House of Lords
Thursday, 10 July 2014.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.
European Commission: UK Member
My Lords, as set out in the treaties, Commission portfolios will be allocated by the Commission President Designate to those nominated by member states and agreed by common accord in the Council. We expect the European Parliament to confirm Mr Juncker’s appointment as President Designate on 15 July. The Commission as a whole will then be confirmed by the European Parliament in the autumn.
With the wise reminder last week of the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, should not HMG deliberately and carefully make sure that they choose an ideal candidate on this occasion, because of the urgent matters in hand for the European Commissioner? The candidate should be an articulate, international, sagacious, knowledgeable person—maybe female again, like her predecessor—someone who actually likes the European Union and working with people and who likes foreigners and speaks foreign languages. As that would of course narrow down the field if it is a Conservative nominee, what about a Liberal Democrat one? We are the only party that stood up for Europe at the last election.
Possibly even from Yorkshire, my Lords. As to the serious part of my noble friend’s question, we need to make sure that our Commissioner candidate understands the changing role of the European Union, the need for reform and the fact that the Commissioner has to act in a way that benefits member states and the European Union as a whole. I can assure my noble friend, and indeed the House, that the Prime Minister has a line-up of very strong candidates.
Does the noble Baroness agree that one of the qualities that our Commissioner will need is a capacity to ignore the personal vendetta that has been run by the Prime Minister against Mr Jean-Claude Juncker and to learn how to get on with him as the distribution of portfolios, which is of major importance to this country, will partly be the responsibility of Mr Juncker?
I take real issue with what the noble Lord has said. I try not to bring party politics to this Dispatch Box but it is important that, when the Prime Minister of this country takes a principled stance on an important matter—a matter on which his party agreed—we should stop the sniping and get behind him.
Does my noble friend accept that there are some serious matters at stake here? At the heart of the Question—which has a lot of persiflage round it, if I may say so to my noble friend—is the fact that we need somebody who will go to Brussels and do the job properly, which means doing their best for the whole of the European Community, and who will have the confidence of people throughout the country. It should not be somebody who goes to Brussels with predetermined views and an unwillingness to work with our colleagues in the European Union.
My noble friend makes an important point. However, I think he would accept that at the recent European elections, not just in the United Kingdom but across the European Union, the citizens of the member states sent out a very clear signal about the kind of Europe they want, and it is important that Commissioners reflect that in their work.
I said “May I say to her”—there seems to be some difficulty with the English language on the other side of the House. The noble Baroness has demonstrated a full understanding of the real nature of the role of the Commissioner and the way in which the reform agenda has to be promulgated and effectively developed in the European Commission and, indeed, she is manifestly a woman. In order to make a real breakthrough and represent fully the proper interests of this country in the context of the realities of the treaty, which have been misrepresented by UKIP and by certain Members on her own side, may I make so bold as to nominate her for the position?
My Lords, my noble friend has talked about the importance of the characteristics of the individual who is appointed. Given the portfolio that the United Kingdom is hoping to get within the economic sphere—on these Benches we would like it to be the single market because that is an area where reform really needs to continue—does she accept that the right candidate is one who has a deep and thorough understanding of the portfolio and that it is not just the characteristics of an individual per se that are important?
My noble friend makes an important point and, as I said at this Dispatch Box, the United Kingdom will be looking for an economic portfolio. My noble friend will be aware that the make-up of the portfolio itself has yet to be discussed and what the final portfolio will look like will be determined once the President has been confirmed.
NHS: Hospital Waiting Times
My Lords, hospital waiting times are low and stable, but there are pressures from a growing and ageing population, and some patients are not receiving their treatment as soon as we would like. NHS England, the NHS Trust Development Authority and Monitor are working with the most challenged providers and commissioners. Operational resilience guidance, published in June, will help the system prepare for winter and improve waiting times sustainably for emergency and elective care.
My Lords, that is a very impressive Answer. The Prime Minister said some time ago that the test will be to get NHS waiting times down. Judged by that test, will the Minister comment on this morning’s statistics from NHS England which showed that over the past year the number of patients waiting six months or longer for treatment has gone up by 20%? Does that not show that the Prime Minister has failed his own test?
My Lords, I do not believe that that is a fair comment. In the past four years, since the Government came to office, we have substantially reduced the numbers of patients waiting longer than 18, 26 and 52 weeks to start treatment. Those numbers are lower than at any time under the previous Government. However, we need to address the build-up in patients waiting and, as a result, we are directing extra support and money for hospitals to do more than 100,000 additional operations over the next few months to meet the extra demand.
My Lords, is it not a fact that the statement made this morning by the new president of the Royal College of Surgeons makes quite a lot of sense, and that most people would agree with it? People who need life-saving operations urgently should have priority, and people who have conditions that will not deteriorate—I am spreading more words than she actually said—may be asked to wait longer to give that priority to the more urgent cases. Does my noble friend not think that that first ever woman president of the Royal College of Surgeons is talking common sense?
Yes, she is. I have known the new president of the royal college for some years. She is a very considerable surgeon, and I agree with what she has said. Clinical priority is the main determinant of when patients should be treated, and should remain so. Clinicians should make decisions about the patient’s treatment and patients should not experience undue delay at any stage of their referral, diagnosis, or indeed treatment. That is why we have moved away from targets to standards—to signal the importance of clinical priorities, which doctors should always feel able to act on.
My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that, whatever he says about targets, the previous Labour Government reduced the maximum waiting time for in-patient treatment from 18 months to 18 weeks? Was that not a substantial reduction? Is the Minister not concerned that if we take a whole raft of measurements, it shows a health service now under great pressure financially and in terms of waiting times?
Yes, of course, the previous Government did an enormous amount to reduce waiting times. I also hope, though, that the noble Lord will give us credit for what we have done to reduce waiting times for those who have been waiting the longest, who were never targeted under the previous Government. I acknowledge that the system is under strain at the moment, but we have plans for the short, medium and long term to address that situation.
My Lords, the Government have stated that there is to be parity of esteem between mental health services and acute services. Will my noble friend the Minister state whether this will include waiting times for the provision of mental health services to both adults and children?
My Lords, there seems to be little doubt that waiting lists will grow. Is the noble Earl aware of the recent King’s Fund report, The NHS Productivity Challenge, which shows that the share of the national cake for the NHS, which was above 8% in 2009, is now about 7% and is set to fall to around 6% by 2021. Is there any justification for reducing the share of GDP for health services?
My Lords, the noble Lord knows of the economic constraints that this country has to contend with at the moment. Despite that, the Government are increasing the NHS budget over the course of this Parliament by £12.7 billion. That should indicate to the noble Lord the priority that we are giving to the NHS.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned that the strain on the NHS is due to old people getting older, but is it not true that the strain is due to young people getting fatter and fatter? Is it not true that the Department of Health misled the nation by saying that the obesity epidemic—the worst for 90 years—is due to a lack of exercise when really it is due to people eating too much?
My Lords, I do not believe that the House heard the noble Earl address the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Turnberg. It was not about cash but about share. Can he expand a little on why the share of GDP allocated to the National Health Service is set to go down?
The share of GDP is only one measure. We have to take into account the state of the economy. If the party opposite had been elected to office, it had in fact decided that the share of the cake should be less than the one we have allocated. We have had to strike a balance and I believe that we have done so in a responsible way.
NHS: District Nurses
My Lords, the Department of Health is working with Health Education England, NHS England and the Queen’s Nursing Institute to raise the profile of district and community nursing and to attract more nurses to choose this as a career path. That work includes a workforce project led by the Community Nursing Strategy Programme to ensure an adequate supply of highly skilled district nurses to support patients in community settings, provide quality care and improve patient outcomes.
I thank the Minister for his response. Does he not agree that the failure to address the chronic shortage of district nurses makes the RCN’s call to action even more urgent? The college has found that district nurses are so stretched that they can spend only 37% of their time actually dealing with patients in the community, which is deeply worrying. How does this help people with long-term conditions who depend on specialist nursing care to stay out of hospital? When is a comprehensive strategy that addresses the urgent action which needs to be taken on this matter going to be published?
My Lords, we recognise the need for urgent action, and that it is required across the piece. We need to train more district nurses, and therefore training places have gone up both last year and this year. We also need to equip district nurses with technology. To that end, the nursing technology fund will address the issue that the noble Baroness referred to initially, which is the time that nurses have to spend with their patients. Technology can make time management much more efficient, and it is also good for the patient, who feels more in touch. NHS England and Health Education England have set up a workforce project which, as I said in my initial Answer, is designed to address not only workforce numbers but also the attractiveness of district nursing to trainees.
My Lords, there has been a 47% reduction in district nurses over the previous 10 years. Does the Minister agree that if we are to have real integration of health and social care, then commissioners, NHS England and Health Education England should prioritise support for district nurses and community posts, not least to reduce the pressure on hospital beds?
These matters are locally determined by commissioners, but my noble friend makes a valid point. It is important to understand that district nursing services involve qualified district nurses leading and supporting multidisciplinary teams which often include staff nurses, community nurses and healthcare assistants, working with allied health professionals. We also need to recognise that social care relies on the same pool of registered nurses for local authority-funded care, and in fact nurses employed by local authorities are not counted in the statistics.
My Lords, I recently came across a district nursing service which had been contracted out to the private sector, to the considerable confusion of some of the patients using it. Does the Minister have the figures for how many district nursing services have been contracted out in this way?
I do not have the figures, but of course this process started under the previous Government with the “Transforming Community Services” programme, which very often hived off the community provision into social enterprises. If I have statistics on this I will gladly send them to the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I recently received a letter from a lady whose daughter has ME and is confined to bed. She is under the age of 16, and was given a male care assistant who would not perform certain tasks for her. When her mother went to the surgery to ask if a district nurse could come and do those tasks, she was told no because the girl was under 16. Is this correct?
I am happy to look into that case, but clearly we need to ensure that there are the right skills for the right patients, and this is what the health service increasingly aims to achieve. The district nursing team has to contain those multidisciplinary skills. If there is a case of someone being inappropriately looked after, then that is certainly a cause for concern.
My Lords, nearly 50% of district nurses are over the age of 50. I heard what the Minister said regarding the number of nurses in training but perhaps the numbers could be looked at again, because quite a number of district nurses will soon be retiring.
My noble friend makes a good point, and this was highlighted by the royal college. Health Education England was established precisely to ensure a greater connection between the needs and demands of local employers and the education and training commissions which are made. It takes into account all the relevant variables, such as the age profile of the workforce, to ensure that it sets the appropriate number of training places for district nurses to meet future capacity and capability service needs. As I mentioned earlier, Health Education England has in fact increased the number of training places for district nurses by 7% this year, to 431 places.
Arts: Lottery Funding
My Lords, the Government believe in the importance of a mixed funding model for the arts. This includes public funding, lottery revenue, philanthropic giving and private income. Each contributes to the vibrancy and success of the arts in this country. The Government expect all lottery distributors, including Arts Council England, to ensure that they adhere to the principles of additionality and remain accountable to Parliament.
My Lords, I am sure that companies whose entire award now comes from the lottery, such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Glyndebourne Touring Opera, are grateful that they benefit from what is undeniably the changed status of lottery funding. However, does the Minister not agree that what have always been most at risk over the past four years, and increasingly so even within a supposedly improved economy, are the small companies and organisations whose funding by government subsidy has proved over decades to be the best and most efficient means by which innovative work is encouraged throughout the whole country?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for referring to the whole country, because investment outside London is very much one of the Arts Council England’s priorities. The increasing amount that is invested outside London is terribly important. Arts Council England has the responsibility for ensuring that those funds are directed appropriately. It clearly would not be for government or civil servants to start deciding winners and losers in the artistic world; that is for Arts Council England and its responsibility to invest.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, during the past 20 years, as a result of the principle of additionality, lottery funds have been allocated substantially to capital? As a result of the combination of lottery and substantial private funding, we have a remarkable range of new-built and refurbished cultural buildings. How will the Government ensure that, in the next 20 years, those buildings are not allowed to fall into disrepair because lottery funding is being allocated elsewhere, as happened in the 1970s and 1980s after the last big series of building projects?
My Lords, we have seen some very exciting refurbishments and restorations of our heritage buildings. It is precisely why the Government and arm’s-length bodies such as the Arts Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage have provided extensive funding towards cultural heritage, including buildings. It is important that Arts Council England provides capital grants which can be spent on purchase, improvement and restoration of capital projects. What the noble Baroness said is absolutely right: the last thing we want to do is to have an investment and let it deteriorate.
My Lords, additionality was one of the founding principles of the National Lottery. Another was that there should be only one National Lottery. That is the not the situation today. We have the Health Lottery, which is a national lottery in all but name, and there is the new problem of gambling operators offering products that masquerade as lotteries but are in fact bets. These damage the ability to raise funds for good causes such as the arts. What do the Government intend to do about this?
My noble friend raises issues about other lotteries—she mentioned the Health Lottery. The market is changing. The Gambling Commission is providing us with further advice on how the markets are operating, which we will consider before consulting later in the year. The changes in the lottery and gambling markets have made it clear to us that any consultation on society lotteries needs to be far more wide-ranging than was originally thought.
My Lords, if the principle of additionality is to mean what we all want it to mean in practice across the country, will the Minister talk to his friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government? So long as local authorities are so severely constrained in their ability to support the arts, it will not be possible to have the kind of thriving arts ecology across the whole country that I know he wants and we all want.
That is why I said in my original Answer that it is important that we have a mixed-funding arrangement. It serves us very well to have state funding, lottery funding and philanthropic and corporate sponsorship. The noble Lord is right: local government has huge challenges, as does the nation, about spending. Local government is still the largest investor in the arts, and I hope that it will remain so. There are challenges, but there are enormous success stories where local authorities have recognised that arts and heritage are important for tourism and visitor numbers. There are many examples of cities and towns around the country, Hull and Liverpool among them, which are successful because of their artistic investment.
My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for his own personal commitment, may I ask him to assure the House that the places of worship scheme, whereby grants are given to historic churches and other places of worship on their intrinsic architectural and historical importance, will continue and not be diminished?
My Lords, my noble friend’s question is timely, because the Chancellor granted an extra £20 million to cathedrals around the country, mindful particularly of the part that they will play in the commemorations of the First World War. I endorse what my noble friend has said. The buildings to which he referred are some of our most ancient treasures; they need to be helped to remain in good state.
My Lords, may we go back to the point in the original Question about the principle of additionality? I am sure that the Minister is aware of the Statement made by the Secretary of State in the other place only a few days ago. He said:
“The principle of additionality is very important and the distributors must adhere to it all times”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/7/14; col. 1057.]
Given that, can the Minister explain to your Lordships’ House why 102 companies now receiving grant in aid from Arts Council England, which in previous years were entirely funded by grant in aid, are now to be funded from the lottery?
My Lords, this is an area on which the Arts Council has been reflecting in particular, and of course it is required to report on adherence to the principle of additionality. One of the key points is that lottery funding for the years 2012 to 2015 has gone towards a specific purpose: touring, and working with children and young people. That is why Arts Council England has announced that these significant elements—of touring and of specific organisations working with children and young people—will be wholly funded through the lottery from 2015 to 2018.
My Lords, following the report by Darren Henley some years ago, the Government launched a national plan for music education. When will the Government announce the future funding for that national plan, and how will they ensure its successful delivery?
My Lords, the Government have committed £171 million over three years to 123 music hubs across England, to ensure that every child aged five to 18 has the chance to learn a musical instrument and perform as part of ensembles and choirs. Because of those hubs, 500,000 children have been given the chance to learn a musical instrument for the first time. There is always more to be done, but a lot of effort is going into recognising and then ensuring that there is fulfilment of the musical experience for young people and children.
My Lords, we are soon to see the 50th anniversary of the Notting Hill carnival—but, sadly, we have just seen Arts Council funding cuts to the only carnival arts organisation that provides design, art and culture for children and gives them the opportunity to be exposed to creativity, and for their imagination to blossom. Can my noble friend tell the House what provision has been made to address this deficit?
My Lords, obviously the decisions that the Arts Council or any organisation has to make are always difficult; they are full of challenges. But Arts Council England is very clear that if an organisation does not receive funding, part of its advice service is to ensure that other sources of funding are considered and advised upon.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Communications Data and Interception
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made this morning by my right honourable friend Theresa May, the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the use of communications data and interception; the difficulties faced by the police, law enforcement agencies and the security and intelligence agencies in utilising those capabilities; and the steps the Government plan to take to address those difficulties.
Before I do so, I would like to make something very clear. What I want to propose in my Statement today is a narrow and limited response to a set of specific challenges we face. I am not proposing the introduction of the communications data Bill that was considered in draft by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament last year. I still believe that the measures contained within that Bill are necessary—and so does the Prime Minister—but there is no coalition consensus for those proposals and we will have to return to them at the general election.
The House will know that communications data—the ‘who, where, when and how’ of a communication but not its content—and interception, which provides the legal power to acquire the content of a communication, are vital for combating crime and fighting terrorism. Without them, we would be unable to bring criminals and terrorists to justice, and we would not be able to keep the public safe.
For example, the majority of the Security Service’s top priority counterterror investigations use interception capabilities in some form to identify, understand and disrupt the plots of terrorists. Communications data has played a significant role in every Security Service counterterrorism operation over the past decade. It has been used as evidence in 95% of all serious organised crime cases handled by the Crown Prosecution Service. It has played a significant role in the investigation of many of the most serious crimes in recent times, including the Oxford and Rochdale child grooming cases, the murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and the murder of Rhys Jones. It can prove or disprove alibis; it can identify associations between potential criminals; and it can tie suspects and victims to a crime scene.
I have talked before about the decline in our ability to obtain the communications data we need, which is caused by changes in the way people communicate and the technology behind those forms of communication. That is why I continue to support the measures in the draft communications data Bill. In addition to that decline, we now face two significant and urgent problems relating to both communications data and interception. The first is the recent judgment by the European Court of Justice that calls into question the legal basis upon which we require communication service providers in the UK to retain communications data. The second is the increasingly pressing need to put beyond doubt the application of our laws on interception so that communication service providers have to comply with their legal obligations, irrespective of where they are based.
I can tell the House today that the Government are introducing fast-track legislation—through the data retention and investigatory powers Bill—to deal with those two problems. I deal first with communications data, because we must respond to the ruling by the European Court of Justice that the data retention directive is invalid. The directive was the legal basis upon which the Governments of EU member states were required to compel communication service providers to retain certain communications data where they do not otherwise require it for their own business purposes. Indeed, the ruling provides us with such a problem precisely because very strong data protection laws mean that, in the absence of a legal duty to retain data, companies must delete data that is not required beyond their strict business use. This means that, if we do not clarify the legal position, we risk losing access to all such communications data and, with it, the ability to protect the public and keep our country safe.
The ECJ ruling said that the data retention directive does not contain the necessary safeguards in relation to access to the data, but it did not take into account the stringent controls and safeguards provided by domestic laws—in particular, the UK’s communications data access regime, which is governed primarily by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. RIPA was, and remains, designed to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. It ensures that access to communications data can take place only where it is necessary and proportionate for a specific investigation. It therefore provides many of the safeguards that the European Court of Justice said were missing from the data retention directive.
This ECJ judgment clearly has implications not just for the United Kingdom but also for other EU member states and we are in close contact with other European Governments. Other Governments, such as Ireland and Denmark, implemented the data retention directive through primary legislation, which means that they have retained a clear legal basis for their data retention policies, unless a separate, successful legal challenge to their legislation is made. The UK does not have that luxury, because here the data retention directive was implemented through secondary legislation. While we are confident that our regulations remain in force, the Government must act now to remove any doubt about their legal basis and to give effect to the ECJ judgment. The legislation I am publishing today—and the draft regulations that accompany it—will not only do this, they will enhance the UK’s existing legal safeguards and in so doing it will address the criticism of the European Court.
I want to be clear, though, that this legislation will merely maintain the status quo. It will not tackle the wider problem of declining communications data capability, to which we must return in the next Parliament. But it will ensure, for now at least, that the police and other law enforcement agencies can investigate some of the criminality that is planned and takes place online. Without this legislation, we face the very prospect of losing access to this data overnight, with the consequence that police investigations will suddenly go dark and criminals will escape justice. We cannot allow this to happen.
I want to turn now to interception because there is growing uncertainty among communication service providers about our interception powers. With technology developing rapidly and the way in which we communicate changing all the time, the communication service providers that serve the UK but are based overseas need legal clarity about what we can access. The House will understand that I cannot comment in detail on our operational capabilities when it comes to intercept, but I have briefed the Opposition on Privy Council terms and members of the Intelligence and Security Committee have heard first hand from the security and intelligence agencies and it is clear that we have reached a dangerous tipping point. We need to make sure that major communication service providers co-operate with the UK’s security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies when they need access to suspects’ communications. This would result immediately in a major loss of the powers and capabilities that are used every day to counter the threats we face from terrorists and organised criminals.
The Bill I am publishing today will therefore put beyond doubt the fact that the existing legal framework, which requires companies to co-operate with UK law enforcement and intelligence agencies, also extends to companies that are based overseas but provide services to people here in the UK. I will make copies of the draft Bill available to the Vote Office and the House Library. I will also make available in the Library the regulatory impact assessments and the draft regulations to be made under the Bill, in order to allow the opportunity for the House to scrutinise these proposals in full.
The parliamentary timetable for this legislation is inevitably very tight. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House has just provided details of the prospective timetable for the Bill’s consideration but it is crucial that we must have Royal Assent by Summer Recess. The Government have therefore sought to keep this Bill as short as possible. It is also subject to a sunset clause that means the legislation ceases to have effect from the end of 2016. This means that the Bill solves the immediate problems at hand and gives us enough time to review not just the full powers and capabilities we need, but also the way in which those powers and capabilities are regulated, before Parliament can consider new and more wide-ranging legislation after the general election.
It is right that we must balance the need to prevent criminal exploitation of communications networks with safeguards to protect ordinary citizens from intrusions upon their privacy. That is why, alongside the legislation I am publishing today, the Government will also introduce a package of measures to reassure the public that their rights to security and privacy are equally protected.
We will reduce the number of public authorities able to access communications data. We will publish an annual transparency report giving as much detail as possible—within obvious parameters—about the use of these sensitive powers. We will appoint a senior diplomat to lead discussions with other Governments to consider how we share data for law enforcement and intelligence purposes. We will establish a privacy and civil liberties board, based on the US model. This will build on the role of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, and the board will consider the balance between security and privacy and liberty in the full context of the threat we face from terrorism. And we will review the interception and communications data powers we need, as well as the way in which those powers and capabilities are regulated, in the full context of the threats we face. The Government are discussing in the usual channels the precise form this review might take, but I hope that an initial report will be published before the election.
I have said many times before that it is not possible to debate the correct balance between security and privacy—and, more specifically, the rights and wrongs of powers and capabilities such as access to communications data and interception—without understanding the threats we face as a country. Those threats remain considerable. They include the threat from terrorism—from overseas and from here in the UK—but also the threat from industrial, military and state espionage practised by other states and foreign businesses; the threat from organised criminal gangs; and the threat from all sorts of criminals whose work is made easier by cyber technology.
In the face of such a diverse range of threats, the Government would be negligent if they did not make sure that the people and the organisations that keep us safe—the police, other law enforcement agencies and the security and intelligence agencies—have the legal powers to utilise the capabilities they need. They are clear that we need to act immediately. If we do not, criminals and terrorists will go about their work unimpeded, and innocent lives will be lost. That is why I commend this Statement, and this Bill, to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for early notification of the Statement, and for providing a copy of it beforehand. Before I refer to the content of the Bill, I flag up our disappointment regarding the timetabling. We understand and appreciate the necessity of this legislation and the time imperative that now exists, as the noble Lord explained. But why is it being brought forward now as fast-track legislation? As he said in the Statement, the decision of the ECJ was taken in April. We accept that it takes some time to digest and analyse the implications of such decisions and to prepare legislation, but it would have been preferable to bring this legislation forward earlier.
Over the past weeks we have been discussing the Serious Crime Bill, and the noble Lord is aware that we support measures in the Bill but have tabled amendments that would strengthen and improve it where we feel that the provisions are okay but too weak. So why were these measures announced today not brought forward alongside that Bill, given that the fast-track Bill he has announced strikes right at the heart of serious and organised crime and counterterrorism?
The data of which this Bill will ensure temporary retention are used in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations, counterterrorism investigations and online child abuse investigations, so we do not doubt the necessity of their use. In considering our response to this fast-track legislation, we have focused on the principle that such crime and counterterrorism investigations must not be compromised. We have a duty to maintain the security of our citizens. We also recognise that this Bill does not go further than existing legislation, as the noble Lord outlined, but maintains existing capabilities.
We also have to ensure that individual privacy is protected. We therefore considered it crucial that there should be safeguards, including a sunset clause and a major review of the legal framework that governs surveillance. Will the Minister confirm that what we are talking about here does not in any way include the content of communications, merely that such communications have taken place?
When our Constitution Committee reported on constitutional implications and safeguards for fast-track legislation, it set out certain safeguards that Ministers must address in Statements to your Lordships’ House. First, Ministers must explain why fast track is necessary. I take that to mean not just the immediate necessity but, as I have already asked, why this was not brought forward earlier. It is also very clear that there should be a presumption of a sunset clause; that is, in effect, that any fast-track legislation should be temporary with an expiry date. We welcome the sunset clause in this Bill. It is essential that a date is set down in statute when the legislation will expire, and it must be reviewed during that period.
The Constitution Committee recommended this for any fast-track legislation. Another issue it raises is that parliamentary committees should be given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation. Are arrangements being made to ensure that the relevant committees—and specifically the Constitution Committee—will have the opportunity to do so within the timetable, and will discussions take place regarding this?
Another matter the Constitution Committee raised was post-legislative review. I ask that the Government consider using the Interception Commissioner to review this on a six-monthly basis and report back to Ministers and your Lordships’ House.
Noble Lords will be aware that we have called for a review of RIPA, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, called for this back in the speech she made in March. As a noble Lord commented in our discussions this week on new legislation to tackle cybercrime, technology moves very quickly and criminals move very quickly. Our legislation has to keep pace with that. RIPA is now 14 years old and needs to be brought up to date. We also need that review to ensure that it is used appropriately. Will the Minister confirm that the reference in the Statement to reviewing,
“the interception and data powers we need”,
does in fact refer to RIPA and that a review will take place? Can he tell us if any decision has been made on who would undertake such a review and what resources and expertise will be made available for that?
Alongside a review of RIPA, we have also asked for an overhaul of the system of independent oversight commissioners, as outlined in the shadow Home Secretary’s speech in March. I ask the Minister to ensure that these reforms are considered as part of the review. Also, it would be helpful to have a wider public debate on this whole range of issues.
We believe that this legislation is urgent, but it is equally important that we have further scrutiny of the whole framework. I hope noble Lords will agree that longer-term reforms are needed.
My Lords, once again I thank the noble Baroness for her support for the legislation. I am very happy to reassure her on the various aspects that she quite legitimately raised. It has of course not been possible to talk about this matter in public until today. Noble Lords will understand why that is the case, but the House will have the opportunity to consider the legislation. I expect that will be next week, but that will be for the usual channels to decide and announcements will be made.
The noble Baroness asked why we are having fast-track legislation—after all, the judgment was on 8 April. I can understand her concern. It is not easy to deal with things in fast-track legislation. On the other hand, I think she will understand that this is a difficult and sensitive area of policy. We did not want to get mired down in the communications data Bill, as the Joint Committee originally considered. We wanted to ensure that the measures that we were presenting, and which we are presenting in the Bill today, were sufficient to deal with the immediate problem and no more. We were not looking to extend any powers; we were just seeking to restore the situation ex ante the judgment. We wanted to ensure that there was proper consideration, to work with the law enforcement agencies and the data providers on how we dealt with this problem in legislation, and to give proper effect to the judgment that had been made by the European Court of Justice.
I am pleased that the noble Baroness has welcomed the sunset clause. We accept that this is, if I might use the expression, a puncture repair job; it is not equipping data protection with a new tyre so that it can corner more suitably for the road conditions of the future. Future-proofing has to await new legislation. Meanwhile, we are dealing with the problem that would face us if we did not act now. While I understand that the House will want to scrutinise in detail what we are doing, I hope that we will have its support in taking the Bill through.
The noble Baroness asked what contact there had been with the chairmen of the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee. Some of the constitutional issues are addressed in the Explanatory Memorandum that is being published today, but I have tried to ring the chairman of the Constitution Committee; unfortunately, though, he was not available. I also tried to ring the chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee but unfortunately she was not available either. However, both are Members of this House and I have left messages. I shall try to talk to them over the weekend, as indeed I am intending to do with other noble Lords who are interested. Various Select Committee chairmen in the House of Commons have been briefed by the Prime Minister.
The data retention provisions of the Bill relate to comms data. However, I must make clear that companies must provide the content of the communication when served with a warrant issued by the Secretary of State. The powers laid out in the Bill do not change anything in that regard.
There were indications in the Statement that RIPA and its whole relationship with future legislation is a matter for review. If we are to inform a new Bill after the election, we will need to study where we are at present. The role of the independent terrorism legislation reviewer in this matter is clear, and David Anderson is likely to be involved in a number of discussions specifically aimed at ensuring not only that this legislation is achieving its objective but that any future legislation or arrangements regarding privacy are going to be effective.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for contacting me earlier this morning. Obviously, bringing this stop-gap legislation in such a hurry to both Houses has been a difficult process, and the opportunities for consultation have therefore been limited. There are very strong and divided views on these issues, including among human rights and civil liberties groups. I wonder whether the Minister can reassure the House that there will be consultation with those groups on regulations and guidance, if there is to be any, as well as their involvement in the review of RIPA.
I welcome what was described as a package of pro-civil liberties measures mentioned in the Statement. Will the Minister tell the House whether they will be introduced to the same swift timetable? Also—I do not mean the question to be frivolous—we are proposing to talk to the Americans, but have they agreed to talk to us?
We have good discussions with all our allies and I can assure the noble Baroness that I have no fear in that regard. I understand what she is saying about civil liberties and much of the discussions about this have centred on ways in which we can enhance privacy protection. The noble Baroness is quite right; we have not had time to consult. Letters will be going to a large number of people and I know that the list includes a number of the best-known civil liberties groups. As far as future business is concerned, and the implementation of the powers in the Bill, they will be parties to the discussion in the usual way. I will do my best to ensure that the noble Baroness is also kept informed.
My Lords, I am very supportive of what the Government are doing. I think it is absolutely appropriate, subject to the various caveats that my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon raised. There is no doubt whatever, as the Minister said, that this has ensured in the past our security, our ability to tackle organised crime and our ability to get murderers, paedophiles and the like. There is no doubt whatever about that, and it was something that was going to be lost. But is it not a disgrace that we find ourselves in this position? The communications data Bill was looked at by a Joint Committee of the House. It made a mass of suggestions as to how it should be amended to protect privacy and civil liberties. All of those measures were taken in and agreed, and the Bill redrafted. I think that the Liberal Democrats should be ashamed of the fact that they did not agree then to go forward with the Bill. If it had gone forward, we would not now be rushing through this legislation. Does the Minister agree?
Of course I do not agree. To be frank, I am a great believer in the partnership that the coalition represents. I have given an indication today in repeating the Statement that it is important to see this as a partnership between protecting individual liberty and at the same time making sure that we have the capability. I am so grateful to the noble Lord for his support in that regard. I am sure he would not expect me to go into detail as to why we have not progressed. We said in the Statement that we recognised that there was not enough unity of purpose across the coalition to continue with the communications data Bill. I make no apology for that. This will obviously be discussed at the time of the general election and hopefully afterwards we will be able to address the issue.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will recall that a committee of privy counsellors was set up some years ago to consider the admission of the intercept as evidence in terrorist and criminal cases. Does he agree that the intercept, the actual words spoken, provides by far the strongest basis on which to convict terrorists and other serious criminals—far better than just the fact that a communication took place? When does he think that the Chilcot committee, which is still considering this matter, is going to report?
My Lords, I am not in a position to answer that particular question. It may be beyond the gift of anyone to answer it at this stage. The noble and learned Lord makes a very interesting point which I am sure will be considered, but it is not part and parcel of this legislation, which is very narrow in what it is seeking to achieve. We are not looking to extend the powers that we currently have available.
My Lords, to save the Minister embarrassment I do not expect him to reply to this point; I fully agree with the previous comment of the noble Lord, Lord West, about the failure to move forward with the previous Bill. Having said that, my noble friend will be aware that both Houses of Parliament are very leery indeed about emergency legislation, and are rightly suspicious of it. It is not just the cynics who say that they are not totally reassured when all parties are in agreement on emergency legislation, which has not always had a happy history.
Having said that, nobody could underestimate the importance of the matters that the Minister has discussed and of what the data have meant to the defence of this country. If ever there was a time not to reduce our defences, this must be it. Can the Minister confirm again that this represents no change in the present situation—that there is no advance in the intrusions on the citizen; it is a matter of data, not the content of messages? It is the “who, when and where” that are so vital in the pursuit of this.
The most important thing is that the provisions also contain the surprisingly short sunset clause, as I understand it, of May 2015—
I am most grateful to my noble friend. As a former chairman of the Intelligence and Security Select Committee, I know that he—like the noble Lord, Lord West, from his ministerial role—can see inside this problem. I expect and want the House to scrutinise this legislation, because it is right and proper that we do so.
My noble friend is right also to point to the fact that the sunset clause allows an incoming Government only 18 months to put a new communications data Bill on the table if they choose to do so. If I were part of any such Government I would be exhorting prompt action in that area. Clearly, without the legislation that we are now hoping to bring forward, we place ourselves in an extraordinarily difficult position.
My Lords, in all the unfortunate circumstances, the Government were quite right to respond to the ECJ decision as they have. However, on the first part of the Statement on the powers that we thought existed to compel private sector organisations to retain communications data, is not the unfortunate position in which the Government now find themselves a result of their tendency—perhaps more than a tendency; sometimes it looks like a default option—always to implement European directives whenever they can by means of secondary rather than primary legislation? It may the tendency of every bureaucracy, and perhaps every Minister, to try to minimise the degree of democratic transparency and parliamentary scrutiny through which they have to go to get legislation on the statute book. However, in the light of experience, do the Government not agree that they have been getting the balance wrong compared to other countries—the Minister cited the Irish and Danish examples—and that that balance needs to be looked at again?
Well, we are now coming forward with primary legislation; I hope that it meets with the noble Lord’s approval. I understand his point exactly, but we are dealing with that problem now. It has been the practice of successive Governments to deal with European directives in this fashion. Perhaps in some areas it may pay us to make exceptions to that, particularly if we think that there are matters that really ought to be brought to the attention of the House through primary legislation.
My Lords, I was a member of the Joint Committee which scrutinised the draft communications data Bill. I am sure that all members of that committee would attach great importance to restoring the position that we thought we were in before this. For that reason, I, and I think many colleagues on the Cross Benches, will support the Bill. The sunset clause which has been described will make it necessary to review communications data legislation very early in the new Parliament. I hope that the scrutiny given to it will then bear fruit because I think the result was a good Bill which balanced the essential needs of civil liberty and privacy against the Government’s first duty to protect the security and safety of the citizen.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, speaks from a great deal of experience in this area. I welcome his support. I agree that this is a matter which will have to be addressed very quickly by an incoming Government. This is a live issue, as is properly demonstrated by the debate we are having now.
My Lords, would we be in this predicament if we were not members of the European Union and therefore subservient to the judgments of the Luxembourg court? Surely these matters should be for our Government and Parliament and for international collaboration under their control.
No, my Lords, I do not see the sequitur in that at all. It is right and proper that we should make sure that the legal framework under which we operate is established in Parliament. That is what we are doing. The way in which we adapt to changed circumstances is a healthy arrangement. Regardless of the European Court of Justice’s decision, we would need to address some of the issues that this Bill deals with. We are right to be dealing with it as soon as we possibly can.
My Lords, when I was in another place I conducted an inquiry into organised crime in Northern Ireland and I became aware of how crucial cross-border collaboration was in that context. Will there be full discussions with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to ensure that our fight against crime in that part of the United Kingdom can continue unabated?
Yes. One of the factors which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and I welcome is that, in the Serious Crime Bill, there is a whole series of measures attaching to Northern Ireland which have support. We hope that these will enable the two law enforcement agencies on that island to work closely together in the interests of protecting the people of that island.
My Lords, I associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord West, and the noble Lord, Lord King, whom I succeeded as chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Those of us who have had direct experience of the benefits of this kind of information will very much support what the Government are doing. Perhaps I may ask the Minister a practical question about data retention. By acknowledging that new legislation is required, can we assume that there is nothing that threatens the use of existing data that are held? Will the Minister continue to use examples in the way that he did today in repeating the Statement so that people outside who have concerns about the use of data recognise the productive way in which they can be used in important criminal cases?
Yes. I think that sometimes the arguments become focused on particular issues. I agree with the noble Baroness. I know that she speaks from experience and I am grateful for her support. There is an important communications exercise in making sure that people realise why we are involved in the fight against crime and the fight against sexual exploitation. These are all factors in our need to have this capability. I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s support.
My Lords, I know that the Intelligence and Security Committee, of which I am a member, will now look at this legislation very urgently, as is necessary. However, that committee has to deal all the time with highly classified matters. Does the Minister agree that it would have made the task of the committee easier, and its task of advising the two Houses easier, if the Government had consulted the committee at an earlier stage?
Had that been possible, it might have been done. Clearly, the Bill is a complicated piece of legislation and getting it right has not been easy. I think the noble Lord will understand the background against which the Bill will be presented to the House of Commons and to your Lordships’ House. In such circumstances, it was important that the Government got their own position right first. Having done that, we are very grateful for the scrutiny and advice that we will receive from the Intelligence and Security Committee.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly support what has been said concerning the inhibition which now exists on the use of vital evidence by way of intercept, which makes it impossible for what would have otherwise been crucially important prosecutions to succeed. I well appreciate that there are two sides to the argument and I appreciate that final advice to Parliament on this matter is still awaited, but will the noble Lord accept that in many common-law countries the rule is different? It is left to the good sense of the prosecution whether to rely on such evidence, bearing very much in mind the sensitivity of the situation in the public interest. It does not seem beyond the bounds of possibility that the United Kingdom is coming under very severe pressure from very powerful allies in this particular matter, to her own detriment.
I do not want to go into detail today on the noble Lord’s points. However, I will examine what he said, because he is talking about procedures rather than the matter that the Bill deals with—how we handle this in legal process. If the noble Lord will allow me, I will write to him in response to his question. I am grateful to him for raising it.
Given the point that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, has just made, and of course given the total paramountcy of the defence of the realm, will the Minister assure us that if the scrutiny of the Bill were to reveal defects in the legislation—which, after all, is what scrutiny is about—the Bill would be amendable, notwithstanding the parliamentary timetable for the Recess?
My Lords, the passage of the Bill contains all the normal phases of discussion so it would be for Parliament to decide whether it needed to change the Bill. I hope that it will not be a political football, with people trying to make further points about what might have been and what could be, and all the rest. I do not think that the House is in the mood for that. All the comments that have been made have made it clear to me that, in general, the Bill correctly addresses the issue and we will look at the wording and make sure that we have got it right. That is what scrutiny is for and that is what we are here for. I hope that we will take advantage of that opportunity. I also hope to brief noble Lords on Monday by party group—arrangements are in place for those briefings—because I thought it would be helpful if we had an opportunity to talk about these things before we consider the Bill and before it goes to the House of Commons, which will consider it early next week.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may be helpful if I make a brief business statement to explain how it is envisaged that this House might consider the data retention and investigatory powers Bill.
The House of Commons is due to take all stages of the Bill next Tuesday, 15 July. We will therefore receive the Bill at the end of their proceedings on Tuesday and the Bill will be printed overnight. Following discussions in the usual channels, we have agreed to propose that the House take Second Reading of the Bill next Wednesday, 16 July, and Committee and remaining stages of the Bill the following day, Thursday 17 July.
Members will be able to table amendments to the Bill at any time from next Wednesday and the Legislation Office has kindly agreed to offer drafting advice to Members who require it as soon as the text of the Bill has been published by the House of Commons. A revised edition of forthcoming business, setting out these arrangements as well as the knock-on effect on other business, will be published imminently—indeed, I expect almost as soon as I resume my seat. There will be a speakers list for Second Reading, again, opened more or less as I sit down today.
There are some knock-on effects; it may be convenient if I refer to one in particular, because I see the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, in his place. Next Thursday we had anticipated a Labour debate day. There are two debates set down for that day, the first to be led by the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, and the second by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell. It has been agreed in the usual channels that those two debates will be delayed. Another date will be found that is convenient for those debates to take place. We will negotiate on that matter. The procedure at the moment is that those speakers lists have been frozen as we are now in the process of changing next Thursday’s business. Those who have already signed up to speak will be informed. Indeed, there are currently only five speakers signed up for the first and four for the second, so I hope that does not inconvenience too many people.
The approach I have set out today, outlined by the Minister, has the support of the usual channels. I hope the whole House will support that next week.
BBC World Service and British Council
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friends on the Cross Benches for selecting this Motion for debate today. It draws attention to the role of the BBC World Service and the British Council in promoting British values, part of what Joseph Nye once described as the exercise of soft power. It sits comfortably with the debate that will follow in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, which draws attention to the role our legal institutions play in promoting Britain’s reputation and way of life worldwide. I am grateful to all noble Lords who will participate, many of whom bring a lifetime of experience and knowledge. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, the Minister who will reply. The House of Lords Library also deserves our thanks for the excellent note it has prepared for today’s debate.
It hardly needs saying that all of our speeches will be held against a backdrop in the Middle East of the exercise of a different kind of power, characterised by visceral hatred and unspeakable violence. They are being held in a climate in which fragile peace and seedling democracies, from the China Sea to Ukraine, are at daily risk. That is to say nothing of global violation of human rights, from North Korea to Sudan, from Nigeria to Pakistan.
More than 30 years ago as a young Member of the House of Commons travelling behind the iron curtain, and in 1981 to India, Nepal and China, I first began to fully understand the importance of the BBC World Service and the British Council as agents for change. The BBC World Service started life in 1932 as the BBC Empire Service, with Sir John Reith—later Lord Reith—warning,
“don’t expect too much in the early days … The programmes will neither be very interesting nor very good”.
More than 80 years later, with a global audience last month of 265 million people and transmitting in English and 27 other languages, there is no doubt that the World Service has surpassed all of Lord Reith’s modest expectations. Often, it has been the only lifeline to honest reporting of news and current affairs. Mikhail Gorbachev said that he listened to the BBC’s transmissions. However, both organisations—the British Council and the World Service—promote the UK’s economic interests too. In one survey of international business leaders in America, India and Australia, two-thirds said that the BBC was the main way in which they found out about the United Kingdom. Hence, the Motion talks about promoting our values and our interests.
During the past 10 years, as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and during visits to remote parts of Africa and Burma, my appreciation of the BBC World Service and the British Council has grown into deep admiration, not least for courageous BBC journalists, such as its chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and the head of the BBC’s Burma service Tin Htar Swe, who were both recently honoured in the Birthday Honours List.
Courage, however, comes at a price. Let us consider the 90 journalists killed since the start of the Syrian conflict three years ago, with scores of others kidnapped, or the imprisonment of journalists in Egypt, including Peter Greste, the former BBC journalist. James Harding, the BBC’s director of news, said that these jailings were an,
“act of intimidation against all journalists”.
Getting the news out and getting the news in are therefore two sides of one coin.
In Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi says that World Service transmissions reach more than 80% of people. When I visited her in March last year, she told me that the World Service had been a game-changer. Of course, she also listened to the World Service during her many years of detention, describing it as a lifeline. Believing passionately in the power of ideas, she used her Nobel Peace Prize money to establish her own Democratic Voice of Burma radio service.
At the World Service’s 80th anniversary commemoration held in December 2012 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, I was particularly struck by the words of a young Ukrainian woman, who described how her parents had illegally concealed a radio beneath their floorboards and would bring it out clandestinely to listen to the news from London. She said that the proudest day of her parents’ lives was when she told them that she had secured a job at Bush House, where the BBC World Service was located from 1940 until 2012. Not without significance, the audience of the Ukrainian service has tripled in the past 12 months. A long-serving BBC foreign correspondent, Allan Little, recalls an elderly Jewish man in Paris who agreed to give him an interview because, as a boy in hiding in wartime Poland, the BBC was the only way he knew to keep on hoping. He also recalls the old independence fighter in Zimbabwe who hated the British yet, when he wanted to know what was happening in the world, listened in secret. He said, “We listened to you and we trusted you”.
Like many, Little regards the trust placed in the World Service and the BBC, fiercely guarded across the world and over generations, as a kind of covenant. Credibility and authority—what Peter Horrocks, the World Service director, calls “radical impartiality”—marks out the BBC from its competition in increasingly crowded airwaves and with the phenomenal growth of the internet. However, at a meeting held here just two nights ago, Mr Horrocks also pointed out that a broadcaster such as Al-Jazeera probably has a budget two to three times bigger than that of BBC News. If the BBC World Service is not to decline, I hope that the Minister will tell us that comparative resources will form part of the review of the BBC charter scheduled for next year. I hope that the Minister will also say something about the current ambiguity in the BBC World Service’s lines of accountability and its mandate.
On 1 April this year, a great and almost unremarked on change occurred when the Foreign Office ceased to fund the World Service. From now on, the £245 million bill will be borne by the licence fee payer. In January the House of Commons Select Committee which looked at this question voiced strong opposition to the plans outlined by the BBC Trust for wider commercialisation at the World Service. Its March 2014 report, The Future of the BBC World Service, outlined concerns about the impact of changes in the funding of the World Service.
Although the committee welcomed budget increases, it urged the BBC to announce detailed future funding allocations to allow the World Service to plan for the longer term. Many of us share the Select Committee’s apprehension that further commercialisation will both overinfluence the BBC’s decisions on where and what to broadcast, and diminish our ability to use the service to pursue foreign policy objectives. The example of the BBC World News offers salutary lessons. Conceived as the sister television arm of the World Service, this continuous news channel has 74 million viewers each week in 200 countries, and powerfully projects British values worldwide. Unlike radio, BBC World News is owned and operated by a commercial entity, BBC Global News Ltd, and relies entirely on subscription, advertising and sponsorship deals to survive.
The failure of the current business plan means that on the 17th of this month BBC World News is to announce what its managers are calling “significant savings”—that is, cuts. These will come on top of year 3 cuts to BBC News under the programme Delivering Quality First, which since 2010 has seen spending on news cut by 20% and the loss of 2,000 jobs in the BBC. The danger of the commercial imperative alone is that the BBC becomes dependent on it and, instead of seeing such deals as useful, it sees them as additional resource. It cannot be in the British interest for the BBC’s presence in the global media landscape to be increasingly subject to the vagaries of the ups and downs of the advertising market. It is bad for Britain’s business needs, and it is bad for the business of what Britain is all about. I hope that the Minister will do her best to allay those fears today.
In considering commercial factors versus our Article 19 obligation under the 1948 declaration on human rights to take no notice of frontiers but to communicate information worldwide, the Minister may want to comment on the example of North Korea, which was recently listed by the United Nations as a “country without parallel” and a perpetrator of human rights abuses. In the view of the author of the report, Mr Justice Michael Kirby, BBC World Service broadcasts to the Korean peninsula would be a welcome contribution to breaking the information blockade that imprisons North Korea. Professor Andrei Lankov states in his book The Real North Korea:
“The only long-term solution … is to increase North Korea’s awareness of the outside world”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, will say more on this subject when she makes her speech, and we will return to it in a Question for Short Debate in a few days.
Staying with North Korea for a moment, I particularly welcome the British Council’s English language work there, which I have seen first hand. I also welcome the work of the British Council in Burma. During my 2013 visit, I gave a lecture at the British Council library in Rangoon. I am told that the British Council receives more than 200,000 Burmese visitors to its sites in Rangoon and Mandalay each year. The libraries in Burma have more than 10,000 members and there is a network of 19 remote learning centres across the country. The British Council’s Facebook page has 340,000 “likes”—almost a quarter of the total internet users in the country.
The British Council was established in 1934 and incorporated by royal charter in 1940. It has 70 British Council teaching centres in 53 countries. It taught more than 1 million class hours to 300,000 learners in one recent year, and it describes itself as,
“the world’s largest English-language teaching organisation”.
I know that other noble Lords will speak more about its work, but let me give the example of Project English, which has benefited more than 27 million learners in India already. There is the Young Arab Voices initiative that has helped more than 25,000 young Egyptians, Tunisians and Jordanians. But in 2010-11 the FCO grant was 27% of the British Council’s income. In 2013-14 that grant is forecast to be less than 20% of total income and the proportion is projected to decrease, reaching 16% of total income by 2015-16.
Last month, the Prime Minister said that British values are,
“a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law”.
But he went on to say that these values do not come from thin air, and resources do not come from thin air either. We must be prepared to see the value of these amazing instruments of soft power and ensure that they are adequately resourced. Our military response to global threats and new forms of terror will always require hard power, of course, but we are disproportionate in spending hundreds of times more on hard power than on soft power. Combining the two, what Hillary Clinton has described as “smart power”, should be part of our approach. That is a view which was put by the House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence in its March 2014 report entitled Persuasion and Power in the Modern World. It said:
“The ‘reach’ of the BBC and the British Council is immense, and this certainly adds to their ability to enhance the UK’s soft power”.
Before I conclude, I highlight for noble Lords a particular work by a notable champion of soft power, the former US ambassador to Hungary, Mark Palmer, who died a year ago. I commend his book Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025. We have just 10 years left to meet the deadline he set, and I believe that the BBC World Service and the British Council have a crucial role to play in achieving that. I pay tribute to Mark Palmer, and I believe that we in this country could learn much from his ideas. We can also learn from those put forward by the British Academy, which has said in a report:
“UK foreign policy is too often conducted in a compartmentalised manner, with the would-be benefits of soft power either judged to be outweighed by security concerns, or simply never taken into account”.
Soft power is, as the report concludes,
“likely to become more important in international relations over the coming years. UK governments can help themselves simply by recognising this, and by providing enough resources for the development and maintenance of its long-term assets”.
In moving this Motion, I ask the Minister what steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to strengthen the deployment of soft power, how we are going to combine soft power with hard power, and to affirm, as I hope she will, our continuing belief on all sides of the House that the BBC World Service and the British Council are indispensable in promoting British values and interests throughout the world.
My Lords, the number of speakers in the debate is testament to the huge respect in which both the World Service and the British Council are held in this House. I want to focus on the role of the British Council as part of the fabric that underpins the UK’s foreign policy, and our soft power. There are friends of the UK around the world for whom the first step towards engaging with our country was sitting in the library of the British Council office in their home city.
I have had a long connection with the British Council and was once one of its trustees. Since that time, the landscape in which the British Council operates has changed, and the council has changed, too. It is not widely known that the council now draws just 20% of its income from government, and as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has said, that is set to fall further. The council exists to provide a public benefit. It has evolved to become a very significant social enterprise with a turnover of nearly £1 billion, but it operates in an increasingly commercial and competitive environment. Its bridge-building work between the UK’s cultural and education sectors, and those overseas, is funded by delivering commercial services. I have no doubt that this social enterprise model has created some challenges for the council, although I am glad to say that it continues to grow, to provide indispensable services and, most of all, to provide a network of well informed staff around the world. It is an exemplar of an entrepreneurial public service model and, in that context, offers excellent value to taxpayers.
I have seen this in the context of universities. The council’s network of international offices is envied by many of our competitors. It has the ability to provide market intelligence and to anticipate opportunities in countries where links are not well established. These are functions that we should protect and support, and I hope that the Minister will agree that the Government should continue to fund them. There is inevitably a tension between its cultural relations role on the one hand, and on the other the need to provide services for which universities are willing to pay. I believe that the council is well aware of this and is sensitive to it.
When I was chief executive of Universities UK, I created a small international and Europe unit. I am delighted to learn that this has grown to be a significant organisation, delivering millions of pounds’ worth of benefits by identifying opportunities, making links, influencing policy and negotiating collective agreements around the world. The council should be applauded for the way in which it has adapted to this changed landscape. It has recognised that it can be most effective by working in partnership with Universities UK’s international unit and with parts of government pursuing opportunities overseas, such as the UKTI education unit. I hope that the Minister will agree that it is important to ensure that those sources of support are well articulated, and work in complementary ways rather than creating confusion and duplication.
I like the fact that the British Council has been working closely with the international unit of Universities UK on an advisory service to help universities develop the rapidly growing area of transnational education. I like the fact that the council is working alongside Research Councils UK, the national academies, the international unit and a range of other bodies to deliver aspects of the Government’s newly announced Newton Fund, which supports research links with 15 emerging powers around the world.
Yes, the world has changed since the creation of the British Council. Yet it remains an important part of the UK’s effort to promote strong and lasting relationships internationally, including through education links. Reduced funding has necessitated changes in strategy, yet it has picked its way sensitively and effectively through this increasingly complicated terrain. It is a hugely valuable asset to the UK. We should be proud of it, and we should continue to support it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for this debate. I speak on culture and media matters from these Benches, and I am an avid believer in the importance of the part played by both the BBC and the British Council in binding our nation together and defining us in the eyes of other nations. Yet their role and influence goes further, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. They are also key to the UK’s successful pursuit of soft power, defined in the very good recent report of a House of Lords Select Committee as,
“the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion”.
The pursuit of soft power is essential to UK diplomacy—and prosperity—in the 21st century. I declare an interest: I am the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Mexico, and in this capacity I have seen at first hand how cultural diplomacy is a major tool in pursuing collaboration on both an economic and a strategic level. In Mexico, the BBC is enjoyed, admired and trusted, and the British Council actively promotes British culture, language and values. Both are instruments by which those in Mexico understand who we are, what we stand for and what we offer.
2015 is the Year of Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico, and it will be a great mutual celebration. It will strengthen ties between our Governments, our people and organisations. This forging of greater bilateral trust and engagement will make both of us richer in every sense of the word. On the ground in Mexico, it is the British Council, alongside our embassy, that is making this happen.
I worked for the BBC across genres, across departments and across the globe. I remember that when filming years ago in the Gulf, a fisherman from Somaliland saw our camera and came up to talk. “BBC”, he said immediately, “BBC. We love the BBC”. He was talking about the World Service, which of course in those days was received through a physical entity known as a wireless, not through a wireless connection delivering to a multitude of platforms. The World Service has kept up with the times and now people across the world get their information through many devices, but whatever the device the BBC is respected as accurate, impartial, objective and free of national interests. This goes back to the Second World War. Penelope Fitzgerald, in her wonderful novel set in Broadcasting House, writes that the BBC was,
“dedicated to the strangest project of the war … that is, telling the truth”.
Over and over again we see people turn to it in times of crisis. Noble Lords may remember a photograph taken at the beginning of the Arab spring at a demonstration in Syria, of a young man holding up a placard with “Thank you BBC” written in English.
Charter renewal is upon us. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree that the BBC, funded by the licence fee, should be protected and celebrated. We on these Benches support the BBC taking over responsibility for the World Service from the Foreign Office, but the Minister will know that World Service funding has at this point been settled for only one year. Does she not agree that this makes important long-term planning difficult? I hope that she and the FCO will help in the charter process to ensure that the future of the World Service is not diminished.
My Lords, I welcome this debate on two renowned and much loved British institutions whose impact on the globe during the past century has been immense. We as Members of this House, and, indeed, the British people, can take great pride in what they have done to promote British values of decency, fairness and respect. Both the council and the World Service have ensured a lasting British impact and influence in all corners of the globe.
For reasons of time, and to reflect my own personal experience, I will concentrate my remarks on the BBC World Service. I declare an interest as a trustee of the BBC with responsibilities for the World Service. I should also note that I worked for eight years as a journalist and editor at the World Service’s then headquarters, Bush House, in the 1980s and early 1990s.
In a subsequent career at the United Nations I experienced at first hand, in Cambodia and the Balkans, how critical the World Service is for people caught up in the vortex of violence and conflict, where information is always the first casualty. In the Middle East, I have seen how vital are the BBC’s services in Arabic and Farsi, on radio, in television and online, for the peoples of that region, and perhaps now more than ever, when conflict rages and freedom of the press scarcely exists in any country from the Maghreb to the Gulf. The tasks facing the World Service are as great as ever. In this country, we look to the BBC for information, entertainment and education, but there are still all too many countries in this world where the BBC sheds light where darkness prevails. One of my former bosses, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the UN, declared the World Service to be Britain’s greatest gift to the world in the 20th century.
I am pleased to say that today, in a striking example of the BBC World Service’s continuing relevance and agility in adapting to changing circumstances, the Foreign Secretary has agreed to a new Thai language digital service being established. This online news service is responding to the need for accurate and impartial news and current affairs at a time when the Thai media are subject to censorship following the coup d’état of recent weeks. I welcome this move, which is of considerable importance. It may be a model suitable for a Korean service, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has advocated for some time. Although there are many difficulties in that regard, not least the funding, I salute the noble Lord’s endeavours. When I left the BBC in the early 1990s we broadcast in more than 50 languages, and nearly all on short wave. That number has now diminished to 27 languages, plus English. Our capacity in east Asian languages is much weaker than it was, making a viable Korean service difficult, although we have an online presence in languages such as Mandarin and Vietnamese.
I can testify that much of the focus in recent years has been on launching television and online services in Arabic and Farsi, which have had a great impact throughout the region. Nevertheless, the withdrawal from short-wave broadcasting during the past decade has been too fast, and in some cases deprived some of the most vulnerable audiences that the BBC World Service should serve.
Despite this, the World Service remains the most popular and best known of all international broadcasters. Yes, it is under pressure from competitors and budget cuts, but it is still primus inter pares. Following the financial settlement of 2010, it needs now to do more to show its relevance to licence fee payers.
Closure of the 648 kilohertz medium-wave service was a mistake and I propose to encourage the BBC Executive to do more to promote not only World Service language and World Service English but languages such as Somali, Urdu and Hindi, which have more speakers in our country than Welsh or Gaelic. The impact of the World Service on domestic radio and television has already been apparent, and we are seeing rather fewer white men in suits in the world’s trouble spots. I believe that as we embed the World Service further into the domestic BBC, our people will increasingly see its value at home and abroad.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for the opportunity to debate this topic, and for his introduction. The BBC World Service and the British Council are, of course, two of the best instruments we have for promoting our values and interests. I am proud to be the British Council’s deputy chair. This year is its 80th anniversary, and it has retained the same mission for which it was founded in 1934. It has, however, transformed its economic model and changed the way in which it fulfils that mission, in response to changing times.
The government grant now represents less than 20% of the British Council’s turnover. Entrepreneurship delivers the rest. This means that, at a time of declining public sector funding, it has been able to grow its influence for the UK. Some criticise this approach, seeing it as a deviation from its core function. In my view the critics are wrong. The mixed funding model is the engine that keeps the British Council’s global network in more than 100 countries running at a time of austerity. If we want to continue to benefit from the 80 years of relationships and experience that the council has established, it would be unwise to change the mixed funding model that has proved its worth for the UK.
The British Council’s establishment in 1934 was a conscious effort to counter extremist views, and spread values of democracy and free speech around the world. It has continued that work by taking the long view and maintaining a lasting presence in countries, even in circumstances when other forms of engagement are no longer possible. That continuity of presence and purpose has been central to the organisation’s success, and in creating the conditions for sharing our values and strengthening our business ties.
It was the British Council’s lasting presence in the countries of the former eastern bloc that proved so important 25 years ago. Staying in places such as Romania and Poland through the tough times meant that it was able to support these countries’ transformation into liberal open democracies. I could go on and give a number of other examples, but time does not permit.
The British Council’s cultural and artistic work, in today’s digitally connected world, is based on reciprocity —that is, on developing a shared understanding of the world through collaborative effort. This is the approach that we are currently using, for example, to work with South Africa to mark the celebration of 20 years of democracy, which will benefit not only South Africans but those in the UK.
The British Council’s school in Madrid, Spain, which opened in the 1940s during the years of dictatorship, offers bilingual and bicultural education, and was quite explicit about its intention to inculcate values of freedom, honesty, integrity and creativity. Now this school, in a different way, serves the same purpose as the British Council’s work in South Africa—promoting the aspects of our national life that are attractive to others, not least the excellence of our education and the values that underpin it.
This work does not set out overtly to export “British values”, but it is an indirect way of sharing important values—by keeping conversations going and by keeping doors open to exchange views, ideas and beliefs. Reciprocity and longevity are central to the British Council’s success, but those values do not always fit comfortably with the rather utilitarian and short-term views of those looking for immediate results.
The British Council has always had a degree of separation from the political arena and has had operational independence. Repeated studies and recent reports have shown that soft power should be, or appear to be, not closely state-directed. Those reports build on the Foreign Secretary’s concept of a networked world, which best sums up how the council will need to operate in future. That means that the British Council needs not only support but better understanding of how it operates and why. As the salience of soft power has increased, it is all the more important that the factors which have made the British Council so effective for 80 years are protected.
I should therefore be grateful if the Minister would assure the House that the Foreign Secretary and the FCO will do all that is required to ensure that the British Council’s entrepreneurial model and ethos will be supported. Any attempts to tamper with it or change it, as suggested by some, will be resisted—albeit with the promise of continuous improvement from the British Council. It would also be helpful to get an assurance that the British Council’s operational independence from government will be maintained.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak in this debate. I think that we all appreciate the importance of soft power in the modern world. We must therefore make friends and influence people overseas. I am very supportive of the BBC World Service and believe that it provides a truly valuable service, but I shall focus today on the work of the British Council.
The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, building lasting relationships between the UK and other countries. The British Council has been building long-term trust, people-to-people connections and international opportunities for the UK for more than 80 years. Each year, it works with millions of people on six continents and in more than 100 countries. It is an essential part of our international effort to promote British values and interests.
I speak as someone who has benefited from the work of the British Council. Growing up in Uganda, I found the British Council to be an extremely helpful and informative organisation. The regional representative of the British Council used to come to our school to give talks. There was a British Council library in my home town, and I used to borrow books from it frequently. It was through the British Council that I learnt about Britain—its constitution, institutions and values. Indeed, my first knowledge of this House doubtless came as a result of the British Council. Little did I know that I would end up in your Lordships’ House one day—I would never have dreamt that when I was young.
I came to the UK to study by myself, and my family arrived later. When I came to Britain, I stayed in a British Council residence: first in Knightsbridge and, following that, in Lancaster Gate. The council also helped me to find private accommodation in London and once, when I was once in hospital following an injury, a lady from the British Council used to come to see me frequently.
I have nothing but admiration for what the British Council does. I have continued to support it in my work ever since. I have travelled a great deal abroad and have spoken to representatives of the British Council all around the world, including in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Jordan and Nepal.
The British Council does admirable work, but in this country, at least, it is not good at telling people what it does. We must therefore publicise its work. I was pleased to learn that only 22% of the British Council’s funding comes from government, with 63% coming in the form of fees and income from services. By 2015, government funding will be less than 20%. I am pleased that the British Council seeks to maximise earned income to minimise the cost to the public of its activities.
The activities of the British Council can be summarised under the following headings: English examinations, language school accreditation, arts, education and society and overseas development assistance. As noble Lords will be aware, the British Council’s activities are under review, with the findings expected later this year. I would like to add my views on the subject.
I have already said that more needs to be done to promote the work of the British Council. I also think that the British Council could move out of central government, with its multifarious activities taken over by the private sector. I also believe that we need to put more power in the hands of local groups. The British Council is already a very good employer in the areas in which it operates, but individual facilities must be given more autonomy. However, they must work hand in hand with our embassies to ensure a joined-up approach to our overseas activities.
I am passionately supportive of the British Council and hope that the Government continue to give it the support it needs to carry on with the work that it does so well.
My Lords, the House must be in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving us the opportunity to debate this Motion. The expertise that is exposed in the contributions that we are listening to from all sides of the House speaks for itself. Perhaps I may presume to add two human faces in support of the BBC’s overseas programmes.
The first takes me back to the days of the hostage crisis in Beirut, in Lebanon, when I was privileged to lead the efforts on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury to gain the release of the hostages—British and Irish. I remember well the incident when a student in Beirut, with the gunfire surrounding us and the thunder of the gunfire filtering the air, said to me, “But for the BBC, we wouldn’t know what the outside world thought is going on”. That was a simple incident.
More recently, I visited North Korea, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted in his words a few minutes ago. From a most unlikely source, there was a remark that will live with me for a very long time. Obviously, I cannot disclose the complete circumstances, but the words speak for themselves. “Where”, he said to me, “is the BBC?”. If you knew the person who said that, the circumstances and the position that he held, it would set the balance right of many of the impressions that we have of what is going on in North Korea. Those words speak louder than statistics, transmission problems and the facilities needed, and I convey them to the House with great feeling.
In the present situation, vastly different to 1932 when this all began, with global conflicts and the transition from hard to soft power, the tactics that the BBC now employ to maintain that lifeline—a lifeline of voice, sound and meaning on behalf of our nation—must be maintained. Those of us who have contributed to the BBC’s overseas service, who welcome it and admire it, are among those most anxious that, in this period of financial change, everything is done in the new circumstances to maintain and advance the global role of such a service.
I implore the Minister, when she considers what she hears in this debate, to give serious consideration to those of us who worry that although a budget may be set forth with great hope and vision, there are always circumstances in which political reasons can be found to change it. I, for one, plead with her, as one who has been impressed with the way in which she listens to arguments such as this, to reassure the House that those fears are unfounded.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate, but I regret that he included the word “values” in the Motion. Not surprisingly, he said little about values in his opening remarks and made no attempt to clarify what those values are. That is my point.
We had a debate in this Chamber two weeks ago on the question, which was utterly inconclusive. It is instructive that both the British Council and the World Service in the briefings provided to noble Lords for this debate tried to define British values. The British Council described them as “respect and tolerance”; the World Service listed “fairness, integrity and independence”. “British values” means different things to different people; there is very little consensus on what the values are. Therefore, until such time as there is a settled view on what British values involve, it should not be seen as the role of the British Council, or indeed the World Service, to promote them, because what are they promoting?
The British Council and the World Service are institutions which I have supported and worked for and with for many years, and I have the greatest respect and admiration for them. Both have had to adapt to the effects of cuts in funding in recent times and each has accepted the challenges that brought with a determination to maintain their high standards and long reach. The British Council has had to bear a reduction in its FCO grant of around a quarter between the year 2009-10 and now. Rather than scale back its activities, it has grown its self-generated income and is on course to fill that gap. That is very much to be welcomed.
Every year with the assistance of the British Council more than 2 million people in more than 90 countries sit international exams leading to qualifications that improve their employment and life prospects in an increasingly competitive global market. However, the council’s activities form a two-way street, because by presenting the best of the UK’s cultural assets abroad they attract tourists, students and inward investment to the UK and build links between higher education institutions in the UK and overseas, expanding the exchange of research and innovation which benefits our economy.
The Foreign Secretary is currently considering the recommendations of the council’s triennial review and I hope he will ensure that when implemented it adequately reflects the fact that the British Council is a long-established and continuing success story which does Britain proud. Quite simply, if it did not exist, it would need to be invented. The same can be said of the World Service, which reaches more people worldwide than any other international broadcaster. Independent surveys consistently rate the BBC as the most trusted and best-known international news provider, as other noble Lords have already mentioned.
Three months ago the World Service underwent a fundamental change in its funding model. It was predicted prior to that—not least by a committee in the other place—that the move to licence-fee funding would see a reduction in services and quality of programmes, yet we hear that its funding this year has actually increased by more than £6 million. That is obviously very welcome, because despite suffering funding cuts in 2010 which led to the loss of a fifth of its staff, the World Service weathered that storm and today it can be said to be in very good health, with audiences are up by some 9 million on last year. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Alton, himself who referred to the situation in Russia and Ukraine as being largely responsible for that. At times of crisis, people know where to turn for dispassionate, fact-based reporting, delivered professionally by World Service staff on the ground.
I believe there remain concerns about governance. The man in charge of the World Service, Peter Horrocks, does not have the top-table seat in the BBC enjoyed by his predecessors, and secure guarantees are required over safeguarding the distinct nature of the World Service into the future. Equally, it is essential that the World Service should be taken into consideration when conversations around the BBC’s charter review and decisions about the future of the licence fee take place.
It is to be hoped that those in senior positions both at the BBC and indeed in government fully appreciate the huge asset that the World Service is both to the BBC and to Britain.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on obtaining this important debate. I am particularly glad that he mentioned the wider context of the soft power role of the World Service and the British Council in promoting British values and interests. I declare an interest as a member of the recent Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence and as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy.
My own practical experience of the BBC World Service was honed in Kenya and it became an affection when I was commanding a base on the remote border between Borneo and Indonesia during confrontation. My appreciation of the British Council was warmed four weeks ago when, with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Egypt, I visited Cairo. We were very impressed, first by the energy of the director of the British Council there, and secondly by the fact that he brought together some very interesting young students of English from Egypt who were able to explain to us the youth verdict on what was going on in Syria in a way in which we might not have otherwise realised.
I want to concentrate very briefly on three recommendations in the Select Committee’s report and say something about each of them. First, we stated:
“We are concerned that the Government are not currently doing enough to support the BBC World Service, and we urge the BBC and the Government to ensure between them that the BBC World Service’s budget is not reduced any further in real terms, and the opportunities for coordination across multiple platforms to deliver content are taken”.
The Government said that they disagreed with our recommendation but warmed us a bit by saying that they were currently working on a memorandum of understanding between the Government and the BBC.
Secondly, we stated:
“The Committee supports the use of DFID funding to assist the BBC's development work, and we urge further consideration of how this type of support can be expanded”.
We were very glad that the Government welcomed the support for DfID funding because that opens a much wider consideration of the way DfID funding is applied anyway.
Thirdly, on the British Council, we recommended:
“The Government must ensure that the British Council is properly resourced”.
The response we got was:
“The Government is firmly committed to the work of the British Council and recognises its significant contribution to the UK’s strategic interests through its work … and the Government will continue to work with the British Council on future funding”.
I took particular encouragement from the use of the words “United Kingdom’s strategies” because they suggest that soft power was being considered in wider terms than it had been before.
Reverting briefly to the committee, witnesses we had were effusive in their praise of both institutions. In particular I was very glad that the trust they both engendered was mentioned. I like to think that the tide is now flowing in favour of soft power and I am very glad that the momentum initiated by my noble friend’s debate today may be maintained both by the debate on the soft power report and in the national security strategy 2015 when that is produced.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Alton for securing this debate. I declare an interest as a producer at the BBC.
Noble Lords know the great reach of the World Service but I have my own experience. I was filming with the Evenki reindeer nomads in Siberia, 1,000 miles north of the Arctic circle. One evening, the young blades were going to take us to their nomad camp. It was supposed to be a three-hour journey. Unfortunately, they got a bit lost and it turned into a six-hour journey. The temperature was a little parky—minus 46 degrees. When finally we arrived at the camp, you can imagine our relief when we were shown our tent. Inside, warming the tent, was a marvellous gummy old Evenki lady who was chewing reindeer ligament to make it into thread for sewing. She looked at us and said, “I am so very pleased to meet the BBC. I have listened to you all my life. I have listened to your services through communism, through the chaos of democracy and through the autocracy of Putin. It shaped my view of the world. It shaped my view of my country”. I found that moving and very warming, literally.
Many noble Lords have spoken of the extraordinary work done by the World Service to project soft British power across the world and to shine a bright light of truth in places where it is being smothered by darkness and lies. I want to talk about the extraordinary work of my colleagues in the Russian and Ukrainian service of the BBC, who have seen the biggest audience increase of any service this year, to 14.5 million visitors monthly. It is not surprising as the Russian broadcast media has almost completely been taken over by government supporters pumping out nationalism and anti-western sentiment.
Earlier this year, when the Russian Government annexed Crimea, the anchor on the main Russian news announced that Americans must not forget that Russia can turn them to dust in 10 minutes. That was the anchor, not the Defence Minister or a nationalist. However, he has a point. Russia has a nuclear arsenal, an increasingly disciplined and well equipped army and a leader who appears to be prepared to attack its neighbours.
One of the great casualties of this year’s events in Ukraine, as in so many other conflicts, has been truth. The people of the Russia and Ukraine need disinterested news reporting to understand what is happening in their countries, and the BBC is providing that. I cite an example. In May this year, a bus carrying separatist troops was attacked outside Donetsk airport, and a number of separatists were killed. On that day’s evening news the Russians claimed a Red Cross vehicle carrying injured separatists to hospital had been hit by Ukrainian jets and 30 people killed. A Russian website even Photoshopped a picture of the Red Cross symbol onto the side of the vehicle. The BBC simply showed a picture of the vehicle, which did not have the Red Cross symbol on it. It reported that a vehicle with separatists on board had been attacked, it was not known how many were dead, and it was not known at that moment who had attacked them. The values of BBC journalism mean that reporters do not just say what they know but, equally importantly, say what they do not know. However, it is not just what is reported; it is also the tone and words used to report, which is so crucial. The Russians call the fighters in eastern Ukraine “supporters of federalism” and the Ukrainian media call them “terrorists”, while the BBC simply calls them “separatists”.
The inclusion of World Service funding in the licence fee means that whatever comes out of the charter discussions will affect it. We are told that another freeze in the licence fee would be a brilliant outcome, an improvement on the threatened move to a subscription service, which is being talked about. I ask the Minister to make sure that the funding is protected. People ask me why the licence fee payers of Britain should pay for the rest of the world to get the BBC when we do not benefit. In fact, World Service reporting increasingly affects the BBC journalism we receive in this country. Journalists from the World Service are used to report on our main news broadcasts in Britain. Last week, for instance, when there was the attack on Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine, there were no main BBC reporters present. The World Service reporters were the only people there. If you cut them you will also cut the news service that we receive here.
The BBC World Service is a global treasure which must be guarded and nurtured. I am so very proud to be the citizen of a country that supports an organisation transmitting what I see as British values: truth, free speech and democracy.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this important debate. In my brief contribution, I want to focus on India and education.
Taking first the BBC World Service, one of the many advantages of this wonderful institution is that radio broadcasts are available in Hindi. This increases the awareness of British current affairs enormously, which contributes to the cultural interaction between India and Britain. The English-language programmes provide something similar. For example, the “World Have Your Say” programme facilitates discussion of current affairs and cultural ideas, while documentaries increase knowledge and interest in British culture and events. Such programming can also assist in British efforts in international development, through the promotion of British values and increasing mutual understanding between the two nations.
Importantly, the English-language broadcasts also encourage the listeners in their own use of English and therefore provide an invaluable learning tool. There are resources devoted to the BBC “Learning English” programme, which provides free language-teaching resources to those studying English in India. It is clearly of great benefit to everyone involved that the ability to speak English is spread as far as possible. For example, many English speakers in India are of great benefit to British industry in India.
I should like to ask the Minister whether the Government have ever carried out any focused research on how far the BBC World Service is responsible for educating listeners about British culture and British values, particularly in India. Have people been asked why they choose to listen to the BBC World Service? Do we know what they get out of it? Do we know what they would like to see more of? I would be interested in the answers to these questions. If they are not being asked, I would suggest that perhaps they should be.
Turning to the British Council, the UK-India Education and Research Initiative is a programme that develops leadership, innovation and technical skills in leading educational institutions in India. In turn, this develops partnerships between these institutions and British universities, as well as with industry in the United Kingdom. This programme is supported by both the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; but the initiative I have highlighted would not have happened without the British Council. It is a vital tool in promoting Britain to the rest of the world, and is invaluable in shaping the way in which Britain is viewed.
My Lords, there is so much unanimity about the House today that we are in danger of being over-repetitive. However, in a world increasingly dominated by social media, which shape the views of so many impressionable young people around the world, the World Service can provide the United Kingdom with an opportunity to project in a professional and authoritative way our views on key global events. One has only to look at the propaganda that is being put out on social media by the ISIS people, who are brainwashing a young generation of people, including, sadly, people in our own country. But the one thing we do not want the World Service to become is an instrument of propaganda. It must retain a degree of independence and objectivity; otherwise its credibility throughout the world will be lost.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who is not now in his place, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, mentioned the position of Ukraine and Russia. I did not think that I would see in this day and age Cold War-style propaganda coming from Putin and his people. The reports that I listened to were so outrageous, so inaccurate and so misleading. Indeed, they were very dangerous because we know from experience that inappropriate reporting can lead to actual death and destruction on the ground. The material that was coming from Russian sources was absolutely outrageous. Having a source, an anchor, from which people can get reliable information, particularly if it comes from one of our own institutions, is something about which we should be proud.
I have to say that I have some more general concerns about the BBC. I know that the House will return to that issue when the discussions on the licence fee and so on come up. The BBC has perhaps lost focus in recent years. We have seen senior executives coming to the other place to defend the indefensible. That is most unfortunate. However, it is things such as the World Service that give many people in this country a sense of pride that there is something there to defend, protect and ensure. I often wonder whether the production of mindless game shows and other such programmes is really the core of the public service broadcasting ethos that I am sure many people in this House would wish to protect. However, we will have an opportunity to return to that issue. We certainly have not heard the last of it.
I am sure that the Minister will wish to look at the accountability aspect. The report from the Select Committee asked, “Do we want to have proper accountability to Parliament for the activities of the BBC in general?” We certainly do. If the accountability mechanisms are there, a lot of the problems that we have had in recent years will no longer be so strong.
In summary, I must say that the World Service is something that we are very proud of; it is something that is very successful; and I sincerely hope that it is long spared to promote truth and justice throughout the world.
My Lords, I will focus on the ways in which the World Service and the British Council need and use foreign languages. I do not question for a moment the importance of teaching and learning English around the world. However, in the 21st century, speaking only English is as much of a disadvantage as speaking no English.
I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages, whose secretariat is provided by the British Council, and as one of the vice-chairs of the British Council All-Party Group.
The World Service operates in 28 languages. Five of the language services were cut following the spending review in 2012 and others were reconfigured to reflect changing use of media. The Hindi service was one of those cut, but then reprieved—I believe because of a commercial funding partnership. I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify how the very successful Hindi service is now funded and whether it is now secure. What of other language services that were not reprieved? For example, I believe that there is no longer a service in Spanish to Cuba, or in Portuguese to Africa. Perhaps the Minister could say whether these two have been reviewed. It is the Foreign Secretary who decides whether to open or close a language service. I should like to know what the criteria are, what the process is, and who else is consulted.
The World Service plans to boost language service websites, do more multilingual programming and more translation of key TV programmes. Multilingual journalists do such a great job because they bring not only language skill but the local and cultural knowledge that goes with it. They can analyse and interpret, interview and comment, in a way that no monolingual could ever hope to. However, the pipeline of talent for multilingual journalists is in danger of drying up. The UK lags well behind our international competitors and things are getting worse. GCSE take-up has improved but there is an alarming drop at A-level. Forty-four British universities have scrapped language degrees since the year 2000. We are not taking advantage of the linguistic talent of the 4.2 million people in the UK whose first language is not English but who speak some of the languages in demand for business, diplomacy and the World Service. These include Korean, Arabic, Turkish, Mandarin, Pashto and Farsi.
The British Council plays an important part in keeping this pipeline open. It supports thousands of students every year through the Erasmus programme. It brings native speakers into UK classrooms—nearly 2,000 last year—through the language assistant scheme. Its partnership with HSBC promotes Chinese. Other schemes support school partnerships with francophone African countries to support French, and with Brazil to develop Portuguese. Despite this, only 9% of English 15 year-olds are competent in a foreign language beyond a basic level compared with 42% across 14 other countries. Languages are compulsory up to age 16 in 69% of independent schools, but in only 16% of state schools. It will be 2025 before we see the full impact of the Government’s policy on key stage 2 languages. In the mean time, a whole range of relationships, services and functions which collectively constitute the kind of soft power spearheaded by the World Service and the British Council could be unsustainable unless the Government get a grip our languages deficit.
I ask the Minister, finally, whether she will initiate a coherent cross-departmental languages strategy. The FCO has continued responsibility for the World Service language services, as well as being the department with a most excellent resource itself in the language centre, so it surely has the authority and the enlightened self-interest to take this step.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing it so thoroughly. Because they operate overseas and mainly to overseas audiences, both the BBC World Service and the British Council—particularly the latter, perhaps—are not widely understood and appreciated in this country. More should be done to raise their profiles with the taxpayers who fund them.
Given the number of excellent and informative contributions today and the quantity of briefing that has been put together, as well as the Select Committee report on soft power, there is clearly plenty of evidence of the valuable roles that these institutions play in promoting the United Kingdom and its values and interests worldwide. So I do hope that this debate is well reported. It may be that the British Council’s cultural programme for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will also be helpful in bringing its role to the attention of the British public.
As a member of the all-party group on the British Council, I intend to focus on this side of the debate. The all-party group which is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has given us, in both Houses of Parliament, the opportunity to hear from a series of regional directors who operate in the Middle East, China, Latin America, Afghanistan and elsewhere. From these meetings, the way in which the British Council’s educational role, in particular the teaching of English, visibly supports the UK efforts to maintain and increase trade and commerce is made very clear. Sadly, these meetings are not always well attended by Members of Parliament, which suggests that many do not perhaps consider this area of their work as a high priority. I think that is terrible. It means in turn that when budget and funding issues arise, there may be insufficient champions of these institutions in the other place. Perhaps after the next election we can do something about that.
In the few minutes that remain, I would like to revert to an issue that I raised with your Lordships on other occasions. As has been said, the British Council does valuable work overseas in promoting British universities and other educational establishments in selection processes for fellowships and scholarships, and also in encouraging the formation of student alumni associations in various countries in order to maintain the links that have been formed. I am particularly aware of this in Mexico, because there are significant numbers of Mexican students who come to this country and many of them become leading figures in the political world and in industrial fields. Maintaining that link is important and valuable.
I believe there is also a role for the British Council in this country. In the old days there was a British Council presence in most university cities—my noble friend Lord Sheikh referred to this. The British Council provided a centre not only for overseas students to meet and relax but also where they could meet British people. Too often nowadays students come to this country and remain in an international grouping, having little or no contact with British people or the British way of life. It is not likely that we will be able to return to the concept of a British Council house in every university city, but if the British Council were to take a lead in providing co-ordination in this area, I ask my noble friend whether the Government would be prepared to support it.
My Lords, honest and accurate reporting plays a vital role in conflict, as my noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames reminded us just now. We all benefit from the risks that these men and women take in the course of their duties. We would do well to remember them more often.
I sincerely congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing this further instalment of a time-honoured debate. The BBC World Service has a well deserved reputation for the integrity and honesty of its reporting and for its diplomatic outreach. It is also highly respected among news reporters themselves, who are the best judges of what can and cannot be trusted. I have some experience of the World Service in developing countries. For example, I thought highly of Focus on Africa for many years and I occasionally contributed to it.
I was pleased to learn that the Afghan service is not winding down in line with ISAF’s defence arrangements but will continue. The BBC reaches around 25% of those in Dari-speaking areas and 21% of those in Pashtun areas every week, which is quite a high proportion. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that the FCO and DfID will continue to support programmes such as the radio soap opera “New Home, New Life” and “Afghan Woman’s Hour”. Many such programmes have international development content, as my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham mentioned, and a BBC survey found that 39% of listeners to “Afghan Woman’s Hour” were men learning about women’s issues such as domestic violence and equality of opportunity.
There have been other successes through the training of local journalists, including refugees: Yalda Hakim, who was born in Afghanistan in 1983 and fled with her family into Pakistan, later returned to Kabul as an Australian broadcast journalist and is currently working for BBC World News.
As has been said, it was a great disappointment to those who follow eastern Europe that under the 16% cuts proposed in the review several services were scheduled to close, including those in the western Balkans. This came at a time when the concept of European Union enlargement not only had become a priority but was one area where the EU could demonstrate considerable success. We have heard since then that through force of circumstance there seems to have been a change of heart. I understand that the Ukrainian service has been much more active, with more local journalists, and has trebled its audience. What changes have taken place in the coverage of events in eastern Europe? Are people there becoming limited to online and digital services, or do they benefit from the full range of live radio reporting?
It is an important time for our relations with Russia. The BBC’s Russian service seems to have continued and expanded its audience, but I would like to hear whether the Minister thinks it is going to confront the Kremlin’s hostile propaganda about the European Union. Incidentally, I recommend to colleagues the BBC’s monitoring service, which, in spite of cuts, still collects news from all around the world. This week, for instance, I learnt that the St Petersburg migration service has had 22,000 applications from would-be migrants and refugees from Ukraine—only on the World Service.
I will say a final word about the British Council, of which I am an enthusiastic supporter. Its office in Juba, South Sudan, remained open throughout the conflict last December. This is an excellent example of the transformative value of culture during conflict. The council has developed an amazing and daring range of projects, and I hope that it will be able to reopen its office and continue.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate and on putting values and British interests centre stage, and indeed on linking them. We may not be able adequately to define British values, but I think that all the versions we have seen are pretty compatible with each other. I am also very clear that British values are central to the UK’s reputation and influence in the world. Like others, I see this around me in many different parts of the world.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Alton’s concerns about the resources and support for the World Service and the British Council, and will listen to the Minister’s answer with great interest. The report from the British Academy that has been referred to encouraged the Government to invest in and sustain soft-power institutions such as these over the long term and at arm’s length. That seems to me to be the right formula. That report also pointed out that everything British people do abroad is taken as a representation of the country or a projection of Britain abroad, and it referred to the compartmentalisation of government on this. Those are the points that I want to take up, and I shall ask three questions about them regarding these two great institutions—in other words, how they link with other British activity abroad.
I shall start with what I know about, which is health. You cannot now run the Department of Health or the NHS without having a global perspective on national policy. This means many things, from sharing in the management of global epidemics to, just as importantly, the mutuality of learning and sharing of research in policy development. There is now an established tradition of health as foreign policy and health diplomacy. I am delighted that the Government have set up Healthcare UK to lead this work and to develop these relationships, building largely on the NHS; what could be more emblematic of British values than the NHS? I believe that this is true in other areas and assume that therefore most, if not all, domestic departments need to have some kind of foreign policy, if you like. I wonder how strongly government departments are encouraged to develop relationships with the World Service and the British Council to develop this role.
The comments about activity being a projection of Britain abroad also reflect the importance of civil society and the links of all sorts between hospitals, schools, villages and commercial organisations that exist across countries and continents. Moreover, in today’s atomising society, people-to-people links are more important than ever. People get their news, information and opinions from diverse sources. People are influenced by people like them. National boundaries have become largely meaningless in the way in which people relate to each other around the world. In that context, I also note that today’s Britain is rich in diversity of cultural backgrounds and languages, and in familial and religious links that circle the globe. These, too, are a projection of Britain abroad, a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute and perhaps second-by-second source of interactions globally.
These reflections leave me with three questions for the Minister. What can she say about relationships between domestic departments, such as health and education, and the World Service and the British Council? Do these organisations reflect the full range of interactions and possibilities, or is there more that should be done to encourage these departments to engage? Secondly, what contribution can and does the very diversity of the UK population make to the UK’s soft power? That question may go a bit beyond the remit of this debate but it links to my third question. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s reflection on how effective the Government think these two great institutions, the World Service and the British Council, are in using and harnessing the power of electronic communications and social media to project and develop the UK’s reputation globally.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate. I shall introduce three reservations about the discussion that we have had. First, I do not think that it is a good idea to couple the BBC with the British Council. We should not lump them together because they play different roles in our policies. The British Council is expected to promote Britain abroad in a way that the BBC is not; the latter is an independent organisation and expected to be a voice of impartiality and objectivity.
Secondly, although both are asked to promote British values and interests, we are not entirely sure what British values are specifically in mind, especially in relation to other countries that share almost all our values. When we talk about British interests, we also need to bear in mind that there can be genuine disagreement between two political parties, or between the British Council and the BBC itself, about what British interests are. We should therefore allow for a divergence of views.
The third thing that slightly worries me is the notion of soft power. I have always felt uneasy about it because it seems to be an oxymoron; if it is too soft then it cannot be power, and if it is power then it cannot be too soft. I generally find that if everything is geared to the mobilisation of power, we are in danger of corrupting almost everything that we value because it then becomes an instrument of mobilising power. I want to stay away from the language of “hard power” or “soft power”, whatever “soft power” may mean, and talk instead in terms of moral authority. We as a country want to be trusted and respected; our intentions should be recognised as honourable and other people should want to listen to us. When we express an opinion, people should say, “That’s a mature society reflecting a view. We’d better hear it”. This is not the same as soft power because it is simply us being ourselves, living up to our own ideals and, in the process, exerting a silent influence on others, not deliberately but through people recognising that we have something to say and respecting our moral stature.
Having got rid of these three general points, in the minute that I have left I want to turn to three questions that I have for the Minister.
First, so far as the BBC is concerned, people are simply amazed that we in this country should have an organisation which we fund and over which we can exercise control and yet we restrain ourselves and allow it to speak freely, including criticising the country. The BBC already exemplifies an extremely important value. That means that we should keep a distance between the BBC and the FCO.
Secondly, we are not entirely clear about the role that ethnic minorities can play in projecting Britain abroad. They are our ambassadors and they should be invited to play an important role in the thinking of the BBC and the British Council. I am thinking, for example, of the fact that the Foreign Secretary has announced that we will be having a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. That is one thing in which the Indian community here could be more effectively involved—certainly, the Gandhi Foundation, of which I happen to be the president. The Gandhi Foundation and other bodies have views on what kind of statue to have and how it should be organised and so on, and I recommend that they should be involved.
Lastly, while the British Council has an important role to play in projecting Britain abroad, I am not entirely sure that it has always been as imaginative and inventive as it could be. Great changes are taking place in the world at large—in India, for example. The British Council could play a major role in bringing the debates that are taking place in India to Britain. Likewise great change is taking place in Britain and those debates could be projected to India so that people can become familiar with how profoundly Britain is changing. I hope I have made some of the points I wanted to make and I would welcome a response from the Minister.
My Lord, I have great admiration and respect for both the British Council and the BBC World Service but I want to focus in the few minutes I have today on the BBC World Service. If I may be allowed one small comment on the title of the debate, I would have preferred to talk about the BBC World Service as promoting British interests through promoting British values, which would have guaranteed the independence and objectivity that are so important to it and to which other noble Lords have referred.
The BBC World Service has built up a huge and justified reputation for clear and objective reporting of developments around the world, and it is listened to for that reason. The more closed and controlled the regime abroad to which it is broadcasting, the more important its broadcasts and values are to the people who listen to it. That is why a number of noble Lords who have spoken today, and whose views I share, would very much like the BBC World Service to be broadcasting to North Korea. I know there are difficulties in that but I think it is an aspiration that it should keep.
Those who listen to the BBC World Service in countries like North Korea know that the broadcasts come from London but what is even more important is knowing that they are independent and unbiased. For that reason I, for one, am glad that the World Service is now funded from the BBC’s budget and not from the FCO’s. When I was in the Foreign Office and travelling, for example, in Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, I found a certain wry scepticism as to whether the BBC World Service could be genuinely independent when funded by the state. The BBC is seen as pretty independent, largely because every Government thinks it is part of the Opposition. That seems to me to be a better place for the BBC World Service to be. I am sure that Members of this House and others will put the necessary pressure on the BBC to ensure that the World Service gets the support and the funding that it needs.
Perhaps this is rather daring in the light of what one or two others have said, but I want to finish by saying a word or two about the values that we hope the BBC World Service and the British Council will promote. The British Council sums those up pretty well in its latest annual report, speaking of our openness and pluralism as a society, to which I would add tolerance. These values come under attack from time to time, sometimes from within, sometimes from without, but they seem to have an enduring quality. They include an openness to ideas; an outward-looking society; a free if, we hope, responsible press; and a plural society, open to and respecting different cultures and faiths as long as they respect us too. We do not always keep to that, of course, and our press and the social media tend to focus on our failings and not our success. I thought it sad last week that more prominence was given to the intemperate remarks of a young Briton in Syria than to the appeal by British imams, Sunni and Shia, for those who want to help those suffering in Syria and Iraq to do so through respectable and responsible charities rather than through fighting. I would add to that list of values a tolerance of others and a respect of others’ views at home and abroad. It seems to me that openness, pluralism and tolerance within a democratic society governed by the rule of law are important values in an unstable and rather dangerous world. The more that the BBC, particularly the World Service, can do to promote those values overseas in its own way, the more it is not just helping those who live in other societies but promoting British interests too.
My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Jay that really what we are debating today is the promotion of British interests through British values. That is an important way of looking at it.
I want to go back to focusing on the excellent report of the Select Committee on soft power, which my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham mentioned earlier. It highlighted the importance of not only the British Council and the BBC World Service but the Commonwealth in the promotion of British values and interests. I should like to see a strengthening of that connection between the Commonwealth, the British Council and the BBC. I do not need to deploy the arguments about the Commonwealth to this House. It represents 25% of the world’s population and a cross-section of nations, religions, cultures and values, but it has a common set of values through the Commonwealth Charter. I welcome the fact that, in paragraph 155 of the report to which I referred, the British Council talks about the need to not underplay the value of the Commonwealth to the United Kingdom. The report states:
“It brings countries together and celebrates and promotes shared values and experiences”.
An excellent example of this is the collaboration that is taking place now in Glasgow between the British Council, the BBC and the Commonwealth, where they are promoting British culture through music, dance, film, visual arts and the written word against the background of the Commonwealth Games, which are about to open. I am very proud of the fact that, as a former Arts Minister, I nominated Glasgow to be the European City of Culture in 1990. Another example is the collaboration between the BBC, the British Council and the Commonwealth Secretariat connecting a network of pupils aged between seven and 14 in 100,000 schools throughout the Commonwealth. I can think of no better way of strengthening soft-power links than through children at school, using the Commonwealth, the British Council and the BBC as the asset.
I want to ask the Minister two questions. First, does she recognise that the collaborative project in Glasgow could have an enormous impact within the Commonwealth as a whole if it does not end at the time of the Commonwealth Games but is built upon thereafter? Secondly, does she agree that the 53 Commonwealth countries should make sure that their work features in any long-term planning at the British Council and the BBC, and that any reports that they make should embrace the Commonwealth approach? I am not suggesting that any of this should be at the expense of the work that the British Council and the BBC do outside the Commonwealth but I think we are throwing away a real asset and benefit to Britain if we do not urge closer collaboration between those three groups.
My Lords, whether the BBC World Service can fulfil its role is dependent on where it is broadcast. The BBC charter states that it should deliver news to,
“audiences with the least access to high quality impartial news”.
Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi are just a few of the notable modern heroes who testify to the importance of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC World Service when information is scarce. However, at a time when promoting British values is a role for our schools, the role of the BBC World Service in that task should not be underestimated. There are more than 2 million listeners here in the UK, but when I checked the annunciator in my office this morning I noticed that the World Service is not broadcast through our channels here. Perhaps that is something that we may look at remedying in the light of today’s debate.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in congratulating the BBC today. In light of the military coup in Thailand and its effect on free information, today marks the start of a digital news stream in Thai and English. I also commend the BBC for finding funds at such short notice for that service. The UK’s contribution to aid in Syria for the refugees is a stunning £600 million. Has DfID made sure that the many people residing in refugee camps who have access to television and radio have access to the BBC World Service? That is not conditionality, it is merely common sense.
Two vital countries, North Korea and South Korea, enjoy no radio broadcasts in either English or Korean by the BBC World Service. South Korea, a G20 country, the 15th largest economy in the world, with bilateral trade with the UK of £500 million a year, has no broadcast. Surely BBC broadcasts to that peninsula, promoting our interests and values, would increase that.
North Korea has a Cold War information embargo and is ranked 178th out of 179 countries for freedom of access to information. Why, then, is the BBC World Service not there? The BBC cites two main reasons. First, do North Korean people have a means to listen? That is, of course, hard to establish in a closed country but a 2010 survey of defectors found that 27% listened to foreign radio before escaping. Surely there were similar issues during the Cold War when the BBC broadcast. Of course, the Chinese might jam the signal to their 2 million ethnic Korean population, and perhaps only a small percentage of the North Korean population would be reached. However, the BBC funds minute services: in the Uzbek language to 400,000 listeners, and in Tamil to an audience of 200,000. The second reason given is that it would cost about £1 million to launch the service. However, surely the option of funding this from top-up advertising, as happens in Berlin, could be considered. The radio service would cover Seoul, which is a huge market, and advertising on the Korean-language website would surely be an avenue to explore.
The BBC is innovating technologically at break-neck speed, but is there such innovation around funding? Could it not even attempt to crowd-fund this? Perhaps more conventionally, can my noble friend the Minister outline whether DfID funding could be made available to fund such a service?
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea by Justice Michael Kirby claimed that the practices of the North Korean Government were so appalling that they conjured up,
“images of the Holocaust and the great suffering of the Jewish people and other minority groups in Nazi Germany”.
Yet despite these violent barriers that prevent ordinary North Koreans from receiving information from the outside world, many still do. I grew up during the deep recession of the 1980s, and we saw the importance then of broadcasting to closed, mainly communist, countries. If the North Korean people are brave enough to try and listen, we should broadcast.
My Lords, like others, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton for the chance to debate these two terribly important institutions. A good deal has been said about soft power, and I am tempted to cite a moral tale from classical Chinese Taoism: the power of water. Water appears to be the most flexible, malleable thing that there is, but it is about the strongest thing there is. You can try to dam it, you can try to divert it, but it will always get through. That is not quite a motto to put up on Broadcasting House, but it is something like that. If the British Council and the BBC keep going long enough, they get through.
I will concentrate on two areas concerning the British Council. I am a huge enthusiast for the BBC World Service and, like many others, I have depended on it for much of my life, but I have been involved, directly or indirectly, with the British Council—I declare that interest—having some time ago been a trustee for eight years and a chairman of the Scottish committee.
From practically nothing, the British Council operation in China has grown to an enormous size. There is a staff of something like 350. There are operations in Beijing and three other major cities. The potential there is colossal. It is said that some 300 million people in China wish to get more involved in the learning of English; that is of course something that the British Council does superbly. Another important thing, referred to by my noble friend Lady Coussins, is that the British Council goes in two directions: it also helps to recruit teachers of Chinese to come to this country and help people here to learn Chinese. That two-way process is valuable.
Another thing which comes from China is part of the process of “slow movement”. Many years ago I had a Chinese friend who had never left China. In the short period between the defeat of the Japanese and the victory of the Chinese communists he was involved with the British Council in Beijing; he did plays and learnt a lot. He was one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of British literature I have ever met. After all the vicissitudes and problems of the Cultural Revolution, he eventually became a rather significant person in the Chinese cultural scene.
That is part of my water analogy. It is a drip that started a long time ago, but the power of that drip is realised long after. I suggest that it means that you cannot create a balance and loss sheet every year for the British Council. You have to think long term, not just about what is happening in the course of one year.
The British Council is also an interesting example of an organisation in the UK which very early on realised the significance of devolution and the re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament, and placed itself so that British Council Scotland was seen to be valuable. There were those who said that there should be a “Scottish Council”, but people quickly realised that that would be very expensive indeed; and that, more importantly, the British Council could do it as well if not better than a separate one. The work that could be done by a regional part of the British Council is invaluable. As my noble friend Lord Luce just said, British Council Scotland and the British Council being involved in the Commonwealth Games is a good example of that.
If, in September, the vote goes for a continuation of the union, it will be important not only that British Council Scotland shows that it represents culture in Scotland as well as in the whole of the UK, but that British Council Wales and British Council Northern Ireland and the regions of England also do the same. You need a British Council which is truly British, and not just part of an organisation.
Finally—if I am not going too far—on money from teaching English, it is sometimes said that the triennial review may say that the British Council’s role in teaching English should be reduced. I hope that the Minister may be able to assure us that that will not be the case. Of course there should be competition in teaching, but earning that amount of money is one of the things that enables that great organisation to do so much else as well.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton, as many have before me, for securing this debate. I will say a few words about the World Service.
Some years ago, I was in western Sudan on a motorcycle and needed to stop for the night at a village. I did so and, during the evening, the local policeman brought out into the street a radio on a table, around which the villagers gathered and listened to the news from London, as they clearly did every night. The policeman turned to me and commented, “The BBC. Now we know what’s really going on”. That story has always remained with me and I know that many of us in this House have other versions—from Timbuktu to Kathmandu.
There has also been reference to the World Service’s actions in Russia. I should alert your Lordships to some inaccuracy abroad. I was taken to a school in the far north of Russia. On my arrival, two small boys were heard to discuss my appearance. One said to the other, “A Lord, and still alive!”, to which the other shook his head disapprovingly, and said, “Yes, but without his dinner jacket”.
The World Service, as a source of balanced and accurate international coverage, has earned an audience of many millions around the world. Whatever our definition of British values, it is clear that some states, now in the ascendant, do not share them and are spending heavily on their own version of soft power activities. If we believe in sharing our core values, we need more than ever to ensure that we are heard alongside and above those voices, not only those of states but also those of organisations. The World Service is such a powerful instrument of soft power quite simply because it is seen to be independent. It stands apart from the organs of the state; it projects a way of living and thinking, rather than current political policies, and it is famous for consistently telling the truth. That is the World Service brand.
That is also why successive financial cuts to the World Service over recent years have been so worrying. Time does not permit detailing them here, and others have touched on them. There have been expansions in other areas to set against this—the Persian and Arabic World Service TV audiences, for example; these now number some 50 million viewers. That growth in audience numbers, in a younger audience and with the wider range of media now deployed, suggests that the World Service is thriving. I celebrate that, as I am sure we all do.
I have two concerns. In seeking to be popular, the World Service must not become populist. In seeking to be contemporary, it should not become simply commercial entertainment. This is something which others have touched on, and I believe that there will be increasing pressure for it to do so.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, what hard evidence is there that moving on to the BBC licence fee has created a more stable basis for the World Service to plan ahead, or is it still beset by uncertainty? Secondly, does she agree that the World Service should grow and be at the heart of BBC strategic decision-making processes, and is that reflected in sufficient representation at board level? Thirdly, if the World Service budget does come under pressure, will the Government step in to assist, or will they simply declare it to be out of their hands?
As an outward-looking nation, the continued success of the World Service is vital to our future. It needs to grow in coverage, not to cut corners. That needs more resources year on year, not less.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak for the Opposition in this excellent debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing it, and all other speakers who have added to it immensely with their wide expertise.
Before beginning my remarks, I have to declare an interest—which has already been declared for me—as chairman of the British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group. The make-up of its officers is truly all-party. The secretary is a Conservative Member of Parliament and its treasurer is a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament. As the House has heard, two of its vice-chairs are the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, from the Cross Benches, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, at whose feet I often sit to learn about foreign affairs and particularly about the British Council. I suppose that I should also declare an interest as a British Council child—my father was a senior British Council officer for many years.
I believe that both the institutions we are discussing are profoundly important to Britain’s place in the world. I call them institutions, as we have during the course of this debate, as a mark of respect. They have both earned that title over time. We have heard many examples of the good that they do in today’s world. They are something of which this country can be proud—not only in the field of soft power but because they are a significant part of modern Britain itself. We would be a much less civilised country without them. Each faces challenges of its own and I shall try to deal with some of these. However, if there is one overriding danger that both face, it is the danger of short-termism. That was exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, made a few minutes ago. By that, I mean the tendency of Governments—Governments of all complexions—not to think sufficiently of the long term.
In the British Academy paper The Art of Attraction, which some of us were sent for this debate, the authors make that point powerfully in relation to both the World Service and the British Council. In the summary, it says:
“Despite their relatively low cost to the public purse, higher education, cultural organisations, arts and museums, the BBC World Service, and other soft power assets have not been protected from financial cutbacks. Neither have the substantial advantages of proper investment in them been fully recognised. If governments are patient enough to wait for the long-term gains, they will reap more benefits than by striving too hard to deploy these potential assets or by running them down for the quick fix of improving a budget deficit”.
“Governments would be well-advised … To invest in and sustain soft power institutions such as the BBC, the British Council, and the education system over the long term, and at arm’s length”.
I accept that it is much easier to say all that than actually to do it, but I believe that it is an argument that demands very serious consideration.
There was a general feeling that the cuts made to the World Service and the British Council following the 2010 spending review were unfortunate, to say the least. My right honourable friend the shadow Foreign Secretary argued at the time that foreign policy should advance British values and British interests—which are almost exactly the same words as are used in this Motion. I am sure that the Government would agree with that statement. Of course the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could not be exempt from cuts, but was it wise to reduce expenditure on those two organisations, given their reach across the world and their significance to millions around our planet?
Here we are some time later, and challenges still abound. However, there seems to be a consensus—certainly in this House, shared by the major political parties, but outside it too—that both these organisations are an essential part of the soft power agenda. This was recently reported on by the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Howell.
The World Service reaches a huge proportion of people worldwide. Not surprisingly, it has been warmly praised in this debate, in the same way as it is praised outside Parliament too. The fact that so much jamming and blocking takes place is surely another huge compliment to this service. If its broadcasting did not have an effect, why would some Governments seek to prevent it? As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, stressed in his opening, we should be very concerned by increasing violence and intimidation against journalists the world over.
The move to licence fee funding is clearly a significant step, and it is good that the BBC has managed to put some—I think it would agree minor—new investment into the World Service. However, as has been said, the real test will come in a little while, when the charter is up for renewal. We will then be able to judge better what will happen in the future. Alternative sources of funding are of course a fact of life for the World Service; and I note the corporation’s belief that, at most, that could and should provide no more than 10% to 15% of World Service funding in the long term. The point has already been made about the new digital news stream in Thai and English. It is hard to overstate the crucial role that the World Service plays. Does the Minister agree that Her Majesty’s Government must do all in their power to ensure that such a crucial asset is not allowed to wither away?
The British Council has had to undergo huge changes in the past few years, too. A grant cut of 26%—down to £154 million in 2014-15—befell the British Council as a consequence of the spending review. On its own, that would have been near fatal. However, as we have heard, thanks to the leadership that the British Council has shown—great credit should be given to various previous chairmen of the trust, and in particular to the chief executive, Sir Martin Davidson—it has built up at least 75% of its income through fees and income from services and commercial activity. Frankly, that mixed economy of mixed funding has allowed the British Council to continue its vital work in nearly 150 countries and territories.
I shall conclude with a couple of points. First, these days the British Council plays a significant role in areas of the world where enormous changes take place every day. It is in the front line in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. It represents British interests and does good in very difficult circumstances, from Syrian refugee camps to Ukraine. That demands special qualities from its staff, not least courage, whether they are local or British. The British Council libraries have of course been a council tradition for very many years, and around the world, many of them have been modernised. The old saying is apparently still true—that in various countries the protesters protest in the streets during the day, but in the evening they sit in the British Council library and talk. That is a reputation that the British Council should be proud of. The council has been very quick to respond to changes taking place in the world. Just look at its current work in countries such as Burma—where it has worked closely and very successfully with the FA Premier League—Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and, as we have heard, Sudan.
Secondly, about two years ago I instigated a debate on the British Council in your Lordships’ House. One message that came across from around the House, and it is even more relevant today, is that the council must remain a public service organisation. That allows it to have the influence that it has. There was much concern that the balance between public funding and commercial income should not go too far in the latter direction. If the council should ever be considered primarily as a commercial organisation, its influence would gradually disappear. Any Government must constantly be alive to that danger. We await the outcome of the triennial review. Can the Minister tell us when we can expect it? This has been an excellent debate and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate. I also thank all noble Lords for a wide-ranging debate with incredibly thoughtful contributions.
As this House is aware, the Government are a strong supporter of both the BBC World Service and the British Council. Both organisations are hugely valued—and valuable—soft power assets for the United Kingdom. They are both, rightly, known and respected around the world for working hard to promote and model—dare I say, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Watson—the UK’s values of fairness, dignity, liberty and justice. I have just given the noble Lord another list. However, I take his point on the difficulty of a full and final agreed list of definitions of British values. Quite rightly, today there has been much praise and support for both organisations. However, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and other noble Lords, that when the Government faced very difficult financial decisions to reduce the deficit, these organisations could not be exempt.
The BBC World Service has—as this House knows, and as we have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Colville—a global reach. It provides audiences across the world with free, fair, impartial and informed national and international news, and its global mission and reach is even more important in these troubled times. It helps to protect the most basic of human rights—the right to freedom of opinion and expression—allowing people to receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers. Although the World Service is no longer funded by the FCO, we remain fully committed to supporting its work and global role. We continue to work with the World Service in support of our mutual objectives.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, asked specifically about funding. The BBC funding of the World Service for 2014-15 is £245 million—£6 million more than the final year of FCO funding. That includes £8 million of new investment in digital and multiplatform use programming. No announcement at this stage has been made on the funding for 2015-16. However, the BBC has publicly committed to maintaining at least the £245 million for the 2014-15 financial year, until the charter review.
The Foreign Secretary’s responsibilities have not changed. He will continue to agree with the BBC Trust the objectives, targets and priorities of the World Service, and the languages in which it is provided, and will continue to meet the chair of the BBC Trust annually to discuss performance and achievements.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and a number of other noble Lords referred to the Thai language service. The Foreign Secretary was of course pleased to approve the BBC’s approval of the establishment of a digital Thai language service. Mr Swire, the Minister for South East Asia, said that that was an “excellent idea” which would,
“help support the freedoms of expression and thought which are such critical parts of any successful democracy”,
and that the initiative,
“embodies what the BBC is all about”.
As my noble friend Lady Berridge said, it was a timely and much-needed move.
My noble friend Lord Loomba spoke about the BBC World Service India service. The BBC World Service carries out an extensive range of surveys in all its 27 foreign language services, which is included in its shaping of its service offering. Within that there is a survey of the specific language service that the noble Lord spoke about. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke about specific programmes in Afghanistan. While I cannot speak about the programming decisions or schedule of the BBC World Service regarding Afghanistan, I assure him of our ongoing commitment to democracy, freedom of expression and women’s rights. Indeed, DfID’s commitment to those very specific issues will form the backdrop of any support and funding.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Jay, my noble friend Lady Berridge and other noble Lords, spoke about the possibility of a BBC World Service presence in North Korea. We agree that there is a pressing need for a free, fair and impartial news service in the DPRK. Unfortunately, actions taken by the DPRK authorities severely limit the ability of North Koreans to listen to the cross-border broadcasts currently provided by a number of organisations.
I know that noble Lords have heard me talk about this from the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions; I am not sure that the same response will give much comfort, but I will give it anyway. In late 2013, following a review and having considered all the options, the BBC World Service board concluded that it was not currently possible to offer a meaningful, impactful and cost-effective Korean language service. However, the BBC World Service has said that it is keeping the situation under review. However, I can assure noble Lords that, through our embassy in Pyongyang, the UK is one of the few countries able to engage directly with the North Koreans, complementing the efforts of others such as the United States who support broadcasts into North Korea.
My noble friend Lady Berridge spoke about a service to the whole of the Korean peninsula. I understand that the BBC has considered extending a service to the whole Korean peninsula as an option, but it concluded that that would be complicated from an editorial point of view. Due to the different markets, technological development and audience needs, a single editorial proposition serving such a wide population was not felt to be the most appropriate way forward. I also understand that the FM spectrum in South Korea is now full, and that permission for any further foreign news on a BBC FM frequency would not now be possible there.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, asked about languages generally. The BBC World Service is operationally, editorially and managerially independent. Decisions on the establishment of any language service are for the World Service to consider and, if appropriate, are then proposed to the Foreign Secretary to consider. The kinds of factors that are taken into account include feasibility, reach, impact and cost effectiveness. I will certainly pass specific comments on a coherent, cross-government language strategy to the Department for Education.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about coverage in eastern Europe. I can inform him that the BBC’s audience in Ukraine has trebled in recent times and now numbers about 600,000. The BBC’s Ukrainian and Russian services have been crucial to the BBC’s coverage of the current situation there, working with correspondents in country and with BBC news gathering to provide domestic and global news.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will continue to have responsibility for the licence fee settlement and charter review. The FCO will provide policy advice and support to the DCMS as appropriate. The long-term future of the BBC and the BBC World Service will be addressed in the next charter review—my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter, and the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Alton, asked about that. As noble Lords are aware, the current BBC charter ends on 31 December 2016. The Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport can start the review process and begin considering options at any point before the charter expires.
The noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, asked some specific questions; I hope that the following will address them. The BBC Trust has responsibility for governing the World Service and does this in the same way that it approaches governance of the BBC’s other UK public services. If the budget is changed by more than 10%, the BBC board must seek the approval of the BBC Trust. As I have said, the Foreign Secretary’s responsibility for agreeing the objectives, priorities and targets for the World Service have not changed. As he made clear when he gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 12 March this year, he will continue to hold the BBC’s feet to the fire in protecting the interests of the World Service. FCO and World Service officials are continuing to work together on existing and new areas of collaboration.
I turn now to the British Council. The Government recognise the concern over cuts to FCO grant-in-aid funding for the British Council, which is why we did not pass on previous reductions in the FCO budget until the year 2013-14. However, the council, like all FCO-funded organisations, has had to bear a share of cuts to departmental spending. Let me assure this House that the Government are committed to supporting the work of the council through grant-in-aid funding, for example by increasing funding for the important overseas development assistance work it does. The £0.5 million cut to the council’s budget for 2014-15 was mitigated by an increase to funding for overseas development assistance activities. Additional ODA funding of £10 million in 2015-16 will mean that the overall grant-in-aid funding to the British Council for 2015-16 will increase by £2.1 million overall from 2013-14. The council will also receive additional funding of £1 million from the Cabinet Office for its GREAT campaign activities.
The British Council’s work reaches people in more than 100 countries. It plays an invaluable role in promoting British values and interests overseas. It supports and promotes the UK’s world-leading higher education system. It celebrates, teaches and expands the use and benefits of the English language. It shares with people across the globe the UK’s values, arts and culture.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked about funding for the following year. We expect the 2015-16 additional ODA funding of £10 million will mean that the overall grant-in-aid funding to the British Council for 2015-16 will increase by £2.1 million overall from the 2013-14 budget.
As I informed the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in answer to a Question on 7 July—or perhaps a letter—details on the triennial review of the British Council are being finalised and the report and recommendations are with Ministers for approval. We hope to lay that report before the House rises for the Summer Recess. I will ensure that the views of the noble Lord, and the specific suggestions of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, my noble friend Lady Hooper and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, are taken into account as those reports are considered. The Foreign Office and the British Council have worked closely throughout the review process. At this stage it would be inappropriate to say much more.
My noble friend Lady Hooper asked about the specific contact the British Council has with UK cities and its co-ordination with universities. This is currently being discussed by the British Council’s board of trustees as part of its overall engagement strategy in the UK. I await any further recommendations or information that may come from that.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, spoke about the British Council and the Commonwealth Games. We of course support the British Council’s programme of cultural and educational projects during the Commonwealth Games, some of which were referred to by the noble Lord. Through them, we aim to make international connections between Scotland, the wider UK and the Commonwealth. This includes initiatives such as Commonwealth Class, a joint initiative from the BBC, the British Council and the Commonwealth Secretariat that offers free access to teaching resources, classroom activities, online debates and competitions to mark the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. It is a dynamic and engaging resource that will introduce pupils to Commonwealth values, as set out in the Commonwealth charter.
I ask the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, to bear with me in the use of the words “soft power”. I hope I can give him some examples. I refer first to the GREAT Britain campaign, which promotes British excellence around the world, with ambitious targets to increase trade and investment, tourism and study in the UK. The campaign is active in more than 144 countries; it has secured an economic return of more than £500 million from its first year of activities; and it is expected to deliver a further £600 million to £800 million from the 2013-14 funding. More than 1,000 inward-investment leads have been generated from that campaign. It is another example of soft power.
I will also refer briefly to the Chevening scholarships. Only yesterday my right honourable friend the Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire welcomed around 600 current and former Chevening scholars to Chevening House to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chevening scholarship programme. He briefly discussed with me the people who were attending. The list was incredible: Foreign Ministers, Finance Ministers, vice-presidents and high-level scholars from 144 countries and territories around the world. There are now 43,000 alumni who are long-term friends of Britain in influential positions in government, business and civil society, who help us to achieve our mutual international objectives and promote our excellent universities and higher education around the world. In 2015 we will triple the Chevening scholarship programme, so that many more scholars can study in the UK. That will be another important aspect of our soft power.
I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and his colleagues for the work they did on the report of the Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence. As the Government said in response to that report, the UK is most effective as a global actor when it draws together all its instruments of national and international power: political, economic, military and the soft power that I referred to.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, asked about diversity as a form of soft power. I refer to it within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as “Heineken diplomacy”, because diversity allows us to reach those parts of diplomacy that we would not otherwise be able to reach. I could give noble Lords numerous personal examples in relation to the foreign policy work that I have been involved in. I think it is right that we also use that diversity domestically, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, in relation to, for example, the work that he does. I will certainly make sure that his organisation is brought to the attention of the India desk in light of the recent announcements.
I hope that I have covered both the British Council and the BBC World Service in some detail but also given a slightly wider perspective of how they fit into what I think is our much broader and wider soft power influence. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to the global work of the BBC World Service and the British Council—both of which, as we heard today, are widely accepted as important partners and assets in the UK’s approach internationally.
Finally, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this important debate.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for the way in which she has responded to what has been an amazingly rich and incredibly well informed debate. All the speeches in your Lordships’ House today have come from either personal or professional experience. The number of people who said that they had heard the World Service in remote parts of the world was striking. We travelled from the remote parts of the Borneo borders to the Arctic Circle, and we were also in Tehran, Beijing, Afghanistan, North Korea, Egypt, Russia, Juba and even at one point Glasgow. We have travelled widely.
We also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, along with my noble friend Lady Prashar, their first-hand experiences of either being trustees or working today in the British Council or, in the case of my noble friend Lord Williams, of being a trustee of the BBC World Service. They gave professional and intimate accounts. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, described himself as a child of the British Council, his father having worked for it. I can only say that if that is his parentage then the British Council has a great deal to be proud of, as we do in this House, because he is a pretty good advertisement for it.
We also heard about the importance of the foreign languages that can be promoted via the British Council and the BBC World Service, and our Commonwealth links. Regarding soft power versus propaganda, the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, made an important point about moral authority. We talked about accountability and the question of values. I think it was Gertrude Himmelfarb who said that sometimes “values” is rather a weak word in comparison with “virtues”. However, I think that perhaps we are also rather modest in this country and do not like to talk about any of our institutions. The British Council and World Service were described by my noble friend Lord Williams as “two renowned and much loved” institutions. We do not often like to talk of them in quite that way, but we have nothing to be ashamed of. These are two wonderful institutions that reach vast numbers of people all over the world.
It was the Prime Minister, describing values, who said that British values are,
“a belief in freedom, tolerance of others”—
“tolerance” was a word that my noble friend Lord Jay returned to—
“accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law”.
That is a pretty good starting point. We may have others that we want to add to the list, and we may have concerns, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, described, but at least today’s debate has given us a framework.
As we proceed to the triennial review of the British Council and think about the future funding of the BBC World Service, the Government will be in no doubt as a result of today’s debate that your Lordships in all parts of this House—even though the debate was initiated from the Cross-Benches, there have been valuable contributions from all parts of the Chamber— will be watching not just with apprehension and concern but in the great hope that the Government will continue to support both the World Service and the British Council. With those remarks, I conclude the debate.
Legal Systems: Rule of Law
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I disclose my interests as in the register.
The title of the debate refers to legal systems. I emphasise that at the outset because, having fulfilled the role that I have, I would not want it to be thought that I was not conscious of the importance of the other legal systems within the United Kingdom.
I say at the outset that I am most grateful to my fellow Cross-Benchers who voted to select this topic for debate. I am even more grateful to each noble Lord and to the Minister and shadow Minister who have agreed to take part. They are all extremely well qualified to contribute and collectively they have an extraordinary record of service to the system of justice in this country. Their involvement in the debate is testimony to its importance.
It is uncontroversial that our legal systems have benefited many countries, as well as our own. They have made a unique contribution to improving the global observance of the rule of law. Other countries look to this country for guidance as to what needs to happen if they are to bring their country up to the standards required by the rule of law. With this leadership comes responsibility. However, I now have a concern that there is a real danger that we will not continue to set the example that we have in the past. If we do not, it will be extremely damaging to this county, as well as to other countries which could benefit from our experience.
Today, there is considerable debate about what constitutes British values. The previous debate has a very real relationship with this debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. Whatever the right answer is to the question “What are British values?”, I am confident that hitherto those values would generally be regarded as including justice and fairness, which observing the rule of law requires. After all, this country fought the last world war to protect those values.
Since the end of the war, the importance of those values has increased immeasurably. Our legal system, based on observing the rule of law, is a major contributor to this country’s economic health. Internally, it is part of the essential infrastructure required for a healthy economy. Externally, it is now an important constituent of our global exports. The Bar, the Law Society and the Public Law Project prepared briefing papers for this debate. I refer noble Lords to each of those papers, as they provide very useful information on the background to this debate. Even a glance at them makes clear the importance of the contribution made by legal services to this country. We should be very proud of what has been achieved by our lawyers and legal system.
Why, then, my concerns? To understand them, you have to understand how our legal system developed. It is necessary to remember that our legal system, unlike those on the continent, was not the creation of a single code; nor is our legal system, like almost all other developed systems, protected by an entrenched written constitution which sets out explicitly the functions of the different entities of the state. Instead, there was the creation of the common law, which today is subservient to the will of a largely sovereign Parliament. It is also dependent on the Executive for its resources. This brings with it dangers for its independence, as was pointed out by my noble and learned friend Lord Browne-Wilkinson when he was vice-chancellor. He warned that as the Executive paid the piper, they would inevitably be tempted to call the tune. Fortunately, at least in relation to the role of the judiciary, the Executive have usually exercised commendable restraint. Despite its vulnerability, our system, without an entrenched and dependent common law, is not without virtues. It combines a considerable flexibility with a critical core of common-law values. This enabled the common law, during the expansion of our empire, to be absorbed into and to take root in more than a third of the countries around the globe, including the USA.
Common-law values are important in any legal system, whatever its source. This is because they are a basic requirement of any developed justice system, and closely allied to the values to be found in conventions such as those on human rights. They are also essential ingredients of any effective democracy. In the case of common-law countries, values have a long history, usually traced back to Magna Carta by members of the Commonwealth and the USA. I understand that another contributor may make reference to Magna Carta in that context, particularly as next year is its 800th anniversary. Although it has an ancient pedigree, the common law is still very much alive and kicking. A visit to any Commonwealth law conference will confirm that. Perhaps its values are incapable of being rigidly defined, though fortunately, before his untimely death, Lord Bingham of Cornhill was able to bring considerable clarity to the subject and his work is being continued by the Bingham Institute, under its director Sir Jeffrey Jowell. It has also received detailed attention in the World Justice Project, which has just published this year’s Rule of Law Index. This sets out four universal principles of the rule of law. The project also indexes the extent to which the rule of law is observed in 99 different jurisdictions. No country gets a perfect mark but I am rather disappointed that this country only manages to be the 14th most observant of those countries that form the 99.
Undoubtedly, there is still a very high regard globally for our legal system. This results in multiple benefits to this country. Our courts—especially the commercial court—are used by litigants from around the globe. Our lawyers and judges are universally admired and branches of our international law firms are prospering. Their integrity and ability is not open to question. Because of our judiciary’s reputation both before and after they retire, our judges are in great demand to assist other jurisdictions, which they do willingly. I hope that some of my judicial colleagues who are down to speak will inform the debate with their experience. I will not speak to mine, except to say that I cannot resist mentioning in the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, that we were once called upon by President Chirac in Paris to give him advice, which we happily did. I have also sat in overseas courts.
While the position may look comfortable, at present we cannot assume that in the future it will take care of itself. It needs appropriate support and that support has not always been forthcoming as rapidly as it should. Instead, over the past decade, there have been a series of events that collectively suggest a lack of appreciation in government of the importance of ensuring that our legal system remains fit for purpose. This is a new era in which other jurisdictions wish to compete with us for the benefits that our legal system has already earned for us.
I referred to disturbing events. Let me mention what I have in mind. I have already indicated that we have no entrenched constitution. It is essential, therefore, that our constitutional arrangements include checks and balances to protect our rights and freedoms. Here, the historic office of the Lord Chancellor played an important role. His responsibilities included speaking up in Cabinet for the judiciary, of which he was a member, and for the legal system generally. The former Labour Administration attempted to change one aspect, also involving judicial review. It was vigorously opposed by the legal profession and the judiciary, and I am glad to say that it was withdrawn.
The former Labour Administration also attempted to change our constitution by altering overnight the status of the Lord Chancellor. As a result we now have a situation where there is a Minister in the Commons who combines the roles of Lord Chancellor and Minister of Justice. He is not a lawyer and he has different and wider responsibilities than those of his predecessors. Inevitably this affects his relationship with the judiciary, the profession and our legal system. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 says he should “be qualified by experience” but so far I am not sure of the precise form that that experience took. This is no doubt a handicap for him, and I commend him for establishing excellent personal relations with the senior judiciary. I hope that he will forgive me, however, if I say that it would be natural for there to be suspicions. Unlike the old-style Lord Chancellor, he sees his current role as being only one more step in what will no doubt be a glittering political career. This is not what the profession and the judiciary expect from a holder of this still high office. I am sure that he recognises that at times the impression he could give is of a politician in a great hurry, which will not make it easier for him to obtain agreement that would facilitate the changes he is anxious to make.
Our lack of an entrenched constitution supported by a constitutional court means that we require an effective legal mechanism for ensuring that public bodies do not exceed or otherwise abuse their powers. This need has become much greater as society has become more complex. The judges responded by developing a streamlined procedure of judicial review which gives judges wide discretion to hold the balance between the Executive and the citizen. As the citizen requires judicial review to protect his position, it is essential that he has a right of access to the courts to achieve this. The procedure is one where the involvement of lawyers is particularly important but the availability of legal aid has been drastically cut, and that interferes with the ability of some litigants to appear before the court. What is more, the Lord Chancellor is now proposing in legislation to interfere with areas of judicial discretion which were working perfectly satisfactorily and were so regarded by everyone concerned.
I know that the Minister will pray in aid the need for austerity. But even if savings could be achieved by what is proposed, which is highly doubtful, they would be modest. Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill discloses a failure to attach sufficient significance to the importance of ensuring that justice is done in an area playing a vital role in achieving the balance to which I have been referring.
Judicial review may at times be inconvenient to the Government but it achieves better administration, which benefits the Government. It is their task to accept that it is a critical part of our society. The changes are being made contrary to the wishes of the senior judiciary. They show signs of being ill considered and rushed. While reforms to judicial review are perfectly proper this is not the way they should be made.
I turn to the area of criminal justice, where I fear that the unintended consequences resulting from government action could be grave indeed. The quality of our judges is dependent on the quality of the legal profession from which they are drawn. As a result of the changes being made in funding, it would be difficult today for any responsible person to advise a youngster coming into the profession to take up a criminal practice. It is essential that standards do not fall, because if they do the effect will be serious. Moreover, the position is not confined to newcomers. We also have problems with the heaviest cases, which are well known, so I will just draw attention to what was said by Lord Justice Levinson when giving a wise judgment.
These are some of the concerns, and I look forward to the other contributions to the debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for giving us the chance to debate this important topic. As he knows, and as my noble friend on the Front Bench knows, I am not a lawyer, so I would like to make three remarks from a lay man’s point of view. They are a great deal less technical than the speech of the noble and learned Lord, and I hope he will forgive me for that.
The first point concerns the UK legal system and Britain’s world reputation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I was a member of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Howell, the Select Committee on Britain’s soft power. Our report was published in March and the Government, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, reminded us a few minutes ago, have given their response. We have yet to debate the report and, in Shakespeare’s words, I do not want to run before my horse to market, but perhaps it is worth quoting two sentences from paragraph 175:
“The UK is also a world leader in the legal profession. According to the Humanitarian Intervention Centre, the UK’s ‘highly sophisticated and developed legal system’ is respected around the world ... In the Centre’s view, this legal prowess ‘affords the UK a high degree of legitimacy and credibility in the international arena which in turn gives its diplomacy great weight”,
and efficacy. That is my first point.
My second point is of a more personal nature. During their school or university career, many noble Lords may have had an occasion, be it a lecture, a class, a lesson or a tutorial, where something was said that transformed the way they thought. I share one such example with noble Lords today. After completing my undergraduate degree here in England, I went to live in America for a number of years. While I was there I took an MBA at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, as it was then known. The school used to arrange for eminent people from around the world outside of business to come and talk to the MBA students. One afternoon we had a talk from Peter Bauer. He was born in Budapest in 1915 and came to England in the 1930s where he lived for the rest of his life, later becoming a Member of your Lordships’ House as Baron Bauer, of Market Ward in the City of Cambridge. On that afternoon 45 years ago in Philadelphia, he explained his vision for helping the less fortunate of the world. At the time development was largely seen as a government-to-government matter, but Bauer argued that that was not effective. He saw effective development as being conducted at a much lower level, through trade rather than aid, and where aid takes place, at the people-to-people level. His legacy is the GATT rounds that we have seen and, indeed, the growth of the NGO movement.
Bauer went on to argue that afternoon that people-to-people relations are not conducted in a vacuum; they need a framework. Bauer’s framework, as he explained it to us, was respect for property rights and acceptance of the rule of law. He emphasised in particular the value of the English common-law system. Rather as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, did a moment ago, Bauer explained how flexible it was and how it could be adapted to changing circumstances. He saw it as the responsibility of the richer parts of the world to help establish a ladder up which the poorer parts of the world could slowly, and no doubt painfully, clamber. He saw the rule of law as being an essential rung of that ladder. I accepted that argument then, and today, faced as we are with continuing great impoverishment, I see it as an important reason for supporting the proposal of the noble and learned Lord.
My third and final point is perhaps rather more discordant. For my part, I do not see the actual law and the rule of law as being entirely separate. The rule of law is a vital principle, but if under its cloak laws are enforced which are ossified or outdated, then respect for the rule of law itself will be undermined. UK judges and judges around the world have great power to hold us all to account, and that is quite right, but with that great power, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out in his speech, comes great responsibility—the responsibility of ensuring that judgments and approaches reflect the changing world. That is not to say that judges should reflect transitory, ephemeral public opinion; that way lies rule by the mob. However, there is a need to be in touch and in tune with underlying social and economic changes and attitudes. As I say, that is perhaps a discordant point, so in conclusion I return to Peter Bauer. It has been written of him that:
“Bauer’s legacy is a better understanding of the forces that shape economic development, especially the institutions of private property, stable money, free trade, and limited government under a rule of law”.
I can think of no better reason for supporting the noble and learned Lord this afternoon.
My Lords, we are particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for securing this debate. There could be no better example of the contribution made by the judiciary than the ever watchful eye of the noble and learned Lord; we have heard this afternoon, of course, his own outstanding contribution. Moreover, I have had the privilege of appearing before him. For the removal of doubt, I make it clear that my appearance was as counsel and not in the dock. Before I leave the issue of the integrity of our judiciary, I compliment another outstanding figure of integrity, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I compliment the Government on choosing her to fulfil a difficult role.
I will deal with only one aspect of the observance of the rule of law, and that is in international affairs and the difficulties that I experienced. It is the interpretation and implementation of the rule of law that causes problems. Domestic law in general is more certain than international law, where judicial precedents can be scarce. As the Attorney-General, it was my task to be the Government’s principal legal adviser. I was fortunate in being able to call on a galaxy of legal expertise to assist me. However, before I took office it never crossed my mind that the interpretation of international law would play such an important part and demand so much of my time and attention—from advising on resolutions of the UN Security Council and interpreting the Geneva conventions to drafting the rules of engagement for our troops. It seemed to be an endless conveyor belt.
However, it was the interpretation of the rule of law during the war in Kosovo that was my biggest problem. As Ministers, the military and civil servants, we are bound under domestic law and the Ministerial Code to obey international law, hence the military’s anxiety to get legal cover for its activities. With the growth of international courts, that is becoming more and more important. Our decision-makers, particularly but not only the military, could find themselves having to answer for their actions before an international court. My job was to give what assurances I could for the actions proposed by the Government. In Kosovo, the internationally assessed evidence was quite clear: an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe was taking place in that country. Ethnic cleansing was being perpetrated on a scale with few parallels. What was the background? Article 2(4) of the United Nations charter prohibits the intentional use of force except for self-defence or with the authority of the Security Council. During my time, it was impossible to get the Security Council to allow the use of force by passing an appropriate resolution.
Was that the end of the matter? My Conservative predecessors had to consider whether force could be used on humanitarian grounds in Iraq 1 in order to set up no-fly zones to protect the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. I distinguished Iraq 1 from Iraq 2, and they agreed that it could be used. The difference between Iraq 1 and Kosovo was that the United Kingdom acted passively in the former, whereas if bombing night after night was authorised in Kosovo we would be proactive, if not aggressive. We believed that there was no practical alternative to our proposed use of force and that it was the minimum necessary.
Our observance of what we deemed to be the rule of law was further manifested in that, night after night for 68 days, I personally had to agree each bombing target to ensure that we adhered to the Geneva conventions. I queried some of the applications to bomb, and I turned down the last application to bomb a great part of Belgrade. Many years later, I was present in Brussels when I heard the NATO supreme commander saying, “If the Brits thought it right, it must be right”.
My prognostications about the possibility of having to answer for our actions before an international court turned out to be true. I was summoned back from a conference in the Caribbean to lead for the United Kingdom in an action brought by Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, in its attempt to stop the bombing. The United Kingdom was one of nine NATO defendant countries. The court found that it lacked prima facie jurisdiction to entertain Yugoslavia’s application. The main issue was deferred and never resolved. I was disappointed that the legality of our actions could not be determined, and some distinguished academic lawyers have since condemned and contested our actions.
I believe that international law has to evolve to meet the post-1945 conditions. I note that the present Attorney-General, in his advice to Parliament on the proposed military action in Syria last year, followed precisely and word for word the relevant observations set out in my own memoirs. In the part of his opinion that was published, there was no reference to the possibility of actions being challenged by a legally competent, interested country in an international court. I am sure that as a distinguished lawyer he made it quite clear that there was this possibility, and brought it to the attention of the Cabinet.
Finally, against the celebrations of Magna Carta, we can all be extremely proud of our own legal system and its contribution to the world.
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble kinsman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for initiating the debate and for his very timely words of wisdom. I am particularly glad to be speaking in the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who in my judgment was one of our great Lord Chancellors. I wish we could maintain that standard in that great office.
I was unable to take part in the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill last week, but I read with admiration the contributions from the noble and learned Lords, Lord Woolf and Lord Brown, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, warning of the threats to the rule of law in Part 4. These threats are harmful to our legal system, to the UK’s international standing, and to the rule of law.
One of the main values of judicial review is in curbing abuses of power by the Government themselves. When Governments seek to limit judicial review, they are judges in their own cause. I hope that the Government will heed the argument that Part 4 of the Bill should be taken out altogether. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve, found no evidence to support the Government’s proposals. Last Friday the Constitution Committee, on which I also serve, noted that lowering the threshold for judicial review risks unlawful administrative action going unremedied. The Committee asked the Government to heed the warnings from the senior judiciary, and I hope the Government will respond positively.
Everyone in this debate will agree that the British legal system has made a great contribution to the international standing of the United Kingdom and to the rule of law. Even though only four out of 47 countries in the Council of Europe are common law countries, we British may take justifiable pride in the drafting of the European Convention on Human Rights—mainly in Whitehall—and in having exported the convention rights to the constitutions of so many Commonwealth countries and dependent territories in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. We may take pride in the way that British lawyers have influenced both European courts to have regard to our dynamic common law.
We may take pride too in the quality and integrity of British judges, who have served with such distinction on both European courts. These include Lord Mackenzie Stuart, Lord Slynn, Sir Konrad Schiemann, Sir Francis Jacobs and Eleanor Sharpston in Luxembourg, and Lord McNair, Sir Vincent Evans and Sir Nicolas Bratza in Strasbourg, to name only some of them.
One challenge is to encourage outstanding British judges and lawyers to apply to serve on each of these European courts. Thanks to the Human Rights Act and the willingness of our courts to interpret the convention rights wisely in the context of our own political and legal system, British judgments are especially influential in Strasbourg. As our judges have become more familiar with the jurisprudence they have opened a dialogue with the court where they consider that its reasoning is questionable. It is a partnership that works well, and it has encouraged our courts to develop the common law progressively to meet modern needs and values rather than treating law as full of ossified fossils, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts.
Unfortunately, much of this is threatened by a narrow insular ideology, fuelled by right-wing sections of the media and Europhobic politicians. However, they are not all confined to the right wing of the Tory party. I must say that the failure of both Lord Chancellor Jack Straw and Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling—one a lawyer and the other not—to abide by the final judgment of the Strasbourg court in the prisoners’ right to vote cases is unprecedented, and in blatant breach of international law. It has tarnished our international standing and the rule of law in this country and abroad.
Threats by the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor to tear up the Human Rights Act and limit the powers of our courts and the European Court of Human Rights have hugely diminished our international standing and influence. Their rhetoric and their threats set a terrible example to the pseudo-democracies of Europe and beyond. I am not convinced that the British people will be enthusiastic when they come to realise that such constitutional vandalism will weaken and not strengthen the protection of British rights by British courts. There would be no redress if, for example, Parliament enacted a racist statute depriving British black or Muslim citizens of the right to vote.
It is 50 years since I argued the first British case in Strasbourg. I have witnessed the way in which British lawyers and jurists have brought the convention system to life. I have had the privilege of frequently meeting ambassadors, judges and European civil servants in Strasbourg. A decade ago, our international reputation was outstanding and our influence was significant. Five years ago, thanks to an outstanding ambassador, Eleanor Fuller, and Ministers, we successfully promoted much needed court reforms. Much still needs to be done, but UK influence has declined.
I know that my noble friend the Minister, Lord Faulks, will not agree. We were good colleagues on the Bill of Rights commission, but in the paper he wrote for the commission with Jonathan Fisher QC he disagreed with the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, who warned that the UK would become a pariah state if we left the convention, and found it difficult to see how the UK’s withdrawal from the convention would weaken the protection of fundamental rights. I hope that this debate and the Attorney-General may cause the Minister to think again.
My Lords, I shall not disclose confidential conversations that I have had with the present Lord Chancellor nor say anything that might lead to the impression that I am disclosing private conversations, so I shall be reticent. Instead, in six minutes, I propose to cover 800 years of history, and I hope your Lordships will see why.
We are going to celebrate 1215. We know what we are celebrating, do we? We are celebrating no punishment without trial, but deeply significant and frequently overlooked is clause 61, which states that the King is subject to the law. In the olden days the King made his oath and he accounted to God for whether he had obeyed it. As a result of Magna Carta, he had to account on earth. If he failed to obey the law as declared in Magna Carta, the barons and everybody else were absolved from their oaths of fealty. In the 1350s, due process was introduced. 1610 is the first time that I have found the rule of law actually appearing—it appears in the protest in the other place. In the 1670s, independence of the jury was established, and in 1689, the independence of the judiciary.
In the mean time, another strand was going on. 1616 was the year of the founding of Virginia, in which the charter provides—it is called the Great Charter—that citizens who went to Virginia would have the same rights there as if they were still living in England. And then, most importantly, in the early 1700s, a clear decision was made: unless the country had an existing system of law, whenever there was a new colony, British law would apply. Hence, in 1765, when Parliament passed one of the more foolish Acts that it ever passed, the Stamp Act, the American colonies decided that they had had enough and we ended up with a rebellion.
May I just pause? No punishment without trial; independent process for decision-making; due process; equality before the law; the rule of law—they were exported from this country. There are many facets of imperialism which are open to question, but if you were to go now, as I have been in the past few years, to the annual Commonwealth Law Conference, there gathered together are men and women, lawyers and judges, from the entire Commonwealth. They will criticise us for this and comment adversely for that, but the heritage of the rule of law is something for which they hold us in affection. When we discuss, as we do, the problems faced by other Commonwealth countries, or one or two Commonwealth countries or around the world, they look to us not in any sense of profound respect because we are British, but because, in a sense, we inspired some of these ideas which now matter to them.
It is not entirely accidental that, when you look at your television screen—if you do—to see the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the judge trying the case may not be wearing a wig, but she is wearing the identical robes that a High Court judge out on circuit trying a murder case would be wearing in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Cardiff. It is a very important living tradition in which the United Kingdom still holds high authority. I must add that the Australians think that they are now the repository of the common law. The Australians—I say with great respect to them—never fail to make a claim when they can. They think that our grasp of the common law has been weakened, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, by the contaminating effect of the European convention.
There is one point that I want to make which perhaps will not be obvious, on judicial training. This is one example, and it is only one, of the value of our system. We have visits from all sorts of countries to the Royal Courts of Justice. I do not mean a social; I do not mean looking around the building and having lunch with the judges; I mean a serious visit to find out how we do this or how we do that. The Judicial College, as it now is, welcomes people from all over the world who come to learn about training. More importantly, they ask the college to send men and women judges to train the trainers in their countries, or to train their judges. The topic, largely, is judicial ethics and conduct. The countries include Russia, Rwanda, Nigeria and Pakistan. This is part and parcel of the respect in which our system is held. It is comforting that the European Commission conducted a huge investigation into judicial training throughout the countries of Europe and came to the conclusion—it is a nice thing to be able to say—that the largest number of best practices were to be found in the United Kingdom and our Judicial College.
Can we please not take any of this for granted? The quality of our judicial training depends on the judges who do it. The quality of our entire system depends on attracting high-quality men and women to the judicial Bench. If we take it for granted, we will lose it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be part of a team of speakers with a forward line of three former Lords Chief Justice and two former Supreme Court justices that would win any legal World Cup.
This country is, as Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt says—it is still true—
“the envy of less happier lands”.
One of the reasons is our legal system, with its skilled and independent judges. There is a reason why Prime Ministers reach for a judge to investigate complex and sensitive public policy issues. They do so because judges and retired judges have a reputation for expertise, for integrity and for a determination to ensure that justice will be done—none more so than the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
The legal system is important not just to the quality of our life but to our economic prosperity. The United Kingdom accounts for 7% of the global legal market. We are the leading global centre for the provision of international legal services. A paper issued by the Ministry for Justice in 2012 stated that the legal services sector in this country contributed £3.2 billion that year in exports, nearly three times more than a decade ago.
I declare an interest as a practising barrister. I make my modest contribution to that £3.2 billion in exports. In the past year, I have worn my wig and gown in the courts of Trinidad and Tobago, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China—that is, Hong Kong. I have also travelled in the past 12 months to advise clients in Gibraltar, Zurich, Paris and Moscow. A number of my colleagues, either at the Bar or in solicitors’ firms, have more stamps in their passports.
We all find that, across all these geographical and cultural borders, the universal truth is that English law, English judges and English lawyers are regarded with enormous respect and admiration, none more so than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who I thank for initiating this debate.
In applying the presumption of innocence, the principles of judicial review, the laws of contract and the protection of fundamental rights, the world still looks to London for guidance and legal services. Part of this is the historic residue of empire and the influence it commanded. In his epic account of the British Empire, Pax Britannica, James Morris tells how a hill tribe in India were involved in a dispute with their government about forest rights. Their elders were discovered sacrificing an animal to appease a distant but omnipotent deity:
“We know nothing of him”,
the elders announced,
“but that he is a good god, and that his name is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council”.
Nowadays, the influence of London as a legal centre of excellence depends not on the chains of empire but on the quality of the product we produce. This influence and respect, hard won, are very easily lost.
I share the concerns that have already been expressed, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that the policies of the present Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, will damage the reputation, the influence and the financial success of our legal sector. If you undermine judicial review as an effective control on unlawful executive action, if you refuse to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights with which you disagree, if you reduce the scope of legal aid so that the most impoverished citizens of this country are denied effective access to the courts, and if you cut legal aid rates so that the brightest students—who are, of course, the judges and senior prosecutors of the future—cannot afford to work as barristers, and if in general you seek to administer our justice system on the cheapest basis possible, you will inevitably dilute its quality and pollute its reputation.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on securing this debate and on introducing it so engagingly. Although I prefer to regard the Motion as a call to arms rather than a glorification of our legal history, I cannot resist the temptation to start by listing some, at least, of the proud legal maxims that resonate throughout our history. Freedom is the birthright of every Englishman; an Englishman’s home is his castle; let right be done, though the heavens may fall; be ye never so high, the law is above you; the presumption of innocence—the golden thread that runs throughout our law; trial by jury—the lamp that shows that freedom lives; and habeas corpus.
Habeas corpus is literally a direction to a jailer to bring up the body of his captive in court, together with any suggested explanation for his detention. In this context I must mention Somersett’s case, in 1771, and Lord Mansfield’s historic holding that slavery was,
“so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law”,
and that in England there was none. The words that end that historic judgment are:
“The black must be discharged”.
But I always thought that counsel had the best line:
“The air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe”.
However, we must be careful not to appear immodest, or to boast about our past contributions to the rule of law. Rather than emphasise the pride that, naturally, we all take in our strong tradition of fair play and justice down the centuries—a tradition that we owe to our forebears—should we not rather focus on the need for our own generation to safeguard that reputation? That, surely, is the imperative today.
On the subject of boasting, I am afraid that I cannot resist quoting a little ditty that has long pleased me. It is displayed on a plaque in the men’s locker room at Huntercombe golf club, and it reads thus:
“Golf and boasting do not mix.
If you win by 7 and 6,
Apologise for what you’ve done
And write it up as 2 and 1”.
I am sure the Minister knows that ditty; certainly he is far more likely than me ever to have been in the position of winning by seven and six.
Today we are concerned with the law, not with golf, so—with profound apologies for my appalling doggerel—might not a rough legal equivalent of that ditty for today go something like this:
“The law and boasting do not mix.
Better far, let’s try to fix
Attempts to erode judicial review
By voting down provisions new”?
That, of course, is a reference, as has already been made by other contributors, to Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill now before this House in Committee, which contains provisions that seem to many of us to constitute a real threat to the courts’ supervisory jurisdiction and the judges’ power to hold government decision-making to account, particularly as these provisions come in the wake of the severe cuts to legal aid that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, mentioned, were introduced earlier this year by secondary legislation. A few years ago I attended, as did others here, an international conference in Hong Kong under the title, Effective Judicial Review: a Cornerstone of Good Governance. So it is—and we diminish it at our peril.
The other central threat to this country’s international legal reputation that I, in common with the noble Lords, Lord Lester of Herne Hill and Lord Pannick, see is the readiness of too many nowadays to cavil at the constraints put on us by our being party to the European Convention on Human Rights—to the point, indeed, of dishonouring our obligation under Article 46 of that convention to comply with Strasbourg judgments in United Kingdom cases.
As has already been mentioned, the Government’s stance on prisoner voting is a classic illustration of that. The Joint Committee’s report last December is a model report, addressing the whole question of our relationship with Strasbourg, and it demands close attention and early action. I do not have time to recite some of the powerful conclusions of that committee, but it points out that one cannot cherry pick the obligations under the convention, as that would only give succour to states of the Council of Europe that have a poor record on protecting human rights, and which might draw on such an action as setting a precedent that they may wish to follow.
I invite the Minister, in his reply, to assure the House that the Government have no thought of withdrawing from the convention. Indeed, I hope that he will be able to assure us that the court’s judgment in Hirst is finally to be honoured, so that some prisoners, at least, will have the vote by next May. Assuredly we have a proud legal history. Let us ensure that we maintain it for the future.
My Lords, I, too, refer to my interests in the register and echo other noble Lords in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on securing this debate and on the eloquent and erudite way in which he opened it. We all know how much the continued high standing of the British legal system owes to his personal contribution.
I will not concentrate on our pre-eminence in the field of commercial law—the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and others have made that case well. I will add only a mention of arbitration and ADR. The development of a body of arbitration law by which parties are left free to choose their arbitrator, venue and procedure, underpinned by a strong enforcement regime, has been important for our international standing. So, too, has our reputation for ADR and the willingness of our courts and the professions to encourage and facilitate mediation.
The Motion speaks of the rule of law. To me, the cardinal principle is that the law, not the state, is supreme. As Dr Thomas Fuller expressed it in 1733:
“Be you never so high, the law is above you”.
Fuller was famously quoted by Lord Denning in the Gouriet case in 1977, again by Lord Bingham of Cornhill in his seminal book on the rule of law, and just now by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood.
We in this country are confident of the independence and incorruptibility of our judges, which are guarantees of impartiality—we are fortunate in that—but certainty and consistency are also important for our reputation, and the doctrine of precedent has helped greatly with them. Transparency is also increasingly important, with electronic communications now disseminating information instantly and universally. I suggest that there is room for more televising of cases, particularly judgments and reasons for sentence. Of course, there must be restrictions, particularly on witness evidence, but more recording would enhance public understanding of judges’ decisions at home and internationally, unfiltered by an often populist and partial press.
Several noble Lords have mentioned the European Convention on Human Rights, the great work of, largely, British Conservative jurists, the vision of Winston Churchill, which substantially underpins our system and enhances its credibility. It allows the scrutiny of the exercise of state power by reference to a guarantee of fundamental human rights and freedoms justiciable in our courts under the Human Rights Act.
What do I see as the threats? I shall highlight just four. First, the political threat to the Human Rights Act is serious. Sadly, it comes largely from politicians, who are frequently complicit in falsely portraying it as a creature of the European Union and treating it, perversely, as a charter for the unworthy and a threat to law-abiding citizens. There is a crying need for a wider understanding of the reality—and, as several noble Lords pointed out, for respect for the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
Secondly, the contraction of legal aid as a result of austerity has risked access to justice, and so our international reputation for fairness. I hope that, where alternative funding methods cannot be found to fund legal advice and representation, in due course the Lord Chancellor’s powers will be exercised, as funds allow, to bring some of the excluded areas back into scope.
Thirdly, the threat to judicial review, mentioned by others, which we will debate later this month, threatens our reputation for the rule of law. The measures proposed would unfairly and unjustly choke off private funding to support challenges to the Executive, stifle interventions by public-spirited bodies and prevent judges from protecting litigants of limited means who challenge government action.
Finally, we have made far too little progress on judicial diversity. In the four years since the excellent report of the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, we at least passed the judicial diversity provisions in the Crime and Courts Act. However, last year, we missed a golden opportunity to appoint our first woman Lord Chief Justice. Since April last year, there have been three appointments to the Supreme Court Bench with not a hint of diversity among them.
The issue is important. Whatever we think of Oscar Pistorius and his trial, the international reputation of South Africa’s legal system has been immeasurably enhanced by our witnessing, day after day, the quiet, careful and considerate handling of his trial by Judge Masipa in a case mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge.
To achieve judicial diversity, we must achieve more diversity in the professions. However, the reduction in legal aid and the uneconomic remuneration rates for criminal work reduce the number of lawyers undertaking publicly funded work. When I asked my noble friend about that on Monday, he said that,
“there is less for lawyers to do and inevitably there will be fewer lawyers to do it”.—[Official Report, 7/7/14; col. 10.]
That may be technically accurate, but, equally inevitably, the reduction is in those doing publicly funded work. The reduction in the standard of lawyer undertaking such work has been mentioned, and is important. Wishing no disrespect to either my noble friend or me, the more that the professions sound like him and me and look like him and me, the less we are likely to present to the world a judiciary that is genuinely representative of modern Britain.
We are rightly proud of our legal system but we cannot stand still, and I fear that we may not be keeping up in important areas.
My Lords, in thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for initiating this debate, I want to share some personal memories. I think I have known the noble and learned Lord longer than anyone else in this Chamber. We were at UCL. He was a year senior to me, but I had the great good fortune to know him from my student days. I must have been one of the luckiest law students in the country, because the other person with whom I shared dinners in Inner Temple was the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. In those days, to students like me Law Lords were gods. You never imagined that you might be able to sit next to one or two, listen to them speak and have their friendship. I thank all my great friends who have been wonderful to me and have given a lot of value to my life.
I want to say a few words about India because I think it is worth mentioning. When India was under the rule of the East India Company, there were three major presidencies and they all had separate laws. It was a big muddle. No legal system applied everywhere but for 200 years there were appeals to the Privy Council, which is quite amazing. One or two islands may still have appeals to the Privy Council. What could say more about the esteem in which the British legal system is held? People still feel that if they can have this as a last point, they should keep it.
Eventually, of course, there was the Law Commission chaired by Lord Macaulay which marked the beginning of the proper legal system in India. It is still going on. It has been slightly updated but basically it is the common law. Not only that but, as has already been mentioned, many of the former colonies took the system on and, from the period when Lord Macaulay did the work, countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have the same law still. There is a reason why this common-law system has lasted. It has lasted because it has value. Nothing which has no value can last. People think it is something that should continue; they do not wish to change it into something else.
In India there was one difference. There were a lot of personal laws. There was a Hindu law, a Muslim law and possibly a Christian law and a number of different personal laws about things such as marriage, adoption and inheritance. I fear that we might be starting to allow that in this country. Every country should have a single system of law and not allow people who come from different backgrounds and have different social attitudes to start developing their own laws. That is not only against the basis of common law but against the interests of this country. All laws should apply to everybody equally and should be enforced properly. India is a secular country and there are a number of religions. This is not a secular country. It behaves like one but it has a state religion. If there has to be a religious law, it can only be a Christian one. We have no personal laws dictated by religion and that is a very good thing. I think it should apply to everybody else as well.
I want to say a few words about the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. He did the review of civil procedure. I think it is amazing that a report got enacted so quickly. That is not the fate of all reports. It must have been of value to have been enacted. He put down eight points and they are so sensible and so clear that even Parliament thought it was good idea to enact it.
I want to mention another thing, which is again personal. I had the great good fortune of knowing the mother of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers. She was a friend and she liked me. One day—it was State Opening—when I came in from that end where the judges were sitting, first the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, got up to greet me, and then the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips. By the time I got to a seat they said to me, “We thought maybe all the judges were going to stand up to greet you”.
My Lords, as a footnote to several of the eloquent speeches your Lordships have heard, may I mention one aspect of our legal arrangements which is not perhaps well known but makes a significant contribution to the rule of law and, incidentally, to the standing of this country? It is the participation by the Bar of England and Wales, and to a limited extent the judiciary, in the training of young lawyers, both here and overseas, in the art or craft of advocacy. This important work is undertaken entirely on a voluntary basis and without remuneration. I declare an interest as I am a patron—with the Chief Justice of Hong Kong and Justice Kiefel of the High Court of Australia—of the International Advocacy Training Council, which I will mention towards the end of my speech.
I begin with a little history. For hundreds of years, the training of young advocates was entirely in the hands of the judges and the Bar. It was a thoroughly hands-on training. The students spent the day in court listening to the arguments and judgments. They lived in the Inns of Court, where they discussed points of law and listened to their elders and betters discussing points of law. That went on until about the middle of the 17th century, when, for a variety of reasons, there was a sad and steep decline. Legal education in the Inns of Court became formulaic, perfunctory and basically useless.
I am glad to say that that decline has now been decisively reversed. The Inns of Court—all of them—accept that their primary function is as centres of legal education. The Inns and the circuits—the other bit of the Bar’s infrastructure—work to supplement and continue the learning given to students in the university law schools and the Bar’s professional training course, especially in the fields of practical advocacy and professional ethics. They are able to do that only because a large number of practitioners, including some of the busiest practitioners and judges, are prepared to give something back.
I would be delighted to tell the House more about the methods and techniques that we use—groups of six students, usually with one or two trainers—but I fear that it would take up too much time. I will say only that the instruction is intensely practical; it is largely at an elementary level because we are dealing with beginners—and with them one is concerned with the elements, not the niceties, of advocacy. There are, however, much more advanced courses. The most outstanding course, of which at least my legal colleagues will be well aware, is the week-long advanced advocacy course held every year at Keble College, Oxford, which goes on to more advanced matters, including appellate advocacy, and the important topics of handling vulnerable witnesses and expert witnesses. The courses at Keble are regularly attended by numerous students and trainers from overseas, and the Inns of Court have, to an increasing extent over the past 10 years or so, either singly or in combination, sent parties of trainers to other territories in order to pass on the system to them—to train trainers, as it were. They have been frequently to Hong Kong, Malaysia, different parts of the Caribbean, Mauritius and elsewhere.
About four years ago at Keble, the international Advocacy Training Council was launched—primarily an initiative of the English Bar, but readily and warmly supported by judges and advocates in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Africa. In fact, the annual gathering for advocacy training at Stellenbosch is probably the only serious competitor of Keble for being the top world event in advocacy training.
The demand for advocacy training exceeds supply. Some Bars, such as those of Hong Kong and Malaysia, are very prosperous and can afford to pay some or all of the expenses of visiting teams. Other jurisdictions are less well off; and the visiting teams have to pay their own way there, as well as give their services free of charge. But it is striking how, wherever they go, the experience is one of huge gratitude for the help and encouragement given to the local Bar, nowhere more so than in Zimbabwe, where a team visited last year—probably the most testing task that they have undertaken, having received no support at all from the Government of Zimbabwe—but with great success.
In short, advocacy training has become for this country an invisible export, freely bestowed and enormously appreciated by the recipients. It is something of which we can be very proud.
My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for initiating this debate. Perhaps I may draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.
I want to devote all my remarks to the idea of the rule of law, because what exactly that might mean is not without controversy. There is a fairly straightforward idea of the rule of law, which I think is highly inadequate. This view is that the law is what a duly constituted sovereign says and that it emanates from a recognised sovereign power. The rule of law then is a matter of complying with those laws issued by that sovereign. This positivistic view is still much debated and discussed, but there are two fairly major objections to just seeing the law as validated by its source.
The first objection is that it is perfectly possible to have a duly constituted sovereign power that has a highly authoritarian set of laws. I do not want to prejudge it too much, but Egypt might be a coming example of this. There is no doubt that General al-Sisi was duly elected and there may well be a raft of highly oppressive laws coming down the track. On this positivistic view, however, they are still the law; complying with the rule of law is complying with those laws whether you like it or not.
The second objection to the positivistic view of the rule of law is that it is highly relativistic. For example, we are facing in this House the issue of the role of judicial review. One might say: in that jurisdiction with its laws, there is a place for judicial review and that is fine; and in this jurisdiction with its laws, there is not a very big place—or a place at all—for judicial review. These are perfectly equal. We have no reason for preferring one to the other. They are both fine within their own doctrine of authority, but both of these objections would lessen the attraction of the source view or the positivist view of law to those who are keen on the idea of the rule of law.
We need more—or more subtle—criteria for thinking about the rule of law. One place where this can be found, up to a point at least, is in Lon Fuller’s famous book The Morality of Law in which he lists a whole range of criteria that must be satisfied before the rule of law can be said to exist. For example, the law has to be public and not secret; the law should not be retrospective; there can be no strict obligations imposed on citizens without the force of law; all citizens are to be subject to the law in an equal way; we have to listen to both sides of a legal dispute; laws are to be mutually non-contradictory; they should be constant through time; and the official actions of government and its agencies are to be congruent with the law. This gives us a bit more to chew on than just the positivist view. However, critics have said—I think that there is a lot of force in this—that this does not take us very far, because these are not really moral criteria for thinking about the rule of law. They are just efficiency conditions for any legal system. So any legal system that is going to work will have to include most of these criteria that I have just read out. Therefore, this is not what Fuller calls it, namely the inner morality of law, but rather it is just a set of efficiency criteria for the operation of a legal system.
What we need is a view of the rule of law that pays attention to that, because they are important efficiency conditions, but we need to go beyond that to the place where the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, was in his speech—namely, to think about the broader view of the role of basic moral principles in the law, as exemplified, for example, in the rights that are protected under the European convention, the Human Rights Act and so forth. We have to look at outcomes, not just processes. So much talk about the rule of law is about either the source of law or the Fuller type of criteria. We need to look at what kind of society we want the law to foster, which will include these various rights and protections for individuals, including the justice and fairness of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf.
To finish on a slightly less heavy note, I was once in a committee in your Lordships’ House when someone got rather muddled up and came up with a wonderful comment, which I shall leave your Lordships with. This person said that if you are thinking about how the British legal system has impacted on the world, it has turned warlords into law lords—and I think there is something in that.
I should very much like to have the opportunity to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Plant, but I think the short answer to what he said is that the concept of the English rule of law is the one that we follow and which we are discussing today, and which I would commend. However, it would be very good to have more time to discuss the very interesting points that the noble Lord has just made. I have a feeling that this, with some notable exceptions, is very much a lawyers’ meeting place, if not a picnic. I am afraid that, as yet another lawyer, I am contributing to that.
It is entirely appropriate that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, should have put forward this most interesting debate. Although he is too modest ever to accept it, he is an excellent example of the export of English law and its systems around the world. In my view, he is a shining example of the English legal system and our judiciary. He was one of the British and Australian judges in the final Hong Kong Court of Appeal; he set up the financial court in Qatar and was its first president; he has been an international mediator and arbitrator since his retirement; and, like other English retired judges and lawyers—not retired lawyers—he applies English law right across the world.
I shall speak briefly today about family law, as a former president of the Family Division. I want to make two points, one positive and one negative. First, I congratulate each of the Governments over the past 25 years on the introduction of good family legislation. The family courts apply almost entirely statute law, and it is an area where the legislation has played a much more important part than in many other areas of the courts, and particularly rather less of our common law. Government and Parliament are essential components of the application of family law to the litigants, who need a rather special type of help from the administration of justice. I applaud much of the legislation, from the Children Act 1989, through some excellent legislation under the previous Labour Government to the recent Children and Families Act, together with recent excellent reports such as Munro and Norgrove.
Having spoken of the good part of family law, I now turn to the bad part. From April this year, as noble Lords will know, there is no legal aid in private family law disputes, including children and finance, unless it comes within a very small list of exceptions such as domestic violence and child abuse. From my experience of 35 years sitting at different levels of the family court, I know that divorce or separation of couples who have lived together is a painful emotional process for most people, and for some it is traumatic. In a small but significant minority, perhaps 5% of cases, the former relationship turns corrosive and one or both former partners use the courts as the arena to fight their failed relationship. Some people in this position hate the other person so much that they cannot see why their children should love or have anything to do with the other parent, and they cannot come to any agreement. The government emphasis on mediation is excellent as far as it goes but it will not work in this 5% of cases. Judges and lawyers know this but successive Governments do not and either appear not to understand or will not listen.
Barristers and solicitors who did this private law work did not earn large amounts. Their desire has always been to seek a settlement of the issues between the parties, and their protocols require them to put the welfare of children first. They now do very little of this work because most litigants have no money, so men and women, untrained in the law but fighting their failed relationships through the arena of the courts, are appearing unrepresented before judges and magistrates. The task of the courts, faced with carrier bags of unsorted and disorganised papers in child cases and even more so in financial disputes over the former matrimonial home and maintenance, is huge and unmanageable. On a practical note, it clogs the courts and creates delay so I hope that the Government will listen to the fact that it is not cost-effective. It is only in suspected child abuse cases that there is legal aid so that the children may be represented, and I have to say to your Lordships that parents are the worst people in this group of cases to make any decisions about what should happen to their children. Anyone but parents would be better because this comes in the aftermath of their traumatic separation.
We have Magna Carta celebrations next year and, in my view, they will sound hollow in the face of the failure to be able to do justice in private family law disputes. Clause 40 of Magna Carta, written in 1215, provided for access to justice, which is not achieved in 2014. I am so glad that I am not a judge any more and do not have to sort out these problems. When other countries look across the Atlantic or the channel at the system of family law in England and Wales, they will not applaud us.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in this terrific debate. I declare an interest as London managing partner of DLA Piper and as a member and City ambassador of the Law Society. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said earlier in the debate, the rule of law in the English legal system is a major source of British influence abroad, as the recent report by the Select Committee on soft power of this House made very clear.
I had the great pleasure recently of participating with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in a conference on the rule of law in Turkey, which was a very timely reminder in that country of the essential values inherent in the concept of rule of law, and I thank him for initiating this superb debate today. Many noble Lords have mentioned the fact that next year we are celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta through the Global Law Summit and other events. It is particularly important that we hand down this tradition to each new generation and that they are made aware of how precious it is.
The rule of law is not only a philosophical ideal and a bastion of individual rights. Our legal framework is critical to economic development, to the creation of jobs and to a successful market economy. A key factor is the integrity and independence of the judiciary and, as my noble friend Lord Marks said, London has become a world leader in dispute resolution. English legal practitioners are another reason for using English law. We have a long and well respected tradition of excellent legal services based on trust and performance. Huge effort over the past few years is beginning to result in a much more diverse profession, with commitment to the PRIME initiative by an alliance of law firms and legal departments across the United Kingdom to broaden access to the legal profession. Pro bono ethos and practice is much more embedded, too, within the legal profession. The noble Lord, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, in his first contribution to this House last December, confirmed his view that the legal services sector is one of the most important sectors for the UK. In fact, it employs almost 350,000 people. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred to the fact that the rule of law is now one of Britain’s great exports; exports of legal services totalled more than £4 billion last year.
Our law and law firms are becoming ever more international to meet the needs of businesses. Law firms such as my own have responded by becoming international in their own outlook, establishing a global presence. There are close links between legal education, our laws and the legal sector. We attract students from all over the world. This needs to be nurtured. The coming decade promises to see increased competition as other cities such as Paris, New York and Hong Kong aspire to compete with London as a world leader in legal services.
We also face legislative threats such as the common European sales law being proposed by the European Commission as an EU civil law alternative to English common law. Protectionist regulations in growth markets such as India and a number of other emerging markets are, however, a major stumbling block, inhibiting the export of UK legal services and, indeed, opportunities for their own lawyers. The profession and the Government have, rightly, made persuading emerging markets to tear down their barriers to entry a key priority. Staring in 2011, the Ministry of Justice’s Plan for Growth set out the importance of English law and English legal services to the UK economy, and the need to open up overseas markets.
Our position in Europe is vital in achieving this goal. Another benefit from the EU is the freedom of establishment under the establishment directive. No wonder that, according to a recent CBI survey, two-thirds of law firms think that leaving the EU will have serious negative consequences. The challenges we face to ensure that the UK remains the world leader in the rule of law, in our standards of justice, in the provision of legal services and in the opportunities that exist in international jurisdictions are significant. However, we can meet them if we heed today’s warnings. I hope that we will be able to fulfil, as Ken Clarke said when he was Lord Chancellor, the UK ambition of becoming lawyer and adviser to the world.
My Lords, as a non-lawyer I feel like a gate-crasher into this lawyers’ and judges’ picnic. However, I do not regret having gate-crashed because, as I expected, this has been an informative, interesting and thoughtful debate.
I am really delighted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, secured this debate a year before we mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. He introduced the debate with his characteristic wisdom and I agree with much of what he has said. The legal system of the UK has made an enormous contribution to the international standing of the UK. We have much to be proud of and much to build on, but we must also be watchful of what other noble Lords have said.
While we can look with pride at the great history of our legal system and the contribution that it has made to the world, we can also look forward to the huge contribution that our legal system can make in a world which faces significant challenges. By so doing, we can remain aware of what it is that we have to cherish in our own country.
The late Lord Bingham, in his brilliant book The Rule of Law, said,
“the rule of law is not fixed for all time. Some countries do not subscribe to it fully, and some subscribe only in name, if that. Even those who do subscribe to it find it difficult to apply all its precepts quite all the time. But in a world divided by differences of nationality, race, colour, religion and wealth it is one of the greatest unifying factors, perhaps the greatest, the nearest we are likely to approach to a universal secular religion. It remains an ideal, but an ideal worth striving for, in the interests of good government and peace, at home and in the world at large”.
The question is how we should continue to strive for it here and abroad. The answer is by example; by adhering to the rule of law; by constant vigilance; by maintaining the standards and the independence of our judiciary, and by the excellence of our judiciary and legal profession. It is also by continuing to engage with international bodies such as the United Nations, the Commonwealth and other professional organisations to promote the rule of law.
The rule of law, however, does not emanate just from state-based legal institutions but from wider socio-political norms and relationships. While focus on legal institutions, writing of constitutions, laws, training of lawyers and reforming the judiciary is necessary, it is not enough. Attention needs to be paid to value systems and informal justice systems and to the wider political and social structures in which judicial institutions are embedded. It needs to address power relations and entrenched interests, as well as how state-based legal systems articulate with customary law and informal justice practices.
The British Council—and I declare an interest as its deputy chair—has worked and is working in countries where there might be more than one legal system in operation or where informal justice systems co-exist alongside more or less effective state institutions. The approach adopted by the British Council is subtle and inclusive. It is one that understands and values UK experience, but is able to apply it on the ground in partnership, working with local actors and with the grain of local culture and context. This engagement by the British Council has shaped its understanding of the link between justice, development and economic growth, and how to achieve that through subtle and oblique approaches, rather than by hard selling.
I am delighted that the British Council is a partner in the Global Law Summit, an international legal conference to be held in London next February. This conference will be celebrating 800 years of our legal history, showcasing the British offer and advancing our shared understanding of how to promote the rule of law worldwide. We are proud to be working with other partners to enhance the international standing of the UK and its legal system and the observance of the law in this country and abroad.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Prashar, I feel that I am gate-crashing a debate for which I am very much not qualified to take part. It reminds me of a defence debate in which it was calculated that 36 stars had taken part, so others felt somehow excluded. Rather than the picnic referred to by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, however, I regard this turnout as a tribute both to the importance of the subject and to the admiration and respect with which my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf is held in this House. I join those who have congratulated him on and thanked him for this debate.
I propose to base my remarks purely on the contribution that the observance of the rule of law has made to the international standing of the United Kingdom. However, I fully agree with those who have expressed their concern about the creeping erosion of judicial independence and discretion.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, I have to declare an interest as I was a member of the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, which has already been referred to. I am not going to repeat that judgment but merely want to say that one of the most powerful pieces of evidence we heard was from the high commissioner of Mozambique, who described why Mozambique had applied to join the Commonwealth. Top of the list was the rule of law. This supports absolutely what my noble and learned friend Lord Judge said.
I want to talk about just two aspects. I was very interested in what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, said about his experience with Kosovo. Today’s Armed Forces are in a very difficult position. The law of armed conflict and the Geneva Convention were drawn up to apply to combat in a place of war between armed forces representing nations, and not for what is currently happening, which is referred to as “war among the people”. That is confusing because if a soldier breaches the law, he should, quite rightly, be arraigned under the law.
I well remember spending a considerable amount of time while on operations—for example, in Northern Ireland—on making absolutely certain that every single member of my battalion understood the rule of law. Not only was it explained to him but afterwards he carried it—in the form of a little yellow card— in his pocket to make certain that he would always know it. That applied on the streets of Northern Ireland, where we were working with the police; it does not apply so much in some of the situations with which soldiers are currently faced. However, it is absolutely certain that if any member of the Armed Forces does breach the law, they risk undermining the reputation of the United Kingdom. That happened in the disgraceful affair in Iraq, which has been discoloured by the finding that so many of the witnesses were corrupted, as it were, into giving evidence and demanding compensation, and, of course, in the recent sentencing of a Marine sergeant for murder.
It is essential that our Armed Forces should be aware that there is all the difference in the world—as Sir Michael Howard, the distinguished historian, pointed out—between the Roman words bellum, which is the legal use of force between nations, which is one description of war, and guerra, which is the illegal use of force in a nation. To declare war on terror and on drugs, which are neither bellum nor guerra, is confusing to the Armed Forces, which have to exercise the rule of law.
The second area to which I shall refer is the criminal justice system. As we all know, this system consists of the police, the courts, prisons and probation—but it is a system, as a whole. My noble and learned friend Lord Woolf referred to the legal element of the system. I just want to say that I am very concerned that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and my noble and learned friend Lord Brown have said, it is quite wrong if the Government are seen to be breaking the law as regards the criminal justice system. Noble Lords have mentioned the deliberate problem around voting rights for prisoners. I would add to that the disgraceful procrastination over the numbers of prisoners who are held on indefinite sentences for public protection, a subject which has been raised many times.
I am also extremely alarmed that in the current Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is coming towards us, there is a defiance of a Supreme Court ruling on the allowance of the use of force on children to instil good order and discipline. It is worrying because, instead of the Lord Chancellor seeming to resist any failure to observe the rule of law, the breaches of the rule of law seem to be coming from the man who is responsible for the rule of law. Not only does it send the wrong message about the United Kingdom’s observation of the rule of law; it sends exactly the wrong message to those who are imprisoned because they themselves have failed to observe the law.
My Lords, I, too, speak on this topic in this august legal gathering with hesitation and misgiving. I last practised law in 1966 and had only 12 years at the Bar and one year as a Silk, practising mainly before that friendly god the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I was then lucky enough to become a Minister at the Home Office in that glorious period between 1966 and 1967 when Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary, which was the greatest period of law reform since the Second World War. Since then, however, I have not been directly concerned with the law. It has changed profoundly, and whatever law I once knew I have forgotten—hence my hesitation, especially since I shall voice some critical comments.
I believe that recent discussions about our legal system have missed one very important point. The Government rightly argue that the cost of legal aid has soared and must be controlled. Lawyers and others concerned with justice rightly complain that cuts in legal aid have restricted access to justice—a fundamental right in a democracy—but no one blames the legal system. I fear that we can no longer claim that the legal system in England and Wales is a model for the rest of the world, in at least one very important respect. I shall restrict my comments to civil litigation, but I believe equally valid criticisms can be made of proceedings in criminal cases.
The costs of litigation are not only exceptionally high by international comparisons, but unpredictable and can end up being out of all proportion as a subject matter in dispute, causing financial ruin to the parties. Valiant attempts to limit and reduce costs, such as the reforms proposed in 1999 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the proposal of Lord Justice Jackson, implemented in 2013, have not prevented the seemingly inexorable rise in costs. At the same time, according to the Government’s own figures, when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act became effective in April 2013, legal aid was no longer available to some 600,000 of the million or so who previously qualified.
Our legal system has become dysfunctional. Why? I will mention some plausible explanations. Losers have to pay winners’ costs, so costs are ratcheted up. Once you start to litigate, you have to go on to the bitter end, because abandoning your case half way means you are the loser. Lawyers, who charge by the hour, have no compelling incentive to limit costs. Even when they want or try to, they have to react to opponents’ moves.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who I have always greatly admired, put forward reforms that offered hope by giving judges control over litigation to see that it was conducted efficiently and economically. So why have costs risen even higher? I am told that a major reason is that there is now much more litigation about costs themselves, which can be very large. Lord Justice Jackson was asked to review the rules and principles governing those costs, and judges now have discretion over their awards in the light of the conduct of the parties. However, this leads only to more jockeying and argument about costs, adding to their total. The sad fact is that the amount of litigation about costs has no parallel in any other country.
Once the issues have been defined, the parties’ lawyers must provide the court with estimates of the cost of running the entire case, which the court must review and approve to make sure costs are not disproportionate. Budgets are approved at the first case management conference after the close of pleadings, but this means that would-be litigants have to retain lawyers to start proceedings and work out budgets. They have to commit themselves to proceedings that may be very expensive, without any idea of what they will eventually cost. Who wants to go to law if their means are limited?
No wonder there has been a vast rise in the number of litigants in person—but litigation demands legal knowledge and expertise in court procedure. Those who argue their own case without either are almost bound to be less likely to obtain justice. Inevitably, cases argued in person also take much longer and add to the costs of administration.
What should be done? First, I have always had doubts that the public are best served by lawyers being paid on the taxi-meter principle: by the hour. More importantly, there should be a major review of the administration of civil justice. It is perhaps the oldest public service. Access to justice at reasonable cost is a vital principle, and the fact that it is no longer available undermines our claims to be a civilised society. Yet this public service has never been independently reviewed. Of course lawyers must play a major part in any review, but they should not themselves be the final arbiters of how the public can best be served. There is something seriously wrong with a system in which, to litigate, you have to be a plutocrat or a pauper.
My Lords, one of the first visitors that I had when the Supreme Court opened its doors in 2009 was Andrew Li, the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong. He had come to ask me whether I would permit two justices of the Supreme Court to spend a month each year sitting as non-permanent judges of his court. I hesitated for a moment, wondering whose permission I should seek in relation to this request, and then I realised that there was no one. I was truly independent. It was a rather heady moment and I unhesitatingly agreed. Could there be any better contribution to the rule of law than to export two members of the United Kingdom Supreme Court to buttress the independence and standing of the impressive Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong?
My successor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, not only endorsed my decision but goes himself to sit in Hong Kong in the long vacation. There are now no fewer than seven Members of this House, of whom I am one, who sit each year in the Hong Kong court in China. That is really rather remarkable, and there is no better illustration of the worldwide impact of English law and English lawyers. Another illustration is the recent invitations by Mauritius and the Bahamas, at their expense, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to go and sit in their countries, thus demonstrating their devotion to the rule of law.
Last Thursday, this House debated the importance of the manufacturing industry to this country. Today, thanks to the initiative of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, we have the opportunity to consider the contribution that English law and English lawyers make not merely to this country but to the world. My noble and learned friend Lord Woolf himself exemplifies that contribution. As the House heard, on his retirement as Lord Chief Justice he was immediately invited by the Emir of Qatar to set up an international commercial court in Doha—where, as on other occasions, I have followed in his footsteps.
That was not the first such court in the Middle East. In 2004, Dubai set up an English language court, applying common law in the resolution of commercial disputes. The first Chief Justice of that court was Sir Anthony Evans, a distinguished commercial judge who had sat in the English Court of Appeal. These courts are an indication of the high regard in which English commercial law and English commercial lawyers are held around the world, and my short speech will focus on commercial law.
The most remarkable development during my life in the law has been the growth of English commercial lawyers. When I started at the Bar some 50 years ago, there was a handful of commercial Silks who appeared in the commercial court and occasionally on what was known as the Hong Kong circuit—the courts of Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
When I joined Admiralty Chambers, then situated at 2 Essex Court, we had only one Silk, and when 10 years later I moved to 1 Brick Court we had only two. Now, Quadrant Chambers, the successor to 2 Essex Court, has 19 Silks and Brick Court Chambers no fewer than 36. Barristers from these and similar sets of chambers are appearing not merely in the courts of this country but in arbitrations around the world where contracts governed by English law are being arbitrated. Today, we have heard from the legal globetrotter, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, about his many appearances around the globe.
Several sets of chambers have set up satellite chambers in Maxwell Chambers in Singapore as a base for operating there. Today, the influence of English law and English lawyers in dispute resolution is largely latent because the resolution is taking place in private arbitrations.
The growth of City of London law firms has been even more remarkable. Fifty years ago, these were modest partnerships. Indeed, the number of partners was limited by law. All the partners knew each other well. The large international law firms were based on Wall Street. For 2013 the annual report of Clifford Chance records that the average number of partners during the year was 411. That firm is but one of a number of giant law firms that have their base in London, but the offices of these firms are to be found in almost every major trading city of the world.
What is the explanation for the international pre-eminence of English commercial law and lawyers? I believe that it is twofold. English law is attractive to commercial men because much of it has been custom-made by outstanding common-law judges, often sitting in the Appellate Committee of this House, who cut their judicial teeth in our world-famous Commercial Court. Today, 50% of the contracts concluded around the world are governed, by the choice of the parties, by English law.
The other is the recognised integrity of English lawyers, which owes much, I believe, to the influence of the Inns of Court and the Law Society, and to the importance accorded to the rule of law in this country which Parliament and the Executive must never cease to respect and uphold. We should all be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for underlining the importance of this.
My Lords, of course, I join others in your Lordships’ House in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and thanking him for giving us the opportunity of an important and very well informed debate.
The reputation of our English legal system stands as high as it does precisely because of the wisdom, expertise and independence of our judiciary, as exemplified by the contributions to this debate of noble and learned Lords who have played such an important part in the development of our jurisprudence and, indeed, to the deliberations of this House. It is a matter of deep regret that in a number of respects that reputation is under threat from government policies reflecting a growing indifference—perhaps even hostility—to some of the cardinal principles that lie at its heart.
As we are frequently reminded, next year sees the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta—a document that has acquired an iconic, not to say almost mythical resonance as a charter of liberties. Only three clauses survive unchanged over the centuries, the most important perhaps being the pledge to,
“sell to no man … either justice or right”.
I shall refer later to the issue of whether and to what extent the positive version of the provision, which might be encapsulated in a pledge to ensure access to justice or right, is currently under threat. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for reminding us that one of the provisions was to render the king subject to law.
In his book The Pursuit of Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, described Magna Carta as,
“a symbol for the values of the common law, remarkable because it is such an historical statement of the fundamental principles of the rule of law”.
As he said in the book and again today, it is one adopted by other, later jurisdictions from the USA to India. Lord Bingham, who alas is no longer with us, records in The Rule of Law that Magna Carta was cited in no fewer than 60 United States Supreme Court judgments between 1940 and 1990. I cannot resist quoting the memorable line of Tony Hancock’s jury foreman in a parody of “Twelve Angry Men”:
“Magna Carta … Did she die in vain?”.
However, the common law, powerful and flexible as it has been, and instrumental alongside the independence and integrity of our judiciary in earning the admiration of other countries and their jurists, does not stand alone, nor is it immune from threats which seem to be growing in number and intensity. We have debated many times in recent years and months the vexed question of access to justice, particularly in the light of the steady and continuing undermining of judicial review—referred to by a number of noble Lords today, including the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Marks—which we will be debating in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, and the erosion of the availability of legal aid and advice in the courts and tribunal system. Whole swathes of rights and remedies are now beyond the reach of many of our citizens, unless they have the means to pay for legal services, or the good fortune to obtain advice and support from an increasingly overloaded and underresourced voluntary sector.
On 21 July we will be debating the latest road block to be placed on the road to justice—the residence test for legal aid—set to deprive even children, admittedly only those over the age of 12 months, of support if they have been resident for less than a year. It might be thought that that is another example of the politics of the dog whistle, which in the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights is in flagrant violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. That convention is very much the United Kingdom’s contribution to the post-war construction of a democratic Europe in which the rule of law has become the cornerstone of civic and judicial structures, and we all owe a Conservative politician who became the Lord Chancellor, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe and later Viscount Kilmuir, an enormous debt for what became in effect the Magna Carta of the 20th century. Yet, increasingly, a disturbing trend has emerged in which human rights are devalued and the role of the convention is disparaged in the very country which did so much to advance them. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, pointed out, if England is to be true to its heritage, which is a commitment to the rule of law, it has to be, and has to be seen to be, a champion of human rights. Making the human rights convention part of our domestic law has proved a great success. He observed that it embodies very much the same values that have been recognised by the common law for centuries. And to those who denigrate the convention, the late Lord Bingham asked, again in The Rule of Law, which of the rights would be discarded.
But rather than cherish these rights, the Government see in our judicial system a commodity to be traded. Access to justice for hundreds of thousands of citizens a year is made hugely more difficult while foreign litigants are rightly encouraged to use our skilled lawyers and our courts to resolve their differences. Justice is in danger of being seen primarily as a commodity and thus as a contributor to our balance of payments, welcome of course though that contribution is, and a tribute as it is to the skill and experience of our practising lawyers and the judiciary. However, while these litigants—Russian oligarchs and others—enjoy a Rolls-Royce service, our citizens are having to contend with an increasingly inefficient and ineffective system. The problems of criminal law practitioners and the future of the criminal Bar in particular have been referred to frequently, and notably today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. We have the chaos in the recently reorganised and fragmented probation service, and in our overcrowded prisons in which we house, after a fashion, more people per head of population than any other EU country and with a lower age of criminal responsibility. These are conditions which are little short of scandalous.
The situation in our civil courts is also very worrying. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has pointed out, there is growing concern over the number of litigants in person, especially in the field of family law. Last week I attended the opening of a personal support unit offering non-legal support to litigants in person at Newcastle Crown Court. At that event Lord Justice Briggs confirmed that the issue of delays and costs of unrepresented litigants in person was becoming a serious matter, as the noble and learned Baroness reminded us in the debate.
These problems are also affecting other parts of the civil justice system. I am indebted to Patrick Allen from the leading solicitors’ firm Hodge Jones & Allen for an update on some other aspects. It appears that papers can be lodged in a county court, date-stamped and sent to Salford, because that is where all matters now have to be routed, where they will again be date-stamped but not necessarily issued before deadlines have expired, thereby creating the risk of a case being out of time unless the High Court extends it. The savings to be engendered by this new procedure, all of £3 million to £4 million a year, are not even going to be recycled into the system, as the Civil Justice Committee of the Law Society has been told. The promised but belated investment in IT, some £75 million over five years, is to be prioritised for the commercial court. We can understand the incentive for doing that, but equally if all the resources go in that direction there will be little prospect of improving matters for domestic litigants.
In addition, the problems of the decision in the Mitchell case, which imposed what many think were disproportionate sanctions for failure to meet rigid deadlines under the Jackson rules, has led to all co-operation between parties being withdrawn. I understand that the position is to be reviewed, and I am sure that the profession more generally will be awaiting the outcome with great interest. It seems that, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, rightly referred to, the system of arbitration is being developed. Apparently the new and very effective approach of an alternative arbitration system has been developed by a leading Silk, Andrew Ritchie QC, which will be cheaper, quicker, and more collaborative. It is to be hoped that that will have some impact.
The frustration experienced in the civil and criminal courts also extends to the magistracy, where local justice is perceived as under threat from court closures, large benches and more full-time district judges. The system of which we have been so justly proud, and which other jurisdictions have so often sought to emulate, is under threat as never before. This threat is not from a medieval monarch, but from an obtuse ministry which seems prepared only to pay lip service to the tradition of centuries and the adjustments required to reflect and cater for changing needs in our evolving society. The question at next year’s celebration will not be:
“Magna Carta … Did she die in vain?”,
but “Magna Carta—does its spirit live on?”. If not, where stands the reputation of our much admired legal system?
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for affording the House the opportunity to discuss the United Kingdom’s legal systems. As many noble Lords have said, his contribution to the justice system has been highly significant. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, chose her dining companions well in those days. I will not repeat the many tributes, but they were all justly described. However, I also say that the Government welcome not only the contributions today from distinguished lawyers and judges but also those from non-lawyers, because of course the law does not belong to lawyers or judges, but to all of us.
This has been a rich debate, full of legal history and the history of legal maxims, the development of Magna Carta and the protection of rights since. Material for many debates has indeed been provided by the contributions of noble Lords. However, I am sure that one thing on which the whole House can agree is that our legal institutions and services are a vital part of the constitution. As a result of their deserved reputation for integrity and excellence, the influence of our legal institutions and services reaches across the world. They not only shape other jurisdictions but also provide the conditions for commerce to flourish.
I first address the question of the rule of law and our constitution. It is crucial to recognise that the rule of law is at the heart of the British constitution, underpinning a fair and just society in which citizens, businesses and civil society can help our nation prosper. As many noble Lords reminded us, next year sees the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, a document of great symbolic importance. It established the principle, among others, that executive power is not above the law.
The 800th anniversary of the sealing of the charter affords us an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate its values. The Government are working with the Magna Carta 800th Committee to organise commemorative events, which I am sure that many noble Lords are greatly anticipating. Magna Carta began to chart the boundaries of the relationship between the state and the individual, a dialogue that persists to this day. Much of what we do here in Parliament concerns the defining of the limits of state power when it represents a potential threat to individual liberty.
Today the rule of law ensures that all, including the Executive, are subject to a clear, certain and accessible body of law, determined by Parliament and interpreted and applied by an independent and impartial judiciary in a timely manner. The Lord Chancellor is under an oath to respect the rule of law, providing Britain with a system that protects the rights of citizens with respect to the state in areas of public law, and to provide for the fair and reliable resolution of private disputes. We have a judiciary with statutory safeguards through the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. Its members are independent of the Executive and of each other, and this allows for the law to be interpreted and applied impartially. It is to the great pride of our country that our judiciary is held in the highest regard, not merely here but throughout the world. The quality of our judiciary and its incorruptibility is something that we should never take for granted.
Furthermore, the Lord Chancellor has the duty to provide an efficient and effective system to support the business of the courts and tribunals. There has been considerable criticism not only of the Lord Chancellor and the role that he now performs as Secretary of State but of the holder of that office. Indeed, the Lords Constitution Committee is to conduct an inquiry into the office of Lord Chancellor. The Ministry of Justice will provide evidence to the committee in due course on that issue.
It is our shared understanding of, and respect for, the constitutional principles that I have outlined that enables the judiciary and Executive to work in partnership in the delivery of justice so that it can continue to be administered efficiently and effectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, criticised the lack of diversity in our judiciary. It is true that, in the High Court, 21 women out of 108 is not a happy percentage—in the circuit Bench, one in six is a woman from a total number of judges of 654—but I am glad to tell the House that there has been a considerable increase in the number of appointments of women to the Bench recently.
A number of noble Lords raised the subject of judicial review and changes that the Government wish to bring about by the Bill that is currently before your Lordships’ House. I have been well and truly put on notice that there are a number of aspects of Part 4 of that Bill about which there is concern. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do not give a full response to all the potential criticism at this stage, but that would be only a dress rehearsal for what may follow. I well understand the depth of concern about judicial review. I hope, however, that when we come to debate that issue, all noble Lords, whether with a legal or other background, will bear in mind that there are perceived by some people, rightly or wrongly, to be areas of judicial review where it has made incursions beyond those which those who developed the doctrine originally anticipated. However, I should make it clear that the Government, and certainly any Government of which I am a part, do not wish to abolish judicial review, contrary to what is occasionally written in the press, but value it as an essential part of the constitution.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of human rights, not least my noble friend Lord Lester, of whom I was a colleague on the Human Rights Commission. Rightly, attention was drawn to the terms of the European Convention and those who drafted it. I know that very few politicians or lawyers on any political wing would quarrel with the convention itself. What, however, is more open to debate is the relationship between the Strasbourg court and our courts. It is a legitimate reason for debate and a matter on which a number of people on all sides of the political divide have expressed a view: whether the Supreme Court should be the ultimate arbiter of these things and whether Section 2 has either been wrongly interpreted or should be amended. However, I should make it clear that this coalition Government have no intention to repeal or amend the Human Rights Act.
There was also considerable criticism of the cuts in legal aid. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, I fear, was right when he anticipated that I would mention austerity, which indeed I do. The Government attempted to identify those areas where legal aid was most needed and those areas where it should be possible—if not sometimes difficult, as we accept—for those needing on the face of it some legal assistance to manage by other means.
The full effect of the legal aid cuts will take some little time to assess. The Government are committed to reviewing this within five years—but it might be better to specify a period of three to five years from the implementation of the reforms in April 2013. The difficulty with making any assessment is that there was a considerable spike in the number of claims started just before that date, so it is almost impossible to form a clear view of the effect.
Of course I share with all noble Lords the concern that access to justice should not be denied. Indeed, I, with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was part of a group of Peers who were behind an amendment to the LASPO Bill to say that when economic circumstances changed, the Lord Chancellor should consider enlarging the scope of legal aid. I hope that that is indeed the position.
I could discuss the rule of law in more detail. It was elegantly discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Plant, and there has been repeated reference, quite rightly, to Lord Bingham’s great work The Rule of Law, which I am sure will be read for many years to come.
There are few better illustrations of the strength of our legal services than their overseas influence. The rule of law provides the best environment for the nourishment of commerce and economic growth. In turn, this assists the growth of business and wealth around the world. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, will be well aware from his own experience, the expertise of our practitioners, coupled with the enduring strength of our legal institutions, is sought by many clients across the world. We should also remember the influence of many legal professionals who, having qualified in the United Kingdom, return to their home countries and bring their education and expertise back to enrich their own jurisdiction. Our legal practitioners, and those who train here, benefit not only the United Kingdom but all the jurisdictions in which they work.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, rightly commended the work of the Judicial College and its increasing reputation abroad. He was too modest to mention his own significant role in training judges. I must declare an interest as a nervous assistant recorder who was inspired by him to set about the difficult task of sitting as a judge, and who listened to his stirring speech about the dissenting judgment of Lord Atkin in Liversidge v Anderson. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Walker, rightly reminded us of the importance of advocacy training, and how this is a skill that we are spreading beyond our shores.
English contract law has long enjoyed an excellent reputation. Its combination of consistency and flexibility, backed by courts that are independent, impartial and able to enforce their judgments, ensures that it is favoured by many businesses around the world. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, told your Lordships about the positive explosion of commercial law since he began in practice.
As a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, I am pleased to say that a particular strength of our legal services is arbitration. In a 2010 survey, London was voted the preferred seat of arbitration by an international audience, and we will strive to ensure that international lawyers and business continue to take advantage of our expertise and state of the art facilities when resolving disputes.
Noble Lords will need little further elucidation of the strength of London, with its diverse range of practitioners, close links to the City and fine modern facilities such as the Rolls Building. But as this debate is on UK legal services, I should add that there are high-quality providers in centres such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, offering choice and value to a variety of clients in a wide variety of sectors. It is important to point out that some legal activity—in fact, quite a lot of legal activity—is carried out on a pro bono basis, as the professions generously provide their expertise to those who could not otherwise afford to use their services.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, stated the ambition that we should become lawyers and advisers to the world. He was right to remind us of the level of exports accounted for by legal services. They were estimated to generate £20.4 billion for the UK economy in 2012, of which just under £4 billion were exports. I am not sure how much of that was contributed by the one-man export drive that is the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Of course, the influence goes further in terms of soft power—referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham and my noble friend Lord Hodgson—together with the export of judges, referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips.
I am delighted to draw your Lordships’ attention to two exciting events that will be taking place in the United Kingdom in 2015. In April 2015, Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Law Conference. The conference has the overarching themes of resources, responsibilities and the rule of law. It is organised by the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Law Society of Scotland, and I am certain that it will draw a strong attendance from across the Commonwealth, with whom we share so much legal heritage. As the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, reminded us, in February 2015, London will host the Global Law Summit. This one-off conference will examine how the principles of Magna Carta offer innovative solutions to achieve commercial, political and social goals. It will also provide outstanding opportunities for business and collaborative working. The venture has wide support among my government colleagues, the legal professions in this country and business. Indeed, we are expecting more than 2,000 delegates, comprising political, business and legal leaders from across the world.
Before concluding, I should pick up one or two points made by other noble Lords in the debate. My noble friend Lord Marks referred to the importance of televising court proceedings. That is a difficult area about which I think that opinions can reasonably differ. I am not sure that everyone watching the Pistorius trial would necessarily have been persuaded that televising trials was always in the public interest.
We were rightly told by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, of the challenges that judges—in particular, those in the Family Division—face in dealing with litigants in person, when disputes are so often acrimonious. She reminded the House that there is still legal aid for mediation. Mediation has a good story to tell, although I accept that it is not always the answer. Much needs to be done to improve the lot of litigants in person who, I accept, must inevitably be a greater feature of the legal landscape. I pay tribute to the judiciary as being most helpful, together with court officials, in developing systems. In the High Court of Justice and other courts, increasing help is to be had for litigants. There is improvement of access via computer and signposting to assist those who need help. The Government are expecting reports from two High Court judges on the problems confronted by the courts in dealing with litigants in person. That is a matter that should certainly be kept under review.
We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, about the contribution of the rule of law to international law and conflict. It was reassuring and encouraging to hear that the rule of law as we understand it is making a great contribution even in the complex scenarios that international conflict continues to throw up.
Our system has much in it to be admired but, as the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, told us, it is expensive. The expense of litigating can mean—as he rightly said, it has often meant in the past—that it is only the very rich or those on legal aid who can afford to litigate at all.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, made a great contribution to improving the legal system by the Civil Procedure Rules, but I am sure that he would be the first to admit that it is not beyond further improvement. Various initiatives such as cost capping are helping. The reforms in Part 2 of LASPO, which implemented the Jackson report, are beginning to have their effect. The use of qualified one-way cost shifting and the reduction of the recoverability of ATE premiums in conditional fees have made it a little more economical to litigate. This area is a matter of great concern to any Government. It is a matter, one hopes, of co-operation between government, the judiciary and lawyers to ensure that we have a system that maintains accessibility to all.
The global summit, to which I referred, marks an apt point at which to conclude my remarks. It reflects the enduring relevance of our constitutional heritage while providing an opportunity for the UK legal service to continue to demonstrate its prowess across the globe. Our system has many admirers. To continue the quote from the John of Gaunt speech started by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, it is indeed a,
“precious stone set in a silver sea”,
as indeed is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, to whom I pay great tribute for initiating this debate.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to say that this debate has exceeded all my expectations. This is because of the quality and spirit in which contributions have been made. It is not for me now to take up the time of the House by going over the various contributions, but I think that your Lordships will forgive me if I echo one or two points that have been made.
First, I particularly thank those who are not lawyers who have taken part in this debate. Their contributions were of huge value and the debate would have been the lesser without them. I also congratulate those noble Lords who managed to take part in two debates this afternoon and made very distinguished contributions to each. I was much moved by the idea of this being a picnic, and I was wondering what we could bring as presents for people to take away from the picnic after it is over. I am very glad that the Minister was able to provide us with something to take away—I will certainly regard it as an important contribution, as I know will many other noble Lords here—in his assurance that the Government have no intention to either repeal or amend the Human Rights Act.
I think that both the spokesman for the Opposition and the Minister also deserve to be congratulated on the way that they have tackled the issues before us in this debate. I agree with the Minister that there is a lot left to argue over, which will no doubt occur within this Chamber in the future. I do not think that there will be reference again to the days when I was a student so long ago in University College London, when I had the huge advantage of having the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, as a fellow student. I am bound to say, and know only too well, that she has weathered over the years so much better than I have.
House adjourned at 5.14 pm.