendations, rather it links the public and the private estates. I know that that is welcomed by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon.
These recommendations are far-sighted stuff, as one would expect from anything chaired by Bishop James—a man of great spirituality, huge insight and equally great intellectual bandwidth, which has enabled him to range, as he has in recent years, over everything from helping victims in Hillsborough seek some kind of solace to his great report on woodlands and forests with his colleagues. The recommendations say clearly that England’s woods and forests should be revalued for all that they provide, from recreation via clean air and water to wildlife habitats and flood reduction. That was prescient stuff when the then Lord Bishop of Liverpool wrote it with his colleagues back in 2012. Living in Somerset I recognise that it was indeed very prescient—we have much flooding but some of the lowest acreage of woodland in southern England. Both the polders that are the levels in Somerset and the few patches of woodland that we have are manmade. There is no ancient forest of any sort at all. What is there is in specimen trees, coppices and shelter belts.
As I am sure both right reverend Prelates would recognise, from every stance, planting any tree is an act of faith. Few of us live long enough to see a sapling in magnificent maturity in future years. However, all trees play as vital a role in water as in carbon capture—and again the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans recognised that point. They also play a great role in and around housing, as in open fields. That is why I applaud the conclusion of the report, at page 58, where it calls for planning policy and building practice to:
“Ensure woodland creation, tree planting and maintenance is part of the green space plan for … housing development”.
This is especially so where such housing is being constructed on steeply sloping land which is naturally prone to water run-off before any concrete is poured or asphalt is laid.
Let me give one such specific example which is currently under construction at New Barns Farm on the edge of Wincanton in Somerset. Incidentally, this is not a piece of housing development that is in my backyard in any way; I have no interest to declare here. More than 250 homes are to be built. I recognise that we need such homes on greenfield sites when all the local brownfield land has gone, and I support the policy. The site is on a hilltop with very steep slopes going down to the River Cale, a small stream that after a few miles across the Blackmore Vale becomes a tributary of the River Stour in Dorset, which itself has been subject since Christmas to a number of red danger to life signs because of massive flooding. When the site was first developed, it was excellently landscaped by a local developer, the Abbey Manor Group of Yeovil. Again I have no interest to declare because I do not know the company. Before the first houses were even started, the company ensured that good hedges and fencing were put in, and quite a wide shelter belt was planted at the top of the slope. It was sited exactly where it should be. Everything was maturing nicely before the site was sold on to a publicly listed company called Bovis Homes. My noble friend Lord Eden of Winton referred to the need for corporations to pay attention to this kind of thing. Since the site was sold on, I am afraid that there has been a spot of what one can only call environmental vandalism. Part of the shelter belt has been cut into, trees have been cut down and failing trees have not been replaced. Trees that were leaning have been left until they fall over. Gardens for the newly built houses have been encouraged to go into the shelter belt, which has led to more tree cutting.
Over the past sodden days we have had a lot of celebrity visitors coming to Somerset for a spot of grief tourism and photocalls, where people point vacantly at things while the cameras click. My ad hoc survey suggests that green wellington boots have mostly been sported, although we did enjoy the wonderfully bizarre sight of Mr Nigel Farage appearing in the Somerset Levels wearing chest waders and a jaunty cap. It must have been some sort of fashion statement while he posed for his photographs. I wonder whether the chairman of Bovis Homes, Mr Ian Tyler, and his chief executive officer, Mr David Ritchie, might put on their gumboots and come and see what their company is doing to the landscape.
What has been happening will exacerbate rather than help to control the run-off of water in this area of Somerset in the future. The behaviour of this company is bad for its business and bad for its relationship with the local authority, South Somerset District Council. I am broad-minded: it is Liberal but it is quite a good council in terms of planning matters. It has been having a bad time because it was given unfulfilled undertakings by Bovis Homes to replant the trees and maintain the woodland. That has not happened for the past three years. This is very bad for the image of Bovis Homes in terms of meeting its corporate social responsibilities for the environment. If only the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, was free of her Front Bench duties, I would recommend the all-male board of Bovis Homes to hire her instantly as a non-executive director to sort out its gross failures. It is certainly very bad for water run-off and flood risk.
I am talking about what may be only a few dozen trees, but as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has just said, a few dozen trees here and there mean that, over time, those trees will make an integrated contribution to mitigating floodwater run-off. The whole building industry urgently needs to revisit its role and responsibilities in these critical issues. I do not know what the situation looks like in the diocese of Worcester, which I know has quite a lot of trees and has had quite a lot of flooding. I look forward to hearing what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester has to say about it, associating myself if I may with the best wishes of we web-footed ones in Somerset.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for securing this debate. Like her, I am a great lover of the Forest of Dean, which until recently was part of the diocese of Worcester. When I say “recently”, I mean the 16th century, but what are a few centuries in the life of the church or, indeed, in the life of a forest? I pay tribute to her for her work, as I do, along with other noble Lords, to the recently retired Bishop of Liverpool for his significant contribution to the welfare of our forests made as chairman of the Independent Panel on Forestry.
As has already been observed in this debate, the estate provides enormous benefits in all sorts of ways: ecological, economic and, perhaps most importantly, in terms of people. Research has shown that regular access to woodlands leads to a healthier population in body, mind and soul. People feel recharged by encounter with woodland. It reaches the soul in a way that other landscapes very often cannot. It is no wonder that Thomas Merton, the celebrated monastic hermit who lived alone in the woods of central Kentucky, found the experience there and the silence provided by his simple home of vital importance. He wrote:
“I cannot have enough of the hours of silence when nothing happens. When the clouds go by. When the trees say nothing. When the birds sing. I am completely addicted to the realization that just being there is enough, and to add something else is to mess it all up”.
It is not for nothing that the Book of Revelation refers to the leaves of the trees being for the healing of the nations.
That is all the more important in this country at this time. No generation has lived more remote from the land than ours, the majority of people being urban dwellers. It means that places such as the Wyre Forest in my diocese and within very close reach of the great urban sprawl of Birmingham—which until recently was part of the diocese of Worcester—adds so much to people’s well-being. There is so much for people to do and take part in there, quite apart being still, from mountain bike trails to going ape like Tarzan in the treetops or partaking in the gentler activities of bird-watching or walking along the trails.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us about the timetable for legislative changes that are ahead. I hope that, when that timetable is announced and the legislation is brought forward, those three areas—people, nature and the economy—are all given equal consideration. As has already been articulated, managing the public forest has in recent years been a careful balancing act between economic, environmental and social or recreational aims.
Reference has already been made by several speakers to the recent floods. The situation in Worcester is very serious—the city is gridlocked as a result of the closure of the bridge in the middle of the city—and is expected to get worse even if no further rain falls. The river peaks in Worcester some four days after the rain stops because the water comes to us as a gift from the people of Wales—which generally is welcome, but they have been somewhat overgenerous in recent times. Attention to woodland far beyond Worcestershire will be needed if floods of the sort which we are experiencing at the moment are not to be repeated. The statistics which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans quoted about the enormous contribution that woodland can make to soaking water away are pertinent in this regard.
I hope that the governance structure that is developed for the future carefully reflects the balance of people, nature and economy. I want to ask in conclusion one or two specific questions. Reference has already been made to this by the right reverend Prelate, but it seems to me important that continuing measures are put in place to ensure that the collective knowledge and experience of Forestry Commission staff are retained within new organisations to ensure that policy decisions taken today do not have a detrimental effect on trees, forestry and the community when those trees come into maturity—which we will not see—in 40 to 50 years’ time.
I am delighted that the newly formed forestry and woodland advisory committees are beginning their work and will be actively encouraging the protection, expansion and promotion of the agenda of the Forestry Commission. How do Her Majesty’s Government see the role of those groups in future in extending and improving the diverse range of community involvement in woodlands?
Finally, I turn to a detailed but crucial point. As I am sure that we are all well aware, several very serious diseases affecting trees in this country are slowly spreading across the landscape. What steps are being taken to ensure that, with the reorganisation of the responsibilities of the Forestry Commission, important disease prevention, control and elimination not only continues but is strengthened?
My Lords, I have listened with enormous interest to the very learned speeches of all those who have been active in this debate today. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for introducing this subject today because, at the moment, agriculture in every shape and form is so topical and so very difficult for those who are involved. I hope that the Minister may say something about the general picture as well, because it all folds in together.
My only reason for standing up is that I planted the first tree at the national Forestry Commission. I have a photograph of me from the Daily Telegraph which proves that, as I am carrying that wretched tree in order to plant it. I hope that it has flourished and perhaps given shelter to several, if not many, red squirrels throughout the years and will do so in future.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for calling this debate. I know how passionate she is about the subject and I say humbly that I share that passion. I thank her for her eloquent speech. I strongly agree with almost everything she said, except of course her scepticism about the Government’s intentions.
England’s public forests are a cherished national resource which provides precious habitats for wildlife and natural spaces for people to enjoy, as many noble Lords have said. We want to conserve and enhance them for now and for generations to come. Half of the country’s population lives within six miles of one of the 1,500 individual forests, woodlands and other landscapes that make up the public forest estate. That estate attracts 40 million visits a year, providing a wide range of recreational activities for people to enjoy, from dog walking and picnicking to mountain biking and abseiling. The public forest estate is also a vital natural asset, providing sanctuary for wildlife, as well as carbon storage, water improvement and flood prevention—the importance of which we are all currently extremely conscious, as was referred to by my noble friends Lady Parminter and Lord Patten and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. The public forest estate is also England’s largest timber producer. It helps to employ about 40,000 people in the forestry, wood products and paper industries, and it supports tens of thousands more jobs in local rural economies through tourism and other commercial activities.
The nation holds those things dear, and so do we. That is why we said in our forestry and woodlands policy statement this time last year that we wanted to establish a new public body, in line with the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Forestry, to hold the estate in trust for the nation. We have no intention of selling off the estate; nor do we have any plans to privatise the body that manages it. Our vision for our public forests is crystal clear. The public forest estate will be safe under the stewardship of the new public body that will own and manage it with a clear remit to conserve and enhance the estate.
Our forests will be better for people, better for nature and better for the economy—that is in answer to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. No Government can bind future Governments, so no Government can promise that the estate will be protected in perpetuity, but we can put the right safeguards in place to ensure that it is less vulnerable to short-term political demands and ensure that any plans to dispose of it in future will require further primary legislation and be subjected to full parliamentary scrutiny.
We have made good progress over the past year in developing our plans for the new body. We have held numerous meetings with interested parties including Hands Off Our Forest, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred, and we are most grateful for their constructive contribution to our thinking. We published some initial thoughts on the shape, structure and governance of the new body last summer, and we received more than 250 helpful comments and suggestions on how we might improve our proposals. We have used these to shape our plans for looking after this unique asset, and at the recent National Forestry Forum my colleague the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Forestry, Dan Rogerson, set out 10 core principles that we are using to underpin the new PFE management body, which I shall set out.
The new body should conserve and enhance the estate for the benefit of people, nature and the economy. The precise wording of its statutory purpose and objectives will be confirmed in due course, although we are clear that the new body should be focused on maintaining the quality of the estate and the benefits that it delivers. It should be publicly owned and operationally independent of Government. We confirmed last year that the estate will remain in public hands, owned and managed by a new public body with a clear remit and no day-to-day involvement from Ministers. It should be underpinned by statute. We intend that the new body will have its own founding legislation. We also intend that it will have a charter, which will amplify its statutory functions and objectives and set out how it will work with others in order to achieve those objectives. It should be managed by experts and have access to the best advice. We intend that the new body will have a management board drawn from across the sectors interested in the public forestry estate. This might include experts from the forestry and timber business sectors as well as recreation, environmental and community interests. It should have commercial freedoms but will be required to protect the estate. Forest Enterprise England currently generates around £50 million a year from its timber production and other trading activities.
We want it to continue to earn income from timber production, tourism, recreation and other commercial ventures but any commercial activity will be subject to relevant planning controls, be justified against the wider interests of the estate and its users and be undertaken in a sensitive way so that the long-term quality of the estate is not put at risk. It should be able to buy and sell land, but any land sales must be for the benefit of the estate. As the panel recommended, we want the new body to be able to buy and sell land as part of its everyday management role. We intend, however, that land sales must be in line with the body’s responsibility for maintaining the quality of the estate and that the income generated should be reinvested in the estate. It should be a pioneer in natural capital accounting and payment for ecosystem services, something that my noble friend Lady Parminter referred to. We are developing a set of natural capital accounts for the PFE. These will be used as a baseline for assessing the performance of the new body and will help to inform the innovative funding arrangement that we are currently exploring for it. This will be based on a contract for the delivery of ecosystem services such as recreation, access and biodiversity.
It should work closely with local communities, estate users and businesses. It should have consultation at its heart. Forest Enterprise England already has a good track record of involving local communities in the management of the estate. We intend that the new body should build on this track record and be as open and transparent as possible in everything that it does. It should be an exemplar of sustainable forest management. We want the new body to be widely respected and regarded as a good manager of our public woodlands. It should build on the strengths of Forest Enterprise England, which currently does a good job in managing the estate and has a highly skilled and committed workforce. There is always room for improvement but we believe that the new body should build on the strengths of its predecessor and, over time, become an even better trustee for our vital public forests.
I turn to noble Lords’ questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester asked about legislation. As I have said, we are working on how we might establish the new body. Good progress is being made but our priority must be to get things right because forestry, as noble Lords have said, is for the long term and forestry legislation must last for many years. Therefore, I cannot say at the moment when a Bill might be published. However, I can say that we as a Government remain committed to allowing an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny. Once a draft Bill is published, I will of course be very happy to discuss it with noble Lords.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the prospects for Forestry Commission staff. I can say to her that there is absolutely no intention that there should be any redundancies. She also asked about access. We are committed to protecting the public benefits that are currently provided by the public forest estate, including public access. The new management body will ensure that public access to the public forest estate is maintained and improved wherever possible. Current access on foot is guaranteed where the land has been dedicated under the provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, as all of the freehold estate has been.
The noble Baroness asked about the board. We would like to see the interests of relevant sectors, including local communities, properly represented in the governance arrangements. She also noted the importance of the guardians. We are in the process of determining the final details of the guardians in collaboration with interested parties. We are clear that the guardians will play a vital role in overseeing the conservation and enhancement of the estate for the benefit of people, nature and the economy. They would be drawn from across the full range of interested sectors, including not only forestry and business but also environment, recreation and local community interests, to advise the new body and hold it to account.
The noble Baroness suggested that a public corporation might be a halfway house to privatisation. Public corporation classification has no bearing whatever on whether or not a public body might be privatised. I can confirm that we have no plans to privatise the public forest estate. We are designing the new body to own and manage the estate within the public sector for many years to come.
The noble Baroness mentioned the charter. I have already mentioned that the new body would have a charter which would amplify the statutory duties and objectives in its founding legislation and set out how it plans to work with others to deliver its statutory remit. We intend that this charter would be laid before Parliament.
The noble Baroness asked about land sales. The body will need to be able to buy and sell land as part of its day-to-day management role, as I have mentioned. We intend that there should be appropriate checks and balances to ensure that land sales decisions are in line with the body’s responsibility for maintaining the quality of the estate and that income generated from sales should be reinvested in the estate. We certainly do not intend for it to sell any part of the estate to raise revenue to sustain itself. In answer to her specific question, the Secretary of State will have a veto on land sales. There are no plans for anyone else to have such a veto.
The noble Baroness knows, but I will repeat clearly for the record, that we have no plans whatever to privatise the estate. We are designing the new body to own and manage the public forest estate within the public sector for many years to come.
My noble friend Lord Eden asked about economic benefits. England’s woodland cover is as high as it has been since the 14th century. We want woodland cover in England to increase through planting of the right trees in the right places for the right reasons. We also want more of England’s woodlands to be sustainably managed to maximise their public benefits. We believe that the current rate of planting, of 2,500 hectares per year, can be accelerated and that an eventual level of 15% coverage could be achieved over time. However, this is not a matter just for Government. Conditions need to be in place so that landowners choose to plant trees in locations where it best suits them and their local conditions and priorities.
My noble friend Lord Patten raised the issue of woodland in the context of new housing development. I share his aspiration for people living in new housing developments to benefit from the social and environmental improvements that woodland planting can bring to these sites. There are many good examples of such sympathetic landscaping and planting on developments across the country. I am sorry to hear of the far less successful example to which he referred.
My noble friend Lady Parminter referred to natural capital accounting. I can tell her that good progress is being made on national natural capital accounting. The Natural Capital Committee is working closely with the ONS and Defra to implement the road map to 2020 which the ONS published in December 2012. Early progress had been made with accounts for woodlands. Further work is being taken forward on accounts for enclosed farmlands, wetlands, marine and a more detailed set of accounts for the public forest estate.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester referred to skills and experience, both within the Forestry Commission and more widely. I agree entirely. We are keen to see experience retained and new blood coming in and adding to the skill base and experience levels.
I am being prodded; I have run out of time. One thing that is really important to finish on is the reference made by a number of noble Lords to flooding. The allocation of Defra grant in aid for flood and coastal erosion risk-management projects is undertaken by the Environment Agency. Afforestation is funded where there is sufficient evidence that it will reduce flood risk or for experimental purposes. The Slowing the Flow project in north Yorkshire is an example. In addition, the Forestry Commission has contributed to various assessments of using woodland to alleviate flooding. In 2011 it joint-funded a review called Woodland for Water, which highlighted how woodland could contribute to reducing flood risk as well as deliver other water and wider ecosystem benefits. That led to the development and use of national, regional and catchment “opportunity maps” to direct planting to where woodland would be most effective.
In conclusion, good progress is being made on how we might establish the new body, but our priority must be to get things right. As I have said, forestry is for the long term, and forestry legislation must last for many years. We remain committed to allowing an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny. Once a draft Bill is published, I will of course be happy to discuss it with noble Lords.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the House of Commons earlier today. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Hillsborough stadium tragedy.
It is over a year now since Parliament last debated Hillsborough and the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. I hope that the House will join me again in expressing my thanks and gratitude to the panel’s Chairman, Bishop James Jones, as well as to all his colleagues, for their remarkable work.
The contents of the Independent Panel’s report were truly shocking. On the day it was published, the Prime Minister rightly apologised to the families of the 96 for what he described as a ‘double injustice’. The first injustice, he said, was the appalling events. The second was the treatment of the victims by the press.
I would like to pay tribute to the bereaved families, the survivors, and all those who have campaigned on their behalf. As Home Secretary I have met a number of the bereaved families and I have been impressed by the dignified way in which they and their supporters have pursued their search for truth and justice.
I would also like to pay tribute to a number of those in this House who have campaigned on behalf of the families: the right honourable Member for Leigh, Mr Andy Burnham; the honourable gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Walton, Steve Rotheram; the honourable lady the Member for Garston and Halewood, Maria Eagle; and the honourable gentleman the Member for Halton, Derek Twigg.
So significant were the conclusions of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report that its publication on 12 September 2012 set in train a number of important events. By the end of that year this had resulted in the quashing by the High Court of the original inquest verdicts and the ordering of fresh inquests, as well as the establishment of two major investigations.
In a debate in this House following the publication of the panel’s report, I said that ‘after truth must come justice; and after the apology, accountability’. As lead Minister within Government it is my responsibility to ensure that the various processes of government and the criminal justice system are working effectively and are properly resourced to ensure that justice can be done, not only for those who died, but just as importantly for their families and for all those who have campaigned on their behalf ever since.
Today I would like to update the House on the progress that has been made, both in respect of the new inquests and the new investigations. First, I will address the inquests. Last year and within two months of the decision by the High Court, Lord Justice Goldring was appointed as the coroner to conduct the fresh inquests. A number of pre-inquest hearings have already been held. The police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigations are working in support of the coroner to a timetable determined by him. The Government welcome the fact that Lord Justice Goldring has made it clear that the fresh inquests will start on 31 March.
I have always made it clear that the Government will support the families in their quest for justice. As part of that commitment, the Government are funding a comprehensive legal representation scheme. Work began on this immediately after the original inquest verdicts were quashed, and the scheme which is now in place will ensure that the families are properly represented and supported at the inquests.
In addition to the inquests, there is also the investigative process, of which there are two elements. The first is led by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. This is the IPCC’s biggest ever investigation. Its principal focus is on police involvement in the aftermath of Hillsborough. I think it is worth reminding the House that this includes not just the role and actions of the South Yorkshire Police, the force responsible for policing the match, but also the West Midlands Police. The West Midlands Police had a significant role to play in the aftermath of Hillsborough, providing support to Lord Taylor’s inquiry, producing the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions and assisting the then South Yorkshire West Coroner, Dr Stefan Popper. I can therefore confirm that the experience of survivors, which was again brought to public attention in the past week, is part of the ongoing IPCC investigation.
The second element is a criminal investigation—Operation Resolve—led by Jon Stoddart, the former Chief Constable of Durham. Jon Stoddart was appointed by me in December 2012. His key role is to investigate the deaths at Hillsborough. Working alongside both investigations is a discrete Crown Prosecution Service team, through which lawyers from the CPS provide an ongoing service.
When he was Bishop of Liverpool and sitting in another place, Bishop James Jones said that justice is about process as well as outcomes. The unique, complex and wide-ranging circumstances of Hillsborough meant that there had to be created, from scratch, two major and large-scale investigations. Both had to have firm foundations. Suitable premises had to be found, acquired and fitted out. This has been done. Suitably skilled and appropriate staff had to be identified and recruited. This has also been done. It was inevitable that this would take time, but the investigations are now located together on one site in Warrington, close to the sources of the investigation, and are making good progress.
Like a number of the bereaved families and a number of those in this House, I have been to Warrington to see the investigations for myself. I have met some of the staff from the IPCC and Operation Resolve investigations and I was struck by their dedication and professionalism. I welcome the fact that the IPCC and Operation Resolve want their investigations to be open and transparent, and both investigations have welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate to families the work that they are doing.
I would now like to set out to the House some of the progress being made. First, in respect of the IPCC, more than 1,600 people have now responded to the IPCC’s witness appeal. This includes more than 250 people who have never given accounts before. The IPCC is conducting detailed analysis of every response and is following up the evidence provided. Separately, around 400 witnesses have made requests to the IPCC to see their original statements, and the IPCC is helping people access those statements. In addition, the IPCC has recovered around 2,500 police pocket notebooks. These pocket books had not been made available to previous investigations and are now being analysed by IPCC investigators. The IPCC has also conducted further analysis of the 242 police accounts now believed to have been amended. In this context, they have completed more than 160 interviews, and these interviews continue.
Alongside the IPCC investigation, the police investigation, Operation Resolve, has, first, worked to the coroner’s priorities and timetable, meeting all the deadlines set by him. Secondly, it has worked in parallel on other aspects of the criminal investigation which are complementary to the work being done for the coroner. Thirdly, the Operation Resolve team has obtained access to the best quality audio visual material and carried out extensive analysis. In doing so, it has drawn on advances in digital imagery and forensic technology not available to previous investigative teams. Fourthly, the investigation has now completed more than 1,000 interviews of witnesses.
The work being done by Operation Resolve is aimed at providing the fullest possible picture of what happened at Hillsborough, both to ensure that the inquest is able to answer the questions that the bereaved families still have, and in support of the criminal investigation. Jon Stoddart has said:
‘If we find there were health and safety breaches or evidence of wilful neglect, we will seek to ensure the appropriate action is taken against those responsible. If we find that, with the benefit of hindsight, there are lessons to be learned, we will endeavour to ensure that they are addressed. And if we find evidence of criminal behaviour, including manslaughter through neglect, we will seek to lay charges and put people and organisations before the courts’.
As I have said, this new phase of work on Hillsborough began with the publication of the independent panel’s report. One particularly important aspect of the way in which the panel approached its work was its consultation with the bereaved families, and I was keen to learn from and build on that dialogue. So I was pleased when Bishop James Jones agreed to act as my adviser on Hillsborough, bringing with him his knowledge and experience from his time as chair of the independent panel.
Operation Resolve and the IPCC have invested significant effort engaging with families, including offering the opportunity for families to visit their offices in Warrington. Family forums, proposed by Bishop James Jones and building on work by the IPCC, CPS and Operation Resolve, are now taking place regularly. The forums provide a regular and structured opportunity for bereaved families to have face-to-face discussions with those conducting and advising the investigations, and they provide an important opportunity for the families to probe and ask questions.
Bishop James Jones, in recent conversations with me, has described the families’ position as being ‘encouraged’ but not ‘persuaded’. This is a sentiment I can understand. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the tragedy it is the sentiment which underlies my continuing commitment to do everything I can to ensure that the process of disclosing the truth—started by the panel—is followed by the process of justice.
I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to and thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement of the Home Secretary. It is very helpful for your Lordships’ House to be updated on the process and on progress being made. I also welcome the fact that the Minister reiterated the apology. We add our tribute to the families, survivors and all those who have had to campaign for the truth and for justice.
Twenty-five years later, as the new inquests begin, the families will have to relive that day, in granular and sometimes very graphic detail for each of the 96. It is necessary to establish the precise details and the truth but it will be traumatic. What action will be taken across government to ensure that counselling support is made available to the families having to attend the inquests?
I listened to the Statement in the other place and I should like to probe further one issue that was raised. The Minister will be aware of the concern of the families and the campaigners for justice that they were subject to undercover surveillance, not exclusively but including their phone calls being intercepted. The Home Secretary was unable to confirm or deny those fears in the other place. The Minister will recall discussions that we had on covert surveillance during the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill and the need for independent oversight following the experience of my noble friend Lady Lawrence. Given the circumstances, will the Government reconsider whether in this case it would be appropriate, because it is relevant to the inquiry, for any and all information relating to surveillance to be made available, including whether any requests were made to the Home Secretary? I am sorry to press the Minister further on this, but I know that he will understand the depth of feeling on this issue.
The Minister will also understand the anger over so many of the police and witness statements being altered. Presumably, that was to hide the truth so that they could not get the facts of what really happened on that day. It is vital that those who gave witness statements at the time feel able to come forward and verify their statements or take action to put the record straight if their statements were changed. What message or reassurance can the Minister give to those witnesses to encourage them to come forward? To paraphrase the words of the Home Secretary, we need these statements because we need to get to the truth in order to ensure justice.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments on this moving and complex issue. I reiterate the sentiments of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in her response to a number of questions. She made it quite clear that she recognised that one of the traumas of the situation that the families now face was that they would now have to relive the moments of tragedy that they suffered 25 years ago. In terms of positive things that I can say, she reassured the families that additional consultation space will be provided to ensure that families have regular meetings with their legal teams, and further details will be shared with the family teams in the next few days about how that will work. The Government fully recognise that the appropriate support needs to be provided for all those involved in these inquests. The Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice, along with the coroner and his team, will work together to ensure that this is available.
The noble Baroness rightly focused on the anxiety that was expressed in the House of Commons by a number of Members about surveillance and the suspicion that the police had targeted families. The Home Secretary, I know, will reflect on what has been said in the House of Commons. She is well aware of the sentiment on that issue, as indeed is the IPCC, which is very much aware of that aspect of the case. It is, perhaps, another example of people feeling that tragedy has been compounded post the event. I suspect that the IPCC will be interested in following this up.
I was further asked by the noble Baroness about witnesses coming forward. As I mentioned in the Statement, a number have already done so. I will use the opportunity of being here at the Dispatch Box in this House to say to anyone who is listening to our discussions today who has something to say and wants to contribute to this search for the truth to please come forward. They will be given every help and support in doing so.
My Lords, in the Statement by the Home Secretary, reference was made to the abuse of press power. I remember that a number of us said at the time that the press were getting into difficulties because they were doing this sort of journalism. Can the Minister take it back to the Home Secretary that this is yet another reason why the press needs to have Leveson? It might seem out of context but, frankly, this has been going on for 30 or 40 years and Hillsborough was a particularly bad example of an abuse of press power. That is why people want Leveson and why the press should get out of the way and allow it to happen.
I am most happy to take that back to the Home Secretary. I am meeting her this afternoon, in fact, and I will carry that point home. This certainly was not the press’s finest hour but, having said that, I am sure that we all cherish the fact that we have a free press in this country. However, this was a situation where, as the Statement said, the conduct of the press exacerbated a grievous situation.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the fact that the Home Secretary has chosen to make it in what I might call an unprompted manner: I think the Minister will understand what I mean. He referred to the importance of process. Perhaps I might ask him about the reference group, which I understand has been set up by the CPS, the IPCC and the investigation team to ensure the families’ rights under Article 2 of the European convention. I am sorry that I was not able to give notice to my noble friend of this question. I understand that the reference group is to monitor the progress of the investigation. That seems to raise the question: what powers may it have?
If I am giving time for inspiration by asking a second question, I hope that will be helpful. My second question is with regard to the IPCC. There was concern about the resources available for this substantial piece of work, both in itself and for any knock-on effect on the rest of the IPCC’s activities. Can the Minister tell the House whether the IPCC is as happy as one might reasonably expect it to be with the resources available, both for this investigation and the rest of its work, given the burden that this must be on it?
This is by far the largest investigation that the IPCC has ever been involved in. Right at the beginning, the Home Secretary wanted to emphasise that this was a priority that needed proper resourcing. I have no doubt that the resources are available to get to the truth of this matter. The challenge panel, which was mentioned in the Written Ministerial Statement on 19 December, is working well. There were a number of helpful discussions over the summer between the investigatory and prosecutorial authorities and the families to establish the best way of ensuring that they are kept up to speed with the various ongoing investigations. These discussions were chaired by Bishop James Jones. It is not so much that the reference group actually has, or even needs, power. The power lies in those bodies which are working together with the reference group. They are the people who actually have the power to pursue the inquiry and, further to that, to effect prosecutions if necessary.
My Lords, as one of the very few Members of your Lordships’ House who was present at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, I congratulate this Government and their predecessor on their determination to pursue the truth of that terrible tragedy. The Home Secretary deserves enormous credit, particularly for engaging with our much missed colleague, the Bishop of Liverpool, who has changed the whole nature of the way in which we are looking at the events on that day, 25 years ago. I was delighted to hear the Minister’s reference to the involvement of the former bishop as the Home Secretary’s adviser and with the family forums.
Does the Minister agree that the police, particularly South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police, have a lot of very difficult questions to answer? Was he as astonished as I was to discover that 2,500 police pocket books have only now come to light? How many more pocket books does he think there may be out there that contain vital information? How many police officers have so far declined to co-operate with the IPCC or the bishop’s inquiry?
I was as astounded as I think all noble Lords would have been at the discovery of these pocket books. I have no idea whether there are any other pocket books that have not yet been discovered. The pursuit of truth is clearly such a singular objective that everything must be focused on achieving it, and anybody who has information or pocket books that might be relevant to this inquiry or knows where they are should produce them for the investigations.
I can only add to the tribute paid to the right reverend Prelate the former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones. What a remarkable man he is. It is odd, in a way, that we were discussing one of his projects—on forestry—immediately before this Statement on Hillsborough. He is a remarkable figure. I shall not say “public servant” because it goes beyond that. The fact that he has such integrity and is trusted in the way that he is is a remarkable tribute to him and to the work he has done.
My Lords, as one of the Ministers involved in setting up the Hillsborough panel in the first place, I, too, pay tribute to the outstandingly conscientious and diligent way that this Government are making progress on that panel’s reports. I also add my tribute to the former right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and his panel for the outstanding work that they have done. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the stoicism, dignity and persistence of the bereaved families. Without that, none of the progress that is now being made would have been possible.
I echo what my noble friend on the Front Bench said about the need to provide continuing support for the families. This goes beyond the legal representation that they are currently receiving and beyond the inquest. I would be grateful if the Minister will confirm that as this process unfolds over a period, which could be many months, if not years, they will receive all the support they need for as long as it takes. Finally, and I understand that there are limits to what the Minister can say now, but once all these investigations have been completed, will the Government consider the wider implications for public policy of what has happened in this terrible event?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for his involvement in the early stages of setting up the panel. It was a great decision. It led to the uncovering of the truth to the extent that we have now been able to move the panel’s report on to active investigations and the renewed inquest. It all started with that, and he should take praise for that.
Public life and politics in general have learnt a lot from this incident, which happened a generation ago. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, was a younger man when he was at the game. It was a long time ago, and we have learnt to do things differently. The noble Lord asks what the Government would learn; I think that all those in public life have learnt something from this Hillsborough engagement.
I have learnt something, because, as some noble Lords will know, the Home Secretary asked me to meet the families. It was a really moving encounter. Stoicism is the word—they were noble, in fact, in how they were handling their sadness and grief. We all recognise that they will need continuing support, and not only with practical things such as legal representation, although that helps to empower people. There is also the emotional support and the sense that we can all give them that we understand the sadness that they have had to suffer—and the inquests that they will have to go through will be quite traumatic for them.
My Lords, it is fair to say that MPs, journalists and campaigners have struggled to obtain information from different agencies under the Freedom of Information Act, most noticeably from the police, IPCC and Operation Resolve teams. In some cases, information has been withheld on the grounds that it may prejudice potential prosecutions—and, of course, we all understand that. However, there are two other grounds that should cause us concern, and I want to ask the Minister about his reaction to that.
First, in some cases information is withheld on the grounds that the IPCC has deemed that publication would be detrimental to future co-operation between itself and organisations that it is either investigating or collaborating with. Secondly, in many cases in which the police are involved, FOI requests remain simply unanswered and ignored, in some cases for periods stretching over 12 months. Does the Minister share my concern about this? Would he agree that one way forward would be to ask the IPCC and Operation Resolve teams to commit to name a date by which they plan to publish all the evidence that they have and ensure that all the documentation is digitalised and placed on the IPCC’s Hillsborough investigation website?
My own commitment to freedom of information is that I am the Minister responsible for freedom of information within the Home Office, and I take that role very seriously. Noble Lords will understand that there are sometimes genuine conflicts between a wish to be transparent and open and to put material in the public domain and the efficient achievement of justice, with the impartiality of evidence. Premature revelation of facts that perhaps should not be revealed might pose threats to the admissibility of evidence.
I understand totally where the noble Lord is coming from and acknowledge the importance of the Freedom of Information Act, which I would like to believe has enhanced public life. However, there are occasions when perhaps it is unwise to challenge decisions made in good faith. I will certainly report the matter back to the Home Secretary. As I say, I am meeting her this afternoon, and I shall report back on the question that the noble Lord asked.
I congratulate the Government and express my sympathy to the families involved. There is one other wider point of importance that comes out of this, which the Minister touched on. I wonder whether he would agree with me that even since Hillsborough and with the lessons that we have learnt, many people distrust bodies investigating themselves and other bodies investigating bodies that are only remotely removed from them. If one marvellous thing could come out of this it would be that, by pursuing the truth in the way the Minister has mentioned, the public might begin to get greater confidence in investigations into wrongdoing.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, makes a good point on this area of public confidence in the police, in particular. This is a policy area within the Home Office currently which we are taking very seriously. Noble Lords will know that the College of Policing has been set up. A code of ethics is part and parcel of its immediate mission statement. It is very much in the interests of a country that is dependent upon policing by consent that that consent can be given in confidence that the police are acting genuinely in the interests of the public, not of themselves. I could not agree more with what the noble Lord said.
My Lords, the tributes to Bishop James Jones are well deserved but the statement by him rather ties in with what my noble friend has just said—that the bereaved families are “encouraged” but not “persuaded”. That is an indication of how far we have to go in winning not only their confidence but that of the general public in our public authorities and the capacity to investigate them when things go wrong. I seek just one clarification. My noble friend said that the inquest will start on 31 March. This ties in with the question about information from other bodies. How do you prevent cross-pollution from one investigation to another if the inquest is being held in public? Will remarks made there impact on the Stoddart inquiry or revelations from the IPCC? Will they be fed into the inquest? How are these three parallel inquiries to be co-ordinated or kept separate?
You can rely on your noble friends, particularly your former colleague as the Minister of Justice, to tackle you on this subject. I am not a lawyer but I assume that the Queen’s court—the coroner’s court—has the power to seek all evidence. Its needs are the most important aspect of the inquiry while the coroner’s investigations continue. Clearly, information will be made available to the coroner’s court or discovered through the coroner’s inquiry that will inform investigations by other bodies. I would hope that that would be the case because the whole point of the inquest is to establish the truth about those 96 deaths, as well as to help clear the obfuscation that has long surrounded this issue.
My Lords, will the Minister accept from me, as a former chairman of a—sadly—former Football League club, that the attitude of the police a quarter of a century ago towards the Liverpool supporters was coloured at least partly by the fact that there was a strong belief then that those who watched football were somehow less worthy of the sort of policing that most members of the public would accept—that football supporters were there to be marched and corralled and generally to be poorly treated by police officers from a senior level downwards? Will he also accept from me that, regrettably, these days that sort of attitude persists in certain aspects of policing towards those wishing to do no more than go and watch a football match?
Amazingly enough, as somebody who has an interesting life, I have relatively limited experience of attending first-class football matches. However, in fact I went to see Arsenal play Wigan in the final home game of last season. I have to say that I found it a really delightful experience and I saw none of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Snape, has suggested. The policing was discreet and the stewards were in place but working with people rather than against them, and I think that that characterises it—it certainly characterises other sporting events that I have been to. However, I shall have to ask the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, what it was like to go to a football match 25 years ago, and he will be able to tell me of the change there has been in recent years. I am sure he would vouch for the fact that there has been considerable change both in policing and in the way that crowds, who in most cases are now seated in purpose-built stadia, are treated. It is to be hoped that, because of those measures, there will not be a repetition of what happened at Hillsborough.
House adjourned at 3.06 pm.