House of Lords
Monday 19 November 2018
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.
Message from the Prince of Wales
My Lords, I have to inform your Lordships that pursuant to the message from this House of 14 November, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has made the following reply:
“I was greatly touched by your kind address on the occasion of my 70th birthday. I have been most grateful for the many messages and congratulations I have received to mark this birthday and warmly reciprocate the good wishes extended by the Members of the House of Lords”.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions Ministers have had with the representatives of the Government of the United States of America regarding that Government’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House of my non-financial registered interests.
My Lords, the cessation of US funding for UNRWA could worsen the humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and threaten regional security. Her Majesty’s Government continue to support UNRWA and have helped to reduce its immediate financial shortfall through increased UK funding and proactive lobbying.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Just this weekend, while we were all focused on local matters, the UN singled out Israel for criticism. Why did the UK vote for all nine one-sided resolutions, unlike the United States, Canada and Australia? Perhaps after 29 March we will be able to create and pursue our own policy. While UNRWA provides important health and other services, it refuses to help resettle the Palestinians and even refuses to take off its list some 2 million Palestinians living in Jordan. Does the Minister agree that UNRWA, which was born in 1949, is now outdated, does not provide value for money, and continues to perpetuate the problem? Is it not time, together with our allies, to find, create and follow a new and modern programme of aid and development for the benefit of the Palestinian people and all the peoples of the region?
It is time that there was a peace process and for the parties to the conflict to come to the table and start to negotiate to resolve these matters regarding refugees. UNRWA provides essential healthcare to some 3 million people in the region, along with essential education for 525,000 people there. The United Kingdom Government are not going to walk by on the other side when people are in need.
I thank the Minister for that response, which is absolutely right. The noble Lord, Lord Polak, made a point about what more we can do, which I found really interesting because the last time that the Minister responded on the issue of the importance of UNRWA he recognised that we could not do this on our own. We have to work with our partners, particularly our European partners. Is there not an opportunity to focus more on inter-community activity and on economic activity which can build a sustainable economic environment in the Palestinian territories?
The noble Lord makes a good point and we are very much with him on that. The situation in Gaza is appalling. Youth unemployment is running at around 70%. That was one of the reasons we decided to double the amount of economic development assistance that we give to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The sum will go up to some £38 million over the next five years. We need to work with our partners across a whole range of areas, and our European friends and colleagues are very important to this process. It is also incredibly important that we leverage our influence with our United States friends. That has been done by our Foreign Secretary in a meeting with Jared Kushner. Moreover, the Minister, Alistair Burt, was in the region over the weekend with Jason Greenblatt, who is the special representative for the area for the US President. We will continue to work on all those fronts.
My Lords, given the importance of UNRWA and the unpredictability of President Trump, what plans do the Government have to fund UNRWA in 2019-20? Given its importance for the education of Palestinian young people, does the Minister agree that cutting its funding would be very short-sighted?
We need to acknowledge that the US felt that it bore a disproportionate share of the funding in providing one-third of it; it wanted to see that broadened out. Something good that we have been involved and instrumental in was a meeting in the margins of the UN General Assembly, where we sought to assemble people and work with colleagues across different groups in which we are influential to raise additional funding. That meeting raised an additional $122 million; that was not sufficient to remove the shortfall because $64 million still remains, As well as voicing criticism and concern, some of those around the world who expressed concern need to dip into their pockets.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is deep concern about the way in which some of the facilities provided by UNRWA in the Gaza Strip are abused by Hamas? It uses schools and other facilities to disguise the storage of weapons and builds tunnels underneath those facilities, apparently without any kind of recrimination. Does he not think that this is inappropriate and puts in peril UNRWA’s work in the community?
We and UNRWA take all those concerns extremely seriously. When issues such as the content of school textbooks have been raised, they have been thoroughly investigated. When the principles of non-violence that the Palestinian Authority signed up to are questioned, that ought to be raised with UNRWA. Ultimately, the only way forward in the long term is for all parties to come together and begin a peace process that can resolve the refugee situation and territorial claims.
My Lords, there are many legitimate concerns about UNRWA. Since there is a funding gap, is there evidence that other countries will follow our example, such as our partners in Europe and the Arab countries in particular?
As the noble Lord will know, we are one of the largest funders. The UN General Assembly margin meeting that I mentioned raised $122 million, some of which is yet to hit UNRWA’s bank account. It is important that people honour their pledges. It is also important for other countries to step forward and support UNRWA, not only on its financial needs but through wider support for moving towards a Middle East peace process.
My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Government of Israel, as the occupying force in Palestine, are not required to pay for, or at the very least contribute to, the cost of UNRWA?
I cannot give an adequate answer to that at present. The situation is incredibly complex, but the only way forward is for people to agree a peaceful resolution on a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders with agreed land swaps, a fair settlement for the refugees that are there and an agreement on Jerusalem as a shared capital for the two nations.
My Lords, there were also reports in the papers that the British Government would follow President Trump and withdraw from another UN organisation, UNESCO. That was done by Mrs Thatcher’s Government in 1985 and there were huge outcries in the universities, the arts and elsewhere. Can the Minister give us an assurance that these reports are not correct and that the United Kingdom will not withdraw from UNESCO?
Yes, I am happy to give the noble Lord the reassurance that he seeks on UNESCO. It is very important, whether we are talking about UNRWA or UNESCO, that we remember that we are also talking about British taxpayers’ money. It is absolutely beholden on us to ensure that that money is spent as widely as possible for the benefit of those in need and not wasted in any way.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many facilities which conduct mammograms offer breast cushions in order to relieve the pain of breast scans.
I beg leave to ask the Question in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Breast Cancer.
My Lords, the use of cushions in mammography has not been formally evaluated. Therefore, information on centres that might offer them is not collated, although we know that some hospitals use cushions non-routinely after surgery or radiography. Use of cushions had been trialled but was discontinued because of interference with the reading of the mammogram. However, I have asked the advisory committee on breast cancer screening to advise on this issue.
I thank the Minister for that concerned reply. Many women suffer intense pain during mammograms and are therefore put off returning for examination. The use of breast pads is not conclusive, but they do not seem to interfere much with the results of the mammogram. We also do not track how women react to mammograms. We do not hear the voices of women to say how they feel. Therefore, they do not inform good practice. Could the Minister say whether these issues will be addressed during any investigation or advice that he may be seeking?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the Question and the spur to ask the advisory committee to look at this issue. She is quite right about the experience. It can be painful. As she pointed out, it is the experience of pain that puts some women off taking up their appointments. Around half a million each year do not take up the appointments they are invited to. That is obviously a problem if we want a comprehensive screening programme. I will make sure that the advisory committee not just considers the evidence for use of them, but looks at how we can get qualitative evidence from women to inform their use across the country.
My Lords, can the Minister encourage the NHS to do some proper research with the women who do not turn up for a mammogram when invited to do so and bear in mind that there is more than one reason why? In my case it is the very sharp edge of the plate that sticks under your armpit. It is really extremely painful. Will he agree that such discomfort should not discourage women from attending mammograms, which are so very important for saving thousands of lives, including my own?
Absolutely. I completely agree with the noble Baroness. Indeed, breast cancer screening saves 1,300 women’s lives every year. It is an essential part of our health system. On why women do not turn up, Professor Sir Mike Richards is reviewing all the cancer screening programmes at the moment. I will specifically put that question to him to ask him to investigate it.
My Lords, we are told that pain or fear of pain is one of the main reasons why women decline screening. I ask the Minister: what initiatives have been investing to address the decline in breast screening uptake and to help ensure equality of access to screening?
In addition to investigating some of the reasons through the review, a primary way in which we are encouraging women to take part in screening is through public health advertising and marketing campaigns. They have been demonstrated to have an impact. Public Health England had such a campaign on breast cancer screening this year; there will be a further campaign on cervical screening next year.
My Lords, given that the quality of an image is dependent on the closest possible contact with the screen, and as the only radiographer in this House, can I ask the Minister how this can be achieved if we start to put cushions under people to make just a few minutes’ examination more comfortable?
The noble Baroness is of course right. It is precisely because of interference with the image that the trial was discontinued and the evidence not collated. Such cushions are used for women across the country who are particularly sensitive or after surgery, but I have asked the committee to consider whether there are ways in which they can be used more systematically to relieve discomfort without interfering with the crucial image that needs to be captured.
My Lords, will the Minister undertake to ask Sir Mike Richards to look at the need for large paddles for ladies who have large breasts and who may currently need to have two separate images taken on the same side, with the two images then put together, which does not always give a good picture? Not all breast screening services can supply larger paddles to have larger films.
I am more than happy to do so. If the review is not the correct forum for consideration of such an issue, I will refer it to the advisory committee instead.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, with mammography and all other forms of screening, the quality and availability of radiographers are important? Will he report to the House on the current status of radiographers in the country?
I am happy to tell my noble friend that we are in the process of recruiting many more radiographers for the NHS, with a plan to recruit nearly 1,900 by 2021.
My Lords, it is important that women have scans throughout their lives. They receive a reminder to go for a scan, but those reminders stop at the age of 70. The incidence of breast cancer continues after 70. Will the Minister reinstate reminders for people over that age?
A trial is going on the moment, the AgeX trial, which is looking at the clinical effectiveness of breast cancer screening for women aged 71 to 73. However, that is a randomised control trial, so not all women are being invited.
What steps are the Government taking to make everybody aware of the availability of breast cushions? I suspect that a lot of people do not even know of their existence, so it is time that we knew.
That is precisely what I have asked to committee to advise on.
I have a suspicion that were this a procedure which men had regularly to go through on a sensitive part of their body there might have been some urgency and investment to mitigate the discomfort. I welcome the assurance given by the Minister about the research that will be undertaken, but will he assure us also that resources will be made available if that research shows that such cushions or other mitigating equipment are needed to ensure that all women who need mammograms can get them?
There is absolutely no doubt that women are much braver and have a much higher pain threshold than men. I suspect that it is not so much about the availability of the devices, because I am sure that almost every hospital has them, as about how they should be deployed in such a way as not to interfere with the screening. That is what I will be asking for advice on.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to introduce new domestic abuse legislation; and if so, when.
My Lords, this Government are committed to transforming the response to domestic abuse. A wide-ranging consultation on domestic abuse closed on 31 May. We received more than 3,200 responses. We will publish a response to the consultation and introduce a draft domestic abuse Bill later this Session.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that useful reply but, given that both the Women and Equalities Select Committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee have raised the importance of the domestic abuse commissioner being given robust powers, being well resourced and independent of government, will the Minister assure the House that the commissioner will be given those resources and powers and an opportunity to ensure there is real change in practice across local and national government? Further, will she ensure that women with uncertain immigration status who are domestic violence survivors get proper access to appropriate legal and financial support, independent of abusing partners?
My Lords, I can absolutely assure the noble Lord that the commissioner will have all the tools, powers and resources that he or she will need to undertake the role sufficiently. As he will know, the Prime Minister, who was formerly the Home Secretary, made both violence against women and girls and domestic abuse a first priority. He is absolutely right to emphasise access to legal services, particularly for women who perhaps have not got the resources. I can assure him that, in the last year, 12,000 people, both women and men, were given access to legal aid.
My Lords, I welcome the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, because it is very important. In the meantime, we must not lose sight of the fact that two women a week are killed by abusive partners and their families’ lives are ripped apart. As Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, I made 14 recommendations to the Government on their domestic abuse Bill, one of which was to give the domestic abuse commissioner powers with teeth, which would then set a blueprint for all other commissioners’ roles. What progress has been made in defining the role? As Victims Commissioner, will I be offered the opportunity to have input into the Home Office’s deliberations?
I take this opportunity to thank my noble friend for all the work she has done as Victims Commissioner and for the 14 recommendations that she put to government. As I said in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, the Government will respond to the consultation very shortly. I look forward to engaging with her extensively as the Bill goes through this House.
My Lords, what discussions has the Home Office had with the DWP about the implications for the domestic abuse strategy, particularly the part about economic abuse, of the harmful so-called welfare reform policies in the light of the concerns raised by the Home Affairs Select Committee?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question and for the very real concerns she raised about welfare benefits. I assure her and the whole House that the changes in the benefits system will not cause a reduction in support levels for victims of domestic violence: that would be completely counterintuitive to what we are trying to do. I do not know whether she was referring to split payments, but if an individual suffering domestic violence puts in an application for a split payment, the DWP will support them in that.
Noble Lords across this House and organisations such as Women’s Aid are looking forward to the publication of this Bill. We hope that it will provide a cultural shift to make domestic abuse everybody’s business. Can the Minister assure the House that the voices and priorities of survivors of domestic abuse will be central to the development of this law? Will she ensure that, as well as the criminal justice system, other services such as health and welfare, housing and children’s services will all be required to work together to tackle this scourge of our society?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right: we need a cultural shift across all areas of government, including health and education, which she mentioned. This is a multidisciplinary approach to a terrible problem in society that costs the economy. She talked about the economic cost. It costs billions every year—I think it is £37 billion a year—and there is of course the effect on children, the future generation. So she is absolutely right that victims must be at the heart of the Bill: it is our very reason for bringing it forward.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Home Affairs Select Committee has said that the Bill needs to,
“facilitate a more effective, joined-up and cross-Government strategy to tackle”,
violence against women and girls? Will she give an undertaking to your Lordships’ House that this will not be a narrow Bill, dealing only with the criminal justice measures, but a wide-ranging, game-changing Bill that will make tackling this crime a priority across all government departments? When the Government respond to the consultation on the Bill, will the Minister address the concerns of charities such as Women’s Aid, which has called the Bill,
“a once-in-a-generation opportunity”,
to transform the way domestic violence is responded to, and urge the Government not to waste this opportunity?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right: this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right on domestic violence. As for why it would not be a violence against women and girls Bill, it is a specific Bill for a specific purpose, which is to tackle the scourge of domestic violence that affects so many women—and men, of course—each year. To broaden the scope of it would take away from that aim. But that is not to dismiss the importance generally of tackling violence against women and girls.
Teaching Excellence Framework
To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the review of the Teaching Excellence Framework is due to report and whether this review will include recommendations for judgements to be made on the change in the percentage of first class and upper second class degrees awarded by higher education institutions.
My Lords, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation has today announced the appointment of Dame Shirley Pearce as the independent reviewer of the teaching excellence and student outcomes framework. We expect the reviewer to report in summer 2019. The scope of the report is laid down in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. It will be a wide-ranging and independent review and we cannot prejudge its focus and recommendations.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and, indeed, for announcing the name of the person reviewing this area. Your Lordships’ House will recall that this review was one of the concessions extracted with some difficulty from the Government during the wash-up on what is now the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, as the House had significant reservations about the teaching excellent framework, although it is now called—I must say this carefully—TESOF. Concern has been rising in the sector because of the delay in this review since Royal Assent in June 2017, particularly in light of the policy statements increasingly being made by Ministers. So I am very glad to hear that Dame Shirley Pearce has been selected and we wish her well with her work. Can the Minister confirm that the remit set out in primary legislation still holds and that the report will be brought before Parliament when it is ready? Can he explain how the interests of valued institutions such as the Open University will be secured? These do not participate in TEF, as the current metrics do not work for distance learning or, indeed, part-time students more generally.
I am delighted that this happens to be the day that the announcement of Dame Shirley’s appointment has come through. On timing, we said that the reviewer must be appointed within a year of the commencement of Section 25 of HERA; that is, by 1 January 2019, so we are ahead of time. I know that there are six aspects to the TEF review. The Open University is certainly something which the new reviewer will be looking at.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests in the register, specifically as a university pro vice-chancellor. Can my noble friend tell us whether there is any truth to stories in the media about a review which would look into funding and the fees charged by universities, specifically those universities that are likely to attract pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds? While I praise and support the Government’s commitment to social mobility, does he accept that if we were to apply such a pupil penalty at university level for those universities which are more likely to attract children from disadvantaged backgrounds, we would be fundamentally undermining the support of policies such as the pupil premium that put more funds into children from disadvantaged backgrounds in early years education?
This Government have done more than any other to encourage those from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university. There is a lot in the question asked by my noble friend. She will know that the 18-plus review, which is pretty wide-ranging, will be looking at all the aspects that she has raised.
My Lords, what feedback have the Government had from those universities branded bronze in the review on their ability to attract students, particularly international students? If it has had an effect, that is bad news for the universities; if it has had no effect, surely that is bad news for the TEF.
I think it is fair to say that since our discussions during the passage of the HERA—I hope the House will recognise this—the metrics used, which by the way will be reviewed by Dame Shirley Pearce, have been largely well received. I do not want to prejudge exactly what Dame Shirley will come out with in the total review of the TEF, including the metrics, but so far the response has been broadly good.
My Lords, given concerns about the perceived grade inflation of degrees and the indications about including the degree grade element in the TEF awards process, can the Minister advise the House on the criteria for evaluating grade awards in the TEF process? When will HE institutions be informed about this, so that they can evaluate their procedures?
The right reverend Prelate raises an important point. The Government are certainly aware of the grade inflation aspect, which is topical and controversial, but he will know that there is a distinction between grade inflation and grade improvement. Although there has been some increase in good degrees, which is likely to be attributable to students’ prior attainment, this is not the whole story. Some parts of the sector argue that that inflation is actually due to grade improvement. It is very difficult to separate grade improvement out from grade inflation, and this is something that Dame Shirley will be looking at.
Did I hear the Minister aright earlier? I thought I heard him say that this Government have done more than any previous Government to increase inclusivity and access for disadvantaged groups to university entrance. I am sure that he would not have made that statement without some detailed statistical evidence. Could he present the House with it and place a copy in the Library?
I certainly can. There is a lot of detail to back up what I have said because the tuition fee system, whereby the fee is attached to the student going to university, allows for more people to go to university. I will certainly write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library, with some statistics to back me up.
Does the review cover the whole United Kingdom and, if not, are the devolved Governments making their own separate arrangements to hold reviews?
My noble friend raises a good question. The devolved Administrations undertake their own system, but no doubt they will look at the results of the review—which, as I said earlier, is due to report in summer 2019.
My Lords, as someone who received a lower Second, could my degree be inflated to a double-starred First under this new system?
One could assume that that was perhaps grade inflation but, hopefully, it would be due to grade improvement.
Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill [HL]
Order of Consideration Motion
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 4, Schedule 2, Clause 5, Title.
Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill [HL]
That the Bill do now pass.
My Lords, I beg to move and in so doing record my thanks for the support I have received from all sides of the House, from the Government Whips’ Office and in particular from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere. I hope that the Bill will receive an equally warm embrace in the other place.
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Artificial Intelligence (Select Committee Report)
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? (HL Paper 100).
My Lords, it was a pleasure and a privilege to chair the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence. I thank members of the committee who engaged so closely with our subject matter over an intensive nine-month period and achieved such a high degree of unanimity. There were not just the formal sessions but a number of visits and workshops and even a neural network training session, ending with a fair few lively meetings deciding among ourselves what to make of it all.
Despite the limited life of the committee, we have not stopped taking about AI and its implications since, some of us in far-flung corners of the world. I regret that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, having made such a major contribution to our work, are abroad for this debate.
I place on record a huge thanks to our team of clerks and advisers, without whom this report, which has been recognised as leading-edge nationally and internationally, could not have been written: our clerk, Luke Hussey; Dr Ben Taylor, our policy analyst; Hannah Murdoch, our committee assistant; and Dr Mateja Jamnik, our specialist adviser.
Our conclusions came after nine months of inquiry, consideration of some 225 written submissions of evidence and 22 sessions of fascinating oral testimony. I thank all our witnesses who gave such a great deal of time and commitment to the inquiry. I today thank the Minister who, with the right honourable Matt Hancock, gave extensive oral evidence. Since then, of course, Mr Hancock has been promoted twice. There is clearly a connection.
The context for our report was very much a media background of lurid forecasts of doom and destruction on the one hand and some rather blind optimism on the other. In our conclusions we were certainly not of the school of Elon Musk. On the other hand, we were not of the blind optimist camp. We are fully aware of the risks that the widespread use of AI could raise, but our evidence led us to believe that these risks are avoidable or can be mitigated to reduce their impact.
In considering this, we need to recognise that understanding the implications of AI here and now is important. AI is already with us in our smartphones and in our homes. Our task was,
“to consider the economic, ethical and social implications of advances in artificial intelligence”.
Our 74 recommendations were intended to be practical and to build upon much of the excellent work already being done in the UK, and revolved around a number of threads which run through the report.
The first is that the UK is an excellent place to develop AI and that people are willing to use the technology in their businesses and personal lives. There is no silver bullet, but we identified a range of sensible steps that will keep the UK on the front foot. They include making data more accessible to smaller businesses and asking the Government to establish a growth fund for SMEs through the British Business Bank to scale up their businesses domestically without having to worry about having to find investment from overseas or having prematurely to sell to a tech major. We said that the Government need to draw up a national policy framework, in lockstep with the industrial strategy, to ensure the co-ordination and successful delivery of AI policy in the UK.
A second thread relates to diversity and inclusion in education and skills, digital understanding, job opportunities, the design of AI and algorithms and the datasets used. In particular, the prejudices of the past must not be unwittingly built into automated systems. We said that the Government should incentivise the development of new approaches to the auditing of datasets used in AI and encourage greater diversity in the training and recruitment of AI specialists.
A third thread relates to equipping people for the future. AI will accelerate the digital disruption in the jobs market. Many jobs or tasks will be enhanced by AI, many will disappear and many new, as yet unknown, jobs will be created. AI will have significant implications for the ways in which society lives and works. Whatever the scale of the disruption, a significant government investment in skills and training is imperative if this disruption is to be navigated successfully and to the benefit of the working population and national productivity growth. Retraining will become a lifelong necessity and initiatives, such as the Government’s national retraining scheme, must become a vital part of our economy. We said that this will need to be developed in partnership with industry, and lessons must be learned from the apprenticeships scheme. At earlier stages of education, children need to be adequately prepared for working with, and using, AI. For a proportion, this will mean a thorough education in AI-related subjects, requiring adequate resourcing of the computing curriculum and support for teachers. For all children, the basic knowledge and understanding necessary to navigate an AI-driven world will be essential. In particular, we recommended that the ethical design and use of technology becomes an integral part of the curriculum. I should add that our evidence strongly suggested that the skills requirements of the future will be as much creative as scientific.
A fourth thread is that individuals need to be able to have greater personal control over their data and the way in which it is used. We need to get the balance right between maximising the insights that data can provide to improve services and ensuring that privacy is protected. This means using established concepts such as open data, ethics advisory boards and data protection legislation, and developing new frameworks and mechanisms, such as data portability, hubs of all things and data trusts.
AI has the potential to be truly disruptive to business and to the delivery of public services. For example, AI could completely transform our healthcare, both administratively and clinically, if NHS data is labelled, harnessed and curated in the right way. However, it must be done in a way that builds public confidence. Transparency in AI is needed. We recommended that industry, through the new AI council, should establish a voluntary mechanism to inform consumers when AI is being used to make significant or sensitive decisions.
Of particular importance to the committee was the need to avoid data monopolies, particularly by the tech majors. Large companies that have control over vast quantities of data must be prevented from becoming overly powerful within the AI landscape. In our report we called upon the Government, with the Competition and Markets Authority, to review proactively the use and potential monopolisation of data by big technology companies operating in the UK. It is vital that SMEs have access to datasets so that they are free to develop AI.
The fifth and unifying thread is that an ethical approach is fundamental to making the development and use of AI a success for the UK. A great deal of lip service is being paid to the ethical development of AI, but we said that the time had come for action and suggested five principles that could form the basis of a cross-sector AI code. They should be agreed and shared widely and work for everyone. Without this, an agreed ethical approach will never be given a chance to get off the ground. We did not suggest any new regulatory body for AI, taking the view that ensuring that ethical behaviour takes place should be the role of existing regulators, whether the FCA, the CMA, the ICO or Ofcom. We believe also that in the private sector there is a strong potential role for ethics advisory boards.
AI is not without its risks, as I have emphasised, and the adoption of the principles proposed by the committee will help to mitigate these. An ethical approach will ensure that the public trust this technology and see the benefits of using it. It will also prepare them to challenge its misuse. All this adds up to a package that we believed would ensure that the UK could remain competitive in this space while retaining public trust. In our report we asked whether the UK was ready, willing and able to take advantage of AI.
The big question is therefore whether the Government have accepted all our recommendations. I must tell your Lordships that it is a mixed scorecard. On the plus side, there is acceptance of the need to retain and develop public trust through an ethical approach, both nationally and internationally. A new chair has been appointed to the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and a consultation started on its role and objectives, including the exploration of governance arrangements for data trusts and access to public datasets, and the centre is now starting two studies on bias and microtargeting. Support for data portability is now being established. There is recognition by the CMA of competition issues around data monopoly. There is recognition of need for,
“multiple perspectives and insights ... during the development, deployment and operation of algorithms”—
that is, recognition of the need for diversity in the AI workforce. And there is commitment to a national retraining scheme.
On the other side, the recent AI sector deal is a good start, but only a start towards a national policy framework. Greater ambition is needed. Will the new government Office for AI deliver this in co-ordination with the new council for AI? I welcome Tabitha Goldstaub’s appointment as chair, but when will it be up and running? Will the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation have the resources it needs, and will it deliver a national ethical framework?
There was only qualified acceptance by the Department of Health of the need for transparency, particularly in healthcare applications. In the context of the recent DeepMind announcement that its Streams project is to be subsumed by Google and, moreover, that it is winding up its independent review panel, what implications does that have for the health service, especially in the light of previous issues over NHS data sharing?
The Department for Education was defensive on apprenticeships and skills shortages and appears to have limited understanding of the need for creative and critical thinking skills as well as computer skills.
The MoD in its response sought to rely on a definition of lethal autonomous weapons distinguishing between automated and autonomous weapons which no other country shares. This is deeply worrying, especially as it appears that we are developing autonomous drone weaponry. I would welcome comment by the Minister on all those points.
Some omens from the Government are good; others are less so. We accepted that AI policy is in its infancy in the UK and that the Government have made a good start in policy-making. Our report was intended to be helpful in developing that policy to ensure that it is comprehensive and co-ordinated between all its different component parts.
By the same token, I hope that the Government will accept the need for greater ambition and undertake to improve where their response has been inadequate. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, as it was to witness his excellent chairmanship of the AI Select Committee—not an easy task in such a complex area. There is nothing new in AI. In 1950, the Turing test was coined. In 1956, 12 professors from Dartmouth in the United States were sent off on their summer vacation to “solve the issue of artificial intelligence”. I am not sure whether they are still out there, but there is still plenty to be discussed in this area.
In the short time I have, I shall cover data, talent, clusters and, most importantly, public engagement. As with every element of the fourth industrial revolution—4IR—data is at its core. It is often called the new oil, but this dramatically undersells the quality of data—not least that it is pretty much infinite. Ninety per cent of all data currently out there was created in the past two years, to give noble Lords a sense of the exponential growth of data.
For the Government, there are huge questions about the data that they have, what form it is in and what should be done with it—not least NHS data, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred. Indeed, what is NHS data? Crucially, whose data is it? To echo a point that the noble Lord made, I ask the Minister to respond to the House on DeepMind’s recent announcement about moving its health business into Google.
For businesses, the questions are: what data do you have and what you want to do with it? AI offers such potential, but as with all the other elements of the fourth industrial revolution, it should never be something in search of a solution but more, the potential to solve some of the most intractable problems for business, government and individuals. As I have mentioned individuals, perhaps the most significant point to consider is that we may hold our smartphone in our hands, but it is the size of our data footprint that we should think most about.
Turning to talent, no matter how good the artificial intelligence is, ultimately it is people who will need to be prime throughout the fourth industrial revolution. Not least of these will be international people coming over to be part of building the AI revolution for which the United Kingdom has such a—perhaps unique—potential. However, our immigration system is described as “expensive”, “tedious” and “putting people off”. The Indian Prime Minister, Mr Modi, talking about international students, put it very well: “You want our trade; you do not want our children”. Does the Minister believe that the current immigration system is fit for purpose and optimised to enable us to make a real success of artificial intelligence and all elements of the fourth industrial revolution? Does he agree that it is high time that, as a start, international students were removed from the net migration statistics?
I turn to clusters. AI offers the potential, which has always been present in our society, to enable collaboration across sectors for stunning results. The industrialist, engineer, biologist and neurologist are coming together in fabulous clusters to drive the future. Noble Lords need only go to Pancras Square to see this in action. Yes, it has beautiful buildings, but what you really feel when you step into the square is one great big, beating brain. The golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London offers potential to be the beating heart of AI development and deployment. What is the current situation with the upgrade to the varsity line, which would make such a difference? Infrastructure is key to the success of AI. We can develop algorithms that are as clever as we like, but if we do not have the physical infrastructure, with the fastest broadband, much of this will not achieve its full potential.
Public engagement is the real key. The massive success—or not—of AI will rest upon it. Do people feel part of the AI revolution? Have the public been engaged and do they understand that this is not for a few people in large organisations or government? Everybody has to understand and be positively part of this. If not, AI is likely to be the latest GM in our society. We have reason to believe that we can get this right when we look at the fabulous work on reproductive technology that Baroness Warnock did so many years ago. It was a stunning success because the public were engaged and there was an understanding of who would benefit and where any risks might lie. It will not be enough for a few people in the tech majors or government to believe that the public will just accept AI because they have decided that there are benefits, when there has been no explanation of where those may be felt and, crucially, where the risks may fall.
Shame on us if we do not make a success of AI and the fourth industrial revolution. Without being naive or Panglossian about it—I understand the risks—the possibility of solving some of our most intractable problems is immense, not least in health, mobility and social integration. This is not just about AI: if we get it right we can have a 4IR, fully fuelled, better Britain.
My Lords, I thank the chairman, the clerk, his team and our specialist adviser for helping the committee to navigate the vast landscape of AI. I will focus on three connected parts of that landscape: AI’s possible impact on industrial performance and productivity; its impact on the world of work; and its possible impact on the distribution of income. I emphasise “possible impact” because the widespread adoption of AI is at an early stage and, while there is no shortage of analysis and prediction, there is as yet no substantive body of evidence to guide us.
Over the last 30 years, the rapid deployment of computing and automation has revolutionised the way we live, learn and work. AI takes this a lot further. It can remember more, think faster and perform complex tasks which we took for granted to be the preserve of humans. AI, with these abilities, will bring about far-reaching changes right across the board.
The Government recognised AI’s revolutionary potential when they placed AI at the heart of their Industrial Strategy last December. That strategy and the subsequent publication of the sector deal in April made the bold claim that AI would potentially add 10% to our GDP by 2030, if adoption is widespread, and boost productivity by up to 30%. The development and deployment of AI are seen as a building-block in the creation of a significant new business sector with good export potential.
The UK’s investment in AI is a fraction of the amount invested by the US and China, both of which are planning significant increases in their investment over the next decade. But thanks to our strong research base and access to the best and brightest academics and entrepreneurs in the EU and globally, our AI sector ranks among the finest in the world. To maintain this position, the Government must commit to replace EU funding for research and development, where the UK currently receives a disproportionately high level of subsidy thanks to the strength of our AI sector.
Investment to provide fibre to all premises nationwide is critical. In February, only 3% of premises were connected by fibre compared with more than 50% in most of our competitor countries. When he was Secretary of State at DCMS, the much-travelled Matt Hancock waved away our concerns and told us that that the market would take care of it. We found his assurances unconvincing. What are the Government doing to prioritise funding for this essential infrastructure?
The ability to continue to attract the best and brightest and budding entrepreneurs is essential. The Government have made a good start by increasing the number of PhD places in, and doubling the cap on, tier 1 exceptional talent visas but, as they acknowledge, there is much more to do. The challenge of attracting and retaining talent after Brexit is highlighted in a recent survey of scientists by the Francis Crick Institute: 78% from the EU said they were now less likely to stay in the UK and a surprising 31% of the UK-born scientists said they were now more likely to move overseas. What further measures are the Government contemplating to improve access for overseas talent?
Maintaining and increasing the investment flowing into the development of AI could be boosted if the Government chose to use a fraction of the £45 billion annual procurement funding to partner with the AI sector to develop AI solutions for the public and private sectors alike. This approach would help to address the long-standing British problem of excelling at research but leaving the development of that research for others to exploit.
The UK’s thriving AI sector has proved a magnet for international investors. This is to be encouraged, but must be matched by a determination to ensure that inward investors do not game the tax system and that they abide by the developing rules on privacy and content, particularly the recognition that the protection of the integrity and ownership of data is paramount.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned, the acquisition by Google of DeepMind, one of the jewels in the crown of AI in the UK, brought welcome funding to develop DeepMind’s leadership position, but it meant that ultimate control now resides in the US. The reality of that control became clear last week, when Google absorbed DeepMind’s healthcare business, which has benefited from a controversial deal with the Royal Free Hospital to access 1.6 million patient records—a deal that the Information Commissioner ruled failed to comply with the Data Protection Act. When we visited DeepMind, we were told that an undertaking had been given by Google that the healthcare business would remain part of DeepMind and based in London. What are the Government’s concerns about the transfer of DeepMind’s healthcare business to Google in apparent contradiction to these undertakings?
Public administrative data, particularly healthcare data, is a valuable public resource and should be made available to commercial partners under strict conditions and on arm’s-length, market terms. Public bodies lack the skills to negotiate such arrangements, so the Information Commissioner’s Office should be resourced to oversee the terms and conditions of agreements to make sure that public information is made available to commercial partners on market terms. What are the Government’s plans to support public institutions to make sure that they secure the right terms and conditions?
In a similar vein, the Competition and Markets Authority should take a close interest in the sale of AI enterprises to foreign buyers. Their sale can undermine the Government’s strategy to foster a UK-based and controlled AI sector of scale and further deepen the unprecedented concentration of wealth and power in a small number of US-based digital oligopolists.
UK consumers are among the most enthusiastic adopters of new technology, but not so UK business. The low level of tech adoption by UK companies, large and small, is part of the story of our productivity gap. The Government, with the help of industry bodies and the AI council, should devise a series of measures, including fiscal incentives, to accelerate the take-up of technology across the board.
Productivity improvements usually spell job losses. The deployment of AI will lead to job losses, and the public are rightly anxious about their jobs, wages, security and prospects. Predictions of job losses range from 10% to nearly 40% of the current workforce. Many will be in the service sector. Predictions of off-setting new jobs to be created range from a net loss of nil to 30%. It is generally agreed that job losses will precede the arrival of new jobs, but it is not just the availability of a new job that concerns the public but the type of job and the pay and conditions that go with it. The experience of the impact of automation on the job market so far is that replacement jobs for unskilled or semi-skilled workers are less well paid, less secure, and lack the benefits enjoyed in their previous employment. AI now places at risk many of the jobs which replaced those lost in manufacturing.
Take call centres and large distribution centres, which are often sited in former manufacturing areas. Call centres employ a little under 1 million people. An industry expert told us that by 2020, 40% of those jobs, and by 2025, 70%, would be replaced by AI answering systems. Warehouses are increasingly fully automated and will employ only a few maintenance, caretaking and software people.
In a recent speech at the Royal Society, Professor Stiglitz examined the impact of the adoption of automation on income and wealth distribution and highlighted the increasing polarisation in the workforce between the skilled and the unskilled. Citing US figures, Stiglitz noted that the real wages of the unskilled and semi-skilled worker have declined over the last 35 years, with male workers experiencing a 42-year decline. He warned that, in the absence of a new policy framework, this trend will continue, but across a wider section of the workforce, as AI is deployed to carry out both routine and complex tasks.
The figures in the UK are not as bleak, but many low earners, especially the unskilled, have seen their real income decline or increase only minimally over the last 30 years. There is a widening gap between the high and low earners. Average real wages fell between 2007 and 2015, and have stagnated over the last three years. The same pattern can be seen in many developed countries. There is a correlation between low income and social mobility, which fosters a sense of disconnect, of being left behind—a sentiment that provides fertile ground for populist politicians.
We have heard much in the last week about bringing the country together. Perhaps bringing the Government together might be a good start. With the right policies, AI could usher in a period of prosperity, but without the right policies it could further polarise society and undermine social cohesion. A priority must be for the Government to make a major commitment to invest, as the chairman of our committee said, in lifetime training and skills to equip people to deal with the far-reaching and continuing changes that will flow from the introduction of AI.
The Government should consider the introduction of a lifelong learning account to replace what the Economic Affairs Committee’s recent report on student loans called the current “unfair and inefficient” funding of post-school education where further education, whose funding has been severely reduced, is the,
“poor relation to higher education”.
We need a new deal to help workers to train and retrain throughout their working lives. This will help to narrow the politically toxic gap between those with skills and those without. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these issues; they have been identified in the report, and he has recognised that more needs to be done. It would be good to hear today what that “more” is.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for the thoughtful way in which he has introduced this report. I also congratulate the noble Lord and his committee, as it is an excellent report. In so doing, I confine my remarks to Chapter 7, which deals with the potential impact of artificial intelligence on healthcare, and I declare my own interest as professor of surgery at University College London and chairman of UCLPartners.
This excellent report identifies that healthcare and its delivery are particularly sensitive to the tremendous opportunities that the application of artificial intelligence will provide. It also represents all the challenges that the adoption of artificial intelligence will present to society, government, individual professionals and the public more generally.
We have already seen the adoption of artificial intelligence to the application of clinical practice. Two of the most important applications have been in the area of diagnostics. The first regards the interpretation of retinal scans to help diagnose retinal pathology more rapidly. That application, developed at Moorfields Eye Hospital in conjunction with DeepMind, shows particular promise; it allows for broad application across large communities, reducing the time and resources necessary to make appropriate diagnosis of eye pathology and therefore providing the opportunity for earlier intervention and for interfering with the natural history of diseases in the eye to improve clinical outcome. Equally, there have been recent reports of the application of artificial intelligence to the interpretation of lung scans to help the earlier diagnosis of pathology in the lung, particularly pulmonary fibrosis; this is an important condition which, if identified early, allows the opportunity for earlier intervention and therefore, again, for improve clinical outcome.
However, these are rather simple applications. As we move forward in our broader development of the life sciences and biomedical sciences, so with reference to the opportunity for genomic medicine—the proper evaluation of the genome under individual disease conditions—combined with better characterisation of the phenotype, better monitoring and characterisation of clinical outcomes, and the combination of all those data, will provide tremendous opportunities for solution through artificial intelligence, deep learning and machine learning, which will transform clinical practice.
This transformation will first come in the area of early and more accurate diagnosis; it will soon be applied to the identification of new targets for the management of diseases, with new therapeutic targets for the development of potential new drug entities. This will be done more efficiently and more rapidly, and, of course, in such a way as to deliver on the promise of personalised medicine—precision medicine—through analysis of the characteristics of an individual disease and how that disease behaves, both in individual patients and among many individual patients. One can then predict how the natural history will progress and therefore how we should intervene more effectively.
All this promise is attended by a number of very serious challenges, as identified in this excellent report. How do Her Majesty’s Government propose to deal with seven particular challenges regarding the application of artificial intelligence in healthcare? Without clarity of purpose and of strategy in addressing these challenges, it will not be possible for our country, uniquely positioned as it is with the National Health Service, to bring the benefits of artificial intelligence and the attendant improvement in the delivery of healthcare and clinical outcomes to our fellow citizens.
The first of those benefits relates to data scientists—invaluable experts in a developing field that brings together mathematics, statistics and computational science. These individuals are at the heart of the development of the algorithms that inform artificial intelligence. How do Her Majesty’s Government propose to ensure that the National Health Service can compete in attracting these vital individuals with this particular skill set whom we do not currently have in sufficient numbers in the NHS so as to provide opportunities for artificial intelligence in healthcare?
Equally, a huge amount of data is generated on a daily basis through routine tests, investigations and the follow-up of patients in all healthcare environments. Those data, although vast in quantity, represent a meaningless resource unless they can be curated appropriately and their quality can be secured. They can then be brought to bear to provide opportunity in artificial intelligence application for the benefit of the individual patient. How do Her Majesty’s Government propose to ensure the curation of high-quality data across the widely varying range of institutions and environments where NHS care is delivered to ensure that the value of those data, both for the individual and for society more generally, can be secured?
In that regard, there will also be a need to train current and future healthcare professionals so that they will be able to take advantage of the opportunities that artificial intelligence as applied to healthcare will provide. What moves have Her Majesty’s Government made with regard to, for instance, Health Education England to ensure that curricula are now being developed to ensure both lifetime learning for current professionals and the development of future healthcare professionals so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that are provided? All this will of course require substantial funding. Her Majesty’s Government have committed substantially to increase the NHS budget between now and 2022, but what proportion of that additional funding will be applied specifically to data in the NHS and to the opportunity to adopt innovations associated with artificial intelligence at scale and pace across the entire health economy?
There are then questions relating to the adoption and application of artificial intelligence that attend to other areas, establishing both the social licence that will give the public and patients confidence in the state collecting and keeping secure very sensitive data—far beyond the data that we currently collect, moving to genetic information and beyond—and social licence regarding the sharing of those data, frequently with commercial third parties which have the expertise and experience to exploit them appropriately to provide opportunities to improve healthcare outcomes.
Ethical and legal questions will also need to be answered when clinicians start to rely increasingly on information generated as a result of artificial intelligence applications in making clinical decisions and driving forward patient care. How is that ethical framework to be delivered? How are legal questions around liability to be addressed when decisions are taken on the basis of AI applications for individual patients? Then there are important questions about how NHS institutions will be supported in negotiating access to data both for research and for the development of patient applications. Some institutions are well positioned to do that; others are not. How will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that all that is brought together so that the important opportunities provided by artificial intelligence application for the delivery of healthcare in the NHS can be taken for the benefit of all our fellow citizens?
My Lords, it was a pleasure to serve as part of your Lordships’ Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, and an education. I join others in paying tribute to the expertise and skill of our chair, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and our excellent staff and advisers.
At the beginning of my engagement with AI, what kept me awake at night was the prospect of what AI might mean for the distant future: the advent of conscious machines, killer robots and artificial general intelligence. We are probably more than a generation away from those risks. But what kept me awake as the inquiry got under way—it really did—were the possibilities and risks of AI in the present. AI is already reshaping political life, employment, education, healthcare, the economy, entertainment, the professions and commerce. AI is now routinely used to drive microadvertising in political debate, referenda and elections across the world, reshaping political discourse and perceptions of truth. The disruption in the job market, described by the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, will fall disproportion- ately across the country. In my former diocese of Sheffield, as you drive across the Dearne Valley, you see clearly that the new industries in the former coalfield areas are warehousing and call centres, where there will be immense disruption in the next decade.
The use of this technology has already outstripped public awareness and debate by a considerable margin. My stock image for the use of artificial intelligence has shifted from the Terminator robot beloved of headline writers to the supermarket loyalty card in virtual form silently collecting data from most of our interactions with technology, which is collected, sold and reused, often in covert ways. The benefits of AI are significant. The risks are very real. They are both a present, not a future, reality. The dangers of a disruption of public trust impeding the benefits of technology are significant.
The experts from every sector from whom we took evidence were unmistakably clear on the need for a stronger ethical strand to the UK’s development and deployment of AI. In proposing our AI code the committee was responding to multiple requests from across the sector for a much stronger role for government and civil society in these debates—not necessarily to regulate but to benchmark and encourage good practice and give a stronger voice to citizens and consumers. Stephen Cave, director of the Leverhulme Centre in the University of Cambridge, said in response to our report at the launch:
“The tech entrepreneur mantra of the last decade was move fast and break things. But some things are too important to be broken: like democracy, or equality, or social cohesion”,
and they are in danger.
Our report puts forward five overarching principles for an AI code which it would be good to see the Government affirm this afternoon. The first principle is that AI should be for the common good and benefit of humanity not the profit of the few. Let us see the power of AI directed to the great problems of the age for the common good. There should also be intelligibility and fairness in the deployment of AI. We always need to know when we are interacting with machines and the principles on which they make decisions. The protection of data rights and privacy are vital to human flourishing and mental health. We need the right to the best education for all to flourish in the machine age—the only antidote we discovered to the uneven and disruptive effects of AI in the workplace— along with the need to ensure that machines are not given the autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive human beings.
I fully support the Government’s aim to see the UK as a global leader in the ethics of artificial intelligence, as I do the steps which have already been taken, especially in establishing the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. But we need a vigorous public debate on what it means to be human in the age of artificial intelligence and a vigorous debate on what it means to live well with emerging technology. We need to amplify the voice of civil society and its influence in that debate. After the challenge of climate change, the question of how we live well with technology is one of the most urgent of the age. Can the Minister tell the House that the motto of Her Majesty’s Government for the future remains to move fast and mend things?
My Lords, I welcome this report and I want to make a few comments arising in particular from chapter 8 dealing with ethics and responsibility. The field of artificial intelligence sets out to create computer systems that perform tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence. That is the dictionary definition. They comprise a new generation of machines whose nature is entirely different from those we have been used to. In reaping the benefits of these new systems and ceding control, as our infrastructure comes to depend upon them, I believe that we need to mark a watershed in how we think about and treat software.
First, intelligence needs to be clearly understood as distinct from being intelligent or sentient. While AI entities may act in ways that emulate humans, their underlying logic remains a function of their architecture. They are in a very real sense “alien” beings whose actions result from motivations, stimuli and neural circuits that are entirely non-human. Secondly, historically, machines were built to operate deterministically; that is, to perform specific tasks within parameters set by their designers. In building AI we are creating systems whose functioning is largely opaque and whose outputs are non-deterministic; that is, what they do under all circumstances cannot be predicted with certainty. Thirdly, competitive motivations are driving the evolution of ever more sophisticated machine intelligence functions, with greater predictive value and more human-like interfaces that improve our perception of both intelligence and empathy. Devices that respond with human voices and virtual call centre operatives who converse like humans are now commonplace. The ability to appear human-like, to conduct sophisticated, responsive conversations, and even to recognise emotions, allow organisations to project human-like responsibility from what are actually software agents.
Despite human-like appearances and the ability to take actions that are functionally “correct”, they are not doing so out of concern or empathy, nor in the context of a moral, legal or ethical framework, and neither today can they be held legally responsible for their actions. Today in law we make a distinction that a human being may be responsible while a machine or an animal may not be. This creates an asymmetry because when something goes wrong, who takes responsibility for sorting out the problem? It becomes increasingly easy and desirable for every party in the value chain to absolve himself or herself of blame.
As humans, we have law-based obligations as part of our social contract within a civilised society, we have promise-based obligations as part of contracts that we form with others, and we have societal moral principles that are the core of what we regard as ethics, whether derived from rational reason or from religion. Responsible humans are aware of these ethical, moral and legal obligations. We feel empathy towards our fellows and responsibility for our children, employees and society. Those who do not do so are called sociopaths at best and psychopaths in the worst case. Ethics, morality, principles and values are not a function solely of intelligence; they are dynamic, context-dependent social constructs.
Moreover, bias and specification gaming are two important emergent properties of machine learning systems—the latter where they successfully solve a problem but do so via an unintended method, just as humans discover ways to cheat various systems. We must understand that no matter how intelligent a machine is, it may learn to act in ways that we consider biased, unethical or even criminal. For instance, we may anticipate autonomous vehicles evolving unintended bad behaviours resulting from the goals that they have been given. Equally, AI is no less vulnerable than humans to being spoofed or deceived by others, whether intentionally or unintentionally. I will not go into that matter today but it should be alarming when we come to AI-driven autonomous weaponry.
Even in the future, when machine intelligence may exceed human intelligence, we must distinguish between being better at carrying out a set of tasks and human responsibility. Intelligence is not the sole determinant of responsibility, even in human society; we talk about the “age of responsibility”, which distinguishes a minor from an adult and is based on the inability of children to make good decisions, being too immature to understand the consequences of, or consent to, certain behaviour. Representing sophisticated concepts such as “the public good” or “volunteering” in the goal-functions of machines is a far harder and more complex challenge than machine intelligence, yet it is equally important for their correct functioning.
However, the commercial value of displaying empathy means that AI entities will emulate emotion long before they are able to feel it. When a railway announcement says, “We are sorry to announce that your train is late”, the voice is not sorry; the corporation that employs and uses that voice is not sorry either. However, the company sees value in appeasing its customers by offering an apology and an automated announcement is the cheapest way of providing that apparent apology. If it is not capable of experiencing pain and suffering, can it be truly empathetic?
Furthermore, as a machine cannot be punished or incarcerated in any meaningful sense—although it might be rehabilitated through reprogramming—the notion of consequence of actions has little meaning to it. If a machine apologises, serves a prison sentence or is put in solitary confinement, has it been punished? The basis of responsibility built on an understanding of ethics and morality does not exist. It is certainly not the sole by-product of the intelligence level of the machine.
Finally, all those problems are compounded because the software industry today operates in a very different way to others that are critical to modern society, where the notion of audit exists. When we read the annual report of a PLC, it is possible to place some degree of trust in it because the chief financial officer, the accountant and the auditor take professional responsibility for the output. Similarly, an audit chain in the pharmaceutical industry enables regulators to oversee a large, complex and diverse industry. In construction, when a tragedy happens, we are able to trace the building materials used in construction. That process of audit encourages responsibility and the knowledge beforehand of the consequences of actions. But most software today is sold with an explicit disclaimer of fitness for purpose and it is virtually impossible to answer the questions: by whom, against what specification, why and when was this code generated, tested or deployed? In the event of a problem with software, who is responsible? The human owner? The company that supplied the software? The programmer? The chief executive of the company that supplied it? I would therefore argue that machine intelligence needs to be subordinate in responsibility to a human controller and therefore cannot in itself be legally responsible as an adult human, although it might in future have the legal status of a corporation or of a minor—that is, intelligent, but below the age of responsibility.
The GDPR was designed to ensure that passive “data” was linked to responsible human control. Ultimately, we might need a GDPR-equivalent for active machine learning systems to link their function to a human controller to ensure that organisations and individuals have protective and proportionate control processes in place. We might refer to the concept of that clear chain of responsibility, linking an audit of the specifications, code, testing and function to responsible individuals, as “trustable software”. Recent developments, including distributed ledger technology—blockchain to the uninitiated—would permit oversight to be implemented relatively easily.
In an age where software is at the heart of our infrastructure, where these systems are both non-deterministic and fully interconnected, AI needs a responsible human “parent”. Whoever that “parent” might be, it will require a “trustable” process to introduce auditability, accountability and, ultimately, responsibility.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his able chairmanship of the ad hoc Select Committee on AI in the United Kingdom. In my many years in your Lordships’ House I have never been on a Select Committee that has been so absorbing and stimulating.
We are living in the most extraordinary times. The confluence of big data, connectivity and artificial intelligence has revolutionised old industries and created new ones. As the Industrial Revolution transformed the nature of manual work, so AI is set to change dramatically the nature of white-collar workers and the service industry, from chatbots replacing call centres, to those who make decisions on credit and even accountants—and, with the emergence of autonomous cars, truck drivers—being replaced. This confluence of change means that AI has reached a flashover point, with computer power, the availability of huge volumes of data and the fact that digital channels for interacting with businesses and citizens are now preferable.
Apart from the oral and written evidence, we were fortunate to visit Google DeepMind, the Microsoft research laboratories in Cambridge and the Alan Turing Institute, as well as techUK. My noble friend Lord Kakkar spoke most eloquently about chapter 7 of our report. This details the huge benefits that AI can deliver to healthcare, particularly in the National Health Service. This could include more effective detection of diseases, management of chronic conditions, drug discovery and, of course, delivery of more efficient health services. We are increasingly moving from a world of reactive medicine to one of proactive medicine.
However, one of the potential drawbacks in the National Health Service is the fact that that there is no centralised database, resulting in most data being kept in unrelated silos. While keeping data isolated made sense historically as a security measure, the data-driven world in which we operate demands greater visibility and consolidation. Machine learning provides unique value in being able effectively to remove the manual processing of data, thus significantly reducing back-end operating expenses.
Clearly, the management of data in the NHS requires strict adherence to data privacy—there are concerns about the criminal misuse of AI and data—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, mentioned, respect needs to be given to data ethics and accountability. Concerns have been raised about the risk of abuse of AI and breaches not just of public trust but of data security.
Many fear that the merger of infotech and biotech could push many hundreds of thousands of people out of the job market, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hollick. Yes, there will be masses of job losses but, equally, replacement jobs will be created.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, there are concerns also that big data could create digital dictatorships. Our report covered the need for reasonable access to data, particularly for SMEs. While several are sceptical about the effective use of AI in the UK, our report sought to focus on the positive contribution that it can make to our lives in many different ways. One industry not mentioned in the report but to which the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, may refer is the agricultural sector, where AI can have a huge impact. We now have precision agriculture, where farmers are able to utilise drones in the sky, connected with the help of big data to sensors in the fields.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, said, it was encouraging that the Government mentioned in their industrial strategy that AI and data capture need to be identified as one of the four grand challenges in which the UK can lead the world for years to come. To maximise this opportunity, we need more qualified data scientists who are able to use algorithms to sort through enormous databases, combining profiles, eliminating duplicates and thereby providing a complete and unified set of data. What plans do the Department for Education and other departments have to provide students with training to more effectively prepare them to embrace data scientific skills?
Trustworthiness underpins public support for data innovation. I have already referred to the benefits in healthcare and agriculture, but there are huge benefit also in the financial services sector and autonomous systems. Lessons have been learned from the fiasco of data breaches at Cambridge Analytica.
I want to make brief mention of the opportunities of blockchain technology, which is not just about cryptocurrencies but is more a transformational tool and game-changer for the future. Distributed ledgers can be created which will form a significant part of future databases, providing greater transparency and accountability to both the public and private sector.
There is no doubt that AI presents a significant opportunity to solve complex problems, boost productivity and accelerate innovation. We need to shift legacy mindsets to embrace new ideas. AI and machine learning need to be embraced while respecting privacy, ethics, transparency and good governance. I wholeheartedly embrace all the recommendations of our report and trust that the United Kingdom can consolidate and thrive as a global leader in the development of artificial intelligence.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, as an outstanding Chairman of our Select Committee, and I thank all noble Lords on the committee for their warm collaboration and insights on this important report. We could not have completed the report without the hard work of the committee staff, advisers and clerks, for which many thanks. It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate today, especially since I believe we have built up significant momentum on this important subject. We must develop our AI capability: it will underpin our future competitiveness. China has set a goal of $150 billion investment in AI by 2030. I am not suggesting that we emulate that—not least because it is not just about money—but it is strong evidence that AI is a key component of the global economy of the future.
I shall focus today on how we must foster evolving technologies, but before I do, I will begin with ethics, as other noble Lords have done and as I think this whole debate must. Many speakers today also contributed to the recent debate in this House on the NHS and healthcare data, which focused on how NHS data might be used to ultimately benefit patients and the service as a whole for the public good, but without jeopardising confidentiality. In their response to our committee the Government indicated that there were lessons to be learned from the DeepMind/Royal Free case.
To address these and other issues, the committee welcomed the creation of a national Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. Since our report, we have had a consultation on the centre’s remit, which sets out three functions: to analyse and anticipate risks and opportunities; to agree and articulate best practice; and to advise on the need for action. The first is important as it links the centre to growth and development. The last two will be critical not only for working through the thorny questions of ethics and data, but also, importantly, for communicating what needs to be done and calling on the Government to act where required. The centre can build public confidence and trust in how new technologies are being deployed and how their data is being used to support future innovation.
So to growth and innovation. Priorities for entrepreneurs and start-ups developing AI are the same. What do they need? People and money: the right skills, talent and investment. Beginning with investment, there is undoubtedly cause for optimism. While the Government did not accept the committee’s recommendation to ring-fence a proportion of the British Business Bank’s £2.5 billion investment fund for AI-focused businesses, there is still a significant pool of capital from which funds can be raised; and, given the growth potential, we can be reasonably sure that the investment teams at the BBB will give serious consideration to AI businesses.
Furthermore, commercialising our world-class university intellectual property in this field is a great opportunity to enable rapid growth. Our committee asked universities to set out clearly their principles for handling IP, licensing and supporting spin-outs. The Government highlighted in their response the role of the Alan Turing Institute in looking specifically at commercialisation opportunities, and Research England has developed benchmarking for how well universities commercialise research. I also highlight the strong role the Government are playing in nurturing growth. The industrial strategy of course gives great prominence to AI, but we now have the AI sector deal as well, which establishes the AI council, which will blend academia and industry to ensure that we are fully exploiting the opportunity, attracting AI entrepreneurs to the UK, as well as supporting exports in this space. Lastly, in this as in many other respects, government as buyer can really move the needle. The GovTech Catalyst fund will provide £20 million for businesses using AI to help solve public sector challenges.
Turning to skills, I commend the appointment of Professor Dame Wendy Hall as the first Skills Champion for AI. No doubt she will ensure continued momentum. The commitments in the AI sector deal are significant but we need to make sure that they are delivered. In particular, where measures are sector-agnostic, we need to ensure that they are promoted to AI specialists; for example, as the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, mentioned, the doubling of tier 1 exceptional talent visas from 1,000 to 2,000 a year—leaving aside whether this should be higher still. Some of the skills content in the sector deal is admirably specific, in particular the proposed Turing Fellowship to help attract and retain the best research talent in AI, and adding a further 200 doctoral studentships in AI by 2020.
Finally, I will say a brief word on the potential impact on the labour force. After all, in our rush to build capacity and capability, we must ensure that growth in AI is as inclusive as possible. I welcome what is set out in the sector deal on training and new degrees.
Overall, we must remain optimistic about the benefits of AI to our economy and our society—the boost to our productivity and the exciting applications in everything from agriculture to healthcare. We have a robust framework for growth now in place in both capital and skills—the two prime determinants in scaling up businesses. To bring all this together, we need leadership from the highest level. Once the Brexit smog clears, we must ask what kind of economy we are trying to build. I suggest that we are gathered here today because we believe we can succeed if we incorporate AI and other technologies into our economy. Our committee concluded that the UK is in a strong position to be among the world leaders in the development of AI during the 21st century. We must continue to be its champions.
My Lords, as I intend to restrict my remarks to the part of the report that deals with autonomous weapons, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, particularly my consultancy with the Nuclear Threat Initiative and its nascent collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, which of course is the brainchild of the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, whom I see in his place. I look forward to his contribution.
I add my congratulations and appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and his committee on this wide-ranging report into the use and development of artificial intelligence. I agreed with many of its recommendations—at least those that I fully understood—particularly for the Government to get a grip on algorithmic bias. The committee’s identification of the probable dangers of a small number of companies owning the lion’s share of the world’s data more than supports its recommendation that the Government stop these companies monopolising control of our data which is in their possession.
I agree also with the report placing a strong emphasis on the UK’s role as an ethical leader in the AI world. This is especially important in the military use of AI. Paragraphs 334 to 346 of the report deal with autonomous weapons, and open with the following sentence:
“Perhaps the most emotive and high-stakes area of AI development today is its use for military purposes”.
I wholeheartedly agree. The report concedes, unfortunately, that the committee had insufficient time or capacity to deal with this, and goes on to record the view that this area merits a “full inquiry” on its own. I fully agree and argue that the sooner your Lordships’ House has this inquiry, the better. We should move directly from this debate to the instruction of that important inquiry.
I strongly agree with the report’s recommendation that,
“the UK’s definition of autonomous weapons should be realigned to be the same, or similar, as that used by the rest of the world”.
In particular, I agree that the present UK definition, which was explained so simply by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is problematic. It depends on there being no difference between “automatic” and “autonomous”; it limits the UK’s participation in the international debate, because it speaks a different language; it restricts our ability to show moral and ethical leadership; and it blocks the possibility that the current international process that is considering how to control these weapons systems will reach an agreed definition, which is after all its primary purpose.
Since 2016, in an attempt to find a suitable multilateral vehicle to regulate lethal autonomous weapons, the signatory states to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons—a treaty signed in 1980 with the purpose of eliminating weapons deemed excessively cruel or injurious—sought to assess the potential dangers posed and consider whether new measures were needed to control LAWs, as they are often referred to. Early in their deliberations, the high-contracting parties subcontracted this task to a group of governmental experts, who have become known as GGE. The group most recently met in Geneva in August and the draft report from its 2018 deliberations reveals that it was defeated by the challenge of finding an agreed definition of autonomous weapons, meaning that its concluding recommendations are—as they were the year before, and the year before that—that it should meet again next year. This, despite the fact that most experts believe that the unregulated deployment of LAWs could lead to violations of the law of war and international humanitarian law, while increasing the risk of uncontrolled escalation should there be a major-power crisis.
Almost every delegate to the GGE meetings argued that humans should always retain ultimate control over weapons systems but the group still failed to agree anything other than that it should continue further expert-level discussion next year, which will be the fourth year of discussion. In my view it has had ample time to investigate the dangers posed by autonomous weapons and, although important technical issues about definition remain, the time for discussion is over. It is beyond disappointment that, in response to the Select Committee’s recommendation, the Government yet again explained that their policy is to await the outcome of this expert discussion, in the meantime sticking with their “problematic” definition. I suggest to the Government that this expert discussion will never end. There is no sign of it ending at the moment.
We have in this debate an opportunity to ask the Government to think again. It is timeous, because the high-contracting parties to the CCW are themselves meeting later this week in Geneva to discuss the recommendations of the GGE. It is now clear that the only way this process will progress is if the high-contracting parties take back control and initiate proper negotiations on autonomous weapons, with the aim of crafting an outcome ensuring continued human control over weapons of war and the decision to employ lethal force.
Last week at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, I met experts who are working together on this challenge. They agree that the development of LAWs poses serious risk to international security and could spark arms races or lower the threshold for the use of force. They are concerned about how to prevent their deployment, once developed, in urban or other settings where mistakes and their consequences are likely to be very costly. In particular, I am impressed by the views of Dr Shahar Avin, one of the three researchers from CSER who will attend the meeting in Geneva this week. He agrees with the growing consensus that the UN’s negotiations have made little progress, that the discussions are slowed by disagreements about definitions and that there has been little constructive engagement, let alone vision and leadership, from major military powers. For a variety of reasons the United States—and consequently Russia and China—is unlikely to provide that leadership. As Dr Avin says:
“In January, the Prime Minster said she wanted the UK to lead the world in the ‘safe, ethical and innovative deployment of artificial intelligence’. Some of the world's leading Al researchers and organisations, who are based in the UK, have joined international calls to prevent the development of LAWs.
This makes the United Kingdom the leading candidate to provide leadership in the LAWs negotiations, as part of a wider vision for a responsible, safe and ethical future for artificial intelligence. Instead of taking a backseat while holding on to a problematic definition, the UK could furnish its CCW delegates with a national vision generated through a multi-stakeholder conversation, and be seen globally as a leader”—
or in partnership with France and Germany, which are already taking the lead—
“in how to respond to emerging technologies”.
I am conscious that this approach, although similar, is different from the second recommendation of the Select Committee—the formation of a panel of military and AI experts, if I remember correctly, to meet within eight months to agree a revised definition. I strongly believe that these matters should not be restricted to the military and the experts. The whole of society has a stake in this, and there should be a broad and ongoing UK conversation. In particular, legislators—Members of both Houses of Parliament, who have been largely silent on these issues—should be involved in this conversation. I thank the Select Committee for creating an opening for the beginning of just such a multi-stakeholder conversation, and I challenge the Minister to go back to his colleagues and ask them to begin it soon.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the committee on both the tone of the report and the excellent set of recommendations. While leaving the broader questions to members of the committee, I will offer four brief thoughts that might find their place in the wider discussion today. In doing so, I refer the House to my interests in the register.
The first is about the ownership of vast datasets which, as the report says, are,
“fuelling the current AI boom”.
While we hold some rights over the initial transfer of our data, the more processes it is subjected to, the less control or even knowledge of its impact we have. On a recent trip to Silicon Valley, an engineer put it to me this way: “You may be the author of your data, but we own all that it implies about you and all it implies about others”. The data, the inferences and the knowledge it offers are closely guarded by a handful of Silicon Valley behemoths because it is so very valuable. It allows them to determine the choices and opportunities we are given or denied as individuals and communities, and as a society more broadly.
In the changing landscape of movie production, user behaviour, including the exact moment the viewer stopped watching, their age, socioeconomic group, familial relationships and, in some instances, even their shopping habits, last known holiday or current mood, is increasingly known. This data is used to make production decisions. My colleagues in the film business are increasingly anxious that the elements of production over which they have agency are diminishing, including the very stories that can be made.
This may be an area in which we do not traditionally worry about the control of AI over decision-making, but the stories we tell are an expression of our culture, our time and even occasionally our resistance. If the stories we are able to tell are determined by machine-learned patterns that reinforce what has gone before, is not the end game the miserable prospect that the story of our time will be a reflection of the lowest common denominator of what the AI says we like?
This example of the commercial control of data may be very specific, but I could easily have talked about Google’s monopoly over search ranking, Apple and Android’s gatekeeping role in relation to app stores or Facebook’s ability to make or break the spread of political advertising, so perhaps the Minister will say whether he believes that laws governing competition and market dominance are fit for a business model in which data is the currency?
My second point is that behind this wall of data control is information that it is in the public interest for us to have. For example, it is an ongoing struggle to get tech companies to share data about reporting and complaints they receive from children, particularly those children who do not meet the age restrictions of the services they are using.
The Government’s Internet Safety Strategy has proposed a draft transparency report and, in doing so, prompted both Google and Facebook into some pre-emptive reporting. But neither the government proposal nor the reports already proffered gives the sort of access to data needed to understand how children of different ages react to harms, which drivers of online experience create harm, which have the biggest impact on children’s mental health and well-being, whether platforms are effectively triaging complaints, and what solutions, both AI and human, are most effective in reducing the impacts of different sorts of harm. In short, access to far wider data is essential to gather the insights that would promote better outcomes or defences from harm. The ability to tackle harms at scale is hampered by this lack of access to commercial datasets. So I ask the Minister whether it is time to mandate licensed research access to privately held datasets where there is an overwhelming case of public interest.
That brings me to the question of considering children more broadly in design of service. In my work I speak to many engineers who design and build AI, almost all of whom admit that, until they met me, they had never considered the needs or consequences for children of the services they design. Many challenges faced by users online are commercially driven, intentional design choices. Such choices require universal standards and regulatory intervention, but others are due to a level of societal blindness on the part of those who create the systems. So, in addition to my strong support for all the recommendations relating to the education of children in schools, I impress upon the Minister the urgent need for professional qualifications in computer science and associated disciplines to have mandatory modules that cover rights by design—including safety by design, privacy by design and ethics by design—impact assessments and precautionary principles in the design of all AI for all users, but particularly children. Engineers are the drivers of tech culture, and an intervention in their training is a cheap and impactful way of tackling those aspects of AI design that are unconscious and unintended.
Finally, the committee’s report concludes that introducing AI-specific regulation would be less effective than ensuring that existing sector-specific regulation applies to AI decisions. I welcome this approach, but we need greater clarity on how existing protections apply to the digital environment. Just as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, confirmed to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 applies to AI, will the Minister confirm that the Equality Act 2010 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015 similarly apply? In a recent debate I floated the idea of an overarching harmonisation Bill that would operate in a similar way to Section 3 of the Human Rights Act by creating an obligation to interpret legislation in a way that creates parity of protection and redress online and offline to the extent that it is possible to do so. I did not get an answer in that debate, and I wonder whether I might be luckier today.
These are just four aspects of a broader need to hold those who design and control the digital environment to the same standards to which we hold the institutions and commercial players in other environments. This is not so much a brave new world as one that has yet to catch up and be subject to the principles inherent in parity, accountability, design standards and enforcement. Each of these offers an approach to the digital environment that would ensure that it meets the rights and needs of its users. I hope that the Minister will feel able to fully answer the points that I have raised. I welcome this excellent report.
My Lords, it is hard speaking this far down the list, because I have made all these notes on my own notes and I am not sure I understand them any more, if I could understand them in the first place. Anyhow, like others, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on his masterful chairmanship. I also thank our advisers. This was a terrific committee to be on, and I learned a lot from it.
DeepMind has been mentioned plenty of times already, but I am here to add a little more to its lustre. The impact of DeepMind has been truly global, but this is not fully appreciated in this country. The goal of DeepMind is, as it puts it, to “solve intelligence”, to deploy deep learning to mimic some of the basic capacities of the human brain. This is the difference between what AI was and what it is becoming. Deep learning is the prime motor of this transformation which, as other noble Lords have rightly said, will transform everything in our lives and is beginning to do so already.
In 2017, the computer program AlphaGo, which DeepMind established, beat the world champion and No. 1 player, Ke Jie, in Go: a much more complex game than chess. Go is not like a game, it is like a philosophy. It is 2,500 years old. It is so complex that ordinary players do not even know when it is finished, yet DeepMind triumphed in a range of matches over the world champion.
That is stupendous. As one Chinese observer put it, AlphaGo did not just defeat Ke Jie, it “systematically dismantled him”. What is not generally known in the West is the huge impact that this event made in east Asia. In China, the five matches were watched by a total of 280 million viewers—that is about four times the population of this country. They were not only watched but devoured, one might say. As one observer put it, China plunged into an “AI fever”. The impact of DeepMind, a little start-up in King’s Cross originally, has truly been geopolitical. It has been called China’s Sputnik moment, analogous to the events of 60 years ago that dented US pride.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, mentioned, although I seem to have quite different figures, $22 billion will be invested directly in AI by the Chinese Government by 2020. They will try to do for AI what they have done for infrastructure. They have built a vast network of bullet trains in about 25 years, and here we are struggling with HS2. They will probably do the same in AI. Therefore, a global race for pre-eminence in AI is under way, not only between China and the US but with Russia and other major states involved. This will push it in a vertical manner.
As other noble Lords have mentioned, it is crucial to recognise that AI is not just about the future. It is best defined in terms of huge algorithmic power. The smartphone in your pocket or bag—although you have to say, in your hand, because if you go on the Underground, everyone is looking down; if you walk along the road, everyone is looking down—has more power than the computers that allowed the US to overcome its Sputnik moment and land on the moon 60 years ago.
The committee is right to conclude that the progress being made in deep learning is not progress towards general AI—AI that mimics or surpasses human intelligence. I think myself that there are good logical reasons why this will never happen. Rather, it will be the ubiquity of deep learning and its application to a variety of spheres of social and economic life that will reshape our lives.
Examples are here already. I will not mention too many of them, but a notable one is that a very high proportion of trading on world markets is done purely by algorithms, with no direct human intervention. They are dealing with billions of dollars—it is quite extraordinary. Similarly radical interventions can be traced elsewhere.
In this new global geopolitical race, the UK cannot hope to compete with China or the US on overall investment in AI. As our report makes clear, this country can nevertheless have a pioneering role and should look to advance this further. Active state intervention will be needed in a variety of domains. It is to the Government’s credit that they have recognised this and prompted the creation of a range of new agencies—the Alan Turing Institute, the AI council, the centre for data ethics and innovation and so forth—to which other noble Lords have drawn attention, but how far have these actually progressed?
We cannot remain static in this swirling world of transformation. We have to guess at possible futures and, at the same time, cope with issues raised by the profound transformations that have already occurred. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has said, the large digital corporations must be brought to heel and more effective control over the use of personal and private data returned to citizens. The huge questions that hang over the role of fake news in destabilising democracy must be urgently addressed. What is being done to co-ordinate a response to this? Have the Government in mind any intervention at national level? This is leading to a crisis of democracy in many countries that is all too visible.
Does the Minister agree that we must actively strive to promote, not just AI, but what some call IA? This relates to the point made by my noble friend Lord Browne about intelligence augmentation rather than artificial intelligence. In other words, we do not want to promote forms of activity and technology where human beings are simply designed out. Nowhere is the principle more crucial than in the design of autonomous weapons. Will the Minister update the House on the progress of DARPA—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; a very nice name—in seeking to create a “glass box” form of autonomous weaponry, in other words one where human beings are kept in the loop? We are in real trouble if weapons escape our direct control. Large passenger planes are already mainly flown by computers and the algorithms embedded in them. Hence the airline joke: “What is the ideal cockpit crew? A pilot and a dog. The pilot is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to bite the pilot if he or she tries to touch anything”. This is not what we want the future of humanity to be.
As a coda, the world champion Ke Jie learned from his losses and became a much better player. He “fundamentally reconsidered” his game. DeepMind responded to this by saying that it was “honoured by his words”, and “also inspired by them”. It added that it must take,
“responsibility for the ethical and social impact of our work”.
As other noble Lords have indicated, we must hold it to this premise.
My Lords, I add my appreciation of this timely and balanced report and welcome the chance to debate it here today. Machine learning, enabled by the ever-increasing number-crunching power of computers, is a potentially stupendous break- through. It allows machines to gain expertise, not just in game playing but in recognising faces, translating between languages, managing networks, and so forth, without being programmed in detail.
Moreover, AI is still at the baby stage compared to what its proponents expect in coming decades. Twenty years ago, few people envisioned the extent to which smartphones and IT have now changed the pattern of our lives, so it would be rash to predict how transformative AI could be in the next 20 years. Already, AI can cope with complex, fast-changing networks, such as traffic flows or electric grids. It could enable the Chinese to gather and process all the information needed to run an efficient planned economy that Marx could only have dreamed of. In science, its capability to explore zillions of options could allow it to find recipes for better drugs or for material that conducts electricity with zero resistance at ordinary temperatures.
But the implications for society, as we have heard, are already ambivalent. If there is a bug in the software of an AI system, it is currently not always possible to track it down. This is likely to create public concern if the system’s “decisions” have potentially grave consequences for individuals. If we are sentenced to a term in prison, recommended for surgery or even given a poor credit rating, we would expect the reasons to be accessible to us and contestable by us. If such decisions were entirely delegated to an algorithm, we would be entitled to feel uneasy, even if presented with compelling evidence that, on average, the machines make better decisions than the humans they have usurped.
Integration of databases by AI systems has an impact on everyday life and will become more intrusive and pervasive. Records of all our movements, our interactions with others, our health, and our financial transactions will be “in the cloud”, managed by a multinational quasi-monopoly. The data may be used for benign reasons—for instance, for medical research—but its availability to internet companies is already shifting the balance of power from Governments to the commercial sector.
There will also be other concerns—about privacy, for instance. Are you happy if a random stranger sitting near you in a restaurant or on a train can, via facial recognition, identify you and invade your privacy, or if fake videos of you become so convincing that visual evidence can no longer be trusted, or if a machine knows enough about you to compose emails that seem to come from you? The report rightly raises concerns about these matters.
A report published in February, prepared with input from my colleagues at Cambridge and Oxford, was entitled The Malicious Use of AI: Forecasting, Prevention and Mitigation. Its focus was on the near-term, and it highlighted three concerns: AI could allow existing types of cyberattack to be achieved with less effort, and therefore by more actors; by use of, for instance, co-ordinated drones, AI could facilitate physical attacks, and cyberattacks could occur on the software of driverless cars; and AI could allow more effective targeting of misinformation, denial of information, surveillance and so forth. Overall, the arms race between cyber- criminals and those trying to defend against them will become still more expensive and vexatious with the advent of AI.
The academic and commercial communities now speak with one voice in highlighting the need to promote “robust and beneficial” AI, but tensions are already emerging, as AI moves from the research and development phase to being a potentially massive money-spinner for global companies.
The committee’s report emphasises the incipient shifts in the nature of work—an issue addressed in several excellent books by economists and social scientists as well as by the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, and others today. Clearly, machines will take over much of the work of manufacturing and retail distribution. They can replace many white-collar jobs: routine legal work, such as conveyancing; accountancy; computer coding; medical diagnostics and even surgery. Many professionals will find their hard-earned skills in less demand. In contrast, some skilled service sector jobs—for instance, plumbing and gardening—will be among the hardest to automate.
The digital revolution generates enormous wealth for an elite group of innovators and for global companies, but preserving a healthy society will surely require redistribution of that wealth. There is talk of using it to provide a universal income. But it is surely better when all who are capable of doing so can perform socially useful work rather than receiving a handout. Indeed, to create a humane society, Governments should vastly enhance the number and status of those who care for the old, the young and the sick. There are currently far too few of these people, and they are poorly paid, inadequately esteemed, and insecure in their positions. It is true that robots can take over some aspects of routine care, but old people who can afford it want the attention of real human beings as well. Let us hope that we never get to a situation when we accept automata as substitutes for real teaching assistants reading stories to children with proper human empathy of the kind the noble Lord, Lord Reid, emphasised.
Not only the very young and the very old need human support: when so much business, including interaction with government, is done via the internet, we should worry about, for instance, a disabled person living alone, who needs to access websites online to claim their rightful government benefits or to order basic provisions. Think of the anxiety and frustration when something goes wrong. Such people will have peace of mind only when there are computer-savvy caregivers to help the bewildered cope with IT, to ensure that they can get help and are not disadvantaged. Otherwise, the digitally deprived will become the new underclass. Caring roles provide more dignified and worthwhile employment than the call centres or warehouses where jobs have been lost. Does the Minister think that it is possible to use the earnings of robots, as it were, to achieve Scandinavian-level welfare where the demand for carers is fully met?
Even if we have machines that can, effectively, interact with the real world, this will not be enough to ensure that they have human empathy. Computers learn from a “training set” of similar activities, where success is immediately “rewarded” and reinforced. Game-playing computers play millions of games; computers gain expertise in recognising faces by studying millions of images. But learning about human behaviour involves observing actual people in real homes or workplaces. The machine would feel sensorily deprived by the slowness of real life and would be bewildered. Only when this barrier can be surmounted—and perhaps it never will be—will AIs truly be perceived as intelligent beings, and if that happens, their far faster “thoughts” and reactions could then give them advantages over us.
Many experts think that the AI field, like synthetic biology, already needs guidelines for “responsible innovation”. Moreover, the fact that AlphaGo Zero achieved a goal that its creators thought would have taken several more years to reach has rendered DeepMind’s staff even more bullish about the speed of advancement. But others, like the roboticist Rodney Brooks—creator of the Baxter robot and the Roomba vacuum cleaner—argue that these projections will remain science fiction for a long time. Be that as it may, it is crucial to be aware of the potential of artificial intelligence, even though real stupidity will always be with us.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for securing this debate and chairing so well the Select Committee, the report of which, on artificial intelligence, we are debating today.
I believe the report is a strong demonstration of the effectiveness of the ad hoc committees—to be renamed, possibly with the aid of some artificial intelligence, special inquiry committees—in addressing cutting-edge technological issues in the fast-changing society and economy in which we live. I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests, in particular as a trustee and chair of the investment committee of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation—an investor in venture capital funds worldwide with significant holdings in AI companies—and as a director and shareholder of an AI-powered music company.
In referring to AI companies, I am reminded of an interview in the mid-1990s given by Andy Grove, the Hungarian-born co-founder and chief executive of Intel Corporation and author of the bestselling business book, Only the Paranoid Survive, a well-thumbed copy of which is doubtless in the library of 10 Downing Street. “Soon,” Mr Grove said,
“people will stop talking about investing in internet companies. They will invest in companies, almost all of which will use the internet”.
Similarly, I suspect, we will not think about AI companies for long but about companies generally, which almost universally will use AI. Indeed, in the evidence given by MMC Ventures to the committee, it was suggested that, already, only 10% of companies that it considered funding were pure AI developers while the remaining 90% were applications of AI.
At this stage of the debate, I shall concentrate on just one of the many questions arising from the committee’s report: how well placed is the UK in developing and applying AI? I have no hesitation in expressing my admiration for the excellence of research, expertise and work in the UK’s universities—Cambridge is singled out in the report, but is by no means the only leader in the field. It is a huge challenge to maintain, let alone strengthen, this position, even without the uncertainties and difficulties posed by Brexit. In the US, for instance, there is a virtuous circle of successful technology entrepreneurs acknowledging their debts to their alma maters with generous donations to their endowments. As long ago as 2001, Gordon Moore, another co-founder of Intel, and the author of Moore’s law, gave $600 million to Caltech, the California Institute of Technology which, I believe, is still the largest gift to an academic institution.
While British entrepreneurs are increasingly generous in supporting our leading universities, there is still a gulf between the resources available to them and their peers in the US. Not only is it essential, as my noble friend Lord Hollick has said, for EU funding in this area to be fully replaced, but significant real increases must be provided if the UK’s position is not to slip. In the Government’s response to the report, paragraph 53 scatters numbers like confetti but does not make it clear whether this challenge will be met. Will the Minister clarify the position?
The US, with its academic excellence and resource, the power of its technology clusters and the scale and expertise of its venture capital industry, presents massive competition, but China may be an even more formidable competitor, as my noble friend Lord Giddens and the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, have already suggested. Dr Kei-Fu Lee—arguably the leading technology entrepreneur in the country, whose PhD at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1980s was on AI—has calculated that 43% of all academic papers worldwide on AI have had at least one Chinese co-author.
Data privacy in China is substantially less well regulated, allowing data-driven, AI-powered businesses to operate highly effectively in areas such as banking and fintech. I do not advocate a regulatory race to the bottom—I leave that to the malfunctioning artificial intelligence of the European Research Group—but I draw these comparisons to emphasise that if we choose, rightly, to ensure that privacy, integrity and trust are prioritised in our approach to AI, we have to ensure all the more that we do not miss a single trick in providing the highest level of human and financial capital to companies developing and applying AI in this country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rock, said, “We have the capital”, and the venture capitalist Eileen Burbidge, in her evidence to the committee, argued that there was no shortage of financial capital at any stage, whether seed, early or growth. Maybe, my Lords. In the last year for which comprehensive data is available, $6 billion of venture capital funds were raised in the EU, $26 billion in the US and over $30 billion in China. Of course, money is not everything but it sure as hell helps. Even more important than the quantity of money is the quality of money—the expertise and support of the venture capitalists who direct the funding to entrepreneurs. The scale of the VC funds raised in the US and China contributes critically to the depth of resource that the venture capitalists can devote to their investee companies. Once more, we face a formidable challenge in the UK in matching—let alone exceeding—that with the patient capital fund that is being established, painfully slowly, under the British Business Bank, doing little more than replacing the funding the UK has been receiving from the European Investment Fund.
I believe in the capability of the AI community in the UK. To return to the words of Andy Grove:
“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive”.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the committee on a great report, which is crammed full of good advice, especially about the need for investment in our universities, where they teach thorough thinking, and in our innovative SMEs, where we can possibly unleash the full potential of the UK in this area. I declare a small interest in that I am about to join an ethical oversight group for the Proton Partners data vault, which will contain oncological data.
The first thing that struck me about the report was what it said about lifelong retraining. I can see exactly why this is necessary. I remember reading a report some time ago about people’s capacity to handle change as they grow older. Unfortunately, a lot of people find that very difficult. Certainly a lot of my friends do, and they regard me as rather odd because I have lived in the cyber world and am very happy to embrace change and enjoy it. However, I have discovered that a lot of people like to settle down within the boundaries of what they know, so I do not know how that will be handled. Will the human mind and its ability to handle change alter? I think we should study that.
The second thing that amused me in the report were the great figures on how many jobs we are going to lose. So far, I have noticed that every time there has been a technological improvement, the number of jobs has increased—they never seem to disappear; they just change. I remember that when bookkeeping software came out, it was said that accountants would be redundant. I will not go on with other examples as there is no point.
The third thing that I noticed in the report was the reference to anonymization; that comes down to a lot of things that people want. They want their privacy and are terrified either of big companies knowing too much about them and using their data for financial gain or of the Government drawing inappropriate conclusions about whether to restrict people’s ability to move around due to their patterns of behaviour. That may be a mistake. But the trouble is that, theoretically, we may be able to anonymise data, but, if certain things are anonymised properly, they are no longer useful. Epidemiological research is particularly like that. It is very often necessary to know where a subject is located to look for clustering effects in the data. To go right back to the first example, that is how they tracked down cholera to a particular street in London. The utility of the data can be destroyed.
That brings me to ethics, which is really what I wanted to mention. With true anonymisation, if you discover that a subject in a study could be saved if only you could identify them, should you save them? Or, in the greater cause of keeping the data for epidemiological study, should you make sure that everything is anonymous and accept that they will die? That brings me to the ethical bit. I was very interested in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, who, much better than I could, went down the road of thinking about the challenge of the AI system. It is, as he said, an alien thought process. It does not have empathy or a conscience built into it. It is therefore, by definition, sociopathic. That is a challenge. How do you get that into a computer? It does not think like us. Our little computers—our brains—are analogue computers that work on reactions and in shades of grey. They are not, at heart, logical. However much you give that computer fuzzy logic, it comes down to ones and noughts firing at the bottom. I have heard discussions between various neuroscientists about whether it is possible to programme empathy, but that does not matter. We do not have that at the moment.
It will be interesting when the computer that lacks empathy comes up with some conclusions. Let us fire at it the huge problem of NHS funding. One big problem is the unsustainable cost of end-of-life care. The Government are trying to dream up all sorts of wonderful taxes and so forth. Some research a long time ago by a Dutch university found that smokers spend seven times more in taxes during their lifetimes than they cost when they start dying of cancer. They also die earlier, so there would be less end-of-life care to fund. The AI computer will think logically. It will realise that there has been a huge rise in obesity. In fact, obesity-related cancers have now overtaken smoking-related cancers. I predicted the rise in obesity when people were stopped from smoking because smoking is an appetite suppressant. Therefore, if we can get more people smoking, we will reduce the obesity and end-of-life funding problems and we could probably drop taxes because there will be a net gain in the profits from people who smoke. And they would enjoy themselves, particularly bipolar people—smoking is great for them because it calms them down when they are hyper and, if they are a bit down and getting sleepy in a car, they can puff on a cigarette and not fall asleep, avoiding many accidents on the road. I can see just how the computer would recommend that.
Is that a sociopathic view? Does it lack empathy or is it logically what we should be doing? I leave that to noble Lords. I make absolutely no judgment. I am just trying to suggest what could happen. That is the problem because lots of these decisions will involve ethics—decisions that are going to cause harm. We have to work out what is the least-worst thing. How will we deal with the transfer of liability? I will run out of time if I go into too many things, but there will be biases in the system: the bias of the person who designed the way the computer thinks and analyses problems, or the bias—this is in the report—of the data supplied to it, which could build up the wrong impression.
These machines are probably intelligent enough effectively to start gaming the system themselves. That is dangerous. The more control that we hand over to make our lives easier, the more likely we are to find the machines gaming. The report on malicious intent, which my noble friend Lord Rees referred to, is very interesting and I highly recommend it. It was produced by a collaboration of about half a dozen universities and it can be found on the internet.
Much has been said about people and the big data issue. I was very involved, and still am, with the internet of things and I was the chair of the BSI group which produced PAS 212 on interoperability standards. The whole point is to get the data out there so that one can do useful things with it. This is not about people’s data but about the consequences for them of the misuse of such data. An example would be trying to enhance traffic flows and so on. It may be that the computer, to control the overall picture, could send someone out on a journey that is not in their best interests. They may be in a crisis because their wife is about to have a baby and needs to get to hospital quickly. There are issues around this area which come down to liability.
The root of it all is the real problem that complex systems are not deterministic. While you can get the same pattern twice, you do not get the same outcome every time. That is the problem with having rules-based systems to deal with these things. AI systems can start to get around that, but you cannot be sure of what they are going to do. It has always amused me that everyone is predicting a wonderful artificial intelligence-driven idyllic future where everything is easy. I think that it will probably get bogged down in the legal system quite quickly, or other issues such as safety may arise. By the time the HSE gets its teeth into this, I will be very interested to see what happens.
I think back to the late 1970s when ethernet came on to the scene. There were many predictions about the paperless office that would arrive in a few years’ time. A wonderful cynic said that that was about as likely as the paperless loo. All I can say is that the loo has won.
My Lords, we have become used to seeing artificial intelligence as the enemy. Representations in popular culture have not helped in this. From “The Terminator” to the “Avengers” films, AI is presented as getting out of control and surpassing its creators. Authoritarian leaders seem obsessed with harnessing AI to bolster their military defences. Xi Jinping has pledged to become equal with the US in artificial intelligence by 2020 and overtake it by 2025. Vladimir Putin said last year that whichever country achieved dominance in AI would come to dominate global affairs. The combination of these threats, unknowns and challenges has come to fix in the public mind a mistrust of AI. I hope that this salient report and some of its recommendations can create a more positive image.
The uses of AI go far beyond military technology. Like the information revolution, AI is poised to sweep all before it and revolutionise working. This requires deep thinking and a proper strategy to cope with the loss of jobs. Many jobs can be created from AI, and the UK has the potential to become a global leader, but we must grasp the nettle as soon as possible. One of the biggest problems with Brexit is that it has swallowed up this Parliament and looks to swallow up the next one too. Germany has a full strategy in place for dealing with this new revolution while we have only just put ours into place. The Secretary of State for BEIS has made some good speeches but we need a dedicated Minister to really drive this package through, as with the industrial strategy.
Happily, we start from a position of strength. The reputation of our dedicated Technology and Construction Court and the flexibility of the common law have made the UK a regulatory leader, even if the legislative input has been slighter than might have been expected. Furthermore, our world-class universities have continued to churn out talented graduates who can attract existing firms and start them up themselves. AI is also one of the sectors that has spread wealth around the UK. AI firms are thriving in Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester and many other places without feeling the urge to clump in London.
One of the most significant threats I foresee is a fall in the number of people permitted to come to the UK to work in AI. More than almost any other sector, tech firms rely heavily on the ability to draw in talent from overseas. Post Brexit, our immigration policy must be totally focused on quality; AI represents unparalleled potential gains. The report shows that it could add an additional £630 billion to the economy by 2035. That is not an opportunity to pass up. We must be clear that those coming to work in AI are an enormous asset and we should be happy to welcome them.
The Government can also do more in their own affairs. In total, the Government produce more data than any other UK institution. When she was at Defra, the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury spearheaded a policy to release all its data in an open and machine-readable format. This was a stunning success and must be emulated across government. Obviously some sectors are more sensitive than others but, frankly, departments have a tendency to silo their data and not let private firms access it for free. We must look to ourselves first and do what we can to encourage domestic industry.
My Lords, I am grateful to the committee for its excellent report. I am also grateful, in the main, for the Government’s response. I must confess that I could not say that about their response to the committee’s concern about inequality, which was dismissed in two sentences, virtually. When we look at what has happened in the past 50 years and how we have changed fundamentally on the issue of equality, as well as the concerns that may come with these changes, we cannot dismiss that issue so lightly.
I particularly want to speak about the impact on the labour market, whence I originate. In recommendation 39, the committee rightly states:
“There is an urgent need to analyse or assess, on an ongoing basis, the evolution of AI in the UK, and develop policy responses”.
Clearly, there will be changes in the labour market on a scale that we have never witnessed. A lot of people are expressing worrying and alarmist reports about the likely consequences; we have heard a variety of figures today about the number of jobs that may disappear. I am one of those who believes that new technology creates additional jobs, although in different places. That comes from experience as a trade union official over the years. However, it does not necessarily follow that this will run for ever, given that the pace and depth of technology may be on a different scale to what we have experienced.
One of the problems we have found with many of the recent changes is that new jobs have been created on a big scale but they have been of extraordinarily low quality and exceptionally low pay. The result is that our workforce is far from happy, compared with the satisfaction that people had in work 40 or 50 years ago. What is created is very important. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rees, I see this growth as an opportunity for many more people working in the public sector. That then raises the question of how we can raise the money to pay for more people in the public sector.
I suggest to the Minister—this was looked at lightly by the committee—that we should look at the possibility that people might not want to work and that as AI develops we might move to a stage where a question mark arises over the joint policy being pursued by political parties that we should seek full employment. Will it be justifiable in the longer term to pursue such a course? Is it not a possibility that many people will not want to work and might look for a different way of relating to the state and other people than we have had in the past? Some countries are already starting to explore the possibility of minimum incomes being provided for all citizens. This was run recently in Italy and I think was quickly dismissed there, but the OECD has done some work and has been reasonably positive in suggesting that it should not be dismissed totally out of hand and is worth pursuing.
My question on employment to the Minister is, as I am sure he will be continuing to keep the numbers under review, whether some thought might be given in the longer term to an alternative system of rewarding people who do not go to work. In part, we are already rewarding people who work with subsidies from the state using tax credits, which Gordon Brown introduced. They have grown and grown. The question for those people, who are doing low-quality jobs for low pay, is whether there might not be something better for them to do in society than they are doing at the moment. This will not happen overnight and neither will many of these changes, but is the Minister’s department doing some longer-term thinking about it? Is it looking at what some other countries are doing and examining what research is being undertaken by organisations such as the OECD? Is this a backstop that we ought to be thinking about in the longer term?
Labour’s view is that we should reduce the length of the working week. This was announced recently. Whether or not people want that I am not entirely sure. Given a choice between having more freedom to do different things and having a routine job for shorter hours they might opt for something quite different. However, the Government’s position on this is relatively unclear, so I would be grateful if the Minister could give us some explanation.
I came to this debate having led a debate in September on trends and changes in addiction. I was drawn to it particularly by the concerns that are increasingly being expressed about children and the internet. I was also involved in the House of Lords inquiry into information technology years ago. We never foresaw for one moment the changes that would come with hand-held mobiles and the changes affecting children. I suspect, with respect, that even much of this report might be overtaken very quickly in other areas that we never foresaw.
Last week we had a very good debate in this House on social media services, in which the noble Baronesses, Lady Kidron and Lady Grender, and my noble friend Lord Stevenson, who led the debate, highlighted some of the particular problems arising that will have a major impact on the way society is developing. I have also read an outline of some of the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Rees, on the future prospects for humanity. He did not say a great deal on that today, but I tend to share some of his views that some changes are more negative than positive.
I come back to addiction and look at what is happening in China, where sex dolls are being produced. As recently as a month ago a major exhibition was held about them. The police are having to impound imported child sex dolls—in the past two years, they have been taken at the ports. We see a range of dolls being offered to adults. The face of an individual can be replicated; they have material that almost replicates flesh. One can get a doll that speaks or responds to whatever one wants. These are major changes.
I look to the Church in particular to see the challenges brought to bear when people spend so much of their lives on their own, perhaps in their bedrooms. They do not want to communicate with other people; they can only communicate online. The skills for connecting with others have gone, yet what will happen if they stay there and what problems will arise? I think that AI will lead to a major growth in the incidence of mental health problems, as we are now detecting in many areas. That is where extra work will have to be done and where the human factor will come to bear, hopefully in helping one another. These are big issues and we are only scratching the surface.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on securing today’s debate and thank him for his work as Chairman of the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence. The committee’s report makes an important contribution to the wider debate about how the United Kingdom can position itself to be a world leader. Along with the Government’s response, it raises a number of important questions that I want to explore today.
Like the noble Lords, Lord Kakkar and Lord St John of Bletso, and others, I want to focus on our handling of the data that will drive new advances in artificial intelligence and, related to that, its potential to deliver better healthcare outcomes. I am pleased that the committee’s report looks in depth at healthcare and at how the Government might support the development of leading-edge policies to complement advances in AI. Several recommendations caught my eye, including those concerned with ensuring that we maintain public trust in the safe and secure use of personal data, and others which explore how we might harness the value of healthcare data.
The Government’s response gives the House a clear indication of their thinking and makes it plain that they will continue to evolve a regulatory framework that protects patients’ data. They also confirm that work is under way better to understand how to obtain value, in the broadest possible sense of the term, from granting access to patient data for research and innovation.
I presume that an important facet of the latter is the Government’s recently published code of conduct for data-driven health and care technology, which includes mention of the commercial approaches that individual NHS trusts might adopt in discussion with third parties making use of big data to advance machine learning and evolve AI. At present, it is a voluntary code, because I understand that Ministers want to encourage organisations to sign up and feed back on the initial draft.
However, I hope that the Government will think seriously about making the next version mandatory so that the provisions for safeguarding patient data, while extracting optimum value, are placed on a more robust footing in the near future, in particular given last week’s news, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others, concerning the absorption of DeepMind’s Streams team into Google.
As I have said previously in the House, realising the potential value of healthcare data represents a time-limited opportunity in a globally competitive market. There is currently no clearly agreed strategy which sets out how the NHS and UK plc intend to benefit from providing access to and usage of the broad-ranging data assets that the NHS controls. I was pleased that the Treasury published Getting Smart about Intellectual Property and Other Intangibles in the Public Sector, which was integral to the Budget.
For those noble Lords who are unfamiliar with it, the document recommends the establishment of a central repository detailing government knowledge asset holdings and their value; guidance to design and implement best-practice protocols; protection and commercialisation of public sector knowledge assets; and registering intellectual property assets with the most commercial potential so that their value to the United Kingdom is maximised. These recommended next steps are to be welcomed, and I know that my noble friend Lord Mitchell is in agreement since they echo the thrust of the amendments that he introduced during the passage of the Data Protection Bill earlier this year. However, I would like to understand who will be leading this work and how they propose to interface with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as well as the Department for Health and Social Care. I also note that the recommended next steps are not currently attached to a clearly defined timetable against which progress might be measured.
Once again, we are left wondering—to quote the subtitle of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, on the life science industrial strategy—who is driving the bus and whether it will be on time. Might the Minister clarify as much in his response? If government policy and guidance are misaligned and do not act as an appropriate check before the proverbial horse bolts, there is a risk that public trust will be eroded, which could in turn act as a brake on the innovation on which I am sure many of us agree improvements to patient outcomes now hinge.
Allied to this, the committee’s report recommends that the Information Commissioner’s Office work closely with the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation on the establishment of “data trusts”. This is also to be welcomed. However, if data trusts are to work, it is appropriate that data subjects have a clearly defined stake and say in such initiatives before the outset. Of course, further discussion is needed before we alight on the right balance between individual involvement in, control of and, potentially, reward from healthcare data sharing versus what could otherwise be leveraged by the state for public benefit were healthcare data, in particular, to be approached as a “sovereign asset”. In the interim, can the Minister confirm how the Government intend to facilitate this?
As was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and others, the big technology giants possess a unique concentration of power. The Government will need to demonstrate leadership and take urgent action to protect patient data while ensuring that a prime opportunity to enable leading-edge innovation in health and care is not missed, as happened in the past with care.data. There is currently no regulation or strong enough framework to manage what seems to be a wild west-style data gold rush on the part of the private sector. While the hiatus continues, commercial organisations are taking advantage.
If patients are to benefit from the introduction of artificial intelligence, Ministers must be proactive. A great deal has been said about the need for ethics frameworks today, which I agree must be developed in parallel. However, to quote Professor Luciano Floridi, professor of philosophy and ethics of information and director of the Digital Ethics Lab at Oxford University:
“We’re told we can’t regulate technology because regulation can’t keep up, while at the same time, we shouldn’t regulate because it will destroy its innovative potential—logically, it can’t be both.”
I urge the Government to make it plain who will be accountable to the public on this subject and by when they plan to introduce suitably robust provisions.
My Lords, artificial intelligence is a concept that is not amenable to a precise definition, albeit many have been attempted. In a narrow sense, AI denotes the ability of machines to mimic the cognitive skills of human beings, including learning and problem-solving. In a broad sense, it denotes any decision-making that is mediated by the computer. The popular concept of AI has been greatly influenced by the test proposed by Alan Turing in 1950. Turing asserted that if an individual working for an extended period at a keyboard could not reliably determine whether their respondent was a human or a machine when it was in fact a machine, then that machine could be said to exhibit artificial intelligence.
This notion of artificial intelligence places a high requirement on the machine. It also engenders the fear and the anxiety that, with the advent of AI, people will be manipulated, increasingly, by impersonal and malign forces, devoid of human empathy and understanding. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, among others, alluded to such anxieties. A different and a carefree definition of artificial intelligence has been advanced by Larry Tesler. He has observed that AI connotes anything that has yet to be achieved by computers. What has already been achieved, such as speech recognition or optical character recognition, is liable to be regarded merely as computer technology.
Doubts about the definition are reflected in the introduction to the excellent report from the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence by a word cloud illustrating definitions of artificial intelligence. The report also contains a brief history of the progress of AI, in which mention is made of the aspersion against James Lighthill that he was responsible for arresting its development in the UK via an adverse report delivered to the Science Research Council in 1973. Lighthill merely asserted that AI was not a coherent academic discipline and that, as such, it did not warrant specific funding. It should also be said that some of the concepts that appear to be at the forefront of modern endeavours, such as artificial neural networks and Bayesian learning, have been around for a very long time.
Notwithstanding these doubts about a definition, the committee has produced a well-focused report. Faced with the rapidly increasing application of computers in diverse spheres of decision-making, it highlights the hazards of their misapplication and advocates a wide range of measures that should be taken to counteract the dangers. To a lesser extent, it identifies steps that can be taken to maximise the benefits arising from the application of computers in decision-making.
Some of the hazards that the report has identified are well known. Among these is the criminal use of computers, commonly involving fraud and impersonation. These are too well known for me to dwell upon them at length: indeed, Members of Parliament are regularly alerted to such hazards. The threats to our democratic process from fake news and from personalised campaign messages conveyed by digital media have also achieved prominence recently. The novelty in these threats is in the power and the prevalence that they have achieved in consequence of the hugely increased processing powers of computers. The hazards that I wish to highlight are of a different kind. They stem to a large extent from the lack of numeracy on the part of many of our decision-makers, who may not have had any scientific education.
The first of these hazards is a tendency to spurious quantification, which might be described as an attempt to measure the unmeasurable. To many, it must seem that a hallmark of modern management is decision-making based on aggregate statistics and on the models of human and social interaction that can be derived from them. The educational sector at all levels has suffered from the ills of spurious quantification, which is most crudely represented by educational league tables. It is proposed that the multifarious activities of an educational establishment can be summarised in a single index purporting to represent the quality of its provision, and that this index can be used to determine its ranking in a long list of similar establishments. Aggregate measures of quality or performance are compounded by applying differential weights to incommensurable quantities and by adding them together. Chalk is mixed with cheese in arbitrary proportions to produce an indigestible amalgam.
For civil servants and administrators, the advantage of such summary measures lies in their ability to simplify the decision-making process, which often concerns financial and other kinds of support that must be given to the institutions. The statistics allow individual institutions to be removed from view and allow remote and uninformed decisions to be taken without any attendant qualms. I sometimes wonder whether the decision-makers would satisfy what I describe as the inverse Turing test—can they be clearly distinguished from robots? The onus of gathering the information that gives rise to the spurious quantification, or of producing accompanying self-justifications, falls upon the institutions in question. The demands can become so great as to impede their proper functioning.
For a long time, the primary and secondary tiers of our educational system have been subject to decisions arising out of their rankings. More recently, our universities have been subject to the same methodology. I have a clear view of the consequences, which I consider to be disastrous. The emphasis on statistical analyses has, of course, been fostered by the availability of computers. The lack of quantitative skills on the part of those who handle the information and their inability properly to interrogate it is a major hazard. The problem has been highlighted by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll.
Had I time to describe them fully I would dwell at length on some of the fiascos that have arisen from the Government’s attempt to adopt computerised information processing. One of the most prominent examples concerns the initial attempt by the NHS, some years ago, to create an integrated system of patient record-keeping. A large and unrecoverable sum of money was given to an American software company, which created nothing of any use. The episode illustrated one of the hazards of outsourcing. It was proposed that it would be far more efficient for the organisation to use the services of experts in matters of computing than to rely upon its own expertise. However, if there are no resident experts within an organisation, then it is usually incapable of assessing its own needs, or of envisaging a means of satisfying them. In that case, it is liable to be vulnerable to confusion and exploitation. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, talked eloquently on that issue.
To those with whom I am serving on a Lords Finance Bill Sub-Committee, it seems clear that HM Revenue and Customs is in the act of creating a similar fiasco in its programme for making tax digital. It seems to me that, far from being new and unprecedented, the principal hazards of artificial intelligence are both familiar and mundane. They will be overcome only when we face up to the need to devote far more resources to enhancing the mathematical, the quantitative and the computer skills of our nation. The issue is a perennial one: are we to be the masters of our technology or its slaves?
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for instigating this debate. I congratulate him and his colleagues, their advisers and staff on their excellent report. It is clear, comprehensive and very thought-provoking. The Government have rightly taken it seriously as an important contribution to the realisation of their industrial strategy, one that sets artificial intelligence and the data revolution as one of the four grand challenges to be addressed in shaping the future of this country.
The report gives us plenty to chew on among 74 recommendations under 26 sub-headings in eight substantive chapters. At this stage of the debate brevity is at a premium, but I do want to flag three areas: skills, governance and a subject mentioned right at the start of the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes—public engagement. Under the heading of skills I want to address two separate issues. The first is the need to ensure that we have the highly skilled AI developers this country needs to allow us to be at the forefront of this revolution. The second, a point made by many speakers in the debate, is the need to address and reskill those whose jobs are put at risk by the new technologies such as AI.
On the first point, the report rightly devotes a number of recommendations to this crucial issue, particularly around increased funding for postgraduate studies, what I would call the diversity and inclusion imperative, and the expansion of the visa regime to attract the best talent from overseas to work in this country. I also strongly support the report’s recommendation for short postgraduate conversion courses, perhaps developed by the Alan Turing Institute, to allow students from other disciplines to have a grounding in the application of AI. AI is not an end in itself but a means to an end in other fields, as we have heard, such as medicine, law or the creative industries. The fourth industrial revolution is about the blurring of lines between disciplines. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on plans to address what I would call the interdisciplinary challenge; for example, through conversion courses.
On my second skills point—the need to reskill those whose jobs are lost through technological disruption—this was a major recommendation in the digital skills report of 2015, and it was good to see the Government picking this up in their plans for a national retraining scheme announced in the Autumn Budget last year. It is essential to ensure that the private sector plays an active part in funding these programmes, with collaboration at the local and regional as well as national level. I ask the Minister to confirm that industry is fully involved in the plans for retraining and lifelong learning that have been mentioned so often in the debate.
The second general area raised by the report is the question of effective AI governance. This is well covered in chapter 9—“Shaping artificial intelligence”—and covers government engagement, ethics and regulation. I note that the government response is in the name of two government departments—BEIS and DCMS—as well as the Office for Artificial Intelligence. We also have the AI council to give strategic oversight, the Alan Turing Institute leading on research, and the new centre for data ethics and innovation advising on how data and AI are used and regulated. We are told that AI policy-making will be part of the existing industrial strategy governance and decision-making processes. I agree with the committee that it needs to be clear who is driving policy in this area, both at Cabinet level and below, and how the roles and remits of these various bodies are defined. Clarity is crucial to allow government, industry and the academic world to collaborate effectively. It is vital when it comes to funding, accountability and evaluating success.
I also share the committee’s view, endorsed frequently in the debate, about the importance of an ethical framework for AI policy-making. As we have heard, there are general ethical implications around liability, responsibility, fairness and transparency to be thought through. The whole area of ethics, regulation and defining standards is one in which the UK has often been at the forefront and I hope that that will continue to be the case in this area. The new centre for data ethics and innovation will have an important part to play in this.
My third and final general point is about ensuring that there is wide public understanding of the implications of AI, as we have heard frequently in the debate. The report draws attention to this area in a number of its recommendations. The challenge is to build public trust in a technology where—to repeat the word used in the report—“explainability” is at a premium. There is a job to be done, led by the Government, to ensure public engagement with regard to the risks and rewards of AI and data analytics. Much of the work may well be around reassuring the public on how data is used, as we have heard. Here I draw attention to the work of Professor Wendy Hall and her proposals concerning the importance of data trusts in the future. I ask the Minister: who in government will co-ordinate the public engagement programme that has been referred to so frequently today?
In conclusion, I thank again the committee and its staff for this report—and, indeed, the Government for finding time to debate it. One of the many disturbing features of our present politics is its ability to suck the life out of debates on other long-term challenges facing this country. It is refreshing to be talking about one of those challenges today.
My Lords, I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones for so ably chairing the Select Committee and leading this debate. It is a tribute to his indefatigable energy and intellect that the report was so well received. Indeed, when we had a training session on neural networks, he left us all in his wake and proved why he was such an able chair. It is also a tribute to the excellent staff already named. As the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, mentioned, it was an absolute pleasure to work alongside each other.
Thanks to all the people described, it is fair to say that the report has become a touchstone for a comprehensive view of all things AI in the UK. All of us who served on the committee would agree that the depth and breadth of engagement we have been involved in following publication has been extremely encouraging, if not breath-taking. Attending the CogX conference alone was inspirational for me, and the appointment of Tabitha Goldstaub, co-founder of CognitionX, to the AI council is a very welcome move. It is not often that our Select Committee reports trend on Twitter but we did on the day that we published the report, and the media coverage was very positive. Of course, there is always the exception that proves every rule. Despite the fact that we were clear throughout the report that this was not about robots, we could always rely on the Daily Mail and its headline: “Killer robots could become a reality unless a moral code is created for AI, peers warn”.
Of course, the role of politicians is a critical question in a report such as this. Artificial intelligence is one of those moral, economic and social issues where politicians have to engage and set the all-important frameworks so that a business sector can thrive but at the same time society is enhanced and protected. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, pointed out, we looked particularly at the model of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, set up in the wake of the Warnock committee’s work on the moral and ethical debate as technology progressed. As an IVF mum, I could not be more grateful for that combination—set out by this Parliament—of ethical framework and technological progress.
Now, as then, this whole new world of artificial intelligence is crying out for the right kind of strategic leadership, as was highlighted by the noble Baronesses, Lady Rock and Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin. The committee highlighted that a key role for us was to clarify which organisations needed to take up that role. I apologise for the plug but the table at the back of the index is where we put that, and we were very proud of the work that the committee did on that. That is why the overview of the Office for Artificial Intelligence is so critical, why a national policy framework is so essential, and why the role of the AI council is key. I particularly look forward to hearing more detail from the Minister about the progress that the AI council has made to date. However, all these organisations that I have described—and many more—need an ethical framework, ideally one that is global. As my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones explained, the time for action on this is now.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who I noticed delivered the five codes from his high-tech tablet, described them very well. He steered us extremely well on the committee over a mountain of AI evidence on those five overarching principles that ensure that AI needs to be targeted at the common good. The noble Baroness, Lady Rock, referenced the national centre for data ethics and innovation and the potential for that organisation to build trust. Certainly on these Benches we see the governance of that organisation, and data trusts in particular, as critical to building public confidence. In fact in a previous article the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, described these codes as a new Magna Carta and I agree. One of the most important questions for this Government to answer in the light of this report remains: will they consider developing an ethical code for the development and use of AI? Do they intend to develop that code at an international level? When President Putin says:
“Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world”,
he is not kidding. We very much need to be part of a global movement that sets the parameters for AI.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, focused on data ownership, particularly among children, and on the availability of open data. My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, talked about the anonymisation of that data. In the committee, we looked at the portability of data a great deal and found that it was critical, as was the ICO having adequate resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, mentioned.
However, it is not sufficient to regulate for the here and now; we must equip people for the future. Education was discussed a great deal. The evidence that the general public put this issue in the “too far in the future” or “too difficult to explain” columns—particularly noticeable among parents of school-aged children—should be alarming to government. For adults, a significant government investment in skills and training is all-important or many will miss out on the AI opportunity altogether. I felt it was disappointing that the Government did not engage with the recommendations in this part of the report. What if the general public do not understand the opportunities of AI? For instance, people running SMEs might have little understanding about the take-up, and therefore the market that they can provide, for start-ups in AI if they are not engaged or do not understand that AI can be relevant to them. Only last week, I spoke to a group of parents in a school and when I explained about AI, their eyes glazed over. But when I asked, “Do any of you use an app on your phone to tell you when the bus is about to arrive?”, all of them said yes. It is about how we make this relevant to people so that they understand that they need to get engaged—to be educated and be part of this revolution, not left behind by it.
With regard to investment in business, I noticed a different figure for how much China is investing so I feel that I must contribute it to the debate. The Lords Library briefing says that China is investing $425 billion in AI by 2020—a different figure from that used by the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. I am sure that someone, perhaps the Minister, will correct us on that.
The future of work will look so different and we must equip our young children in schools to be ready for that future. The ethical must be a part of that curriculum as well and, while the curriculum has made a significant step forward, teacher confidence and parental engagement must improve. We also must continue to recognise the value of critical thinking skills from an early age, which means continued emphasis on humanities as well as learning coding from key stage 1. By the way, five and six year-olds in key stage 1 are now learning how to remove a bug from a code. Teacher confidence on how to teach that is not quite there yet and we need to improve it. Will the Minister explain why our recommendations about ensuring that teachers have time to learn these skills was rejected in the Government’s response?
On education, the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, described the potential for commercial and academic partnerships and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, spoke of the disruption to employment and the danger of greater inequality. We agree. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, gave an excellent description of how this technology can work in the health service but ringing in my mind is the evidence we took from Professor Susskind, who explained to us that even surgeons will eventually be redundant through AI. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Reid, when I asked about empathy it was Professor Susskind who said in clear terms that algorithms can sometimes spot when older people are in distress at a far faster pace than other human beings. I leave that with your Lordships; I am not saying that I necessarily agree.
If AI is to work in the future, above all it has to represent everyone. For me, one of the most striking phrases given to us came from Olivier Thereaux, who said:
“We take bias, which in certain forms is what we call ‘culture’, put it in a black box and crystallise it for ever. That is where we have a problem. We have even more of a problem when we think that that black box has the truth and we follow it blindly”.
I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Reid, who nailed the danger of bias. We have already had a description of a glass box and the potential that provides. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, talked about the potential for blockchain technology to overcome some of these problems.
Simply put, if an algorithm followed the gender balance we currently have in the House of Lords, this place will continue in its failure to reflect the rest of the population it serves. We had many recommendations about overcoming bias in our report but, in particular, I would like the Minister to address the very simple and low-cost proposal to have an industrial strategy challenge fund to stimulate the creation of tools to test datasets and ensure that they are representative. I ask him to take another look at that proposal because if AI is the future, then we cannot start from here with the current data that is fed into it. As my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, said, we absolutely must encourage greater diversity.
There is tremendous opportunity and, of course, threat in artificial intelligence. But in the UK, whatever the outcome of Brexit, there stands a real opportunity for us to shape that future by leading in ethical and economic development so that everyone benefits.
My Lords, I thank the committee very much for its report. From the debate today, it sounds as if it was a good event in itself. When it was meeting, I would quite often see what I now know were members of the committee in the corner discussing arcane issues about artificial intelligence. That is something you do not often find in your Lordships’ House but it was refreshing and welcome, although the technology sometimes left me a bit lost. This is a good report, with nearly 80 detailed recommendations. Such productivity is not often matched around the wider economy but obviously we can do here what others are not able to do. It demanded a high-level response from the Government but, as others have said, their response does not quite match up to the quality of the report.
I am sure I am not the only person present today who was extremely pleased when the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, did a rather brilliant précis of the report in his opening speech. Obviously, as a lawyer he is used to this kind of thing—gathering together ridiculous facts, bringing them together in a convincing narrative and winning us over with the skill of his language and the brilliance of his metaphors—but I am sure the reality is that others must have experienced the report as I did. I rather struggled with it and certainly struggled with the evidence, some of which was way out of my league. But when the noble Lord finished and sat down, I felt that I had been there and owned it.
I thank all speakers who have contributed. It is interesting to note that 13 of the 20 speakers before me were not involved directly in the committee. That is unusual and worth remarking on. Normally these committee reports, good and worthy though they are, tend to be restricted to those who have been through the pain of the events and want to get it out of their system by speaking in the debate. To get so many external speakers wanting to contribute to this debate is a very good test of this report reaching out. It has generated a very good debate, one of the best of its type. Committees are the gold standard of our work, and their reports are very important. They travel out and do the job of explaining to people what we do. It is in the best traditions of the House to make sure that we issue reports and discuss them. It is good that the Government were able to respond quickly enough for the report at least to be within recent memory. Like the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, I think it is nice to be talking about something real and not related to B-R-E-X-I-T—or not particularly.
There were many good speeches so I shall not select any to make particular points and I am not going to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, in going through them. I want to mention two contributions which for me marked out this debate: my noble friends Lord Reid and Lord Browne pulled off the rather difficult trick of opening up a much wider perspective about some of the issues that were raised in the report. One of them spoke on the ethical and philosophical issue, which was very interesting and reached out to everyone here, and one of them spoke on a very pragmatic and potentially dangerous issue. Both of them were talking outside the box.
I shall very quickly cover some individual points that the Government should respond to and have not done so well in response to the report. Our whole approach to AI and our ability to make it one of our winning combinations in this country will not happen unless there is proper physical infrastructure. The report states:
“We welcome the Government’s intentions to upgrade the nation’s digital infrastructure as far as they go”.
I think that is the point. The report goes on:
“However, we are concerned that it does not have enough impetus behind it to ensure that the digital foundations of the country are in place in time to take advantage of the potential artificial intelligence offers”.
This takes us back to issues that were discussed in other places and also raises a question about the responsibility in government for this. The Government’s response, although perfectly adequate, is just a list of announcements that they have previously made about money. It does not pick up the issues that underlie what I think the report is about: we do not think hard about what is ahead of us, what facilities are going to be required for mobile, fibre to the home rather than to the cabinet, and the 5G revolution that is with us. We are not going to be ready to take advantage of any of the stuff that should be coming down the track. What are the Government doing about this? Is it not time to get away from the ridiculously unachieving universal service obligation and replace it with something that takes us to the 1-Gig economy so that we are talking about a standard which will allow those who wish to participate, whether they are SMEs or big companies, in the city or rural, to have the coverage, contention ratios and competition driving the rollout of this technology that will really make a difference? I look forward to hearing the Government’s response.
As for who drives this policy, the issue is the confusion of bodies that seem to be being set up. There is an AI council, an AI department, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, the GovTech Catalyst team and the new Alan Turing Institute. I could not make out from the government response where they all sit. I think the committee was urging the Government to try to be proactive in policy to harness the potential and to mitigate the risk, but it also points out that they will not do that unless there is clearly leadership at the top. Many other noble Lords mentioned this point. If there is to be a national policy framework for AI to be in lockstep with the industrial strategy, it is surely not sufficient simply to say that we have an industrial strategy and that will do it. We are saying that AI is the key to lots of things within the industrial strategy and it needs to be given its own responsibilities and arrangements to take it forward. It is important that the Government own this as a separate part of that activity. We need to think further about which departments are involved, which Cabinet committees will be responsible for it and how the various elements between DCMS, BEIS, health and other departments are going to be handled. Where does this co-ordination take place and how will that be taken forward?
On the question of an AI code, the recommendations again are to be supported. It needs to be something that will give guidance and regulatory security to the companies that want to become involved. The debate today has highlighted the needs here. The Government’s response just states:
“There are a number of high level themes emerging around the ethical and innovative uses of data … some of which are highlighted within the Committee’s report”,
and that some of them are not very new. I do not think that is getting behind what the recommendation was trying to do, which is to say that there will be a competitive advantage for the companies involved and for the country if we have a clear statement of what is expected of them and how this will be taken forward.
Who will review the policy and how will it be done in a way which will be a feedback loop? The committee’s report states:
“For the UK to be able to realise the benefits of AI, the Government’s policies, underpinned by a co-ordinated approach, must be closely monitored and react to feedback from academia and industry where appropriate”.
I do not see where that is going to happen in the structures that are in the Government’s response. Will the Minister respond on that point in particular?
Enough people have talked about the problems about DeepMind and Google to ensure that the Government will respond on that, and I look forward to it. They are clearly examples that should send shivers through all the work that is currently going on, all the discussions we had during the passage of the Data Protection Bill and all the thinking that has been done since then about how data is to be organised and made secure, how personal data is to be protected and how the value in that data is to be unlocked in an effective and efficient way. This links into a section in the report about data trusts which was very interesting, but to which the Government’s response again did not match up. Will the Minister explain the thinking a bit more? The issues are well discussed, the balance between the practical issues and the ethics is rehearsed, but the idea that this will be a solution to all the problems that companies and individuals will have in their data being used is naive. It is very important that AI systems are trusted and used, but they will not be unless we can make sure that those who have responsibility for the data and those who own the data are able to get the satisfaction they need out of that. This goes back to discussions we had during the passage of the Data Protection Bill on whether there would be copyright in individuals’ data. I will be interested to know whether the Government have anything to say on that and on whether it is possible for an individual who has personal data to be a data controller for that. Both those solutions have a lot of advantages in relation to data trusts and how they might be used, and I will be interested to know whether there is any further information.
That links into data monopolies and who owns the data once it has been given into a system, whether or not those who have given it know that they are doing so. If that is the case, do we have the regulatory authority to make sure that the monopolies that will emerge can be controlled effectively? Others have spoken about that.
On autonomous weapons, I do not think there is anything more to say from the Dispatch Box in relation to my noble friend Lord Browne’s comments. The Government might wish to come back to this because it seriously worries a lot of people and should be dealt with.
On the related issues about the impact on the labour market and the need for much more work, I do not think the Government’s response is up to it. On the impact on social and political cohesion, there are too many issues to be raised specifically, but again, to rely on a digital charter is not going to get the answer to the questions that people have been raising here today.
Finally, there is the question of inequality. There is always concern about those who have public office and concern about that was specially brought out by the report in terms of the risk that greater societal and regional inequalities will emerge as a consequence of the operation of AI. That was not dealt with by the Government’s response.
This is a very good report and it was matched by a very good debate. There are issues that need to infuse virtually all aspects of what we do in the industrial strategy, but they go much wider than that and deal with personal and ethical issues which also have to be looked at. The Government said in their response that they broadly accept the principles in the report. The sad thing is that there are very few examples of actions that have been taken to deliver them.
My Lords, I start by offering my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for the state of his voice. I think mine might be in the same state. It would be nice if all these scientists in AI, life sciences or wherever could do something for the common cold—I think that is a plea that many of us would put forward.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and congratulate him on his report. I am trying to think of the right word to use about being invited to appear in front of his committee with my right honourable friend Matt Hancock, who has since been promoted twice, whereas I have not. We were in a state of awe but thrilled to be asked to give evidence, and I hope that we helped.
The report has been a very useful part of the general discussion that we have had in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, said it would be rash to predict what is going to happen over the next 20 years. However, as the report makes clear in its title, AI in the UK: Ready, Willing and Able?, it is important that we get ourselves in a position to be ready, not for exactly what is going to happen but for a whole range of possibilities as to how things will develop over the next 20, 30 or whatever years. That is why, back in early 2017, as part of the beginning of the industrial strategy and the UK Digital Strategy, the Government commissioned their independent review. I am sure that that is why this House took the decision to establish the committee that the noble Lord so skilfully chaired—I offer my congratulations again to him and all those who served on it—to look at the economic, ethical and social implications of advancing in ethical science.
The independent review that we then commissioned under Professor Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti published its evidence in October of last year. Our industrial strategy came out in November, almost a year ago. In April of this year the noble Lord published his committee’s report, and within the appropriate number of weeks we published our response to it, in June 2018. As the noble Lord put it, he gave us a mixed scorecard but said it was a good start. I hope that since then we have done quite a lot more and are now making progress. We have announced the chairmanship of the AI council, which will go on to be set up.
In his speech the noble Lord set out five threads as a way of putting his speech together, the fifth being the unifying thread dealing with ethical development, and five suggested principles. I was finding it quite difficult to decide exactly what the best way of responding to a debate of this sort would be in terms of trying to bring together the vast range of different suggestions. Obviously I will not be able to answer every point that has been put to me in the course of the debate.
I thought that I might take not those five threads but instead the four core recommendations set out in the Hall/Pesenti review. The recommendations addressed improving access to data and dealing with the question of trust; skills, another issue that many noble Lords have dealt with; how we can maximise help for UK AI research; and support, by government and others, for the uptake of AI, which comes on to the questions of governance, ethics and so on. So I hope that with those four major groupings I will be able to deal with a number of questions that were put by noble Lords in the course of the debate.
I start with my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who talked about the need to make people feel part of the AI revolution and how we could, as he put it, avoid it being the next GM—something that should develop but to which some people have taken a rather negative approach. We agree that it is crucial that we engage with the public along with the new technology. I believe that the chilling effects, such as those referenced for GM, could limit the economic and social benefits. Public engagement should be a core function of the recently established Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, about which I will say a little more later, along with the understanding that public perception and public acceptability will be core to the centre’s function to enable the maximisation of the benefits for all.
I turn to the question of the importance of skills. This issue was first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, but in moving on to the health service the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, continued the point. It is important to improve access to skills. The changing nature of jobs is going to have an effect on other jobs as those jobs disappear. As some will be aware, a Deloitte analysis published in September last year found that we are in fact already adapting quite well to the effect of automation: from 2001 to 2015 there was a higher growth of jobs at low risk of automation than among those at high risk. Each new low-risk job pays considerably more on average than the high-risk job that it replaced, and that has added considerable funds —Deloitte estimated the figure at some £140 billion— to the UK economy.
AI is a new factor of production that could be used for labour substitution where labour is scarce, or to complement labour to produce higher-quality output. Obviously there will be a large number of professions and jobs that will need to evolve, while others could remain at high risk of displacement if they retain a high component of routine. That applies, as some noble Lords put it, to a number of professional jobs. Whether people are in the law or insurance, they will all need to change and adapt.
The Government are already offering a whole spectrum of skills packages, from the development of lifelong digital skills training plans through the Digital Skills Partnership to a revamped computer science curriculum in schools. Both my own department, BEIS, and the DCMS plan to work across the industry sector to support businesses to use AI more effectively and, in addition, to make the case for more flexible careers being more likely and beneficial to personal development.
I believe that in this area we can also compete internationally where it is necessary to bring in elements from abroad to accelerate innovation and advance the progress of AI. There are two very recent examples of that. First, at Davos my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced a new partnership with the World Economic Forum on developing a framework for responsible procurement of AI in the public sector.
Secondly, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced with Prime Minister Modi the new UK-India tech partnership to identify and pair businesses, venture capital, universities and others to provide access routes to markets for British and Indian entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises.
Turning to migration issues, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, who asked about the number of tech visas. I give an assurance that we have doubled the number to about 2,000. That will certainly bring more into this country, but it will be kept under review by the Home Office.
On funding for research, the Government responded in some detail in paragraph 53 to recommendations 31 and 32. We made it clear that the artificial intelligence sector deal was just the first commitment from the Government to realise the technology’s potential, outlining a package of almost £0.95 billion for the sector. Further research funding of £1.6 billion for R&D, not all in AI, was announced in the recent Budget, helping us to meet our commitment to get R&D expenditure up to the level set out in the industrial strategy a little over a year ago.
We are confident that our strategy is building on a very strong baseline. We were recently ranked first in the Oxford Insights government AI readiness index, measuring innovation, availability of data, skills and regulatory landscape. We are already home to some of the biggest names in the business, such as DeepMind, which has been mentioned. We are certainly looking for more investment, but we are seeing a great deal of it. In the sector deal, we announced the investment, but future investment was announced in the recent Budget.
I turn to the question of ethics in AI, particularly in health, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Kakkar and Lord Reid, my noble friend Lady Rock and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. The crucial question is how we will address liability, including in health. We recognise the need to move forward on AI in an ethical and responsible manner. That is why we are establishing the centre for data ethics and innovation to advise on the governance of data and AI and to work with civil society, industry, the regulators and the public sector to strengthen their governance.
As noble Lords will be aware, we have closed our consultation on the scope for the centre and will shortly be publishing our response. We expect the centre to publish its operating strategy some time next spring. This will set out the themes and priorities for the centre. A core part of its remit will be to consider and scan the current regulatory landscape and advise the Government on gaps and improvements in data and AI.
In a rapidly changing industry and world, one must be aware of the danger of getting these things wrong. One is reminded of the introduction of the motor car, when Governments felt that they ought to regulate, thinking it best to put a man with a red flag walking in front of the motor car. Governments rapidly realised that that did not work and was rather impeding the development of that industry, and removed the man with the red flag. I hope that we can get the regulation, the ethics and everything else right. As the centre begins its work programme, we expect it to consider such issues and take them forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, asked whether the recently published code of conduct should be made mandatory and how it should be taken forward. We launched it in September, and it is building on the Government’s data ethics framework. It is currently voluntary, with an ambition for companies to co-design the code. In parallel, the Government are keeping the regulatory landscape under review and will further consider the future of the code and how to enforce it as it progresses.
In the time available to me I am not sure that I can deal with many more questions. I want to answer the call of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for the Government to launch an inquiry, in line with the report, into autonomous weapons. We continue to engage across government and internationally. At this stage, I would not want to go much further than that. I note what he says—I think he said that there would be an opportunity to discuss it later this week. I am sure that my right honourable friends in the Foreign Office will take note of that.
As I said in my opening remarks, it is very difficult to do justice to a report such as this in the short time I have. I think that the Government got five or six out of 10—or perhaps a little more, because the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is fairly generous—for our response to the report. We very much welcome the report, and I hope that he will welcome that response.
As I have set out, a great deal is happening at government and other levels. It is difficult to know quite how to respond on these occasions, but we have all reflected on how far we have come since the report was published in April. I believe wholeheartedly that we are on the cusp of an AI and data revolution that will change all our lives. Like my noble friend Lady Rock, I am one of the eternal optimists. I think it will change all our lives and communities for the better, and that this country is likely to be home to a thriving and vibrant AI sector, realising the vision that we have set out in the sector deal and in our response to the committee’s report—both encouraging investment and attracting the brightest minds.
Our ambition will not stop with that sector deal: it is only the beginning of the United Kingdom’s plans to be recognised as a place where ingenuity and entrepreneurship can continue to flourish, where technology follows the highest ethical standards and where the transformative potential of that technology is spread across the UK economy as widely as possible. With that, I thank the noble Lord for his report.
My Lords, every Select Committee hopes for a debate as good as this one. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, pointed out the exceptional number of non-committee members who have taken part. That is a sign of the quality of today’s debate and the points made. Noble Lords showed expertise in so many different sectors: healthcare, defence, film, industry, financial services and the future. Not all noble Lords have recently published books on the future, but the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Rees, was much appreciated.
Nearly all speakers emphasised the need for momentum in developing not only AI but the ethical frameworks that we need. Quite frankly, we are still in the foothills. The issue will become of greater importance as we combine it with all the other technologies such as the internet of things and blockchain. We need to be absolutely clear that our policy must be active. We must also have the means of scrutiny. I hope that the House will come back to this, perhaps in one of the other Select Committees, rather than an ad hoc one. As things move on so quickly in this area, we need to keep abreast of developments. The mantra that I repeat to myself, pretty much daily, is that AI should be our servant not our master. I am convinced that design, whether of ethics, accountability or intelligibility, is absolutely crucial. That is the way forward and I hope that, by having that design, we can maintain public trust. We are in a race against time and we have to make sure we are taking the right steps to retain that trust.
I thank all noble Lords for this debate. This is only the first chapter; there is a long road to come.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question on Johnston Press asked in the other place:
“Mr Speaker, as the House will know, on Friday Johnston Press confirmed that it was going into administration. Johnston Press had debts of £220 million that were due to be repaid in June of next year. It operates titles at a local, regional and national level. It has explored a range of refinancing options over the past 18 months, including a debt-for-equity swap with bondholders. In October, it entered into a formal sales process, but no suitable buyer was found. On Saturday, it was announced that the newspapers and assets owned by Johnston Press would be acquired by JPI Media, a new consortium established of Johnston Press creditors.
JPI Media has said that the operation of its newspapers and websites will continue. It has also said that the debt will be reduced to £85 million, repayable at the end of 2023, and that it will be injecting £35 million into the company to help it operate, including supporting the transition to digital. It has also released a statement saying that the situation will have an impact on employees and pension holders on the defined pension scheme, and that it is working through what this will mean for around 250 current members of staff who are impacted. The Pension Protection Fund has been notified. As noble Lords will know, this is a fund set up by the Government to provide pension benefits to members of defined-benefit schemes whose sponsoring employers have become insolvent. The PPF, with the assistance of the trustees of the scheme, will assess whether the scheme needs to enter the PPF.
Over the weekend, I spoke to David King, formerly the chief executive of Johnston Press and now the chief executive of JPI Media, and today I spoke to the head director. They set out that they believed this move was the best course of action for the long-term future of their staff and titles and that the only alternative would have been liquidation and redundancies. Like Members across the House, I am committed to a vibrant and free press. Johnston Press, with over 200 titles and 2,000 staff serving communities across the UK, plays a significant part in that—three of these titles serve my own constituency. Its future sustainability is therefore very important to us all.
My deepest sympathies are with anyone who is facing uncertainty as a result of these changes. However, it is important to note that this takeover may come under the rules set out in the Enterprise Act 2002. Under that legislation, where it appears that a relevant merger or takeover situation arises, the Secretary of State can then consider, in a quasi-judicial capacity, whether the merger raises media public-interest considerations. As such, I am sure that the House will understand that at this stage I am not at liberty to set out any views on the impact of this specific transaction.
What is clear is that this is an example of the challenges faced by the newspaper industry more broadly and in particular of the challenges faced by local papers. Local papers help to bring together local voices and shine a light on important local issues, in communities, courtrooms and council chambers. But it is clear that these papers have to make difficult decisions to try to adapt to the changing market. At this challenging time for print journalism, we are working hard to ensure its sustainability. In March, we launched an independent review, chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross. This will look at how the production and distribution of high-quality journalism can be sustained in a changing market, with a particular focus on the online space. Dame Frances’s report and recommendations will be published early next year. The Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries will, on 28 November, host an open session with Dame Frances, so that Members of this House and of the other place can share their views on these important issues.
At national and local levels, a press that can hold the powerful to account remains an essential component of our democracy. That is what this Government are working to support.
My Lords, I come in at the point at which the Minister left the Statement. My first real job was, week after week, to write the front page of our local newspaper, the Star. It produced Llangennith, Llwchwr, Llanelli and Burry Port versions, and I did the Burry Port bit. My brother worked as a linotype setter with the local press. The loss of 200 titles and more than 6,000 jobs since 2005, with printing presses now far distant from the communities where the titles are published, leaves us with an absence of democratic accountability and engagement. I knew everybody whose hair was being cut in Burry Port when I was reporting. When a baby turned out to be twins, I did investigative journalism of a primordial nature.
How can we measure the beat of a community’s heart and provide for community cohesion if we are being asset stripped in this way? A further 200 titles are now at risk and 2,000 jobs are uncertain. Pension rights are under threat. The future is bleak. Can we really wait for the Cairncross review? Are not some of these tendencies only too clear already? Must we not do something before it goes too far? They say that Facebook is going to give £4.5 million to train 80 journalists over the next two years. Where will they be employed at the end of those two years? How many more titles will go? It is a serious question. If Facebook was taxed properly, could the Government not then invest in embodying and implementing whatever the Cairncross review comes up with? All these questions rose to the surface when this peremptory action came to our attention on the news this morning. Will the Minister give some concrete replies to these genuine concerns?
The noble Lord makes a number of good points. First, I wholeheartedly agree with him about the need to support, where we possibly can, local newspapers. They have been the lifeblood of communities, and they provide essential and very necessary information for communities, whether on local democracy and local councils, or on births, deaths and marriages or on much more—I could go on—so it is important that we do our best to support them.
On the noble Lord’s question about Johnston Press, I would argue that it is good news that the JPI consortium has been formed—it is good news to the extent that it has pledged to take over Johnston Press. This is just the beginning, and there is much work to be done to settle things down, but it is good news that JPI has said that it wishes to continue business as normal. Obviously, we will have to see how things progress. JPI has also been open and transparent about the pensions issue, and it is fair to say that, as a Government, we will be looking at how the PPF responds to this particular matter.
Finally, on the local democracy issue, the noble Lord may have alluded to a different point but the BBC local democracy reporting scheme is one way forward. So far, 144 journalists have been appointed to that scheme, which enables the very thing that we want to do, which is to support local reporting.
My Lords, this is a very serious moment for the reporting of local events. First, I want to raise my concerns particularly about the future of the Yorkshire Post, which is a renowned newspaper that provides, in Yorkshire and surrounding areas, a regional perspective on news that would otherwise reflect only the London-centred media—that is why it is so invaluable to local people. Secondly, I have concerns about the future of the 200 or so titles that Johnston Press publishes, which provide real local news reporting and which, fundamentally, act as the organ that shines a light on local democracy. No other organisation is able to do that; the only way that the fourth estate can hold our local democracy to account is via these local titles. Can the Minister suggest a constructive way forward to safeguard these titles, particularly as the Cairncross report is unlikely to be able to provide recommendations until early next year, by which time many of these titles may have disappeared?
The noble Baroness is right that the Cairncross review will not be reporting until next year, but she may be reassured by the very fact that JPI is rescuing Johnston Press—as she will know, this is a consortium made up of GoldenTree, Fidelity and two other quality fund managers—and has pledged, crucially in thinking of the Yorkshire Post and the other 199 publications, to put £35 million into the pot to aid the move to digital. This is the way forward. These publications have to move and take note of the changes in the marketplace, and this £35 million will be crucial in enabling that change, which will in turn aid the transfer of advertising back to these newspapers. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, the injection of £135 million to reduce the debt is clearly a step in the right direction. This is just the beginning step—there is much more to be done—but it is a good first step.
My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s nostalgia for the many titles that our local communities and regions used to enjoy reading, as does the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches, but may I caution my noble friend not to commit the Government to investing huge sums of taxpayers’ money, whether it comes from Facebook or other media platforms, in a product which the public is increasingly not reading? My noble friend’s point about investing in online local media outlets is the one that we need to concentrate on, and if public money is to be spent on this exercise, surely that is where it ought to be spent. Young people do not read print national newspapers, let alone local newspapers, so surely we need to concentrate on the future offerings of the media world rather than, sadly, the many forms of local newspaper that we so much enjoyed in our youth.
I thank my noble and learned friend, who makes some good points. First, as I said, the move to online is happening, it is inevitable and it is fair to say that a lot of young people only go online. But it is also important that the transfer for local newspapers from paper form to online is effected in a measured way that does not lead to the sudden putative loss of jobs that might have happened if JPI had not stepped in for Johnston Press. I also take note of his point that it is very important that any government money should be put into a long-term future. We await the results of the Cairncross review, which will be looking at all aspects of this, including the online focus.
My Lords, would the Minister acknowledge that the £220 million debt run up by Johnston Press over a number of years was a scandalous mismanagement, which led to its mortgaging the operations, including the work of local journalists, for reasons other than for delivering what we want—and what I am sure the Government would want—in terms of the revitalising of local democracy that we will be talking about? Is it not true that, in picking up the pension entitlement, the Pension Protection Fund will have to use public money once again to bail out what was a scandalous misuse of the resources of Johnston Press over the years?
I am not prepared to comment or respond to the comment made about the debt. The fact is that the debt is there, Johnston Press had it and JPI is taking it on and is looking ahead. On the PPF, again I think that it is right that the Government do not comment until we hear back from the PPF, which will in due course take a view on the pension situation at Johnston Press.
Citizenship and Civic Engagement (Select Committee Report)
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century (HL Paper 118).
My Lords, I was lucky in at least three ways when I was selected to chair the one-year Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement. First, I was lucky because, although the topic may not appear glamorous compared to the AI debate that we have just been listening to, this issue is none the less of critical importance, because civic engagement is at root the glue that binds us together. An analysis and examination of that glue and its effectiveness will always be important, but never more so than when the country is going through such a rapid rate of socioeconomic change as it is experiencing at present.
Secondly, I was lucky to have a very talented committee, and not only talented but diverse in view and approach—there was no groupthink on our committee, I think we would all agree. We produced a unanimous set of recommendations, whose varying light, shade and emphasis will be reflected in the contributions that your Lordships’ House will hear over the next couple of hours, I am sure.
Finally, I was lucky in the quality of our support staff, ably led by Michael Collon. I hope that Michael will take it as a compliment—and it really is meant as a sincere compliment—that I used to regard him like a mother hen clucking over the chicks to make sure that they were okay. Members of the committee may not be aware that Michael had a hip replacement operation a couple of weeks ago, so he cannot be here to watch over the chicks this evening. He may be watching on the parliamentary channel but, whether or not he is, I am sure that I speak for the whole committee and indeed the whole House when I send him best wishes for a speedy recovery and return to work. Michael was ably backed up by his excellent assistant, Tim Stacey, and our specialist adviser, Professor Matt Flinders, was redoubtable, irrepressible and innovative—essential ingredients for a really high-quality special adviser. Nor should I fail to mention the others who helped us on our way, notably the House’s press team, led by Katy Durrans.
In my contribution I will focus on three topics: values, the role of citizenship education, and the importance of being able to speak, read and write the English language fluently. First, as our report makes it clear, it is not for a committee of your Lordships’ House to set down a definitive list of the values that citizens and residents of this country must and should adhere to—although at paragraph 58 we offered as a straw man,
“democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person”.
In this context, individual words can take on a particular significance—specifically the Government’s continued focus on the word “fundamental” as part of the phrase “fundamental British values”. In our view this has, rightly or wrongly, led to a situation where one section of our community feels singled out. “Fundamental” as a word has become pregnant with meaning because of its close association with “fundamentalism”. I regret that the Government in their response to our report were not able to take this point on board.
That aside, there is an urgent need for us as a country to get behind, promulgate and defend those values that are agreed to be central to our society. As Dame Louise Casey said in evidence to our committee, at paragraph 56,
“you do not pick and choose the laws of this country. The laws that protect religious minorities are the same laws that say I am equal to a man. You do not pick which ones you want. It is not a chocolate box of choice; it is something you have to embrace. If you are uncomfortable with that, I now say that is tough”.
There are red lines that need to be defended. As our report went on to say:
“The epithet ‘racist’ has rightly acquired particular force and opprobrium in modern day Britain. Those who seek to continue to promulgate approaches that are not in line with our values, such as the value of equality, have been known to make use of this phrase to rebut criticism of their approach. Where necessary society must be sufficiently strong and confident not to be cowed into silence and must be prepared to speak up. Fear of being labelled ‘racist’ is never a reason for those in authority not to uphold the law, or for citizens not to raise their concerns”.
What is particularly strange is that the Government, who have proved quite obdurate in sticking with the use of “fundamental”, do not appear to be prepared to follow through with identifying and addressing the challenges posed to the agreed red lines as part of their Integrated Communities Strategy. This appears to suggest an approach based on nudging. From the evidence we received, there are some unacceptable views and practices in all parts of our society which I fear are unlikely to be changed merely by nudging.
On citizenship education, our fellow citizens, of any age, do not learn about how our society works—the role of central and local government, as well as of the courts, together with the complex fabric of our civil society—by magic. It has to be taught, and taught well. Further, citizenship education is not part of what is known as PSHE—personal, social, health and economic education—or vice versa. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who I look forward to hearing from later, will forgive me if I steal a moment of her thunder. She beautifully outlined the difference between the two. Citizenship education is about looking out into our wider society; PSHE is about looking in at the way each of us behaves. Good citizenship education is not just book and classroom-based; real-life practical activities such as debating clubs are an equally important part.
While our committee heard evidence of some inspiring work going on in schools, too often it appears that schools regard citizenship education as a “nice to have”, not a “must have”. Surely that needs to be reversed. In this connection, one can only regard the Government’s response to our recommendation 16 as disappointing. First, the Government have used a commitment not to make any changes to the curriculum during the current Parliament as a reason for not pushing forward on this issue, and secondly, they pointed out that the Department for Education,
“does not specify how schools teach citizenship as a subject”.
This approach has resulted in the uneven and unsatisfactory approach to this critical subject, about which our committee was very unhappy.
My third and final issue is on being able to speak, read and write English fluently. This is often an issue seen through the prism of the first-generation immigrant communities. In fact, as our committee found out, the challenge is far more widespread than that. It is hard to think of a job, beyond that of manual labour, where fluency in the English language is not critical—and that is just about employment. The possibility of an individual with limited linguistic skills being able to make a significant contribution to our civic life must be vanishingly small. The Government are to be congratulated on having recognised the importance of this issue in their Integrated Communities Strategy. The challenge for the Government will be whether, from savings elsewhere or from new resources, there will be the capability to drive home these well-intentioned expressions and turn them into practical results.
Of course, it is not just the responsibility of the Government. As in so many areas which are committee-considered, rights have to be balanced with responsibilities. It is therefore really important that all sections of society understand that, as residents of the United Kingdom, they have a duty to make every effort to learn the English language—and not just the head of the household but every member of the family. For example, the statistics on the percentage of women in the UK born in Pakistan or Bangladesh who cannot speak English well or at all are shocking. To remedy this is a critical step in empowering these women and enabling them to live fulfilled and participative lives.
Finally, I turn to what I felt should be called “initiativitis”. New Ministers eager to show zeal and activity begin a programme but too often, before the programme can show whether it is valuable, the Minister has departed and his or her successor starts up yet another initiative. Successful civic engagement is not made up of a series of one-shot deals; it is the result of the sustained application of policies over the long term.
Does my noble friend share my surprise that the Government have not shown more enthusiasm for the recommendations of his committee regarding the National Citizen Service, when the NCS has been one of their creatures for which they deserve great credit?
I certainly agree with my noble friend. We discussed that issue; I know that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has taken an interest in it, and I dare say that it will form part of his comments in a few minutes. We regard it as a success and we hope that it can be developed—with some changes that we suggested should be made.
The Government would be well advised—not least in the interests of the taxpayer—to make some efforts to gather in examples of those practices that work and those that do not, so that the reinventing the wheel approach, of which our committee found far too much evidence, becomes a thing of the past.
Of course, successful civic engagement will not result from the activities of a single government department; it is a classic cross-departmental activity. It therefore needs to have a champion who, without fear or favour, has the power and seniority to move forcefully across the whole spectrum of the Government’s activities.
I will end as I began, with values. Sarah Lyall, a former London correspondent of the New York Times, once wrote that the British are an undecipherable mixture of,
“politeness, awkwardness, embarrassment, irony, self-deprecation, arrogance, defensiveness and deflective humour”.
Our committee has sought to decipher this rich mixture. I beg to move.
My Lords, first I must declare a non-pecuniary—although I can never say the word—interest in a number of areas relating to this debate and to the Select Committee report. One is the National Citizen Service which I shall be leaving in a matter of weeks as it becomes a royal chartered body.
I will spend a little of my short time paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, whose excellent chairmanship managed to coalesce the committee—on occasion overcoming conflict with a little judicious bullying—and who showed great tolerance in seeing through what I believe to be a cross-party and no-party report. If it had a wider audience, I believe it would be seen as a way of conducting ourselves in politics and public life that might at the moment be measured elsewhere. In other words, we came together, and that in no small measure is down to the noble Lord’s leadership.
I pay tribute as he did to Michael Collon and his team, to Dr Tim Stacey and to Professor Matt Flinders—who was almost equalled by members of the committee in sparkiness and controversy. We dealt with a diverse area of debate under the title of citizenship and civic engagement, but it encompassed the very essence of our democracy. I say to the Minister—for whom I have a great deal of time and who I believe agrees with the vast majority of the recommendations—that it is important that when committees of this sort make recommendations cross-party, they are taken extremely seriously. His boss and others in Cabinet must realise that our democracy is in deep distress. We are in a very bad place. Many of these recommendations would aid in the long term the glue, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred to it, that pulls and ties society together.
When a Government are in difficulty, or are dysfunctional or diverted—I leave noble Lords to decide which applies at the moment—it is even more important that civil society fills the vacuum; that in our situation at the moment we engage people at every level in being part of the solution. I want tonight, briefly, and not from a social-democratic standpoint of mutuality and reciprocity but from what I believe are the historic views and values of the Conservative Party, to question why the Government have not wholeheartedly, across departmental boundaries, been prepared to accept and then implement the bulk of the recommendations. It is beyond me why a party that surely believes civil society is an antidote to the overbearing, oppressive state, would not agree that civil society should encouraged.
This is about encouraging young people to understand and engage with democracy; it is about encouraging those who enter our country and want to be our citizens to be able to understand our language and participate fully in our society; and—in even the very small recommendations—it is about those who have major challenges being able to enter public life. Why should we not fully restore funding to those seeking to enter public life and to be elected, who have severe challenges such as disability? And would it not be sensible to exclude funding of that kind, both public and from the parties, from the ceilings laid down by the Electoral Commission? On little things, such as implementing the promises that have been made since this report was published in April, for example to specialist leaders of education, why not just do it? Why not mention citizenship education on the website? What is the blockage?
I understand why the Government have a particular view about character and resilience. I too am in favour of character and resilience being a subset of the wider citizenship curriculum and report. In recent weeks there have been three round tables on character and resilience by the Department for Education. Maybe someone was calling in the Prime Minister. After all, she has shown the most incredible character and resilience herself over the last few weeks. But that is no substitute for a wider understanding of how citizenship education at its best, with the right curriculum materials, can do the job that is essential to young people engaging. Surely the Conservative Party wants young people to be an engaging and well-educated group as they grow; after all, there is real concern in the party about the number of young people who are likely to vote for it in the coming years.
There are loads of reasons why, right across party, instead of kicking things into the long grass—paying lip service and then doing nothing—the Government should engage with this report centrally. I hope the Minister replying tonight, with the support of his Cabinet colleagues, can get a grip on and co-ordinate what happens across this area. One overriding message came through in the nine months that we sat, from both verbal and written evidence—and those who contributed it deserve to be thanked profusely. The message was that the Government had no collaboration or co-ordination across departments, which is why this important area was so often kicked into touch and seen as the soft underbelly.
I will say a word on things that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, was not able to discuss. From recommendation 75 onwards: please get to grips with this; it is really important. On citizenship education and on National Citizen Service, let us collaborate between citizenship in the classroom and citizenship in terms of active work outside. Why is NCS not seen as a citizenship programme? Why will the Government not use the word “citizenship” in relation to NCS? NCS has its problems, but I have been proud to be a member of the board and to see it change, improve and expand. I hope, under the new guise, it will go forward with greater strength, crucially by collaborating with schools, other voluntary organisations and those working in civil society to make our democracy and our country function better. We do this best when our citizenry is engaged with us and our citizenry are part of the solutions for the future.
My Lords, as one of the several Members of this House who recommended the establishment of a committee on citizenship, I would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and all members of the committee for producing an excellent report that deserves to spark off further discussion. I hope they will all, with us, continue to make the argument that citizenship as a concept is fundamental to a healthy democracy.
We are talking about citizenship, civic engagement and self-government. The difference between a democracy and other forms of government is that every adult member of the country is entitled to take part in the self-government of that country and to support a vibrant civil society. This is part of the implicit contract that holds a national community together: the state provides protection, support and education for its citizens in return for their loyalty and contributions to society and the state. That implicit contract has weakened. It is partly that the concepts of citizenship and the welfare state grew up at a time when the state wanted its citizens to provide national service in the military sense before the First World War and, of course, during and after the Second World War. Now that that is no longer the case, many people in what is called the elite or the establishment are no longer sure that we need the poor or the dispossessed quite as much as we did when we fought the two world wars. Efforts to shrink the state and the services it provides have left many outside alienated and embittered, with results that we saw in the anti-politics that supported UKIP and Vote Leave.
Government has been retreating from the provision of social welfare, which began in the years before the First World War. The libertarian view, current within the present Government, that the state should no longer provide services from general taxation and should retreat from fiscal redistribution from rich to poor and from wealthy regions to deprived ones weakens the whole concept of citizenship. Citizens’ responsibilities and rights are much less clear than they were 50 to 70 years ago.
We face a very divided country, and social segregation is worse than in many comparable countries. The report talks about social mobility cold spots, and I found the reports of the visits to Clacton and Sheffield interesting in that regard. The problem of the “left behind”—the white working class that those of us who live in former industrial cities are painfully aware of—is not just one of social integration of recent immigrants; it is a matter of social inclusion of people who feel that they are entitled to be regarded as having rights as citizens of our country but feel that they no longer receive them.
The report talks in its first paragraph of an environment,
“in which everyone feels a sense of belonging to the country of which they are a citizen, with a stake in it and a responsibility towards it”.
It then goes on to note that:
“Active citizenship is too often defined purely in terms of volunteering ... and too rarely in terms of ... practising democracy”—
that is, that democratic rights and democratic participation are a very important part of the concept. That too is weak and is a real problem that we face in this country. Communication between citizens and government and between government and citizens is poor. As the report says at paragraph 7,
“top-down … interventions are, on their own, unable to build a flourishing democracy”.
Therefore, we face widespread popular disillusion, with a sense that government is distant and remote. Party membership has declined, most of all in the Conservative Party, which I remember as being well over 1 million when I first went into politics. England now has the most centralised system of government of any large democratic country.
However, it is the shrinking of local government that should concern us most. In most other large industrial democracies, the smallest unit of government is a community of 5,000 to 10,000. In Bradford, where I live when I am not attending this place, the smallest ward has a population of between 10,000 and 15,000. The ward of the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, which I know well, has four or five distinct communities, which she has done her utmost to represent well but in which it is impossible for every voter to know their councillor and for every councillor to know their voters. That is not very local democracy. Add to that the slashing of funding for local authorities and the difficulties they have in raising taxes and, again, we face a further level of disillusionment.
In Saltaire, we are currently struggling to find a way of funding public toilets, which Bradford’s local authority has said it can no longer afford. As a tourist destination, we have busloads of people of a certain age arriving to look round the village and one can guess what their first question is as they get off the bus. We simply do not have the funds, although we are trying to create a town council. Incidentally, we do not have the funds because the local companies to which we could have gone have been taken over and are now part of multinational companies that do not have the same sense of local engagement. Therefore, part of the problem of citizenship and democracy is that the local is far too weak. As we know, all politics is local, and the revival of local democracy is essential to recreating the sense of belonging which is part of shared citizenship.
There is some excellent stuff on citizenship education. I well remember Bernard Crick and the Crick report of 20 years ago but successive Governments have failed to take it up. The Government’s response is disappointing. The evidence we have received for this debate from Young Citizens says that almost the entire support structure for citizenship education has been dismantled. The government response here is complacent. We have to go on insisting that citizenship education is a vital part of education for life. The report refers to the “civic journey”. One reason that I have become converted to the introduction of votes from the age of 16 is that that would form part of a civic journey in which, while you are still at school, you become a citizen voter, and with luck you then have the sense that you share responsibilities.
The National Citizen Service has shown us what is possible but it is really a pebble in the pond. We have to grasp the question of what new forms of national service we want to promote and whether there are ways of linking national service to, for example, writing down the loans that people have received for education. That would begin to mix our well-to-do people and our less well-to-do people, encouraging those from the south to go to work in public services in the north and vice versa, and so strengthen our national communities. After all, citizenship should promote a sense of a shared national community, and we need to think about how well we do that.
Lastly, I want to flag the section on the costs of citizenship, which raises wider questions. With another hat on, I have been much concerned at reports from the academic sector about the extent to which the costs of establishing residence—and even more so of establishing citizenship—deter academics and researchers from other countries from coming to Britain, let alone staying in Britain. I am puzzled that the Government’s response compares what they and other countries charge. Some time ago the Wellcome Trust gave me some evidence which suggested that the cost for a researcher and his family of establishing and maintaining residence in Britain over 10 years is nearly 10 times the cost of doing so in France. This is another question to which we need to return and on which we need to pursue the Government, because there seems to be no strong reason why the Home Office should profit from charges on those who contribute to this country and come to work and pay taxes here.
Having said that, and having been more critical of the Government’s response than of this excellent report, I end by saying that I very much hope that the many worthwhile recommendations in the report will be taken further and pursued by all Members of this House.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to contribute to this debate. I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register and my position as chair of the Charity Commission, but I emphasise that I am speaking in a personal capacity. Indeed, many of the themes and topics that this committee looked into are ones in which I have long had an interest.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and the committee on producing a valuable and insightful report on what I consider as this most important of topics: how citizens are made, how strong communities are forged and maintained, and how we ensure a stable and flourishing society. The issues that the report examines are not quaint, polite or fringe matters whose importance pales in comparison to “harder” and more urgent political challenges—quite the reverse. It is my firm belief that questions of citizenship, community, how we relate to one another and how we see ourselves fitting into wider society are not secondary at all; they are at the heart of many of the serious challenges that we face.
I am pleased that the report acknowledges that healing divides that “threaten our social cohesion”, and indeed arguably present a risk to our democracy, cannot be achieved by state action alone. We must look also to the individual—to our rights and responsibilities as citizens; to the community—the question of what we as individuals can expect from and owe to the place where we live; and to society and the question of power—who holds it, and what responsibilities they have towards those affected by that power. I welcome that the report makes clear that civic engagement is also about,
“setting down and being very clear about … what is expected of everyone in terms of shared British values and standards of behaviour”.
A common understanding and shared set of values and standards of behaviour are crucial to social cohesion and a flourishing society in which all feel protected and are able to succeed.
We sometimes hear the argument that talking in terms of national values or standards is divisive or in some way alienating, but it is quite the reverse. In a diverse, multi-ethnic society such as ours, it is all the more important for all of us that there are benchmarks of behaviour and attitude that we can expect from one another and on which we can hold ourselves and others to account—benchmarks, standards and values that go beyond anything that can or should be enshrined in law. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said that the committee did not seek to prescribe anything in this area, but I think that we all know what we are talking about. They are things such as demonstrating consideration and respect for each other; taking responsibility for the immediate environment in which we live and work; and helping and assisting others when they are in need—selflessly and without expecting anything in return.
Agreeing and maintaining such values is as much about empowerment as it is about enforcement. Power does not, of course, rest only with those of us who enjoy great privileges. Anyone who holds a position of authority has some power at their disposal. The problem is that enough people are not recognising their power and the potential to show leadership and make a positive difference if they use it. I think that we have to accept responsibility for that. Too often, we have allowed the status of the position that these people hold to be diminished. If we are to help people from all walks of life to recognise and understand their power and their responsibility as leaders and role models for the shared standards of behaviour that we recognise are essential to our society then we need to be explicit in making them leaders and showing them respect for what they do, whether they are a bus driver, shopkeeper or postman. For example, a local shopkeeper may not have a formal position of power in his or her community but they have immense influence and can show important leadership in the expectations they set for how customers behave towards one another, in the way they maintain their shopfront and in the courage they show in challenging poor conduct. Anyone who shows that kind of leadership needs to know that they have the backing of those responsible for even more powerful structures around which society is built. We need to start building a coalition between leaders at every level.
Over the summer, the Charity Commission conducted research into people’s expectations of charities. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear me say that people care deeply about charities and believe they are incredibly important to our society, both for the beneficiaries and in terms of their impact on local communities and society at large. What struck us at the commission was that despite the huge range of attitudes to and relationships with charities which people from all types of background shared with us, everyone agreed on the basics, such as that a charity should demonstrate higher standards of conduct and behaviour because it is a charity. People may support one charity and not another, based on the causes they care about, but the public rightly expect to be able to trust and respect all charities for the way in which they pursue that cause and in the behaviours they show along the way.
That research is very specific to charities—which have to live up to the special status they hold, because if they do not embody what charity means in the eyes of the public, who will? But the research also reinforced for me personally the public yearning for a common set of standards that can be shared by people from all walks of life and at every “level” of society—for want of a better expression. I agree that we all have a responsibility for behaving as we expect others to behave and for showing some courage in challenging others when they do not meet those standards. But when we are out there on our own, whoever we are, that is hard. Whether it involves litter, feet on seats, queuing or loud music at inappropriate times or places, those in charge of buses, trains, banks, restaurants, supermarkets and so on need to help uphold our common expectations.
Alongside the need for big business bosses, bankers, the clergy and we politicians and parliamentarians to show leadership through our personal conduct, we need those in charge of organisations where people gather to help people demonstrate and protect their shared values and standards. We all have a part to play, but those responsible for the places where we gather need to step up to the plate. If we can respect one another for the way in which we conduct ourselves, we are much less likely to be worried about agreeing with one another on politics or matters of faith. Those responsible for coming up with solutions to our most complex problems are more likely to be trusted if they show similar respect. Cultural norms, standards and values are not an imposition for individuals, they are a protection and they have the potential to build bridges. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hodgson and his committee on a very important report.
My Lords, as someone who had the privilege of serving on the committee, I join others in thanking our advisers and everyone who supported the work of the committee and I join my noble friend Lord Blunkett in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for his chairmanship. It is customary to do that at the start of a debate, but I think that all members of the committee said that with more than the customary nature. It is truly meant. He was an exceptional chair and, partly because of that, the report is strong and bold and deserving of everyone’s consideration.
One of the strange things about this issue of citizenship and civic education is that no one is against it. Nobody in the 21st century will stand up and say, “I am against citizenship and against civic engagement”. Because of that, there is a real danger that we occupy the land of complacency. We can all point to something that has worked. We all know some communities that have got it right. We all know somebody who was not part of something who is now part of something. We can all see some immigrants who have made good and done well in this country. We can all point to some classrooms that are teaching civic education. But that is not enough as far as this is concerned.
One of the most powerful parts of our report is the opening paragraph in the introduction. It has to be for everyone. It really is the policy area, to coin a phrase, that has to work for everyone. The Government’s response to this report has been complacent and they have sought refuge in pointing to some things that will not work. There are no half measures with this. Unless every citizen feels part of our society and unless they can all reach their potential and have the skills and confidence to be outward-looking and active members of society, we have got it wrong and we need to do more.
Because of that, our notion of the civic journey made it possible for us to evaluate the nation’s progress in ways that we have not been able to do hitherto. Looking at those key points helps us to make a judgment about what we are getting right, what we are getting wrong, and where we need to do more work. When we compare the Government’s response about those key points in the civic journey, I think that it is found wanting. I shall pick up on two or three issues to illustrate that.
The first section covers fundamental British values and reflects our wish to adjust the way those values are described, from respect for and tolerance of the different faiths and beliefs to respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person. I think we spent most of our time on this part of the report and we discussed it in depth. The evidence given to us put the ideas in our minds; it was not something we invented ourselves. It was a core part of what the report was about. However, the Government’s response reads as saying, “We have fundamental British values and it would be too difficult to change them. We know that they are not quite right so we will try to do a bit better at explaining what we really meant”. That is not good enough for something as important as this. I think that it is creating quite a bit of unhappiness in society. We cannot gather together around words like these. Words do not deliver a lot but they give you the framework for thought and action. If we cannot gather together around them, that does not bode well for how we will do in this area. I was very disappointed, not that the Government would not change their mind but that they would not engage with the argument. Had they made a cogent case in their response for not adopting our proposals, I would have felt a bit better, but they did not.
The same trend could be seen in citizenship education. It is not working and it is not good enough. Our children are not getting the sort of citizenship education in school today that they need and deserve and which we as a society need and deserve. Yes, some schools are getting it right and we can point to some examples, but the statistics are telling. Over the past eight years, where once we had 10,000 citizenship teachers, we now have fewer than 5,000. Eight years ago, some 243 teachers were in initial teacher training for this, but today the figure is only 40. Eight years ago, 96,000 pupils were due to take the examination, but today only 17,000 will do so. I am not saying that the figures in themselves tell the whole story, but the level of complacency in the Government’s response to this section was very worrying. There was no willingness, energy, passion or interest in changing things. The excuse given is the traditional one, “It is up to the schools what they do. We do not tell people how to teach”.
We have not had a Government who have been more prescriptive about what schools can teach and how they should teach it. They spend millions of pounds on explaining to schools exactly how they should teach English. They have done the same to bring Chinese maths into schools to show them how to teach maths. They prescribe what books children should read in English literature. They set out which parts of history should be taught. They should not say that they want to step aside and leave it to the schools. The truth is that in the areas that are important to the Government, they take action. None of that applies to citizenship and we cannot get away from that. What is there is an enthusiasm for character education. I agree with my noble friend Lord Blunkett on this point: I am not against character education, but it is not citizenship education, which has been squeezed out over the past few years. That needs to be remedied.
My final point is the cost of applying for citizenship. This is not philosophically difficult and it would not be hard to change. The Government have a missed a chance by not acknowledging that. I was lucky enough to be part of the Committee which witnessed a citizenship ceremony held at Westminster City Hall. It was a wonderful experience to watch people take on their citizenship, but when we spoke to them afterwards, it was the cost that they wanted to talk about. The cost to the family purse of taking on citizenship almost spoilt the day for them. They had to spend thousands of pounds. The Government’s response puzzled me. To justify not reducing the cost of acquiring citizenship, the Government talk about what they do with the profits they make. The response states:
“A significant proportion of this contributes towards the cost of wider immigration functions; helping to protect and maintain effective core services”.
We should all be paying for those services, not just those who are seeking to become citizenships or acquiring visas. There is no justification for the core costs of our immigration services to be put on the backs of these people.
This is a good, bold and strong report. I do not think that the response has been as strong as it needed to be, but it will stay there. Those of us who served on the committee will return to what the Government say they want to do in the hope that we can indeed make progress in the months and years to come.
My Lords, it is good to follow such an excellent speech from a member of the committee and to congratulate her and all the other members under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on a report that is a very interesting read. It is a big report that makes a juicy meal and it deserves to be chewed over for a long time yet. The government response, by comparison, is a shrivelled morsel and extremely disappointing. When I first read it I asked my wife, Heather, who before she retired was a lifelong ESOL teacher, to have a look at the section on ESOL. She laughed every so often, and I asked her why. She said, “Oh, that is something we invented 30 years ago”, and, “We did that 20 years ago”. We know what works with ESOL and we know what works with the hard-to-reach groups, particularly ladies who come over from the south Asian countries. The real problem is that over the past 10 years the Government have cut funding for ESOL by more than 50%. A lot of people have been pushed into the arms of private providers who set up little so-called schools. Frankly, quite a few of them are just ripping people off.
I turn to the particular phrase “fundamental British values”. I have to say that the government response is very disappointing. That phrase is divisive for a lot of people. I wonder if it is separatist, which might be appropriate or not, given what is going on with Brexit at the moment; I do not know. We should remember that for a lot of the people who have come to live in this country over the past two or three generations, the Empire is very much a part of their family life. The phrase is supremacist and in any case it is condescending. It suggests to everyone else that, “Our values are better than yours”. That is wrong. The phrase “shared values of British citizenship” is good because it sets out what the values are but does not say that they are intrinsically or specifically British.
A section in the report I want to refer to concerns active citizenship and civic engagement. I shall talk about my own experience in a small town in Lancashire called Colne. It is where I live and I declare an interest as a local councillor there. Paragraph 12 of the report quotes Dr Henry Tam, who,
“emphasised to us the important distinction between the two”—
active citizenship and civic engagement. Dr Tam went on to say:
“One is volunteering and helping strangers. The other sense, quite different, is about democratic participation. You can do one without the other”.
That is true, but I think that it is much more complicated than that. Where local democracy, involvement and engagement really work—and they still do really work in many smaller communities and some others in this country—the two are closely interrelated. It may be a continuum but it is just a very complicated mixture of people who are local politicians, local volunteers, those getting involved because they are traders, local residents or those working in schools, who then overlap. Colne is a town with a lot of volunteers and lots—too many, some people think—of elected local politicians. They work together and many people are in both roles. We have a series of local organisations and structures where local politicians across all parties work together—at least we do outside election periods—and with other people to get things done locally in an old Lancashire cotton town. Fifty or 60 years ago, two-thirds of the people there worked in weaving mills; now, there are no mills left. It is that sort of place.
Ten years ago, an organisation called Colne in Bloom was set up by a councillor colleague of mine in my ward. It brings together a series of people from across the town, including all sorts of groups and organisations from community centres and schools, and residents who do things in their street alongside the main activities in the town centre. I do not know for how many years we have won a gold award, but it is at least five or six, perhaps more. This is a good example of leadership, which comes partly from councillors, partly from people who are not councillors and partly from people who have been or will be councillors.
Neighbourhood plans are one good thing to have come out of the coalition through the Localism Act. They form a statutory part of the local plan once they are adopted. In areas such as ours, which is entirely parished nowadays—we did that deliberately to involve more people—they are the responsibility of the parish council and town council. In Colne, the initiative has been taken by current town councillors who originally got involved with major residents’ campaigns objecting to inappropriate planning applications. There is a huge overlap there. In the parish where I live, Trawden Forest, we had a referendum last week or the week before that approved our neighbourhood plan. I declare an interest as a largely corresponding member of the little group that put it together. In that collection of people, some people had never been involved in such things before but got involved because they were interested in the plan, some were parish councillors and some were both.
Colne Town Council now runs all the events in Colne, of which the most important each year is the Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival, which happens every August bank holiday. In every month throughout the year, a series of events brings people into the town and gives it a sense of well-being. It involves people; they can enjoy themselves. The council runs it but does not have lots of staff to do that, as a big council would. The town councillors, of which I am not one, roll their sleeves up and do a large amount of the work. The overlap between local politicians elected to the town council on political labels and volunteers is not clear-cut—and neither should it be. We have lots of community centres that we thought we should set up as community hubs 20 or 30 years ago. They are now run by local volunteers and local committees, and so it goes on.
My final point is that Colne is a town. Fortunately, in all the time that I have been involved in it, along with a lot of other people, we have managed to maintain civic culture, civic involvement and “civic society”, if that is what you call it—that is, the involvement of local people in the town, keeping it going in very difficult circumstances. After the local government reorganisation in 1974, a lot of towns lost their councils, civic culture and institutions, suffering very badly as a result. Every change in local government and local democracy nowadays seems to involve making things bigger, amalgamating things and reducing the number of councillors, the number of elections and the amount of local democracy and accountability. It is wrong. We have to go back and look at towns. Big cities are all right—they can cope—but towns need a lot of time, attention and care to rebuild their civic culture if they are to be successful in future.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and the committee for their report. I declare an interest as a governor of Coram, which gave evidence to the committee.
The preamble to the report states that,
“the primary objective of a nation state is the creation of a country in which every one of its citizens feels secure, engaged and fulfilled”.
The report was conducted in 2017, post referendum and pre today’s chaos. As a nation state, having had a 1,000-year start on most other nation states, you would think that we might have got the hang of it by now—but it would appear to be still a work in progress.
The report’s first key conclusion is the need for respect for the law. A particular incident that concerned me somewhat preceded this. On 4 November 2016, a Daily Mail headline described several Justices of the Supreme Court as “enemies of the people”. In Henrik Ibsen’s play of almost the same name, “An Enemy of the People”, Dr Stockmann tries to expose an environmental pollution scandal but is shouted down. Ibsen was trying to illustrate his distrust of politicians and of the blindly held prejudices of the majority—a trait sometimes referred to today as “the will of the people”.
Most shocking at the time was the apparent unwillingness of the leaders of Her Majesty’s Government to condemn the headline. Demonstrating citizenship and civic engagement starts at the top. As the report said,
“the rule of law, together with a commitment to democracy, individual liberty and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of all people, are the shared values of British citizenship from which everything else proceeds. These are ‘red lines’ which have to be defended”.
Where have I heard that before? We need red lines to stop us devaluing such terms as “red lines” and to stop the growing tendency to play to the gallery.
Civic engagement, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, was brought to my mind in a discussion a few days ago with one of his noble friends, the noble Lord, Lord German. He is one of your Lordships who visits schools around the country—mainly in Wales, in his case—to talk about our Parliament and our democracy. He ends his discussions by putting up a slide of a huge and seemingly never-ending queue of South African citizens waiting to vote in the first free and open general election in South Africa in 1994. He asks the young people he is talking to, “Do you realise how precious is the ability—nay, the right—to vote in free and fair elections? Never take it for granted”.
I want to focus on the report’s last two recommendations. Recommendation 78 suggests reducing naturalisation costs to their real level without adding a substantial profit; recommendation 79 suggests waiving the registration fee for children in care and for children who have spent all their lives in the UK. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned citizenship fees in her speech. The Minister will be aware of the 12 June regret Motion on the 2018 Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. That was an obviously uncomfortable experience for the Minister responding—the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, who is fortunately on the Front Bench today—and that has been the case subsequently every time this subject has been raised in your Lordships’ House. I feel genuine sympathy for her valiant attempts to try to defend what is frankly indefensible.
At the moment, fee waivers are available only for applications for limited leave to remain. There is no fee waiver for settlement, otherwise known as indefinite leave to remain, or citizenship. Many children have a legal right to apply for citizenship immediately without having to make any kind of immigration application, but if they are unable to afford the enormous fees required to achieve citizenship they have the unenviable choice of either staying undocumented or pursuing a 10-year route to settlement, since the only way they can qualify for a fee waiver is if they apply for limited leave to remain. Since each of those is typically limited to two and half years they must do this several times over the course of those 10 years. This assumes that they will be so fortunate as to qualify for a fee waiver in the first place. What a truly daunting prospect this process must be for a child, against a backdrop of there being no legal aid available at all for immigration cases since 2013.
Children in care have their local authority as their corporate parent. The latter has the responsibility to ensure that any looked-after child can apply for the most secure status possible. It seems like the world turned upside down for that local authority to have to pay an exorbitant fee to local government to discharge its duty to the children in its care. It is rather like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Does the Minister agree that it is not in the best interests of children entitled to British citizenship to face sustained and ongoing uncertainty about their future in this country, and that there is little sense in increasing the cost to local government to care for these children if the present situation continues? Please could he explain the rationale for not having a fee waiver for children in care?
My Lords, that was an excellent speech; many important points were raised. I look forward to the Minister’s answers, because it is absolutely clear that poverty should not and must not be a barrier to citizenship.
I have been passionate about citizenship and civic engagement for many years, so I was delighted when this Select Committee, for which I was one of the catalysts, was set up. I congratulate the committee on its excellent work and thank the countless organisations, NGOs, academics and citizens that gave evidence on this crucial topic.
This report has excellent recommendations that will support the very fabric of our democracy, ensuring that young people are entrusted and encouraged to be active citizens, and that Parliament recognises the role it must play to provide the environment for them to do so, especially as we approach a post-Brexit Britain. My noble friend Lord Blunkett is right: our democracy is in crisis. The importance of democracy must be understood. This means that there must be education and that democracy must be nurtured through representation and voting.
I will raise just a few points that I believe are most vital to address the challenge laid out by the committee of ensuring that all citizens have government support to embark on their “civic journey”, in which social action, democratic participation and social belonging are available to all. Of course, people must take responsibility to play an active role in our democracy, but if the opportunities, education and initial engagement are not adequate and meaningful, then it is down to Parliament and its Members—from all parties and none—to address the root causes of poor civic and community engagement.
This must start with education. I am proud of what the Labour Government did with citizenship education. Since then it has got poorer and poorer. The statistics that my noble friend Lady Morris gave are deeply alarming. Citizenship education in schools must be prioritised as a policy commitment and resourced effectively, including formal programmes of assessment, Ofsted inspections of school delivery and expanded teaching training initiatives.
I welcome the initiatives from the Government’s democratic engagement plan, such as the introduction of a National Democracy Week, but it does not do enough to address the gaps left by meaningful citizenship education. The very date of National Democracy Week alienates many schools and colleges because it falls in a holiday period. I could not see, via the government portal, a significant increase in young people joining the electoral roll.
I welcome extra-curricular efforts to engage young people in civic and community life, but this must also be addressed within the curriculum, across every school and within a framework so that Ofsted demonstrates effectiveness. This is why I urge the Government to take forward recommendation 9,
“to create a statutory entitlement to citizenship education from primary to the end of secondary education. This should be inspected by Ofsted to ensure the quantity and quality of provision”.
As an avid supporter of Bite The Ballot and its work to ensure young people are registered to vote and engaged in our democracy, I also urge that a citizenship curriculum invite our young people to register to vote from the age of 16, while understanding the benefits and responsibilities of doing so. Indeed, I fervently support votes at 16.
We must address these issues where and when we know we have a captive audience—that is, from ages four to 18 within schools. For it to be done well, I strongly support recommendation 11:
“The Government should establish citizenship education as a priority subject for teacher training, and provide bursaries for applicants”.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, was right: the Government’s response on this was very disappointing. The Government committed to introducing specialist leaders of education for citizenship, but they have done nothing to set this in train or to tell teachers and schools to apply.
The report points to a whole host of evidence that citizenship education in the UK and globally can increase the likelihood of voting and expressive political participation in adulthood, mitigate the social, economic and cultural inequalities in political participation, and reduce rates of gang membership and violent crime among vulnerable groups. We cannot go a week without seeing in the media another young life taken by knife crime, so let us use citizenship education as one of the means of tackling the root causes of alienation, disfranchisement and apathy.
Once the foundations are laid within education, we can ensure that young people are socially active and supported through the work of the NCS and other volunteer organisations, such as the fantastic charity City Year. I agree with recommendation 22:
“The National Citizen Service cannot be seen as a short one-off programme and must be designed to create a lifelong habit of social action”.
While I support the NCS, it is still a short, one-off programme. That is not good enough. I dare to believe that if citizenship education kick-started young people’s knowledge of and participation in civic society, the NCS is the place that they would go to develop it further. It is where they can learn how to become socially active, with a variety of skills and tools to ensure that they do so for life, not just for one summer. But the NCS still acts too much in isolation, not taking its responsibilities and using its huge funds to be part of a pipeline. The partnerships between the NCS, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Scout Association are welcome, but are not enough. Too many local youth initiatives have been starved to death to feed the NCS.
I am chair of the People’s History Museum, the national museum of democracy. I am proud that it is diverse in every way and that it not only focuses on the history of our struggle for democracy, but informs the present. It has community curators and works with schools, diverse communities and hard-to-reach groups to nurture understanding of our democratic rights. Its current exhibition “Represent!” includes videos of the maiden speeches of my honourable friends, Rushanara Ali and Shabana Mahmood. When a young Muslim woman saw these speeches recently she literally cried, saying, “I did not know that there was a place in Parliament for people like me”.
I end with a stark demonstration of the need for civic engagement and understanding of the system in which we live. A young friend was harassed as a consequence of being a councillor. She phoned 101 to report this and was asked, “What is a councillor?” She was advised to go to the police. She went along to the police station and was asked by the person sitting at the front desk, “What is a councillor?” That says it all.
My Lords, I welcome this report and congratulate the committee on producing it. I, too, wish to focus on that part of the report that deals with citizenship education. As the report makes clear, the case for citizenship education is compelling. The Government’s response, which promises nothing and is appalling in its complacency, fails completely to recognise its significance.
There are two reasons why we in this House should strongly support citizenship education. First, it is a public good. Citizenship education can fulfil an invaluable, indeed necessary, role in ensuring that we have a citizenry that understands our political system—not simply its structure but why it matters to everyone. As James Weinberg of Sheffield University told the committee:
“We have evidence … that citizenship education, where it is done effectively and consistently, can predict political efficacy, participation and levels of knowledge”.
It is thus central to the health of our political system.
Secondly, citizenship education is in our self-interest. At the moment, Parliament is neither loved nor respected. In the 2016 Hansard Society Audit of Political Engagement, only 32% of those questioned were satisfied with how Parliament does its job. Eurobarometer data over a 10-year period from 2004 to 2014 show that only one-third of those surveyed in the United Kingdom “tend to trust” Parliament. The problem is that the public judge each House not on what it does collectively but rather on the behaviour of Members. A scandal affecting Members of either House impacts more on public attitudes towards Parliament than any increase in the effective scrutiny of legislation. The answer rests with Members making more of an effort to promote and defend the institution of Parliament and with citizenship education in ensuring that citizens have a better awareness of Parliament and the knowledge and incentive to engage with it.
Citizenship education is thus essential; that is my starting point. Despite being introduced to the national curriculum in 2002 by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, it has not become embedded in schools in a way that is necessary for it to be taught effectively. Indeed, the report provides a damning critique, concluding:
“The Government has allowed citizenship education in England to degrade to a parlous state. The decline of the subject must be addressed in its totality as a matter of urgency”.
If citizenship education is to be taught effectively, three conditions have to be met. First, it has to be taught by qualified teachers. The nature of the subject is such that being taught by people not qualified to teach it may be worse than it not being taught at all. The committee recommends that the Government establish a target of having enough trained citizenship teachers to have a citizenship specialist in every secondary school. The problem is that the subject is not being taught by qualified teachers.
In May, I tabled a Question about the number of qualified teachers. My noble friend Lord Agnew of Oulton replied. It was a detailed Answer, for which I give him much credit. I quote, in some detail, from it:
“In November 2016 there were 4,800 teachers in state funded secondary schools teaching citizenship. Of these we estimate that 8.7% had a relevant post A level qualification in the subject. A relevant post A level qualification is defined as a first degree or higher, BEd degree, PGCE, Certificate of Education or any other qualification at National Qualifications Framework level 4 or above in either citizenship, international relations, international, EU or UK politics or political theory. There are also 10.6% of citizenship teachers with post A level qualification in history that prepare teachers well for teaching British citizenship”.
Even if one includes those with post A-level qualifications in history, approximately eight out of every 10 citizenship teachers are still not deemed to have a relevant post A-level qualification. These data show that we are nowhere near achieving the target recommended by the committee. They reinforce the committee’s conclusion as to the parlous state that now exists. Can my noble friend Lord Bourne tell us what steps the Government are taking to bolster the number of trained citizenship teachers? By what date does he think it will be possible to meet the committee’s recommendation of having a citizenship specialist in every secondary school?
Secondly, citizenship education needs to be distinctive. Citizenship needs to be taught as a discrete subject and not be allied with or swept up in other subjects. To combine it with PSHE or other subjects is to dilute and miss its importance. The committee notes:
“PSHE is not citizenship education”.
It later states:
“The increasing need for more specialist citizenship teachers will not be solved by support for teacher training alone. It must be accompanied by a restoration of the status of citizenship as a subject worth teaching”.
There needs to be a recognition of its importance and, intrinsic to that, it must figure as a distinct and protected part of the curriculum. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that it is taught as a discrete subject?
Thirdly, it needs to be taken seriously by schools. The committee’s goals for citizenship education are not likely to be achieved if schools have no incentive to deliver and protect the teaching of citizenship. There may be a moral imperative to teach it, but moral imperatives do nothing to enrich the school budget or help the school’s place in the league tables. Schools need something more concrete to ensure that they take citizenship seriously and teach it effectively. If citizenship education fed into performance in the league tables, schools would very quickly take it seriously. Without such incentives, we shall remain in a position where schools are reluctant to take on a trained citizenship teacher and the task of teaching citizenship will fall to a member of staff who is free on a Wednesday afternoon. It is therefore imperative that the Government have a radical rethink about the place of citizenship and how the teaching of it is to be delivered.
Can my noble friend tell us what incentives the Government plan to introduce to ensure that schools take seriously their responsibility for delivering citizenship education? Pious observations about the value of citizenship education will not change the current totally unacceptable situation. There must be concrete steps taken by the Government, and taken quickly, to reverse the situation in which we now find ourselves. Of course, there will be a cost to ensuring that the resources are there, but it is essential to a healthy polity. At a time when politics is increasingly marked by tribalism, and with soundbites substituting for debate, the greater and more compelling is the need for a politically literate population.
My Lords, I too thank the clerks, our policy analyst, Professor Matt Flinders, our special adviser, and all those who gave evidence or met the committee for their respective contributions to our report. Special thanks go to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for his skilful chairing of a highly opinionated committee.
While I welcome the generally positive tone of the Government’s response, I am disappointed at how few of our recommendations have been accepted. All too often the response sidesteps our recommendations with a description of what the Government are already doing. There is no acknowledgement of the seriousness of the concerns we raise in relation to the citizenship challenge we identify. While the challenge is not just for central government but also for local government, civil society, business and individual citizens, it is for central government to take the lead. At present, they are failing to do so. We found that,
“what is missing is any clear, coherent or ambitious vision of why citizenship should matter in the UK in the 21st century”.
I looked in vain for such a vision in the Government’s response.
The response summarised the overarching aim of our recommendations as,
“simplifying the individual’s civic journey, and enabling people to be active citizens”.
Certainly, the civic journey and active citizenship were important threads in our argument, but our recommendations were aimed not at simplification but at removing what many witnesses identified as “barriers, blockages or obstacles”, particularly those faced by marginalised groups. As noble Lords have already heard, we saw citizenship education as a key building block. We were thus dismayed that the Government’s Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper said nothing about it, thereby exemplifying the Government’s
“clear lack of citizenship vision”.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, for meeting us to discuss our recommendations, but the Government’s complacent response—how many noble Lords have already used that adjective?—failed to match the urgency of our concern about the state of citizenship education, which we had been told was,
“withering on the vine at the moment at a time when it is needed more than ever”.
Only one of our recommendations in this area was accepted, although as we have already heard, even this has not yet been actioned. Will the Minister tell us, or write to us, about when we can expect it to be so? Otherwise, it was warm words and Pollyanna-like claims, which are at odds with the alarming evidence we received of its “parlous state”.
The barriers to citizenship and to social integration through participation that we identified were various, including some rooted in socioeconomic disadvantage and other inequalities, such as gender. One specific barrier we have already heard about, to which we devoted a chapter, is poor English language skills. A common message was that the ability to communicate in English is vital to British citizenship. While we noted that this is as true of those of the indigenous population, for whom functional illiteracy is a barrier as it is of migrants, our recommendations focused mainly on ESOL, which is of especial importance to refugees and to women, who face particular access problems because of their childcare responsibilities. We referred to the bleak picture painted by Refugee Action’s research: a worsening situation of long waiting lists due primarily to lack of funding. We contrasted this with the exemplary ESOL support provided under the Syrian resettlement programme. We pointed to the danger of a two-tier standard and concluded:
“However one construes the numbers, they cannot disguise the fact that, over the last seven years, a cut in funding of about one half has led to a fall in numbers of at least one quarter”.
We noted that the Green Paper proposed,
“a new fund, but no new funding”,
and stressed that the Government must restore ESOL funding to its 2009-10 levels by 2019-20. The response was more warm words but no commitment to the funding essential for effective action. Can the Minister offer us anything more than further warm words today?
I return like a broken record to an issue that has been exercising me and many others in recent months—the obstacles put in the way of children who, because of their parents’ immigration status, need to register their statutory entitlement to citizenship. These are children either born in this country or who have spent most of their life here. One barrier identified in our report is the “good character” requirement for children from the age of only 10, which originally applied only to applications for naturalisation, in recognition of the important distinction between registration of citizenship and naturalisation. We recommended that the Government,
“review the use and description of the ‘good character’ requirements”,
and, in effect, they accepted that recommendation. However, they refused to reconsider the age from which the test applies on the grounds that,
“this is the age of criminal responsibility”,
and sentencing guidelines take into account the particular circumstances of minors. Whatever one thinks of such a low age of criminal responsibility, it surely cannot be right that according to a coalition of voluntary organisations—I declare an interest as recently becoming a patron of one of them—the requirement is used to prevent children registering rights to British citizenship, even where they have had only minimal contact with the criminal justice system, such as receiving a caution or a fine.
The Government also referred to their statutory obligation,
“to have due regard to the best interests of the child”,
but how can it be in the best interests of the child for their entitlement to citizenship to be denied on the basis of behaviour at such a young age? Why has the Home Office not acted on its acceptance last year of the chief inspector’s recommendation that the requirement should not be applied to children in the same way as to adults? May we have an explanation, if necessary, in writing?
The other obstacle is the level of the fee—over £1,000, of which only £372 is attributable to administrative costs—about which considerable concern has already been raised around your Lordships’ House, as we have heard, and which even the Home Secretary has described as “huge”. The committee questioned the “excessive profits” made on these and naturalisation fees, and in relation to children could see,
“no ground for the Home Office charging more than the costs they incur”.
As we have heard, we made the case for waiving the citizenship registration fee altogether in the case of children in care and children who have spent their entire lives in the UK.
The Government’s response was—as always on this matter—totally unsatisfactory. Their justification that the exorbitant fees,
“help fund and maintain effective wider immigration system functions”,
in effect puts the best interests of the immigration system above the best interests of children—who in any case are not immigrants. Moreover, their oft-repeated argument:
“Setting fees at above cost also enables the Home Office to exempt some people from having to pay a fee”,
“to waive fees in certain individual circumstances”,
is potentially misleading because it implies that such waivers can apply to the citizenship registration fee in question, which they cannot, as underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Russell.
One of the Government’s arguments in response to pressure on the level of the fee has been that citizenship is not really that important. But the underlying premise of our report is that citizenship is important—it matters. It is important to participation in society and to a sense of identity and belonging. It is indeed a tie that binds. I hope that the Government will rethink their response to this and many of our other recommendations and come forward with a clear vision and strategy for citizenship to help unite our country at a time when it has perhaps never been more divided.
My Lords, it was a great pleasure to work on this committee with so many experienced colleagues and under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I thank all those who supported us in any way.
First, I draw your Lordships’ attention to recommendation 35 in our report, which concerns Part 2 of the lobbying Act. This was a concern of our committee because one expression of civic engagement is involvement in the charitable sector, and one expression of citizenship is the freedom of charities and other campaigning groups to campaign on the causes they care about at election time. Part 2 of the lobbying Act was an ill-thought-out and hurried piece of legislation and, in light of its operation at the last election, it was reviewed by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. He made a number of recommendations which went a long way to meet the concerns of the third sector. Our committee recommended:
“The Government should implement the recommendations of the Hodgson Review … as soon as Parliamentary time permits”.
Unfortunately, the present Government are unwilling to do this but I cannot believe that such unsatisfactory legislation can stay on the statute book indefinitely.
On the second point—citizenship education—again, I will not take long because other members of the committee have spoken about this very powerfully, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. All I will say is that I was deeply shocked by the state of citizenship education in the country, as revealed by the evidence put to us. It appears not to be taught at all in a lot of schools and in many others is simply swallowed up in PSHE. If we are to remain a healthy democracy and a vibrant society, with citizens aware of their responsibilities and engaged so far as they can, then citizenship education is a vital element in our education system. At the moment it is, along with religious education, a Cinderella subject.
People need to leave school with some sense of why democracy matters: the long, hard journey to achieve what we have now and some inkling of how they might engage in the political process, even if it is just contacting the local council about the state of the pavements. They need to have a sense that to be a citizen carries certain responsibilities as well as bringing certain fundamental rights. The evidence we collected shows that this is simply not happening and, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, again put it so powerfully, in their response the Government have shown the most appalling complacency.
I want to spend a little more time on my third area, “Values”. These are covered by paragraphs 2 to 8 in the “Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations”. I know that we will totally agree, both in our House and more widely in the country, that values are essential to any civilised country and need to be taught in schools. There is an agreed objective—to teach the fundamental values which underline and hold together our life in the UK—but to achieve this, we have to face up honestly to the fact that there is a problem in the way this is presently done. The problem has to do with the wording of what has to be taught now and the way it was introduced.
Schools now have a duty to “promote fundamental British values” actively. These are defined as,
“democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
When originally introduced, this duty was met with considerable hostility by significant sectors of the Muslim community and sharp criticism from other quarters. This was because, first, it was introduced as part of the Government’s counterextremist proposals; secondly, it focused on tolerance of other faiths to the exclusion of all other forms of respect and tolerance; and, thirdly, it had a heavy emphasis on “British” rather than “shared” values. As a result of this wording the Muslim community felt particularly singled out and “othered”, and the Government did not get the wholehearted support they needed for their important objective. All this may be regrettable but to achieve their objective, which we all share, the Government simply have to face up to this.
The way in which the agreed objective of teaching values can be achieved is set out in the recommendations of our report. We would need amendments to the next education Bill or other appropriate Bill. This would change the original clause in a way that would safeguard the objective, while disarming the hostility of those who felt targeted by its original wording. The Select Committee report recommends, first, that:
“The Government should stop using the term Fundamental British Values and instead use the term Shared Values of British Citizenship”.
Many values might be said to characterise British life, such as good neighbourliness, a sense of humour and patience; but what the Government are concerned with, rightly, are the values which belong specifically with being a British citizen. This should be made clear by use of this term. These values will be shared and ought to be shared by all who claim British citizenship. The present phrase “fundamental British values” has, whether people like it or not, alienated many and stopped them being fully supportive of the values that we all agree ought to be taught. The suggested phrase,
“Shared Values of British Citizenship”,
can, I believe, unite all communities in what are trying to achieve.
Secondly, our report recommends a change in the wording of what is taught. It says:
“The Government should initially change the existing list of values from ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’ to ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for the inherent worth’”,
and dignity “of every person”. The two fundamental values of British citizenship are in fact democracy and the rule of law; the other values are a logical consequence of these two. For example, individual liberty is simply freedom under the law, and respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person is simply equality before the law. This of course includes the different faiths and beliefs which people hold, but does not single them out to the exclusion of equally important forms of respect, such as for disabled people or people of different ethnicity or sexuality.
Although we can understand why the Government introduced the phrase,
“mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs,”
it is philosophically incoherent to have it here and misleading in what it says, rather than what it intended to say. What we should all have is respect for people and their right to express their beliefs, whether we respect those beliefs or not. There are a number of beliefs it would be quite wrong to respect: the most extreme beliefs that advocate the murder of those who disagree with them, for example. Provided a belief does not contravene the law, we should continue to respect the person and their right to hold such a belief, even if we do not respect the belief itself.
Our wording refers to,
“the inherent worth and dignity of every person”.
Surely this is what should be taught. This is what matters. It includes people whose religion or belief we may not share, but also people who may have many other differences from ourselves in terms of gender, sexuality or colour, for example.
Finally, we recommend that the teaching of these values be uncoupled from the counterterrorism strategy. They are so important, so fundamental to our life together that they need to be taught in themselves for themselves. In their response, the Government argued that the present wording is now so embedded in the system that it would be unsettling to change it now, but it can easily be recognised that the intention is the same and the wording only slightly different. The great advantage is that the revised wording would make a presently alienated group more fully supported and would be widely welcomed as being more philosophically coherent and consistent with the definition of the values of British citizenship.
My Lords, I join those who pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, his colleagues and their staff for a very interesting and good report. It seems to be a mine of insight and common sense. It is a report we should all take seriously. Overarching everything we have been discussing tonight is the urgency, the imperative, for effective action. Why is that? It is because it is becoming manifestly clear that we can no longer take the effectiveness or acceptability of existing institutions and methods of conducting our democracy for granted. They are being challenged. The huge debate that rages about whether we should have another referendum on Brexit is a very good example of this because it is clear to anyone who knows the first thing about the British constitution that you cannot have a system in which referenda and representative parliamentary democracy or representative local government sit side by side. That is the road to authoritarianism.
What I found disappointing in the Government’s response to the report was that it did not seem to grasp the implications and depth of the analysis that lay behind it. Nowhere was this clearer than on the issue of the use of the term, “shared values of the British people,” instead of “fundamental British rights”. It really disturbs me that the Government do not see that the present situation is provocative. It is also ill informed because many of those values are shared right across the world, and part of interdependence with the world involves recognising that the values that we hold dear as central to our system are also the values of other people and that is why we have to learn to work together in making sure that those values are applied. It is also there in the failure to take really seriously or meaningfully the issue of English for speakers of foreign languages. How on earth can we make a successful and integrated multicultural society unless a priority in public expenditure is ensuring that people not only have access to such facilities but are actually being positively encouraged to take advantage of them? Those facilities are not there, though, and that is the problem.
My third point, which underlines the failure of the Government to respond, is the issue of the cost of becoming a British citizen or securing registration in this country, which is a disgrace in a country that says it wants to make a success of its multicultural society. How on earth can it not be seen that there should be positive incentives and encouragement for people to become full citizens, rather than disincentives?
We have been talking about citizenship education. I thought the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, about the qualifications for so-called citizenship teaching and the reality that they are just seen as a formality that must be fulfilled rather than a meaningful and purposeful enterprise, was a powerful contribution to the debate. However, I believe we have to take the issue of our education system as a whole as highly relevant to our anxieties. We are deliberately pursuing a road that is leading to the acceleration of a quantitative approach to education as distinct from a qualitative one. There is a confusion between education and training; we need lots of good training in particular spheres, of course we do, but training is not education. Education is about encouraging people to think, analyse and become self-confident, critical members of society. If we are not getting that right in our education system as a whole, there is very little hope of being able to do it by patchwork in this particular area. We have to get back to the concept of education being about education.
We need citizens who ask questions. I am told quite often by my friends in management consultancy and that sort of business that I am out of date because people have never been asked more frequently to express their views on questions that are put to them. However, I think that is an indication of how far we have drifted because it is not a question of how people respond to questions that, for whatever motivation, people are putting to them; it is a question of people themselves asking questions and deciding what those questions should be. It is therefore not just a matter of integrating new citizens who have come from elsewhere: it is about how we encourage our own traditional citizens to see the meaning of life. In this, of course, the relative neglect of the humanities in our education system now is a disaster. We are getting better and better at science, technology and mathematics—and of course all these things matter; I take second place to no one on that—but for what? What is the society that we are trying to create? What is the dream of the society that we are trying to establish? That is where the humanities are indispensable.
Before I came to this debate, I was talking to a great friend and colleague of mine, my noble friend Lady Corston, because we share an office, about some of the things that were troubling me in this context. We began to talk about the English football team and Southgate. He seems to be a superb role model for those we should be appointing to motivate society as a whole. My noble friend made the very interesting remark—I said, “May I pinch it for my speech tonight?”; she said, “Of course you can”—“He has emotional intelligence”. That is what we are lacking. It is not just a task. It is not just how we fix it, how we manage things to get them right; it is how we have empathy, how we can relate, inspire people and support them.
My Lords, in welcoming the report I will begin by mentioning that for 20 years I held a chair in citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and created its Foundation for Citizenship, along with the Roscoe lectures, which have attracted audiences of about 1,000 people and which are subsequently made available online.
Many of the more than 140 public lectures which I chaired addressed the issues which have been considered by the Select Committee in its well-judged report. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who gave one of those important lectures, spoke earlier in our debate, and many things he said today are things that he said in that lecture.
In the aftermath of the London bombings, we held a miniseries of Roscoe lectures entitled “Learning to Live Together”. At Liverpool Cathedral, the trustee of the local mosque, the secretary of the Hindu cultural organisation, a local rabbi, the Bishop of Liverpool and the Archbishop of Liverpool stood together and simply said, “But not here”. In a city that describes itself as “the whole world in one city”, Liverpool can teach the rest of the country a thing or two about how people of many diverse backgrounds and traditions can learn to respectfully coexist. It is a central challenge for our country, and central to the question of values alluded to my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson.
Universities are uniquely positioned to provide a place where difference can be moderated, celebrated and understood. That some universities, including the University of Oxford, have allowed speakers to be no-platformed, is deplorable. Whether you agree with speakers such as Germaine Greer, Jenni Murray, Tim Stanley or Peter Hitchens is irrelevant. They should be heard respectfully. That is the essence of free speech: a fundamental principle of civic engagement and good citizenship.
Even worse is the upsurge of anti-Semitism on campuses and within political circles. Respecting minorities and respecting difference is a central part of who we are. It brings higher education into disrepute when alternative views are suppressed.
Next month will be the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1948, that declaration emerged from the ashes of Auschwitz and proclaimed 30 defining articles, from the right to life to the right to free speech and to believe or not believe—and, in Article 21, the right to take part in the government of one’s country directly or through freely chosen representatives.
As the Government consider their response to the Green Paper and the civil society strategy, as well as putting flesh on the committee’s 79 recommendations, they should perhaps see the 70th anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate universal principles for citizenship that resonate with so many of the values which our country embraces and must constantly renew.
They might particularly consider Article 15 in the context of registration of children born in the United Kingdom to be registered as British citizens—an issue on which I and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, have previously divided your Lordships’ House and which tonight was spoken about eloquently by my noble friend Lord Russell of Liverpool. Article 15 states categorically:
“Everyone has the right to a nationality”,
“No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”.
In 1983, when the British Nationality Act came into force, the fee for children’s registration was £35, which means that the current fee is way in excess of inflation. Today the fee stands at £1,012, which is some £640 in excess of the administrative cost. When that Bill was being debated in 1981, I was in another place. As a Member of the House of Commons, I participated in proceedings on the British Nationality Act. The Act recognised that some children would be born here and grow up here without parents who were themselves British. The law states that they,
“shall be entitled to be registered as a British citizen”,
and the intention was that they would be able to so register by a straightforward and accessible process.
Ultimately, however, the current fee means that there is a bar to many children being able to register as British and to access their consequent rights. It is difficult to see how the imposition of a fee designed to generate income for the Home Office far in excess of the cost of registering a child could possibly have been within the contemplation of Parliament. Certainly, to my knowledge, no discussion of such a purpose formed part of Parliament’s deliberations in 1981. This is not surprising: Parliament did not provide for an express power to set a fee for nationality and immigration applications in excess of the administrative cost until 2007.
It was always Parliament’s intention to focus on and promote the concept and reality of citizenship. It was never the intention that the Home Office should be empowered to prevent the full integration of children into their community by raising fees to the extent that children are denied that legal entitlement. What does it say to young people, who we should want to be proud to be British, when we deny them the opportunity to come into citizenship in this way?
I return to another issue which I have raised previously, and which led me to seek a meeting with two government Ministers, Brandon Lewis MP and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford. It concerns an issue touched on earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves: the central importance of the English language, without which no one can engage in civic or even social life. Refugee Action continues to campaign for a restoration of ESOL funding to its 2009-10 levels. Will the Minister tell the House when this may happen? ESOL has been cut in real terms by 60% over that period and, as I discovered when I spent time with a group of Syrian refugees in Liverpool, it particularly hits women, some of whom have been waiting for three years to start English lessons.
The Government should act on Refugee Action’s five recommendations, ensure equal access for women and publish an ESOL strategy for England, As someone who, as a student longer ago than I care to admit—probably 50 years—volunteered over two summer vacations to teach English to children from overseas, I know that this is a two-way street. Those who volunteer and take part get as much as those who receive English language teaching. I know how those children, and their children, have grown up. One is a godchild of mine and I know the contribution they now make to our country. Language is crucial.
In 1999, in a book called Citizen Virtues, I quoted some words which my immigrant, Irish-speaking mother had pinned up on the wall of our kitchen:
“It is in the shelter of each other’s lives that the people live”.
A snapshot of contemporary Britain shows what happens when we stop sheltering and looking out for one another; where toxic loneliness replaces family and community cohesion; when too many feel like losers even when thought to be winners in purely material terms; where without shared values and rules, stable relationships, a sense of duty and a willingness to serve others, we too easily shrink into merely atomised individuals, invariably unhappy, unfulfilled and often alone.
Whether we like it or not, we come from a community, with all its faults and failings, and each of us—with all our own faults and failings—has some gift to return to that community. Aristotle said that we are not solitary pieces in a game of checkers. Each of us has a duty to play our part. Instead of the flaccid language of rights and entitlements, we must emphasise again the duties that we owe to one another. That is why I welcome the Select Committee’s report and hope that the Government will act on many of its excellent recommendations.
My Lords, I begin by declaring my interests as chairman of the charity Near Neighbours and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I would like to say what a privilege it was to be part of the Select Committee, and I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Hodgson, the clerks and the witnesses for the very stimulating information that we received. Working with such a delightful and interesting collection of your Lordships as committee members was a bonus into the bargain.
I am very fortunate, I think, in being a member of a generation who in school were taught the subject “Civics”. In our lessons, we learned about democracy, how government works and the powers and role of local government. We even had to learn the names of Ministers and the names of all the chairmen of the different council committees. I think that this subject, which in my case was very well taught, created an interest in public life which I still have today, and I think that it is a great pity that this focus disappeared from our classrooms so long ago and that citizenship education has reached such a parlous state at the moment.
I grew up in Bradford, which is an exceptional place where people for centuries have been welcomed and where they have made their home. In my senior school, there were many girls with names that I found very exotic. They were mostly from countries in eastern Europe known then as the “captive nations”. They spoke a number of different languages, but they had in common a determination to learn English well—not just for conversational purposes but fluently—and to be able to read and write well. This, they knew, would enhance their career opportunities and help them to integrate into British society.
It was alarming, in the work undertaken by the committee, to find that England now has the largest population of young people in the OECD with low levels of literacy. My noble friend Lord Hodgson has already mentioned the failure to have functioning English being noticeable in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities. In these communities, women are twice as likely as men to be unable to speak English well and six times more likely to be unable to speak it at all. Consequently, this is one of the reasons that Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are economically inactive. How difficult it must be for these mothers to be actively involved in the school lives of their children.
The committee made a number of important recommendations that would address this issue of communities with poor English skills. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has already talked about ESOL provision. ESOL should be a useful route to learning functional English. The Government should assess the effectiveness of different forms of ESOL and also, where possible, make courses available where there is childcare available. It would also be a wise use of resources to combine ESOL with citizenship learning.
Resources are always scarce, and money should always be wisely spent. I agree with my noble friend Lord Pickles who, when Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, expressed concern at the level of translation of documents and materials into other languages. This is often unnecessary and in some cases inappropriate. If translation was limited to where it is essential or required by law, the savings would enable more investment in English teaching. We need as a nation to make it clearly understood that a requirement to speak, read and write functional English is the norm, and not an optional extra, for British citizens.
In 2011, the National Citizen Service programme began. There has been criticism that the NCS does not attract enough participants from excluded communities. However, we received evidence that the NCS is working hard to prioritise inclusion as it expands. It is also becoming more embedded within the youth social action sector. We should not, however, lose sight of other charitable organisations that work in this field. The Catalyst programme, which is part of the work done by Near Neighbours, provides a transformational leadership programme for young people aimed at developing creative leaders to act as positive role models in their neighbourhoods and communities. Participants are always from diverse backgrounds.
In a perfectly ordered world, all citizens would be comfortable in who they are and about their place in society and would feel confident that they can contribute to society. For this to be the norm, however, there needs to be an understanding of the values that underpin our society. These values are not self-evident and, as the report states:
“Individuals do not learn about governmental and judicial institutions of the United Kingdom through osmosis”.
The purpose of citizenship is the well-being of all. We need to address the barriers which prevent people feeling part of society and contributing to it. The respect of law is fundamental to society, and this must always come first. Equality before the law is fundamental for our society; it is the shared value from which everything proceeds.
The committee understandably spent a great deal of time taking evidence and discussing the civic journey in the education system, and many speakers this evening have spoken convincingly about that. Citizenship education should specifically provide people with the skills to enable them to be good citizens. From the evidence we received, we became aware that there has been a serious decline in the teaching of the subject, to the point that Tom Franklin, from the Citizenship Foundation, said:
“Our current view is that citizenship education is withering on the vine at the moment at a time when it is needed more than ever”.
The committee visited Byron Wood Academy in Sheffield and saw how citizenship in primary schools can, through a cross-curriculum focus, help bring together children from a wide range of communities. This citizenship experience helped the children to recognise what they have in common and provided a narrative that binds the school together.
It is disappointing that the Government, in their response, do not appear to have fully grasped the importance of the recommendations that the committee made; and as many noble Lords have said, they appear to be complacent about the need for action. As the report says,
“‘integration’ carries with it important, but very different, implications for the various sections of British society”.
Nazir Afzal, the former Chief Crown Prosecutor for north-west England, felt that the word was often confused with “assimilation”. In the context of citizenship, the word “segregation” is a worrying concept. In Bradford, we had riots in 2001. The world and its experts were looking and giving reasons for what they thought were the causes of the event. Two people spoke very sensibly: Professor Ted Cantle and the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, highlighted the problems that arise when minority communities lead segregated lives. We need to create opportunities for interaction between people so that they can meet freely and positively in their communities. The committee recognised that there are many ways in which government can help by funding community development workers and community organisers to enable people to meet freely, enter into dialogue and become more aware of each other.
The committee covered many areas, many of which have been spoken about this evening by colleagues. As my time is up, I will make just one more comment. The Government do not seem to have been terribly responsive in their comments. We all observed one thing—that there are so many strands to the issue of citizenship that, if we could have a single department responsible for co-ordinating all the matters relating to it, that would be a major step forward.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in tonight’s debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and the Select Committee for securing this debate on the committee’s report on citizenship and civic engagement.
This is an important report with numerous recommendations and it is very timely. I first declare a non-pecuniary interest. I have just been appointed by DCMS as a trustee and board member of National Citizen Service. I have always believed in the power of citizenship and community engagement and involvement. This does not sit with any specific age group but should be part of our DNA throughout our lives. However, if a mindset can be encouraged or generated at a young age, this encourages citizenship and develops community engagement with which we can change the future.
The challenge for politicians at all levels of governance, from town councillors to MPs and Peers, is how to develop policies and projects that work—practical programmes that engage and involve people, and, importantly, win hearts and minds. This report builds on current citizenship work and civic engagement programmes as a good starting point. Citizenship programmes that are seen as interfering, nanny state, busybody nonsense will only fail. As was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in his introduction, long-term, sustained, proven programmes will be the only ones that succeed.
I grew up in a small community on the west coast of Scotland; if something needed to be done people would often come together and sort it, or at least try. I spent a bit of time recently thinking about why that was and the conclusion I came to is that they—and I —had a feeling of belonging and of place. Many people were already involved in the local community through different organisations and interests, from the primary school and the sports clubs, Boys Brigade and Girl Guides, to the local churches, bowling club, gardeners and ramblers. This I feel is often lost in today’s society, so how do we help recreate it? As has been touched on earlier, the benefits are huge, not just to individuals, communities or the local environment, but to society at large. More people working and campaigning together help with community cohesion, and we so need that just now.
The House of Lords Select Committee report offers 79 recommendations. As stated in the summary, the committee has tried to identify the barriers which prevent people from feeling part of or contributing to society. The recommendations aim to remove as many of those barriers as possible and offer up practical solutions to deliver on their aim; that is to be applauded. I ask the Minister whether any analysis has been done on the 79 recommendations and how many have yet to be delivered on and are still outstanding.
I want to focus my remaining time on NCS. My initial response when David Cameron announced the big society was, “It sounds a good idea and I like it but I don’t believe the Government will ever deliver on it”. I thought it would be another of their gimmicks, like “hug a hoodie” and being photographed with a husky. The big society as a slogan has now faded to dust but the NCS, as one of the few practical programmes, has gone from a small trial in 2009 to having nearly 100,000 participants in 2018 alone. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said this was a pebble in the pond; 100,000 pebbles can make some big ripples.
Of course, there are issues around resources and funding, as my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lady Royall said earlier, especially when one scheme is chosen and there are so many deserving projects. This was further compounded when the policy of austerity and cuts was doubled down on. However, I believe that the benefits of the NCS both to young people and to our society outweigh the concerns that have recently been raised. I declare a further interest in that both my kids, one this summer and the other two summers ago, went through the NCS programme. For me, the benefits of NCS were there in front of me when they finished their programmes, and that would have been enough, but I want to take a little time to talk about some of the facts and figures around the NCS.
The NCS was highlighted by the NCVO as a key driver behind a 52% rise in youth volunteering between 2010 and 2015. As a result, 16 to 24 year-olds moved from the least to the most likely to spend time volunteering, and 76% of graduates affirm that they are more likely to help out in their local area having done NCS. The Government’s response to the Lords Select Committee report in June this year touched on the hard-to-reach individuals. Twenty-nine per cent of NCS participants were from non-white backgrounds compared with 18% of the population; 4.8% had special educational needs compared with 1.7% of the population; and 16% were on free school meals compared with 12% of the population.
There is still more to do, and the committee makes many recommendations that point towards that. However, there is a line at the end of the summary that is telling and true, and it should be taken note of in this debate. It states that,
“consultation cannot be a substitute for action”,
so let us please act. I will act in my role in your Lordships’ House, as well as a board member of the NCS. I will work to ensure the taxpayers get value for money and that the NCS continues to build bridges across social divides, helps social cohesion and, finally, helps to create opportunity for social mobility—a phrase that I do not like but an ideal that I do.
My Lords, it is a privilege to join in this debate. I agree with many of the Select Committee’s recommendations but I wish to speak about volunteers and social action. These people may work through the National Citizen Service, directly with voluntary groups or indeed with understaffed statutory services. Volunteers involved with poverty, ill health, remedial education and so on in Britain should have status and esteem equal to that rightly given to those who go overseas.
In their response, the Government appear to be sympathetic to recommendations 27 to 29 about honours for outstanding volunteers. I wonder whether they will go further and recognise those who devote significant time and effort—say, at least six months full time or the equivalent—by giving them credits which can be spent only on further education or training. I trust that this is a worthwhile proposal.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, both on the way in which he introduced this debate and on the way he steered his committee to produce such a perceptive, thorough and very topical report. Of course, he has form, because he previously produced and published a very good report on campaigning, to which the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, referred earlier.
I was struck by the reference to the power of words. Indeed, much of this report is concerned with words, which is not surprising because after all, Parliament is all about words. Words are extremely important. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred in a particular context to the word “fundamental”, and that point has been echoed by others. It is an extremely important part of this report that we should look again at the way in which we express these ideas. Of course, these ideas have been expressed not just in this debate but previously on many occasions. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire. As a Minister, and before and after his service, he was very interested in the whole concept of citizenship. This afternoon he again referred to citizens’ rights and a social contract in our democracy. We also had two remarkable speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Russell and Lord Alton. There must be something special in the water in Liverpool that has produced such eloquence and analysis, which I very much appreciated.
The debate also reminds us that citizenship is a two-way, mutual relationship. It is important to re-emphasise that the state and the body politic have a crucial responsibility to the citizen as well as nurturing the citizen’s role in the community and the nation. There was a vivid reminder of that in an article by Kamila Shamsie in the Guardian on Saturday entitled “Exiled: the disturbing story of a citizen made unBritish”. I confess that I had forgotten that the Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 made it possible for any Briton to be deprived of their citizenship and status as a UK citizen, even making them stateless if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person has done anything,
“seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom … or any British overseas territory”.
That article quotes circumstances in which there has been no effective right to challenge or appeal. Given what we now know about the incompetence of the Home Office, let alone the evidence of UK complicity in extraordinary rendition, there is clearly room for review and reform of the way the Government respect citizens’ rights. Respect goes in both directions.
Similarly, both the committee’s report itself and the various other documents to which the excellent Library briefing has drawn our attention, emphasise the vital importance of fully involving what they describe as “hard-to-reach” groups. I detect some recognition from the committee that that has salience in the current debate about those who have been left behind in terms of household income and lifestyle in recent decades, and the growing sense of inequality in Britain. There is a widespread perception, with hard data to support it, that some citizens are much more equal than others. In that connection, the conclusion of last week’s UN report regarding Brexit is hard to argue against. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society will be least able to cope and will take the biggest hit. Our not-too-distant ancestors—I am thinking particularly of the great liberal, William Beveridge—would be horrified to learn that we are still looking at such issues in those terms.
That is what makes so very timely the common theme, which permeates all these documents, of enhancing the efforts to engage everyone in our democratic systems. My own involvement in charities, from working for Shelter in the 1970s—a national campaign for the homeless—to working with the food banks movement currently, reinforces my own experience that ensuring a voice for the voiceless is very challenging. I know that other Members of your Lordships’ House—notably some of those here today—have had that experience and continue to have that involvement. I accept that the voluntary sector may well be more successful in achieving greater levels of participation than government agencies, national and local. That does not mean that the latter can be let off the hook.
There are so many recommendations in this report that I enthusiastically agree with, and time is so limited, that I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I concentrate on the contentious issues that have arisen during the debate and especially where the Government’s responses have been judged to be inadequate or complacent. That word has been repeated by a large number of your Lordships in the debate. For example:
“The Committee is very firm that the promotion of Shared British Values should be separated from counter-extremism policy”.
That is self-evidently so important if we are to achieve a greater positive commitment to the responsibilities and opportunities of citizenship. Frankly, the Government response is very wordy—possibly also rather worthy—but it is scarcely conclusive, persuasive or a model of clarity.
The section on education in the Select Committee’s report is very valuable and many references have been made to it by those who have much more expertise in and experience of this issue than I do. I draw particular attention to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, both of whom as Secretaries of State had a major role in that respect. I pay tribute also to the work done by others over the years, notably by the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall of Blaisdon and Lady Eaton, and of course by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. Despite the extensive government response, most of us would say that the current state of citizenship teaching is at best patchy and at worst simply lamentable. The problem is not the quality of those who teach, but the totally inadequate quantity of professionally trained teachers of the subject. There is also a lack of official emphasis on its importance for new citizens.
The Association of Citizenship Teaching has briefed us that we have less than one trained specialist teacher per 10 schools, which is roughly the same analysis as that given by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. The free schools and academies seem to be especially weak in this respect. Of course, the fact that it is not covered to the same extent in their curriculum requirements does not help. There was unanimous agreement in the committee that:
“The Government has allowed citizenship education in England to degrade to a parlous state. The decline of the subject must be addressed in its totality as a matter of urgency”.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves on the twin issues of volunteering and democratic engagement, and the relationship between them. Turning to the latter, I am aware that some of the initiatives the Electoral Commission and the Cabinet Office have undertaken have been valuable. I am very committed to the efforts that have already proved successful for attainers, notably the in-house registration programmes in Northern Ireland. They have been so successful that I simply do not understand why they have not been extended to other parts of the United Kingdom. We do not need more pilot schemes; these programmes already work very well and they should be replicated over here.
I have also been involved in attempts to increase successful registration programmes for UK citizens abroad. This is hampered by the now totally anachronistic insistence on linking to a UK constituency that the individual might have left up to 15 years ago; clearly, this will become even more absurd when and if that limit is removed.
Finally, on the issue of naturalisation, I am glad to see that the Government agree with the committee on “good character” requirements for applicants, and that:
“Honest mistakes made during the application process should not by themselves be treated as evidence of bad character”.
I should have thought that that was pretty obvious, and I very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said on the tests for children. It is really quite ridiculous that we are still being forced to adopt that attitude. However, what I really do regret is the parsimonious objection by Ministers to the recommendation that states:
“It is inequitable that the Government should seek to make excessive profits out of those seeking naturalisation”.
I should declare an interest, in that my son-in-law, previously an American citizen, saw the sense not only in marrying my daughter but in becoming a British citizen. He has recently been through this exercise. The total costs that can be incurred are well over £1,000. By the time someone has finished the process, it is a great deal more than the £370 that is the actual cost of the administrative burden. I know of several cases where the many hundreds of pounds in fees and other costs have been a real source of aggravation and discouragement. I warmly support the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell and Lord Judd.
The Minister will, I am sure, do his very best to respond both to the debate and to the exceptionally thoughtful committee report on which it has been based, as he always does. I do not envy him his task today: not only does the scope of the debate and the report attract the generalities that Ministers trot out—although we do not expect them from him—but the current government obsession inevitably leads to an impression of complacency on the hugely important issues involved here. I wish him success.
My Lords, I begin by joining other noble Lords in congratulating the Select Committee on publishing its timely and wide-ranging report on issues going to the heart of our society and its democracy. Of course, I also join them in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for both his chairmanship of the committee and his presentation tonight.
At a time when there is growing concern about the political process—an essential component of our democracy—stemming in particular from the use, or rather misuse, of social media, it is imperative to promote an understanding of how our system works and how people can engage with it at all levels. This is especially important for young people. The report makes several recommendations to which the Government’s response is frankly disappointing.
The key recommendation that citizenship education should be a requirement across the age range of pupils is effectively dismissed. Academies, which are increasingly taking over the management of schools, are required only to,
“teach a broad and balanced curriculum and promote fundamental British values”.
Those values are not defined, although this vague assertion is made:
“Academies may therefore choose to teach Citizenship to fulfil these duties”.
Clearly, many may not.
The idea of embodying a requirement to provide citizenship education is dismissed, partly on the almost laughable basis that:
“The national curriculum was comprehensively reviewed … in 2013 and, in April 2018, the Secretary of State … committed to making no further reforms to the national curriculum in this parliament”.
The Government’s complacency is reflected in their observation that,
“there is a statutory requirement on”,
“to consider how schools support pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. This includes consideration of a number of factors which are relevant to citizenship”.
They dismiss the recommendation that there should be,
“enough trained citizenship teachers to have a … specialist in every secondary school”,
with the curious assertion that:
“We do not impose a limit on the number of trainee teachers in citizenship that are recruited for initial teacher training and it is for head teachers to decide how to best deliver their curriculum”.
The fact that in so many schools head teachers struggle to recruit and retain staff, especially in areas where they are most needed, is completely ignored.
The same complacency is embodied in the reaction to the recommendation:
“The Government should establish citizenship education as a priority subject for teacher training, and provide bursaries for applicants”.
Priority is given instead to questionable EBacc subjects and citizenship trainees are left to secure tuition fee loans and maintenance loans to “support their living costs”. What estimate, if any, has the department made of the impact of this approach on the relative numbers of recruits to each category?
A rare tribute should be paid to the decision to adopt,
“a new Specialist Leader of Education specialism”—
a curious tautological expression—but it is deeply disappointing that the department dismissed the recommendation:
“Ofsted should … review … the current provision and quality of citizenship education”.
It is also disappointing that the Government dismiss out of hand the critical, in every sense, recommendation 16, which asserts:
“The Government has allowed citizenship education in England to degrade to a parlous state. The decline of the subject must be addressed in its totality as a matter of urgency”.
It is crucial that our young people in particular are encouraged to participate in our politics at both a local and national level. I speak as someone who started canvassing in a council by-election at the age of 15. I recall finding a keen Labour supporter and, when talking to her on the doorstep, saying that it was great to meet a keen socialist—which drew the response, “Ee no, pet, I’m Labour”. A slightly different experience occurred three or four years later while canvassing in Oxford when the householder said that he was not voting for the Conservative, Labour or Liberal candidate and, when asked why, replied that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and would vote only for a heavenly candidate. I could not persuade him that our candidate qualified.
For those who are not compelled by their religious beliefs, it is time that the voting age was reduced to 16, as it has been in Scotland and as was advocated by Labour in the 2015 general election. Citizenship education would have an important role in preparing the younger generation actively to participate in the democratic process, especially at local government level, where decisions about local issues and services impinge so largely on their lives and futures. I differ from the report on this, on which the recommendation is to consider lowering the voting age only when the,
“recommendations on citizenship education are accepted and implemented”.
Accepting the change would, in my submission, incentivise progress in citizenship education.
In this context, the report’s recommendations relating to the promotion of electoral registration would also have a bearing. I support the proposed piloting of assisted registration in a number of schools and FE colleges, which, if successful, could lead to a requirement for schools, FE colleges and providers of apprenticeships to assist the election registration service.
There are some other interesting proposals relating to democratic engagement, not least the call for local authorities, health bodies and other public agencies to bring the public and, significantly, especially marginalised groups into the decision-making process, with a specific recommendation to restore the access to elected office fund, which gave grants to disabled candidates. Perhaps the Minister could comment on the Government’s attitude on that.
The All-Party Group on Democratic Participation quotes academic research which found that National Citizen Service graduates,
“often equate citizenship solely with volunteering”—
that is, responsibilities rather than rights—and pointed to the significant scope for the NCS to foster more meaningful engagement with politics in general. We are all aware of the disappointing level of turnout in elections, national and local. In council elections it is rare for turnout to exceed 40%—often, alas, it is significantly less. Yet the decisions made by local councils, ranging as they do from strategic policies on major local issues affecting the local economy to key services such as housing, public health, social care, children’s services and much more besides, impact on the whole community, including of course the young. They should be encouraged to take an interest from an early age so that, as they mature, they can influence and, hopefully, participate in local government.
The future health of our democracy depends on the engagement of the young, but we must not neglect the necessity to engage with other sections of society. These range from the elderly—I declare an interest, having reached my 74th birthday on Saturday—to other groups, for example people with health issues and, in a multi-ethnic society, as we have heard, those belonging to different faith groups. Such an approach needs to be promoted in relation not just to civil rights and access to the services and support provided by government, national and local, but to access to justice.
For people for whom English is not their first language, the Government’s response to the committee’s recommendations on ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—will be disappointing, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned. The Government decline to restore ESOL courses combined with citizenship courses as recommended, merely stating that materials continue to be available. Critically, they fail to adopt the committee’s crucial recommendation that ESOL’s funding should be restored to 2009-10 levels by 2019-20.
The last recommendation to which I wish to refer is that which applies to the charges for naturalisation. The report quotes the evidence of the Deputy Mayor of London, who averred that half of the £1,200 fee was profit. Astonishingly, even bigger profits are engendered from the fees levied on children registering their entitlement to naturalisation, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Russell. The committee criticises the making of excessive profits out of the naturalisation process and avers that the fee should be much closer to the actual cost of the process and the ensuing citizenship ceremony. While the Government’s response indicates that the fees enable some applicants not to be charged, this seems to be another example of charging in general more for a government service than the actual cost—something we are apparently to see again with the revived proposals for substantial increases in probate fees.
Finally, will the Government enter into discussions with the Local Government Association and the devolved Administrations on the report and the response to it? The issues raised in it and reflected in today’s debate affect communities across the country. National, devolved and local government need to work together in the interests of society as a whole to engage with the important issues it identifies.
My Lords, I thank everybody who has participated in a debate of exceptional quality, touching on some very important issues. I echo what has been said about the excellent work of what is clearly a turbocharged committee, so well led by my noble friend Lord Hodgson. I thank others for their thanks around the House: it was clearly an exemplary committee in the work that has been done. I also offer my thanks, in opening, for the massive amount of work that has been done by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, on the National Citizen Service: he is coming to the end of a very distinguished tenure there. I also offer congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, on taking up work at the National Citizen Service Trust, the successor body.
It struck me, listening to the debate, that one of the problems—for the large part understated—that we have in this area, a problem that has bedevilled successive Governments, is the silo thinking that we have in government departments. This contributes to a sense that there is no obvious responsibility for the conglomeration of policy areas that this involves. I note the recommendation made by the committee, a recommendation that has been picked up and is being acted on by the safe and integrated communities committee, which will take up responsibility in this area—indeed, it has just done so at its most recent meeting. I hope that that will help with some of the very serious issues that have been touched upon in this debate.
In preparing for this debate, because of what I just said about silo areas, I prepared a lot of varied areas and I will set out four or five of them that I think dominated the debate. They are values, citizenship education, citizenship itself and the fees that attach to it, and English language teaching. Other points were made along the way but I think that those were the dominant ones and I will try to deal with them. In so far as I miss any points relating to those four areas, or anything else that was brought up—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the issue of honours, and I will try to cover that as I go along—I will pick them up later, if I may.
The issue of values is obviously fundamental to the matter of citizenship of our country. Let me say, in parenthesis, that there was perhaps a misconception on the part of some noble Lords: we have not yet issued our response to the Green Paper on integration. The integration action plan will come out before Christmas. Obviously, some matters that were raised in the course of this debate will be dealt with there, not least on the subject of values. I remember when the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a debate that he led some two years ago, used the term “British values”—I do not think he necessarily used the word “fundamental”, I cannot remember that. Those British values could be classified as core values or international values and they encompass a whole range of different aspects, I readily accept.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, in talking about Gareth Southgate, mentioned an emotional intelligence that is relevant here. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, talked about international values. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, in what I thought was an extremely helpful contribution, talked about the independence of the judiciary. I could not agree with him more about how fundamental that is as part of the separation of powers in this country. A country that does not have a free judiciary—we can all think of some—ceases to operate as an effective democracy in the way that Britain does. In those haunting words:
“The whisper wakes, the shudder plays/Across the reeds at Runnymede”
whenever the independence of that judiciary is challenged.
Other people raised other aspects. My noble friend Lady Stowell talked about the importance of individuals, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who said that it was not just about setting public policy. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about civic duty and the neighbourhood planning policy as an example of that. I agree. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, talked about the outward-looking importance of this area. My noble friend Lady Eaton talked about integration rather than assimilation. All these things are relevant and I wholly accept that the use of language is key. That will be reflected in our action plan when it comes out before Christmas.
The second aspect of the debate was the importance of citizenship education and the citizen service—the two melding together to some extent. I wholly agree. I think a country that neglects the importance of citizenship is in grave danger. I particularly appreciated the points made by two very distinguished former Education Secretaries—the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris—which went to the core of this. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about the National Citizen Service as a backdrop to how important it is that everybody has that sense of belonging. I forget who it was—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord McNicol—who mentioned that important sense of belonging as a nation. I think it goes to the heart of that.
Much is happening in the National Citizen Service to illustrate the importance of this. On Armistice Day—the commemoration of 100 years since the end of the First World War, just a week ago—it was great to see the 100 National Citizen Service graduates who were there as volunteers. There is no better example of how effective this is as part of our cohesion as a society. Last year, a significant number of volunteers went overseas to mark the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres.
My noble friend Lord Norton asked some specific, detailed—and fair—questions about citizenship education, which I will write to him about. It was perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Alton—it might not have been—who said that no man is an island, in his very moving speech, and how important that is. My noble friend Lady Eaton talked about civics being taught at school. I do not think I was actually taught civics but it was much the same thing. I remember as a nerdy teenager memorising all the Labour Ministers—in and out of the Cabinet—and the Conservative shadows, which enabled me to be part of the winning team at the Braintree Carnival quiz. It is funny how these things stick. I seem to remember that Tom Urwin was one of those Ministers—that has been corroborated by my noble friend Lord Young. That is a small example but it illustrates how cohesive communities are around this shared interest in citizenship.
Much is happening. Just recently the King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington has done significant things on citizenship education. But I accept that it all needs to be pulled together. That is what we need to look at and perhaps what this committee should turn its attention to now that it has this responsibility.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, talked about the importance of moving this forward. In two days’ time, my honourable friend Victoria Atkins, the Equalities Minister, will launch a resource pack in relation to citizenship on the suffrage movement as part of national curriculum key stages 3 and 4. As I say, things are happening, but perhaps they need to be pulled together.
The issue of citizenship fees was brought up. I will have to write to people about the specifics on where there are exemptions. There certainly are some; I know that some exemptions arose recently in relation to the Windrush issues, to see where payments have to be made and where they do not. I merely say that a balance has to be struck. I think it is reasonable enough to cover costs, and it may be that these could be calculated in different ways, but I take seriously some of the points raised in the debate. If people could bear with me, I will follow those up because it seems that there is an issue to be addressed there.
Perhaps I may move to the fourth substantive area: English language tuition. I am visiting an ESOL class tomorrow in Tower Hamlets. It is a coincidence, believe me; this has been long in the diary. Those I have seen elsewhere—in Bradford, Peterborough, Whitechapel and Westminster, at least—have been uniformly excellent. There was some criticism of them, perhaps a blanket criticism from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who was uncharacteristically somewhat unfair. We are at pains to make sure that we are getting the best value for money. It is done without fear or favour between public and private providers. Those that we use, and we use many from both areas, are extremely good. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that getting the best value for money is the right way. I have worked on this with, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, who has some expertise in this area. Points were raised about the importance of this by my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Lords, Lord Hodgson and Lord Alton. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, again made a powerful contribution on that matter.
A number of noble Lords made the point that one of our key recommendations was that the Government should restore the level of funding for ESOL to its original level, otherwise it is just warm words. Can the Minister perhaps address that recommendation?
That is not the only pot used in relation to English-language funding. In my own department, for example, as part of the integration policy we are putting in substantial sums in relation to the teaching of the English language and working with the Department for Education. If I may, I will write to the noble Baroness with more detail but I simply say that it is not just about the one pot. It is about working together to ensure that we get the best value for money.
I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about honours for volunteering. I think he was tying that to some reduction in the fee for further or higher education. His essential point was that volunteers would get credits which they could then use for some abatement of fees, or something of that nature. On the surface, it seems a very constructive suggestion which I would like to look at. At the moment, as he would know, we reward—if reward is the right word—or honour people through the “Points of Light” programme for outstanding volunteering, which has an award every day. However, I appreciate his point in tying that to education and I will come back to him on that, if I may.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, raised a point about the voting age. He will perhaps know from the nature of the committee’s recommendation that the view he holds is not universal. But certainly some people hold it and, regardless of where the voting age should be, I think we would all agree that it is desirable to encourage democratic participation even before people are voting. A fair point was made there.
I think those were the main points. I fully accept that there are some issues to be looked at. As I say, this is work in progress so I would not want people to think that the Government regard it as a done deal. I am certainly not complacent. I fully accept that there is much work to be done—a substantial amount.
Before my noble friend finishes, I may have missed something but could he tell us what the Government are going to do as a result of this committee’s report that is different from what they did before?
The first thing we are doing is pulling it together to have ultimate responsibility resting with a designated committee. As a result, my noble friend can expect more to happen. I pointed out that I regarded silo thinking as one of the very serious issues that we seek to address along with the fact that each government department may be left to get on with it on its own, rather than coming together in a concerted way. I hope that that will make a substantial difference. I am not claiming that it will happen overnight or that my noble friend will see a change by the end of the year, for example, but it is only just now that the committee has taken over responsibility for this area. Now that that is happening and it is jointly chaired by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which will give it some heft, I hope that it will make a difference. I urge noble Lords to be a little patient but to come back on the basis of the undertaking that I have given today at the Dispatch Box. I once again thank noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Hodgson, for an outstanding report.
My Lords, the hour is late, so if I skitter over the subject, I hope the House will forgive me. I thank the Minister for his thorough reply and for his commitment and hard work. I am not flattering him when I say that his appearance before our committee—his evidence session— was a master of its kind and compared exceptionally favourably with his colleagues from the House of Commons who were altogether different and did not really read the mood of the committee.
In my opening remarks I anticipated differences of light and shade and emphasis in the contributions and, indeed, I was not disappointed. After all, civic engagement is nothing if not multifaceted. I was going to say “one size fits all” but I thought the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, would accuse me of using another hackneyed phrase, so I will stick to “multifaceted” this evening.
There are four issues around which things revolve. The first is a wish to belong. Where do I fit in? We need to address this, as the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Wallace, said. In so far as language is a barrier, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, covered it. The second is a wish to participate. People wish to get more involved in the way our society operates. That can be formally through the National Citizen Service, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, or informally as the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, pointed out. Quite ordinary people, such as shopkeepers and so on, can help set the tone and create an environment in which things happen. The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, referred to his experience and how it does not take many people. Indeed the committee found this. When we went on our trip to Clacton, we saw quite small groups of people who had made a real difference.
\The third issue is learning about our rights and responsibilities, not forgetting the moral dimension to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, referred in his important remarks. Here my noble friend took a good deal of incoming from almost every corner of the House—from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, my noble friends Lord Norton and Lady Eaton, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham—so I hope we will see some progress on that front. I do not forget the important distinction drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, between education and training, which one can tend to overlook.
Finally, but by no means least, there is the need to measure progress and effectiveness. This was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. That is probably a good point on which to close by thanking everyone who participated and warning the Minister that we shall be watching him.
House adjourned at 9.53 pm.