House of Lords
Thursday 5 March 2020
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.
Crown Prosecution Service: Rape Cases
My Lords, the CPS is a partner in the ongoing cross-government review of the criminal justice response to rape. It has already accepted all recommendations in the recently published HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate’s Rape Inspection 2019 report, and, together with the police, is developing a joint action plan that will address issues raised in the report and, in due course, the findings of the cross-government review.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that rape victims are finding it increasingly difficult to access justice, as the police refer fewer cases to the Crown Prosecution Service and fewer allegations of rape are being prosecuted and convicted, according to new figures? The number of cases referred by the police for charging decisions fell by 32% in the year to September last year, while prosecutions by the CPS fell by 26% and convictions dropped by 21%, which is the lowest level in more than a decade. Does the Minister agree with the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, who said:
“I share the deep public concern over the growing gap between the number of rapes being reported, and the number of criminals being convicted of this sickening offence … There is a clear need for end-to-end action to provide better support for victims of this devastating crime, and to bring more offenders to justice”?
The Minister mentioned the review. Can he say a little more about it, including when the findings will be announced and what action will be taken on it?
My Lords, we are concerned by the reductions in the number of referrals for charge and in the number of prosecutions. That is why we are concerned to take forward the review, which we hope to complete this year. As regards the figures, I should perhaps point out that the volume of pre-charge receipts from the police fell from 3,375 in 2018 to 2,890 in the year ending September 2019. That is a decrease of just over 14%. There were 2.343 completed prosecutions in the year ending September 2019; again, I acknowledge that that was a fall from the previous year, when there were 3.034.
My Lords, 35 years ago I published a book called Investigating Rape: A New Approach for Police. That book was based around the theory of rape trauma syndrome, which leads victims to give accounts which are initially contradictory. It appears that the fall in rape prosecutions is because the prosecutors are finding discrepancies in the victims’ accounts. Will the Minister explain to the House whether rape trauma syndrome is taught to prosecutors?
My Lords, whatever the terminology may be, RASO prosecutors are trained in all of these matters, and when they come to apply the merits test in relation to such complaints they do so simply on the basis of the merits. Certainly the CPS is clear that victims and witnesses should never be discouraged or prevented from seeking therapy and counselling, whether before or during a trial process, and that the need for such counselling should be taken into account when addressing the evidence placed before the CPS.
My Lords, the other day there were more media reports of young girls, raped as children, who cannot get justice because of the one-year time limit to commence proceedings for unlawful sexual intercourse set by the old Sexual Offences Act 1956. When I raised this question with the noble and learned Lord last October, he referred to the review that he has just mentioned to my noble friend. Do we really need a review to bring forward action to close this unjust loophole that is protecting rapists and not giving victims the justice they deserve?
My Lords, I appreciate the concern that has been expressed in respect of this matter. We are taking forward the review but, in addition, we are also setting up a child sexual abuse stakeholder forum, which consists of survivor groups, key national charities and academics in order to address this issue.
My Lords, a recent study highlighted that only 25% of university students who had experienced rape went on to report it to their university or to the police. It is therefore of concern that, since 2016, 300 non-disclosure agreements have been issued by universities in response to student complaints, including assault and harassment reports. The Office for Students and Universities UK are working to improve the handling of harassment and misconduct by universities, but can the Minister advise the House when the Government plan to legislate against the misuse of NDAs by higher education institutions to ensure that students are not discouraged from reporting these assaults?
My Lords, there has been widespread concern about the utilisation of non-disclosure agreements, not only in the context of university administration but across the board. It is a matter of concern, but I cannot at this time indicate a time for the introduction of legislation on the matter.
In its thematic review of rape cases, the CPS concluded that, if 58,657 allegations of rape were made in the year ending March 2019 but only 1,000 successful prosecutions followed, something must be wrong. It is not kidding. The CPS points the finger at underresourcing and additional factors such as the growing evidential importance of digital media. The Minister has referred to the review: does he agree that it needs urgently to be carried out and that the resources, and legislation if necessary, should be provided to create a system fit for purpose and to restore justice for victims of this heinous crime?
I concur with the sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness. On digital material, which has increased enormously in recent years, the CPS introduced a guideline in July 2018 which makes it clear that it should not be assumed as a matter of course that such digital material is looked at. However, we have launched a recent consultation on the revised disclosure guidelines. That will run until 22 April and I hope that those who have an interest in this matter will direct their comments to the Office of the Attorney General in that respect. With the recent increase in funds to the CPS, we have taken steps to increase the number of prosecutors by about 20% in order that we can be more effective in pursuing RASO prosecutions.
Health: Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Women
My Lords, I welcome this timely Question ahead of the national LBT Women’s Health Week. The Government remain committed to providing comprehensive healthcare for all, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation. Throughout the LGBT action plan, we are taking steps to ensure that the needs of LGBT people are placed at the heart of our services. While we have made significant progress, we are not complacent. We recognise that more must be done to continue improving access to and the provision of health services.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. Despite a legal duty to be inclusive, there is growing evidence that LGBT women’s health is neglected. Across all cancers, we have a higher incidence than our heterosexual counterparts. Will the Department of Health and Social Care work with NHS England to change commissioning standards and to monitor services and outputs for LGBT women?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. The national LBGT survey and the recent GP patient survey indicate that health outcomes for LBT women are lower than average, and this causes concern. We are interested in finding ways of commissioning services so that that can be rectified. It is not just in cancer services but in smear tests and other areas of clinical provision.
My Lords, the Minister’s Answer gives me great optimism because it seems from the report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee in the Commons that there is an LGBT action plan on which the Government Equalities Office has the lead and which covers LGBT-inclusive healthcare, but it is separate from and not included in the NHS long-term plan. I think the Minister would agree with me that this is unhelpful. It seems to imply that the responsibility for LGBT-inclusive healthcare lies with the Government Equalities Office rather than with health and social care institutions. Will the Minister look into this and perhaps write to me about whether it is a good idea that this is the case, and perhaps suggest a solution to it?
I assure the noble Baroness that the LGBT action plan, which is, as she described, a detailed programme to address these issues, is delivered by Dr Michael Brady, the national LGBT health adviser, who works very closely with the NHS. LGBT issues are at the centre of the long-term health plan and will remain so.
My Lords, will my noble friend please give particular emphasis to the needs of young people with gender dysphoria, to improving the services available for them and, in particular, to funding research into what courses of treatment lead to the best outcomes?
My noble friend is entirely right to raise the issue of adult gender dysphoria. Delays in finding the right consultations are of concern to the Government. Those delays have an impact on the mental health of those concerned. It is a focus of the LGBT action plan, and I would be glad to update my noble friend as progress is made.
My Lords, last year’s Women and Equalities Committee report, Health and Social Care and LGBT Communities, recommended:
“Training can be the first exposure that students have to LGBT health needs. All registration bodies should ensure that case studies … does not play into stereotypes. Registration bodies should develop these case studies in cooperation with local LGBT organisations.”
Can the Minister tell the House whether organisations are now following this advice?
The noble Baroness is entirely right to ask about training, which is at the heart of our LGBT action plan. NHS England has funded the Royal College of Physicians to develop the UK’s first accredited training course on gender medicine and has developed online and video content to help to create the type of training we believe will have an impact. The training of the workforce and its awareness of LBGT needs will be at the heart of improvement in this area. That is why we are focusing our efforts on training.
My Lords, the Government funded Dr Michael Brady’s post but he does not actually have any authority to bring about change in the NHS. Does the noble Lord agree that such change will come about only when its leadership and the various medical professional bodies admit the present failings towards women? Women are dying as a result. There needs to be change and that change needs to be urgent.
I assure the noble Baroness that there is full recognition and awareness of and concern about this issue. The impact of Dr Michael Brady, whom I spoke to yesterday, is profound. He has a very high profile within the department, and the work he has done is valued and will make an impact.
My Lords, is this not an illustration of the problems with the NHS’s current structure? Ministers can proclaim anything they like from the Dispatch Box, but at the moment, they do not control what is happening in the NHS. It is time for Ministers to restore their power of direction over the NHS.
The noble Lord makes an interesting point, but it is simply not true that Ministers do not drive change or have an impact on reforms in the NHS. We have a profound and energetic reform agenda, and it is being driven through with energy and determination.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the level of compensation received by sub-postmasters as a result of the Horizon accounting system litigation, as compared to the losses those sub-postmasters incurred due to Post Office Ltd’s policies.
My Lords, while the Government are pleased that a resolution has been reached on this difficult matter, the Post Office led the mediation and the Government were not party to it. While the financial settlement is a major step toward resolving some of these grievances, there is much more for the Post Office to do, including resetting its relationship with postmasters and addressing historic shortfalls for postmasters who were not part of this group litigation.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Many of your Lordships will have been delighted to hear the Prime Minister say last week in Prime Minister’s Questions that there would be an independent inquiry into what he described as the Post Office Horizon IT system “scandal”. Can my noble friend give us details of that inquiry, in particular of how it will be independent of not only the Post Office but the Government?
First, I pay tribute to my noble friend for rightly pursuing these matters with dogged determination. We probably would not be where we are today without his work and that of many others on this issue. The Government recognise the strength of feeling about the negative impact that the court case has had on postmasters. As my honourable friend, Paul Scully MP, announced at BEIS Oral Questions on Tuesday, we are looking into what needs to be done. We will outline the next steps following the Prime Minister’s announcement as soon as possible.
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to an independent inquiry into what he described as a “scandal”. We hope that those who did not take legal action will get full and rapid compensation, though I appreciate the Minister’s comments on the set-up. But no compensation can make up for the emotional trauma and loss of reputation, livelihood and health that has cost people dearly. Will the Minister agree, like us, to press for full compensation as well as restoration of moneys lost?
The noble Baroness makes an important point. In the near future, a scheme will be announced with the aim of addressing the historic shortfalls for postmasters who are not part of the group litigation. The Government will challenge and monitor the progress of this scheme. There is also the important issue of people convicted of offences: 57 cases have been referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. If a case is referred to the Court of Appeal and a conviction is overturned, there are avenues for people to pursue compensation there as well.
My Lords, I want to follow up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot. At Prime Minister’s Questions, as has been said, the Prime Minister committed to an independent inquiry on the back of a Question from Kate Osborne about whether he would launch such an inquiry. The Prime Minister said that he would follow up on that but No. 10 communications later said that no decisions had been taken with regard to a specific independent inquiry. I was not clear from the Minister’s earlier answer whether we are going to progress with an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of this matter. We had a very good debate in the Moses Room on it last week, and a lot of information came out. Can the Minister say whether there will be an independent inquiry and, if so, what its timescale will be?
We agree that there needs to be a full examination, with due rigour, of what happened and what the next steps will be, but I cannot go further than the answer that I gave earlier to my noble friend—that, as soon as we can, we will announce the next steps following the Prime Minister’s announcement.
My Lords, it is possibly worth remembering in this case that a major national organisation running a public service has stamped on and destroyed the lives not merely of local innocent people but of local people who are key members of their communities, serving those communities and doing their best to maintain the community spirit. Can this matter be addressed with intense urgency? Otherwise, some very sad personal tragedies will follow.
My noble friend is absolutely correct and I agree with what he says. There were a number of tragedies and some people committed suicide as a result. There is no question but that the Post Office management at the time behaved disgracefully but none of them is now in post. It is very important that we get on with these matters as quickly as possible. Some of them are subject to the judicial process, which my noble friend will know I cannot comment on, but I hope that there will be a resolution as soon as possible for these sad, unfortunate individuals.
What lessons have the Government drawn from this? This is a public corporation that has acted in an authoritarian way to trash the reputations of pillars of the community—people who are respected in the local community. There must be some lessons to be drawn by the Government. What are they?
The noble Lord is entirely right: a number of lessons need to be drawn. The Post Office is an independent company where the shareholding is owned 100% by the Government, and we appoint an independent director to the board. During the unfolding of this scandal, BEIS officials were clearly misled by the Post Office and the information provided was not correct. We are looking at a new governance framework to address these matters going forward and, again, an announcement on that will be made in due course.
My Lords, it has been acknowledged this morning that the PM said a few days ago that we need to get to the bottom of the matter. Does the Minister agree that an inquiry needs to begin sooner rather than later and that its scope should include the possibility of changing the police records and decriminalising those who were falsely accused?
I hope that we can get the matter resolved as quickly as possible. The work of the CCRC is important and the Government cannot interfere in it. I understand that decisions on this issue are expected fairly soon and will then have to go back to the Court of Appeal. I think we all wish that the judicial process could be speedier at times but we have to let these matters take their course. However, I take on board my noble friend’s concerns.
My Lords, in a previous discussion on this issue, I asked the Minister about the role of the Government’s non-executive director on the board of the Post Office. In reply, he said:
“His role has evolved from a perhaps more passive approach to a much more active one going forward.”—[Official Report, 4/2/20; col. 1711.]
Can my noble friend tell us what this new active approach of the Government’s non-executive director is?
My noble friend makes an important point. As I said in response to an earlier question, we are looking at the framework of the decisions. This is not just about the role of the non-executive director; it is about the whole oversight of the organisation by BEIS—how we improve the governance and monitoring of what is, in effect, an independent company. Operational decisions are a matter for the board of the Post Office, but clearly the fact that I am standing here in front of your Lordships answering questions now shows that it is a company owned 100% by the Government. Lessons need to be learned and we need to get to the bottom of this. I have spoken personally to the new chief executive of the Post Office, as have other ministerial colleagues, and we are satisfied that he now has a grip on the situation. The accounting system has been improved and the board is co-operating fully with the work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, as indeed it should.
Gambling Commission: Problem Gambling
I thought maybe I was going to get two Questions in one.
My Lords, we are committed to reducing gambling-related harm and we are working closely with the Gambling Commission to do that. We have strengthened many protections in the last year, cutting stakes on FOBTs, tightening online age and identity checks, and announcing a ban on credit card gambling. We are carefully considering the recent recommendations from the National Audit Office and we have committed to review the Gambling Act to make sure that it is fit for the digital age.
My Lords, I apologise for rushing my Question. The Gambling Commission reports that the number of problem gamblers is now 430,000—an increase of more than 100,000 since 2012—and that the number in danger now exceeds 2.3 million, including 11.5% of those who use machines in bookmakers’ premises: a 50% increase since 2012. In addition to any measures to control the industry, what steps will the Government take to inform and reach out to members of the public, especially those at risk, and to ensure that support, including medical support where relevant, is available to them?
There are a number of elements in the noble Lord’s question. On the number of problem gamblers, he is quite right that it has become much easier to gamble and there is a lot of sponsorship and advertising around gamblers. The percentage of problem and at-risk gamblers has actually stayed very stable over the years, but the Government have a manifesto commitment to review the Gambling Act to make sure that it is fit for the digital age. The noble Lord will be aware that significant investment is being made through the NHS in specialist treatment clinics for problem gamblers.
My Lords, gambling addicts can accumulate a significant amount of debt and in order to pay it off, they are sometimes taking out personal loans and credit cards. What are the Government doing by way of working with the banks and financial institutions to identify and address the issue and curb this, as it is increasing? I declare an interest as the chairman of the Financial Ombudsman Service.
I thank my noble friend for her question. On the risk of problem gambling, all operators will have to join GAMSTOP, the one-stop online self-exclusion scheme that will come into effect at the end of this month. As she will be aware, the Government announced the banning of credit card gambling, which is extremely important because less than 1% of the population are problem gamblers but 22% of credit card gamblers were found to be so. I look forward to talking to my noble friend more about what else we can do in relation to the financial services industry.
My Lords, at a time when the NHS is facing such unbelievable pressures from the coronavirus, it is also having to set up 14 gambling clinics across the country to try to deal with this situation. The industry has a gross gambling yield of £14 billion a year. Is it not time to bring in a statutory levy, so that the polluter pays for the damage being caused?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for his suggestion. There are currently no plans to introduce a statutory levy. As he will be aware, the gambling companies make a major contribution of about £3 billion in tax. The concerns around a statutory levy would be the same for gambling as for tobacco or alcohol, which also carry huge health risks, so there are no current plans to proceed with that.
My Lords, the NAO recognises that the Gambling Commission is a small body struggling to keep up with a fast-changing industry, but surely there are some things it could be doing. For example, an increasing amount of gambling is taking place online, which is a growing issue for problem gamblers; yet although we have stakes and prize limits for land-based gambling products, there are none for similar online products. Can the Minister explain why not?
My Lords, first, I echo what the right reverend Prelate has said about a levy. We must steel ourselves to the outcry from the gambling industry, and just do it. It has to pay for all the costs that have been transferred to the NHS, and that is that. It is time that the Government expressed a degree of urgency on that question. Secondly, last week the National Audit Office report concluded:
“The Gambling Commission is a small regulator in a challenging and dynamic industry”
“constrained by factors outside its control”.
Can the Government strengthen this small regulator and give it teeth and a course of action that will lead to better regulation from within the industry, rather than us tiresomely having to bring these concerns again and again to the attention of the House?
I am sorry to repeat myself but clearly, our review of the Act, about which there is great urgency, is a key part of this. We work closely with the commission to ensure that it has the funding it needs in the way that it needs it, in order to fulfil its task. We recognise that its principal focus recently has been on the regulation of online gambling, which is more complicated and resource-intensive. The Government are absolutely open to discussing suggestions from the commission to improve its position.
Sentencing Bill [HL]
The Bill was introduced by Lord Keen of Elie, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
My Lords, on the Motion, will the Chief Whip comment on the story on the front page of the Times today that the House, and indeed Parliament as a whole, might be suspended for six months because of the coronavirus? Is he aware that this would be regarded as a very bad move by almost all Members of the House and would send a terrible signal to the country about the way in which we are treating the crisis that we face? He will be aware that Parliament sat all the way through the war, and indeed through the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19. Surely the best advice that we can give ourselves is to keep calm and carry on.
My Lords, I support what my noble friend Lord Adonis has just said. From my experience of almost 20 years ago, following the attacks of 11 September 2001, I know that the one thing that we have to avoid is alarming people. I cannot think of anything that would alarm the nation more, and damage both individuals and our economy, than Parliament failing to sit because of the coronavirus. I hope that, united as we appear to be, we can send a message to the other place that we want a sensible, rational and balanced approach, which so far the Government have been achieving.
My Lords, I do not wish to prolong the debate, as there is lots of information we do not yet have, but there are two issues on which I seek assurance from the noble Lord. First, if any action at all is to be taken in restricting access to Parliament, or in any way restricting our work, it should be taken only on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and with the approval of Parliament.
Secondly, if at any point the virus leads to any restriction on how Parliament works, the Government will need to put in place plans to ensure that democracy continues. That is the point being made by the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Blunkett. I understand that the No. 10 briefing points out that there could be a quorum of 100 MPs. The quorum is currently 40, so the article does not make much sense, but we should ensure that both Houses of Parliament can operate. I hope the noble Lord gives some information about the plans being drawn up by Downing Street for the worst-case scenarios.
My Lords, I support the comments from other noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. It is important that Parliament sets an example to the nation. If the coronavirus were to be so devastating that we have to close every organisation that brings several hundred people together, it would devastate the economic and social life of the nation. So far, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that that would be necessary for the rest of the nation. For Parliament to appear almost to be taking the lead in wishing to hide away is a very bad signal to the rest of the country. Can the noble Lord assure us that that approach will not be followed by the Government?
My Lords, I have advised my noble friend that I would try to raise this and I strongly support what has been said. There may be a case for restricting the number of people who sit in the Galleries—everybody has access to Parliament through the television—but for Parliament itself to abdicate would be entirely wrong. Never has it been more important to hold the Government to account and to hear what they are proposing to do.
In that context, I raise a second point, of which I have again advised my noble friend. I was appalled to see that we are going to have weekly updates of the statistics. We have been having them daily, and we have been told where the outbreaks are. It is very important that we are kept fully informed and that Statements are made regularly in both Houses, so that we can question the Government. I strongly urge my noble friend to say that the daily update will be maintained and that there will be no question whatever of the suspension of Parliament in the foreseeable future.
My Lords, I am pleased to answer those questions on this important matter. Although they are not directly connected to the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill, I understand that this was an opportunity for noble Lords to raise these important issues. Let me make it clear that there are no plans to close down the House or Parliament, as was reported this morning in the papers. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that Parliament has proved itself to be very resilient over the years and centuries. There is no reason at the moment to think that shutting Parliament would be either necessary or helpful. As the Secretary of State made clear yesterday at the all-Peers briefing, our approach will be guided by the latest scientific and medical advice, which addresses the question the noble Baroness asked. We will take all necessary measures to deal with this outbreak. I believe the Chief Medical Officer said at the Health and Social Care Committee today that he sees no reason why Westminster needs to close, at this point.
I reiterate that, importantly, we will take advice from the Chief Medical Officer for England and from his colleagues in the devolved Administrations; there is, if you like, a college of Chief Medical Officers. Those noble Lords who went to the briefing yesterday will know that he was, first, reassuring and, secondly, able to express the position clearly. We will follow the Chief Medical Officer’s advice, and I assure the House that we are engaging with the parliamentary authorities to emphasise how important it is that any decisions are taken in line with his advice.
I can also announce that Public Health England has set up a hotline for Members of the Houses of Parliament. Details of that hotline will be circulated by the Whips Offices and the Convener’s office. As far as organisation and planning are concerned, a cross-parliamentary group of senior managers meets daily to plan the response and ensure business continuity, with input from the Government. The Lord Speaker is in regular, if not daily, contact with his opposite number in the Commons. The Commission is also meeting jointly with the Commons Commission and will consider this on Monday.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition asked about the Chief Medical Officer; I think I have answered that. As for making democracy available in all cases, we agree; we are concerned that democracy should continue. After all, we have a large democratic mandate that we wish to fulfil. I will take that point back and make sure that there are plans to do so, but I cannot give specific details of what those plans will be at the moment.
My noble friend Lord Cormack asked about continuity and daily updates. As far as I am aware, the health professionals have moved the advice from a daily to a weekly basis, so we are following that. Regular statements on the intranet for Parliament are being updated daily as well. I think I have answered his question on Parliament.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his response, which I think is as full a one as he is able to give at the moment. Can I press him slightly on this, as these will be political as well as medical decisions? There has been concern following the newspaper articles, because we have seen the unlawful prorogation of Parliament in the past. Can he commit to keeping the usual channels and the House updated on any plans and discussions that take place? I think we are largely reassured by his commitment that Parliament should do everything it can to maintain its role, both for the message that sends and for its important role in holding the Government to account.
I certainly can confirm that we will keep the usual channels and the House updated. Noble Lords will appreciate that in the last two days there has been a Statement, with extra time made available for questions, and yesterday there was an all-Peers briefing from the Secretary of State and the Chief Medical Officer, so up to now we have made efforts to keep the House informed. I understand the point about democracy. As far as I understood it from the Chief Medical Officer yesterday, there are cycles in this virus and we will take account of them in our response. I absolutely take the point that democracy should not be avoided because of this virus.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Select Committee:
Brabazon of Tara, L, Goddard of Stockport, L, Haselhurst, L, Hope of Craighead, L (Chair), Horam, L, Liddle, L, Snape, L.
That the quorum of the Committee be four;
That the Committee have power to meet outside the Parliamentary Estate;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes; and
That the Report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.
My Lords, I offer a few words of congratulation to the noble Lords appointed to this committee. With previous Select Committees, the House of Lords has really done very well in listening to petitions and coming up with recommendations. It is particularly important for this phase, which is much shorter than the first one. I hope that noble Lords, when they consider the petitions, will listen not only to the promoters but to the petitioners, because many of the issues are particularly dear to me as a civil engineer. They are to do with ground settlement, how many lorries are needed to move spoil through villages and things such as that. As the committee will know, the Prime Minister, in his Statement two or three weeks ago that set the project in train, was critical of some of the work done by HS2. So my plea to noble Lords on the committee, apart from wishing them well, is to listen to petitioners, give them time and listen to the evidence—I know that they will—rather more than sometimes happens in the Select Committees of the other place, where everybody is in a hurry. Here, I hope that they will listen and read the speeches from two or three days ago from the Members of Parliament who set this project moving again after the election.
My Lords, recently I met a lady whose farm will be split in two by the high-speed rail link. I wonder what the remit of the committee is, and whether it is possible within that remit to consider mediation as a form of settling compensation where it is impossible for the parties to agree. I understood from this lady that any potential compensation claim could lead to a court litigation fee of £200,000, which is money she did not have—and obviously, if she lost the case, she would also have to cover the litigation costs of the developers. Could this be covered by expanding the remit of the committee at this stage?
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their good wishes to the committee—I am sure that it will accept that with alacrity. Its purpose is to consider petitions against the Bill submitted by those directly and specifically affected by it. When it has finished its work, the Bill will return to the House for further consideration in the normal way. The committee can consider only those issues brought to it by the petitioners.
As noble Lords know, the principle of the Bill was agreed by the House when it gave it a Second Reading on 9 September last year; the House subsequently agreed to its revival on 25 February this year. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, any proposal to make major changes to the route would require an additional provision which committees in the second House do not normally consider. This committee would not be empowered to consider a proposal amounting to an additional provision unless the House instructed it to do so.
Finally, the chairman of the committee is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, with whom I have worked for the past three and a half years. He is rigorous, logical and very courteous, and he ensures that every detail is analysed. We have every confidence in this committee doing its work under his chairmanship.
My Lords, with permission, I will now repeat a Statement made in the House of Commons by the Minister for Aviation earlier today. The Statement is as follows:
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the collapse of Flybe. In the early hours of this morning, Flybe ceased trading. This was a commercial decision by the company, and Flybe has filed for insolvency. UK airports handled 9.5 million Flybe passengers in 2018, with 80% of these travelling within the UK. An estimated 15,000 passengers were due to fly today, so our immediate priority is to support passengers travelling home and employees who have lost their jobs. Flybe has had a challenging year in terms of its financial performance, with a decline in bookings and increased competition.
Levelling up connectivity across our regions and nations is a top priority for this Government. We are driving forward HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, we have announced a £5 billion funding package for bus and cycle links, and we are investing £6.6 billion to improve the condition of local highway networks between 2015 and 2021. We are undertaking a review of regional connectivity to ensure that the UK has the domestic transport connections that local communities rely on, including regional airports. The Treasury is also reviewing air passenger duty—APD—to ensure that regional connectivity is supported while meeting the UK’s climate change commitments to meet net zero by 2050.
These measures featured in conversations with Flybe back in January, and in turn it agreed to continue operating. Since then, we have been working tirelessly to explore multiple options with Flybe’s shareholders to find a solution. Flybe outlined that problems with its business have been compounded by the outbreak of coronavirus, which in the last few days has resulted in a significant impact on demand. The directors therefore decided that it was not viable to keep Flybe operating. Unfortunately, in a competitive market companies do fail. It is not the role of government to prop them up.
Given the time of year, the nature of Flybe’s business and fleet and the routes it flies, sufficient alternative transport arrangements should be available, with other airlines or by road and rail. The number of passengers abroad is small and is further reduced as a result of coronavirus. For those passengers who are abroad, there is sufficient capacity on other commercial airlines to return to the UK. The Civil Aviation Authority and the Secretary of State are encouraging these airlines to offer rescue fares, and this is already happening. I would like to thank those, including easyJet, which has today announced that it will offer Flybe passengers a dedicated rescue fare up to the end of May.
We are working with bus and rail operators to support Flybe passengers in getting to their destination, and I am extremely grateful that the Rail Delivery Group has this morning confirmed that all operators are offering free travel to Flybe staff and passengers for a week, free of charge.
For passengers due to fly with Flybe in the next few days, I would ask that they do not turn up at the airport. They should instead please look at the website set up by the Civil Aviation Authority and talk to their travel agents, travel insurance providers and credit card companies. For those who do arrive at UK airports today, we are making government representatives available to offer support and provide information to passengers affected.
I would like to express my sincere sympathy to those who have lost their jobs as a result of this failure. This will include crew, engineers, technicians, staff at Flybe headquarters in Exeter, and others. We understand that this must be a very worrying time for workers and their families. The Department for Work and Pensions stands ready to support anyone affected by the closure with its rapid response service offer. This will be available to all those affected through local Jobcentre Plus outlets. Additionally, in the event of any redundancies, there are special arrangements for employees who are owed redundancy pay and other payments by their insolvent employer. The redundancy payments service in the Insolvency Service can pay certain amounts owed to the former employees from the National Insurance Fund. I will work with my ministerial colleagues to ensure that any redundancy payments are paid to affected employees as soon as possible.
We recognise the impact that this will have on UK airports, particularly those which have large-scale Flybe operations. Government stands ready to support this sector, and I have full confidence that it will respond as effectively as it always has. We are urgently working with industry to identify opportunities to fill routes and I have spoken to airlines today to emphasise this. Globally, aviation is facing challenges due to the impact of coronavirus. The Government are well prepared for this, and as the wider economic picture becomes clearer, the Chancellor has said that he stands ready to announce further support where needed. I will be chairing a round table with members of the aviation industry next week to discuss the issues presented by coronavirus.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank passengers for their patience and make known my appreciation for the work undertaken by everyone who has again stepped up to ensure that passengers and local communities are supported. We will continue to work across government to ensure that both passengers and staff are able to access the information and services they require at this sad and challenging time.”
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. This collapse could have very serious consequences, not just for those currently stranded here or abroad; not just for employees—the ground staff at airports as well as direct employees—and not even just for the insurance industry. This collapse has longer-term consequences, particularly for our regions, heavily reliant on connectivity for employment, tourism and travel. I need hardly say that with the almost certain economic impact of coronavirus and travel changes after 31 December, the loss of a major transport link could have particularly serious consequences.
Any attempt to blame this collapse on the coronavirus will not wash. Transport experts had been warning about the state of this company well before the first cough, and the Government must explain why a proper plan was not in place before recent events. We have been here before with passengers affected by the collapse of Monarch and Thomas Cook. This case is worse for some, with fewer passengers travelling on packages and therefore not necessarily ATOL-protected. We welcome what is being done in the short term to get passengers home, but there is also the loss of holidays and other associated costs. Can the Minister spell out the plans to assist those passengers beyond mere transport? Also, how does the Government plan to re-establish trust in the industry, which is taking a serious hit? Given that the CAA has sustained funding cuts under this Government, can the Minister confirm whether any additional financial support will be provided to enable it to support passengers following Flybe’s collapse?
The impact of this on the regions and nations of the UK cannot be overestimated: 80% of flights at Belfast City Airport are operated by Flybe, 95% at Southampton, 50% at Humberside and at Wick, and 100% at Anglesey, with 30 other airports affected. Many of these provide critical connectivity, often where there is no realistic alternative to flying. Indeed, some of these smaller airports might now themselves be at risk. The impact on small businesses could be devastating. Can the Minister outline the support that will be made available to communities, and could she confirm that the Government will meet urgently with local authority representatives and airport operators to agree a package of central government help?
Passengers, local economies, and of course 2,000 employees face a difficult time ahead. Can the Minister confirm what engagement the Government have had with Unite and BALPA today and give an undertaking that the Government will play a full role, alongside Unite and BALPA, to help Flybe workers find new jobs?
The talk of HS2, bus and cycle lanes in the Statement sounds woefully misplaced in this context. That will not help Cardiff and the south-west, and they certainly will not help Belfast. The words
“The Government are well prepared”
for the impact sound hollow today, as an airline folds due to a slight downturn in bookings. The impact on consumer confidence, on the likelihood of passengers and businesses continuing to book flights, and on their concerns about cancellations and loss of money must not be underestimated. Will the Government agree to engage with the relevant user and consumer groups, so they can also play their part in in rebuilding consumer trust and ensuring that passengers are treated fairly?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement, which comes at a time of huge concern in the aviation industry. When Flybe first publicly hit problems a couple of months ago, the Government wildly overpromised the help that was on offer, or potentially on offer. It turns out that virtually none of that help was possible, partly because of the concern in the rest of the aviation industry about fair competition but also because the Government, for one reason or another, have not been able to offer money on reasonable terms to the company.
All the grand schemes in the world will not help the people who are losing their jobs today or who are being cut off from the regular routes that they use which are important either to their families or to their businesses. In this Statement the Government repeat some of these grand, long-term promises—but, to be fair, that is actually irrelevant at this time.
On competitive market companies that fail, the Statement is really surprising, given the Government’s response couple of months ago. It says:
“It is not the role of government to prop them up.”
But two months ago, the Government were offering assistance that effectively was promising to do that. Shape shifting will not help the market. What help, if any, did the Government, in the end, provide to Flybe? Was Flybe able to defer the payment of any taxes, or was that not possible?
Beyond the concerns for Flybe employees and the passengers who have paid money for flights, amply outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, there will be a very serious knock-on effect at smaller regional airports in the UK. Some of those airports could also find they cannot continue operating. The Statement says:
“Government stands ready to support this sector.”
Exactly how will the Government offer help to this sector? There is a danger that the Government are offering more help that actually cannot be implemented in the end.
The importance of Flybe has been overwhelmingly in its routes to isolated parts of the UK. Some such routes in the UK have PSO status, but only one is a Flybe route: the Newquay to Gatwick route. France has 22 PSO routes, so, even if we are still working to EU rules on this, I ask the Government to reconsider the number of internal routes that are given PSO status, because that is what will provide long-term certainty and a long-term levelling up for parts of the country that are very isolated.
Coronavirus is undoubtedly a factor in tipping this company over the edge probably slightly earlier than would otherwise have happened, and there will be other cases.
The two Opposition Front Benches are allowed 10 minutes, and I would like to finish what I am saying. Coronavirus will tip other transport operators into difficulties as well. Especially at this time, when we are expecting a large number of people to need healthcare, I ask the Government what measures they are putting in place to help the transportation of NHS patients from the Isle of Man to hospitals in Liverpool, which is a role that Flybe has undertaken up to now. This is a very specific concern.
I thank both Front-Benchers for their contributions; a number of very important issues were raised, some of which I can agree with and some of which I probably cannot. I think that all noble Lords will agree that the loss of Flybe is a significant hit to regional connectivity, and we must work with the regions to make sure that people are able to get to where they need to go. I am a little concerned that there seems to be much focus on regional connectivity and just air travel, but there are several ways of travelling from the regions. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned the south-west. The south-west does have trains and does have coaches; there are other ways to travel. The Government are undertaking a review of regional connectivity which will focus on aviation but will cover all modes of transport to understand exactly how the regions can interconnect.
There are two things—this was raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson—about connectivity. It is not enough to get connectivity between airports; we must also make sure that there is good access to the airports and the train stations. Of course, this is all top of mind within my department.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned the passengers who have booked flights, and whether they will be able to get their money back. This is a private sector company, and it concerns all of us that some people may not have adequate protection. This will once again highlight, as other failures have in the past, the importance of having insurance. Some passengers will have ATOL cover. Others who have paid by credit card may be able to get their money back under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Some passengers may be able to claim a refund by applying for chargeback, if they paid by debit card. Passengers can seek additional information and advice from Citizens Advice or Advice Direct Scotland.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned CAA resources; the CAA outlines the adequacy of its resources every year in its annual report. It is working within its current resource envelope in order to staff the failure of Flybe, and we are not aware that it has any concerns.
The Government are, of course, working very closely with all of the airports. A number of airports were heavily reliant on Flybe flights. We are working very closely; my colleague the Aviation Minister has already called the airlines and the airports this morning, and that engagement will continue. Later today, she will be calling key figures, either metro mayors or local authorities, where appropriate.
In terms of protections for employees, both of Flybe and of the different airports, the DWP does stand ready to offer support. It has been in touch with both BALPA and Unite already today and is working with them.
One of the points from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made me feel that she is very much in favour of aviation. However, Labour wants to include a frequent flyer levy, which would have a significant damaging impact on aviation. Should Labour wish to retain its goal of net zero by 2030, I think it was the GMB that said that that would mean one flight every five years for people. So I am not entirely sure that Labour can be the great champion of aviation; should it ever come to power it would indeed decimate it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned PSOs. Those will be really important going forward and will be one of the key levers in the way we will be able to improve connectivity. We are looking at all options for expanding the scope of PSO policy. As we leave the European Union, the different rules we will be able to put in place will certainly be hugely beneficial to various places. On her specific question on transport from the Isle of Man to Liverpool, I will need to write forthwith.
My Lords, the Minister referred to alternative bus and rail routes. As has already been mentioned, 90% of the flights from Belfast City Airport are by Flybe. Northern Ireland has no bridge or canal link with Britain. Will the Minister bring to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s attention before the Budget the need to abandon air passenger duty on flights from Northern Ireland?
The noble Lord raises an interesting point. Air passenger duty is under review by Her Majesty’s Treasury, as indeed are all taxes. The Conservative manifesto set out our commitment to consider the devolution of short-haul APD in Northern Ireland. We will work with the restored Executive to consider any proposals submitted for the devolution of short-haul APD. This builds on our recent call for evidence and our work with a technical working group that we have established to look into the operational and possible legal challenges around the devolution of short-haul APD.
My Lords, our deep concern in Northern Ireland is very much Belfast City Airport. The company operates 14 scheduled flights out of Belfast, carrying 80% of all scheduled passengers out of Belfast and 1.6 million passengers from Belfast to destinations across the United Kingdom. This is very serious economically for Belfast City Airport and will be a devastating blow. Do the Government have any plans to engage with the Northern Ireland Assembly, the First Minister or the Economy Minister in the Assembly to try to find alternative operators for the routes that have all now been abandoned?
The Government are working extremely hard to find replacement operators for as many routes as possible. We are confident and have already this morning had proactive responses from various airlines about picking up routes. Returning to the question of the Isle of Man, which is serviced by British Airways and easyJet at the moment, the Isle of Man Department of Infrastructure is looking at contingency plans to replace the medical link previously provided by Flybe.
My Lords, several years ago the Government agreed a PSO for the service between Newquay and London, as other noble Lords have said. That means guaranteeing four flights a day, in my book. What will the Government do now to find another operator? How long will that take? It is easy to say that there is a train and a bus—you can even cycle, I suppose—but the Government agreed this PSO because they thought it necessary.
I hear completely what the noble Lord is saying. The route from Newquay to London is clearly incredibly important, which is why it has attracted a PSO, so we are looking at a replacement operator. We hope one will be able to step up. The local authority can select a new provider for seven months, then re-tender.
My Lords, having once worked as a pilot flying domestic services out of Southampton, among other places, I am pretty sensitive to what has happened. Can my noble friend say what public funds have so far been made available to Flybe? Will they be recovered?
My noble friend raises an interesting point, because there is a lot of misconception around what happened in January and what public funds were or were not made available. The conversation in January focused on a number of commitments from the Government, which included a review of air passenger duty, the review of regional services and a time-to-pay agreement, which any business can enter into with HMRC to get through a short-term cash-flow difficulty. Not a single penny of taxpayers’ money was given to Flybe. In return for looking at those things, the share- holders put in additional cash to get Flybe through its operational difficulties. It is those same shareholders who have now concluded that Flybe has no long-term future.
My Lords, if the normal public service obligation process is used, it will take a long time. Will the Minister consider a short-term use of a PSO to keep some of the critical routes open while negotiations to get long-term operators continue? We have a perfect storm whereby all airlines are suffering because of the virus and because this is a very difficult time of year for them. As has been pointed out, in Belfast between 80% and 90% of the flights are Flybe. There are some critical routes, and we have no alternatives. I appeal to the Minister to bring in a special type of PSO in the short term to keep some of these key routes going while negotiations continue, because many of them will profitable. Also, would she be prepared to meet with me and my colleagues as soon as possible to discuss this?
The noble Lord raises an interesting point about PSOs. The Government are looking at all options to restore as many routes as possible. We must also be mindful that wherever we restore routes, we must do so within the law as it stands regarding PSOs.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that 27% of flights from Cardiff Airport are operated by Flybe, and that 340,000 passengers a year use it to fly from Cardiff to European destinations? Will the Government arrange urgent discussions not only with other air operators and all train operators but with the devolved Governments to discuss the short-term crisis facing them and how to achieve a longer-term strategic settlement that addresses the economic implications for regional economies?
The noble Lord raises an interesting point. My colleague, the Aviation Minister, will be making calls this afternoon to the devolved Administrations and many other stakeholders to ensure that this is the start of a long-term discussion about the importance of air connectivity to the regions.
My Lords, as a regular user of Flybe services from Belfast over many years, I too am deeply saddened by and concerned about today’s announcement. The impact on Northern Ireland could be huge. I welcome the Minister’s reference to the commitment in the Conservative Northern Ireland manifesto to looking at devolving short-haul air passenger duty to the Northern Ireland Executive. In view of today’s sad announcement, and the fact that we now have an Executive up and running, will the Minister commit to taking this forward as a matter of urgency?
I am not aware of any impact on Skybus, although I am not 100% sure about that. The Isles of Scilly are a very important destination for a number of Members of your Lordships’ House, and a ferry is certainly a very good way of getting there.
My Lords, following on from the point made about passenger duty, I am sure that the Minister appreciates that that is a devolved matter so far as Scotland is concerned. Will there be discussions with the Scottish Government on this matter? It is quite important that a solution be found which covers the whole of the United Kingdom.
The noble and learned Lord is quite right: the Scottish Government have taken a slightly different approach to passenger duty from the UK Government. Discussions with the devolved Administration will be under way this afternoon, and they will no doubt include the future of air passenger duty, but it is for Scotland to decide how they wish to charge it.
My Lords, the discussion to date has, necessarily, been a sticking-plaster type of discussion; and noble Lords have raised other airports and operators that may in future require such sticking-plaster announcements. Can the Minister confirm that some sensitivity analysis is under way to identify where problems could arise in future? Does she agree that, in the long run, the way to deal with such issues is to have a proper strategic transport plan across the country?
My Lords, the aviation industry is a highly competitive market, and obviously, private companies operate in it. None the less, the noble Lord makes an important point about the Government’s insight into the financial future and sustainability of airlines. I am sure that he will be pleased to hear that the CAA already undertakes that role. Where potential financial issues are on the horizon, the Government are made aware. Therefore, plans can be put in place.
My Lords, may I declare an interest, in that my wife and I are due to fly with Flybe to Bergerac for Easter? I am particularly concerned about that. I am grateful for the Minister’s helpful advice on seeking compensation but my question is about the Flybe shareholders. My understanding is that Virgin is a major shareholder and that the plan was for it to operate these services as Virgin Connect. Why has Virgin not been involved? Why is it not ready to take over the services? Our understanding is that Virgin is a major aviation company in the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord is right. Virgin is a minority shareholder in Flybe, with a 30% stake. My understanding is the same as his—that Flybe was due to be rebranded as Virgin Connect. I think that overnight, the shareholders reached an agreement that there was no long-term future for Flybe as it stood, so they decided to pull the plug and make it insolvent. From now on, therefore, the winding-up process will be in the hands of the insolvency practitioner, using the usual well-established processes of insolvency. On the other point, I am sorry to hear that the noble Lord’s tickets to Bergerac may not be valid, but I am sure that he will receive compensation somehow.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for this timely Statement and for the detail and comfort that she can offer at this time. Can she underline some important information for passengers using Teesside International Airport, who may be concerned about this? The Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen, has done a tremendous job in getting that airport up and going. Flybe is a franchise partner of Eastern Airways, but Eastern Airways is independent. It operates its own aircraft and has its own crew, and it is completely unaffected by this announcement. Mayor Ben Houchen put out this statement today:
“Eastern is completely independent of Flybe and as a result passengers using Teesside Airport will not experience any disruption as a result of the anticipated devastating news for Flybe. I want to stress that flights will continue as normal and can continue to be booked through Eastern’s own booking system.”
Will my noble friend underline that important message?
My noble friend is absolutely right. We cannot be clear enough that this affects only Flybe, and that at many airports, Flybe makes up only a small number of the flights. At Teesside, I believe that Flybe passengers account for only 14% of passengers, so that airport remains very much open for business, and there are some excellent airlines operating out of it. Passengers should therefore continue to fly with confidence. For example, at Leeds Bradford, Flybe accounts for just 5% of passengers. Again, passengers should feel confident in booking with other airlines out of Leeds Bradford—and, indeed, many other regional airports.
My Lords, Flybe is not the first notable company to go bust in recent times—one thinks of Carillion—but does the Minister agree that the protection of workers in these circumstances is totally inadequate? Will the forthcoming Employment Bill be an opportunity to enhance and protect their rights in relation to prior consultation on circumstances that might lead to the collapse of a company; to place obligations on the company to provide more by way of retraining and assistance with finding alternative employments; and to enhance redundancy pay? One sympathises with the passengers in this case and the customers of other companies, but it is the workers who, I understand, heard of their loss of jobs—their loss of careers in some cases—on the radio, as we did, this morning.
On the issue of communications with employees, hearing it on the radio is less than ideal. I am sure it is not how any noble Lord would treat any of their employees. It is not acceptable and there are better ways of keeping employees up to date with what is going on. I cannot agree with the noble Lord that all is doom and gloom for employees and that everything must be improved. As I set out in the opening Statement, there are many routes that employees can now take. The Government stand ready to help, working alongside the unions, and the Insolvency Service is able to make payments.
To pursue the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on routes and the fact that Virgin is a major shareholder of Flybe, what will happen to Flybe’s profitable routes? Can my noble friend assure the House that there will be a proper procedure to make sure that they are sold to the highest bidder, so to speak? I raised the question of PSOs in the earlier Statement: will she make sure that this is dealt with as a matter of urgency?
Aviation services are part of the market economy and we would expect the profitable routes to be taken up by other airlines. As I have mentioned, we have had proactive input from a number of airlines looking to service those routes. I can say no more about PSOs. The Government are looking at both the profitable routes and those that may need support, and at all possible options to get them up and running.
My Lords, the issue of air passenger duty has been raised. I ask the Minister to consult with her Treasury colleagues about it because, in the event of it being devolved to, say, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the difference in revenue created by the reduction in air passenger duty would automatically come out of the Northern Ireland block grant. As the new Executive are at least £600 million short, that would be a huge challenge. Will she consult with her colleagues in the Treasury, pre-Budget, to make that point? It could be a way of opening things up but it would cost the Northern Ireland Executive an awful lot of money that they do not have at their disposal at the present time.
Will my noble friend acknowledge the fact that, often, the slots available to airlines are of more value than the trading conditions? Can she confirm that we will not see here a market for slots, from which a number of airlines will benefit without taking the social responsibilities that will be lost as a result of this failure?
My noble friend makes an important point about the tension between the slots, social responsibility and regional connectivity. The Government will be looking at that issue with keen interest as the Flybe assets go through the insolvency process. As my noble friend will know, slots are subject to an independent system of allocation managed by Airport Coordination Limited, which follows international rules. The Government are alive to what my noble friend is saying.
My Lords, in 1987, I was chairman of Dan-Air in identical circumstances. I had to put in a liquidator if we could not find an immediate solution. The night before, I had dinner with John Major and explained to him the dire effect that this would have on the whole of the Gatwick complex; it was likely to close Gatwick completely as we owed it so much money. He had breakfast the next day with Lord King, and by 4 pm Lord King had bought Dan-Air from me for £1. As a result, nearly all the collateral damage we are talking about here was avoided. The bits that were of great merit and worth keeping, British Airways duly kept and unified. The only logical solution here to avoid the calamity that will follow from the complete closure of Flybe is for it to be taken over immediately by one of our surviving airlines. If instead of paying me £1, somebody has to pay it a bit more to do it, it will be a far better job than putting in a liquidator.
I thank my noble friend for that little piece of history, but this Government’s view is that it is not our role to prop up a company that clearly has no viable long-term future. If it had a long-term future, another airline would have stepped up to purchase it.
BBC and Public Service Broadcasting
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former BBC governor. I had not realised how popular this debate would be, so I ought to apologise to Back-Bench speakers. I can only offer them the advice of the late and dearly lamented Nicholas Parsons and remind them to speak without hesitation, repetition or deviation.
I left home this morning listening to the dulcet northern tones of my noble friend Lord Bragg, who was in mental combat with three professors on quantum mechanics. The podcast of that programme will be listened to by millions of people all over the world, and that will promote British culture and British values. It is another example of soft power, as it is commonly known.
It is also interesting—I had not realised that my timing was so good—that a new Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has been appointed. I looked with interest at his old quotes. He said:
“The BBC needs to be closer to, and understand the perspectives of, the whole of the United Kingdom and avoid providing a narrow urban outlook.”
I suppose that is a matter of opinion. I have never seen the BBC as doing that, given the range of regional broadcasters that it has. He went on:
“By this, I don’t just mean getting authentic and diverse voices on and off the screen—although … this is important … But also making sure there is genuine diversity of thought and experience.”
He went on to suggest that some people think that Sky and CNN are better news providers and prefer them to the BBC. There are bound to be some people who think that; it is a question of taste. He does at least end on a positive note, which I welcome. He said that the BBC has to find its place in the age of streaming and subscription sites, such as YouTube and Netflix, but he also said that,
“the BBC is an institution to be cherished … We would be crazy to throw it away but it must reflect all of our nation, and all perspectives.”
I certainly agree with that, and I refer to our previous Culture Secretary, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, who said:
“We would be much less informed and inspired as a society if we didn’t have a healthy pluralistic and universally available PSB system.”
That puts it in some kind of perspective.
I shall cite one more quote. It is from a briefing I had from BECTU, a broadcast trade union, and addresses value for money for customers:
“The annual cost of the License Fee is £154.50 per household. This funds all BBC TV output, iPlayer, BBC News, BBC Weather, BBC Radio (as well as other public service broadcasters). It is a unique mix of entertainment, news and information. For comparison a standard Netflix subscription cost £108 per year and only includes access to their streaming service. A digital-only subscription to the Times costs £312 per year. It is impossible to argue that the License Fee does not represent value for money in the modern media market.”
It ends on one interesting little line:
“It is also important to note that the Netflix model is based on a long-term debt of over $12 bn.”
That concentrates the mind a bit.
In introducing this debate, I want to focus on the BBC’s contribution to the cultural and creative economy, as the title of the debate states. I am an avid viewer and listener across a range of channels, including Netflix, and I recognise that we live in a global multimedia world. I cannot help reflecting that when public service broadcasting began, Lord Reith, the first director-general, coined what I believe to be one of the best ever mission statements. He said that the role of the BBC was to “inform, educate and entertain”. Those criteria are still relevant to public service broadcasters in today’s multimedia environment.
To put creative industries in context, they contribute some £100.5 billion to the UK economy, and public service broadcasters make an enormous contribution to the industry. The BBC is the biggest single investor in the UK creative industries. It contributes hundreds of millions of pounds to the wider sector. Every £1 spent on the BBC through the licence fee produces £2 in value through jobs, economic opportunities and expenditure. The Impact of a Change in the BBC’s Licence Fee Revenue report, produced by PwC in 2015, found that every £1 increase in licence fee revenue would generate about 60p of extra economic value. Conversely, a 25% decrease in the licence fee over five years would slash GDP by £630 million and lead to 32,000 job losses.
BBC research and development alone delivers significant value to the creative community, the wider industry and the UK economy. Every £1 spent by the BBC on research and development during the last charter delivered a return of at least £5 to £9 to the UK. That equates to a total economic benefit of between £827 million and £1.4 billion in the period 2007 to 2016.
The licence fee underpins not only the BBC but the competitive environment that supports the success of UK broadcasting. When the BBC performs well, commercial broadcasters raise their game to compete for audiences, which challenges the BBC to aim higher. In other words, it is a positive feedback loop, not a zero-sum game.
BBC investment over many decades has helped to develop significant creative economies across the UK. It has major production centres in Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast, Salford, Bristol, Birmingham and London, so it is not true to say that it is just urban—although those are urban centres. Its range is far and wide, and over 50% of the BBC’s employee and network television spend is outside London. This investment has driven not just BBC creativity but significant hubs of independent production. For example, Bristol has become an international hub for natural history production, following decades of BBC investment in its Natural History Unit, and Wales is home to BBC hits such as “Doctor Who” and “His Dark Materials”.
The BBC has announced further plans to support small and emerging independents across the UK. It already commissions significantly more small producers and out-of-London producers than any other broadcaster, and these new measures will boost the strength of UK production across the country. The measures will include a £1 million small independent fund to support small and emerging companies; bespoke deals such as tailored cash flow terms, shared risk arrangements and help securing third-party funding; and tailored events to build stronger connections between emerging small companies and the BBC. Public service broadcasters employ over 500 trained journalists, and sponsor journalists for local media, and a significant number of apprentices.
On the apprenticeship front, it was interesting to see that the BBC spent over £7 million in 2017, rising to £12.7 million in 2018, on entry-level schemes and apprenticeships. It has also ring-fenced work experience placements for unemployed young people via Jobcentre Plus, and visited over 1,000 schools through the BBC Young Reporter project to help develop media literacy skills and inspire the next generation of journalists, no matter what their background, in order to give everyone with the potential to succeed the opportunity to work in the industry, and not just in the BBC. It has also launched a pre-joiner programme, Get In To Media, developed with support from the Sutton Trust and MyKindaFuture.
The next generation of young journalists, producers and directors will make a vital contribution to the creative economy. Interestingly, the BBC has banned unpaid internships, and all the work experience placements are capped at two weeks, except in rare circumstances. Therefore, a huge contribution to the creative economy environment is made not just by the BBC but by all other public service broadcasters.
In a speech by the chief executive of ITV to the APPG, she said:
“The name will need to change because”
public service broadcasting
“won’t just be about broadcasting in future.”
That is absolutely true. We are moving into an era of streaming as well as broadcasting—in fact, we are not moving into it; we are already there. She continued:
“But the job of making programmes with a public purpose, available to everyone, is essential in the 21st Century. A gold standard of trusted national and local journalism amidst the anarchy of fake news.”
That is a very pertinent comment.
I want to talk about the future. We are now in a post-Brexit environment where our flourishing creative industries will make an even more vital contribution to the UK economy. Public service broadcasters, which are the envy of the world, do much to promote UK culture and values, as I have already said. The current arrangement with the licence fee, and with advertising supporting the other public service broadcast channels, is a delicate balance. As I explored earlier, changing the BBC to a subscription service or making it dependent on advertising will undermine public service broadcasting.
I hope that in replying the Minister will let us know the Government’s intentions. Do they recognise the importance of public service broadcasting to the creative economy? I—and, I think, many others—dispute the idea that changing from the licence fee will be an easily achieved objective. I, along with many others, believe that, no matter what threats might emanate from the Government, there will be a fight to preserve the independence of this vital asset, which is admired by practically every other country around the world as an independent—I stress that word—public service broadcaster, and I believe that everybody in this Chamber will join in that fight to preserve the vital nature of public service broadcasting.
I have tried to restrict my contribution to this debate in the hope that a few more minutes might be available to others, but I end by quoting the words of one of my favourite songwriters, Joni Mitchell, who said that
“you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.
I hope that we never see the day when the BBC and public service broadcasting in the way we know it today—independent, wide-ranging and serving the needs of our nation—ever disappears.
My Lords, I thank the Labour Party for using one of its slots for this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Young, for the very constructive way in which he opened it. I am reminded of a phrase that has gone down the ages: “We are the masters now.” The noble Lord, Lord Hennessey, will be able to tell us whether Hartley Shawcross actually said that, but there has always been a kind of opprobrium of a new Government that comes in with a sense of triumphalism and score-settling. I must say, the way that this Government have launched themselves on to the BBC is very worrying indeed. It is worth remembering that the BBC is protected by the royal charter from the day-to-day vindictiveness and intimidation of a Government.
Looking for support in the battle ahead, I am reminded from past debates that the Conservatives have a proud record on public service broadcasting. A Conservative Government established the BBC as a public body, protected and underpinned by the royal charter. A Conservative Government introduced commercial television on a regional basis, giving it regional strengths, which ITV retains today—I still think of myself as coming from “Granada-land”—and the late Lord Whitelaw was the political inspiration behind Channel 4, with its reputation for risk and non-conformity. This record should not be cast aside lightly in abeyance to those who see the BBC as the mortal enemy. The licence fee is probably the least bad way of financing the BBC and should be protected from populist ways to weaken it. It should not be used as a bran tub from which Governments can pluck popular goodies at will.
What is now under way is a fight to preserve the unique benefits of a public service ecology, which was preserved and promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Young. It is a debate that should be conducted sensibly and with due confidence from the public that it is national, not political, ends that are being followed. Our debate would also be better informed if those national newspapers running stories hostile to the BBC or to other public service broadcasters were automatically to spell out for their readers the commercial benefits to their proprietors of any particular course of action.
In his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Young, spelled out the various ways in which the BBC has contributed to our national life for over a century. It has been the source that everybody turns to for the news when there is a crisis. I would like to see the alleged research that shows that people look to Sky or to CNN, good as they are. When the going gets tough, the tough turns to the BBC. Those values that the BBC has embodied for almost a century have been supported by Governments of all parties. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, warned us so well, once lost, those values brought by the BBC to our national life will never be recovered. If we lose them, Fox News, here we come.
My Lords, I welcome this timely debate and congratulate the Labour Party on securing it and the noble Lord, Lord Young, on opening it so comprehensively. It is also a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally, whose contribution was typically passionate and informed.
I am privileged to chair your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Select Committee. We recently published a report on the future of PSBs; in the time available, I will highlight only a few of our conclusions. Last year, as chair of the committee, I attended the Royal Television Society Cambridge conference as a guest of ITV and attended a Hyde Park concert as an audience member and guest of the BBC. The noble Lord, Lord Young, is right to highlight the economic as well as the creative role of PSBs and the BBC in particular. Many noble Lords who are speaking today have made notable contributions to our nation’s creative life, and I look forward to hearing from them. I will dwell not on the huge cultural contributions of PSBs but on their critical and economic role.
Our creative industries are huge, growing and world-class. We have all seen the superlatives. They are central to our economy and will provide the jobs of the future. In a post-AI world, creativity in all its forms will drive future job growth and provide satisfying and fulfilling careers for future generations as other professions and skills decline in the age of automation. Right at the heart of our creative sector is the rapidly growing and changing UK film and TV production sector.
When we started taking evidence, I thought that we would produce a report with recommendations on how we might help PSBs simply to survive in this rapidly changing world, in which they would be bound to decline. However, witness after witness, from the SVODs investing so heavily in UK production to independent producers and non-PSB commercial broadcasters, highlighted that it was the mixed ecology that made the UK such an attractive place for them in which to invest and create jobs. So it seemed that the question was not what we could do to help PSBs to survive but how to help them to thrive and continue to play a critical role at the heart of our creative industries, nurturing talent, taking risks and reflecting Britain in all its diversity. To me, that says that these industries must be at the heart of our future industrial strategy and central to our economic policy. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government take that view.
In our report, we said we would miss the PSBs when they had gone and, as I said, we highlighted what needed to be done to ensure that that did not happen. That is not down to the Government alone. The PSBs, most particularly the BBC, have to change and adapt. I agree with the Secretary of State, who said today that diversity is about more than reaching younger and BAME audiences, critical though that is; it is about having fair and broad on-screen representation across all communities and reflecting the views of people outside London. Genuine impartiality is about having genuine diversity of thought and experience.
I pay tribute to the select committee that I chair. It is typical of your Lordships’ House: expert, experienced and diligent. We produced a comprehensive report and I have had only a moment or two to touch on a few of our recommendations. However, I want to touch on the issue of the future funding of the BBC. We looked at the evidence and took the view that the licence fee continues to be the best way to fund the BBC. We found that the BBC should not have been asked, nor should it have agreed, to take on the funding of over-75 free licences. However, while we were critical of the Government, we were also critical of the BBC, which negotiated that settlement, which came as part of a wider package that it welcomed at the time. We felt strongly that the way in which the BBC is funded needs to be open and transparent on all sides. We called for a funding commission. The Government may not agree with that or think that it is the right way forward, but does the Minister agree with Margot James, the then Minister, who said in evidence to the Committee that there was
“clearly a case for greater transparency”?
Does the Minister agree that the right way to have this debate is to start by asking what we as a society want the BBC to do, work out what that will cost and then, and only then, look at how that cost can be met? Does she agree that, while the BBC faces huge challenges and most certainly makes mistakes, it has a vital role in our human lives and our future economy, and that our task is to help it to meet those challenges and to thrive?
Lastly, does the Minister agree that finding someone to fill the inestimable boots of the noble Lord, Lord Hall, whom I thank warmly for his services as director-general, is going to be one tough task, and one that is for the BBC alone?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young, has tabled an important and timely debate. I start with a quote from a recent Radio 4 interview with the media analyst Claire Enders, who said:
“The BBC … has a civic purpose. Netflix does not”.
This is the primary distinguishing characteristic of the BBC, implicit in its original mission statement. The BBC provides a public space for public debate through informing, through education, through the arts and entertainment. Other public broadcasters and the more commercial channels do some of this, but those who believe there should be a more level playing field misunderstand the nature of the relationship between the BBC and other services, including the video-on-demand services. As a purely non-commercial service, the BBC keeps the others honest and has done so for many decades, through being able to focus entirely on the notion of quality and now, globally, on areas other than world news. This is less a marketplace and more a richly productive ecosystem. The Government should not forget the considerable soft power that accrues from the BBC’s place in this ecosystem.
Mistakes are made. I point to a recent one: the Government have taken a leaf straight out of the Trump playbook in effectively no-platforming the public broadcasters, including the “Today” programme. They would rather continue to campaign to stay in power through social media, including Twitter, than debate the issues of the day through broadcasters. This is deeply insulting to the public. In my view, “Today” should have responded immediately by interviewing shadow Secretaries of State and effectively empty-chairing the relevant Ministers. The Government would have changed their tune fairly quickly, but this is a minor quibble in the scheme of things. “Today” will now have Times Radio on its tail, although I am sure that the BBC will rise to this challenge boldly.
“Core values” as a term applied to the BBC makes me uneasy, since it suggests that you can strip back to the core. A diminished BBC would be a blander BBC and make us a considerably poorer country. The BBC echoes the wider values of society because, at its best, it speaks to and for everyone by virtue of it being a public platform. This is true even if it is left to individuals to pay for the licence fee, rather than everyone doing so through their taxes. The BBC’s ethos informs all parts of its output. There is immense value still in a commercial-free zone, including for young children. It is a choice that viewers and listeners ought to have the right to.
I am not certain that the public are properly aware of what the licence fee continues to provide, although I am sure we will hear much of this today. It should be food for thought: a nexus of broadcasting; original programming—although this should be proportionately more, in my view; creative development; events and festivals; orchestras and choirs; and much more. These are aspects of a unique culture which most people will access or be a part of, even if, at a particular time in their lives, they are not always tuning in. A recent poll shows that 79% of the public would like the Government to continue to pay for the over-75s but, if we lost the licence fee or—more to the point—the moneys that the licence fee brings, we would not have this unique and extraordinary service, which continues to be a huge creative force and a force for good in not only this country, but the world.
My Lords, the timing of this debate could hardly be better. I also want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for his introduction. The Media and Telecoms 2020 & Beyond conference and the Culture Secretary’s contribution to it inevitably inform a lot of what is to be said. I also wondered whether I need to declare an interest, having been the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields for 16 years, given that the first religious service ever broadcast came from there, by the BBC, in January 1924. The link continues. I never made much income from it, but it is a significant relationship with considerable affection for the BBC built into it.
The debate has focused on public service and the contribution of the BBC to the economy and creative culture of the country. Other noble Lords can speak much better than I can about the economic and creative culture contribution but, given the Government’s commitment to levelling up, you would think that the contribution of the BBC through Salford and all its local and regional outputs would be a significant part of what is to be considered.
I am sorry this is a bit like a sermon, but I will focus on three words to make my points: “British”, “Broadcasting” and “Corporation”. The Minister is right that the BBC must do more to reflect the country’s
“genuine diversity of thought and experience”,
but the BBC also shapes British identity; it does not just reflect it. It is a really subtle relationship, which goes both ways. In terms of the importance of public service in a country that has grown more secular, as well as more plural, the level of religious illiteracy and the lack of religious grammar is very significant for public service broadcasting.
“Nation shall speak peace unto nation.”
That, of course, is an adaptation of the prophet Micah, and that is where the roots of this lie. You cannot just cut off the institution from the roots that have informed it. We are grateful for the religious broadcasting that takes place, particularly on local radio and Radios 2 and 4 on Sunday mornings, reaching audiences who otherwise would not be reached. This helps to build relationships between faith communities. It is not just a Christian monopoly, because religious broadcasting has developed.
That was about British identity and how Britain has grown and developed. There is also a sense in which broadcasting continues to be significant. It is not just narrowcasting, which happens so much through social media and can be deeply influenced, in ways unseen, from outside. This is in parentheses, for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury to comment on: why do we not have that report on Russian interference in our previous election and referendum processes? That is of huge significance in terms of how easy it is to influence narrowcasting through social media. The BBC does a really good job of broadcasting critical debate that is robust and helps to establish, over time, an element of truth otherwise not there.
Corporations need cherishing. This is about the body, an institution. In our time, we are not good at cherishing institutions and we need to do it in a way that upholds the body of the institution for the sake of the country. This is not one of those bodies that needs to be dealt with by disruption and discontinuity. It needs to be cherished, and the Government need to know that we want the BBC to be safe in their hands.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for making possible this incredibly timely debate—albeit the Roger Bannister version, as I view it. In the short time available, I hope to remind your Lordships that the current project to undermine public service broadcasting is not new. It is simply the most recent iteration of a decades-long campaign of salami-slicing and intimidation by, I am sad to say, successive Conservative Governments, many of whom have sought to take the wind out of the BBC’s sails and erode the trust it enjoys among the public. It is the now-familiar Putin playbook: promote fear and distrust, and allow the consequences to multiply.
As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has already suggested, there is something rather ironic in the determination shown by Conservative leaders to dismantle an institution of which the party itself should be rightly proud. Perhaps the Prime Minister has forgotten that it was under the leadership of his hero, Winston Churchill, that a Conservative Government passed the Television Act 1954—legislation that protected the position of the BBC while, at the same time, introducing a brilliantly conceived system of regulated competition through a new Independent Television Authority. This system established a nationwide ecology—there is that word again—of public service broadcasting that allowed all aspects of the media to thrive. Crucially, while there was competition for audiences, the BBC/ITV duopoly did not compete for revenue.
The one-nation vision that lay at the heart of policy-making 60 years ago would appear to have evaporated and turned into something rather more sinister. There is no lack of vision in this Government’s policy towards the BBC. The vision is there; it was laid out with paint- by-numbers clarity by the Prime Minister’s principal adviser, Dominic Cummings, in 2004. Writing that year, he called for a campaign to undermine the corporation’s credibility, suggesting that:
“The BBC is a determined propagandist with a coherent ideology.”
To combat this, he argued for the creation of a British version of Fox News. He believed this could be achieved through a
“campaign to end the licence fee”.
Here was a vision that represented a massive departure from Conservatism, certainly as most Members of this House would understand it. Its genesis was that of Trumpian populism, an ideology that treats contempt for institutions as a form of political weaponry and is a long way from the wisdom of Edmund Burke, who once said:
“Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundred years.”
For the past few months I have spent a great deal of my life in the Committee Corridor, chairing a Select Committee looking at the impact of digital technology on democracy. One thing has already emerged with quite frightening clarity: confusion over where to seek verifiable fact. However, thanks largely to the vision of the noble Lord, Lord Birt, who I am delighted is in his place, and as recently confirmed by Ofcom, the BBC has emerged as the digital gold standard in the provision of trusted information in an era of fake news. Surely, as we stand on the brink of a global pandemic, that gold standard of trust is more crucial than it has ever been.
This can no longer be about the wilful vengeance of politicians; it is about the very real possibility of saving lives. To paraphrase the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, speaking in this House just two months ago, trust is the scarcest and most precious political metal we have. Sad to say, I am far from reassured by the Secretary of State’s well-trailed retreat from earlier briefings. I can only repeat my belief that we are watching a well-rehearsed process of intimidation and destabilisation. Hopefully, when she comes to respond to the debate the Minister will unequivocally assure me that I am wrong, because we cannot allow an unremitting vendetta to rob us of the most valuable asset that democracy has at its disposal.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young, on introducing this debate. I must declare an interest: throughout his working life, my father worked for the BBC in a humble administrative capacity, so I was brought up with a filial affection for the corporation—unfortunately, one not reciprocated by it.
My affection persists but does not blind me to the BBC’s faults. Nor do those faults, which I shall discuss, make me want to end the licence fee, either to punish it or to try to remedy those faults, which I do not think it would not do—although I fear that the licence fee may be eroded by technology. The aims of the BBC, as has been said, are to inform, educate and entertain. At its best, it does all those superbly. In the current coronavirus situation, the information role of the BBC has been invaluable. On education, “In Our Time”, presented by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, is always superb; we heard this morning about Paul Dirac. To me, as a physicist, that was wonderful to hear. On entertainment, it produces some unmatched comedies and dramas.
Sadly, however, we should admit—although I think I will be the only person in this debate to do so—that people in the BBC have a certain groupthink on some key issues, notably immigration, climate change and Europe. Instead of informing on those issues, it censors; instead of educating, it seeks to indoctrinate; and instead of entertaining, it seeks to preach. I will give concrete examples from my own experience, not because that experience is important but because I can be sure that the examples are factual rather than vague allegations.
People in the BBC, typical of the metropolitan elites, see migration as a key issue for virtue signalling, as well as it being in their own economic interest to oppose any controls on migration. Invariably, they cite the need for nurses, because insufficient people in this country want to train as nurses, so we have to import them from abroad. That has been sustained by the BBC, but it is untrue. When I appeared on the BBC three years ago and pointed out that 40,000 applicants that year had been turned away from nursing courses in this country, the BBC expressed scorn and subsequently phoned me up to demand that I prove it—clearly intending to challenge me. I was able to prove it in 10 minutes with figures from the Royal College of Nursing and UCAS, but the BBC has never used that information since. As a result, I doubt whether there is a Member in this House who knows that last year, 24,000 applicants for nursing courses in this country were turned away because those courses are still rationed.
The second issue is climate change. I was asked by Quentin Letts to appear on a witty programme, “What’s the Point Of…?”, about the Met Office. They invited the only two members of the Climate Change Committee in the other place who had been scientifically trained, of whom I was one. I explained that, while obviously I believe in the science of global warming—I studied physics at Cambridge—the sensitivity of the climate to a given amount of CO2 is likely to be at the lower end of the spectrum spelled out by the IPCC, rather than the higher end which the Met Office always assumed. To illustrate my point, I pointed out that the Met Office produced a glossy pamphlet in 2004 saying that with its new computer, it could forecast accurately the future warming of the planet and that over the next decade—by 2014—it would have increased by 0.3 degrees. But 2014 had passed and we knew that it had in fact increased by between nothing and a tiny proportion of that amount.
Following this, there was an eruption from all the eco-fascists and within the BBC. The BBC referred itself to the BBC Trust for, in its words, “Giving voice to people like Peter Lilley”. This is the organisation that was proud to give voice to the IRA—but it was anxious not to give voice to me. It then removed the whole programme from the website and published an apology for ever having allowed me to utter this simple truth: the Met Office had got its long-term forecast wrong.
I am sorry if I am overrunning, but I am the only spokesman for the opposition in this debate and it is normal to give the opposition a little more space. The third issue I want to raise is the EU. The debate over the last three years has focused on attempts by remainers to keep the UK in the customs union, rather than just a free-trade association.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Young for initiating this debate, which is clearly extremely timely. I agree with the many things said from these Benches about the importance of the BBC. However, limited by time I wish to address a single subject, one hinted at by my noble friend Lord Puttnam: the influence of Dominic Cummings on government policy towards the BBC.
In January 2004, with the Tory party languishing in opposition, as director of the think tank the New Frontiers Foundation, Cummings wrote that until the Conservative Party
“realises that … the BBC is a mortal enemy … then it will continue on its current course.”
Six months later, he wrote:
“It is a mistake in general for a Conservative leader to appear on the Today programme unless he is announcing a major new positive proposal … Effort should be diverted from Today to programmes that affect the public … more. Today itself needs to be audited by a proper media monitoring”
enterprise. The following month, he wrote:
“The privileged closed world of the BBC needs to be turned upside down and its very existence should be the subject of a very intense and well-funded campaign that involves bringing out whistleblowers armed with internal memos and taped conversations of meetings.”
Subsequently, after a programme referring to a complaint about the “Today” programme’s coverage of Iraq, he wrote:
“Another reason why the Right should be aiming for the end of the BBC in its current form and the legalisation of TV political advertising.”
In the autumn of that year, again:
“There are three structural things that the Right needs to happen in terms of communications ... the undermining of the BBC’s credibility … the creation of a Fox News equivalent”
and talk shows
“to shift the centre of gravity”
“the end of the ban on TV political advertising”.
Later that year—this is still 2004—he wrote that,
“one thing that can be done between now and the election is fire missile after missile at the BBC every time it engages in this sort of reporting”,
and that the right,
“can only prosper in the long-term by undermining the BBC’s reputation for impartiality … and by changing the law on political advertising.”
Since then, a number of anonymously sourced and funded anti-BBC websites and YouTube channels have been set up over the past decade.
Dominic Cummings went on to run the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum. Since the 2019 election, he has been chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in No. 10 Downing Street. Given that the Government have already implemented his recommended policy of refusing to engage with the BBC’s “Today” programme, will the Minister please confirm whether his ongoing agenda for undermining the BBC is now government policy?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a series producer at Raw TV making content for CNN.
PSBs in the UK are under threat as never before.
“The power of British television has essentially moved”
to Los Angeles. Those were the words of Andy Harries, CEO of the makers of “The Crown”, when he gave evidence to the Communications and Digital Committee, of which I am proud to be a member. It is a series made by Netflix, one of the winners in the new world of subscription giants. American broadcasting channels and platforms are pouring money into UK-made content. It is a boom time for the creative industry in this country, but if we want public service broadcasters that reflect the UK back to itself and concentrate on UK news and current affairs, and defy the labour market by moving creative jobs from London to the regions and nations, we have to fight hard to protect them.
They have all been under attack—especially the BBC—from all sides of the political divide for biased programming and reporting. The Culture Secretary said today that the BBC has a “narrow urban outlook” and is “slow to pick up” on recent trends, implicitly questioning its impartiality. Public service broadcasters are empowered by their impartiality. In a digital world in which almost everything is editorialised and social media creates filter bubbles of content to reinforce users’ political view of the world, we need to emphasise the value of mandated impartiality. It means that public service broadcasters are regulated to be transparent and accountable, a powerful bulwark against the continued polarisation subsuming our political discourse.
I too was very glad that Mr Dowden today said that
“the BBC is an institution to be cherished”.
Yet it has been lambasted by the Government. Its financial security is questioned by significant sources threatening to turn it, or at least parts of it, into a subscription service. PSBs have the new BritBox as a small subscription service for archive and there is even talk in the press of them coming together to create a non-subscription UK PSB platform as a one-stop shop for digital audiences, which would be a very good idea. However, for the PSBs to launch themselves against what will soon be 12 US subscription services in the UK at least will be financial and cultural folly. These US-based giants are global, mostly supported by either massive deficit funding or very generous parent companies that can outspend any home-grown rival.
However, the Government are right to question the BBC’s universal licence fee. It has served the corporation well, but it is decreasingly able to fund the organisation properly. Some 37,000 fewer licences were purchased last year and the forecast is for the reduction to continue. As we approach the licence fee interim settlement talks in 2022, it is a good time to start discussing alternative funding models. I am in favour of a progressive household tax, as there is in Germany. It reflects the differing wealth of households and maintains the universality of the BBC’s funding, which is so crucial in allowing it to commission programmes for underserved audiences. Will this model be considered by the Government in their funding talks with the BBC?
The Government are right to recognise that the future of PSBs is online, but it is becoming ever more difficult for online viewers to discover PSB content on digital platforms. Ofcom, in its recent report on PSB prominence, said that changing viewer behaviour in this new era means that without new regulatory safeguards to maintain the prominence of these channels online, audiences will be lost. This will happen quickly and will be costly to reverse. The Government have said they are committed to these recommendations. The fast- changing market means that it is a matter of urgency that this new legislation is brought before Parliament soon, so when might this happen?
I ask the Minister to fully support UK PSBs. Without them, our world-class broadcasting services will be subsumed by the inexorable growth and world march of US streaming giants.
My Lords, first I thank my noble friend Lord Young for calling this important debate, and for speaking so well and covering so much ground. It is a starting shot in what will be a long and, regrettably, corrosive ideological battle. I declare an interest: I work as a freelancer for BBC Radio 4.
My greater interest is that, as far back as I can remember, the BBC, one way or another, has entertained, educated and informed me and millions of others through radio and television—and it still does. For almost 100 years, it has been in the grain of our lives—and it still is. The BBC is the sum of its programmes. Its range is incomparable—from the cosmic to the minority to the eccentric—and it is envied globally. Yet it appears that this Government want to thwack—a word straight from the nursery—the BBC. The Tories have had a good record of thwacking over the years. The northern manufacturing industries, which once compared with anything in Germany and France, were thwacked by Mrs Thatcher. How else could an island that began shipbuilding in the time of Alfred the Great have totally lost its shipbuilding traditions? Local government —the proud continuation of ancient and independent regions—has also been thwacked, and on it goes. The BBC needs to be redirected because of the new television armadas storming across from America—aided and cheered on by Dominic Cummings —elegantly eviscerated by my noble friend Lord Puttnam and scorched by my noble friend Lady Bakewell.
The BBC licence fee should be examined, but the best way is to reform, not dismantle, it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the licence fee, so far, is the least bad method of doing that. A means test, one way or another, might work—perhaps there are other ways—so I agree with the noble Lord on that one. The declared policy of sending a wrecking ball through an organisation that has taken almost a hundred years to evolve and is now fine-tuned to every class, age group, creed and niche in this country is childish. The BBC is deeply intermixed and intermeshed with our culture. For many people, it is our culture, so why tear it apart? Is this the best we can do? It is depressing that the Conservatives do not understand the monetisation of the big American networks—with their many billions of dollars of debt—which are very limited in their programme spectrum and, as far as this country is concerned, are a model from hell. We do things differently here. Many Americans believe that they should learn from us, rather than we from them, in the matter of range, reach and depth of broadcasting.
Post Brexit, we have to build a new country. We have strengths in the City, which need to be affirmed, but our three modern strengths—our universities, culture and media—are all accelerating employers, capable of being even bigger earners and deeply influential for this country’s good. The BBC is key to all of these—for instance, almost two million people work in the media. It has grown rapidly since the 1940s and outstrips most of the traditional industries. There is no reason why those two million should not turn into three or four million, providing skilled, niche jobs globally and in demand. The BBC is the core of this development. We could become a media island, rivalling Silicon Valley.
Link this with the strength of our universities. English universities are rated as the top universities in the world—not least the Open University—and their research departments are growing at pace. We then have the widely praised strength of the arts, in which the BBC is a huge player. This trilogy—the media, universities and the arts—could rise post Brexit, but not if we fail to see the profound, interwoven basic structures at work. The BBC is crucial to this.
What sort of country do we want to be? That is the question. The BBC is key to a transformation that will be sorely needed, not only in itself but in what it feeds and drives. Above all, it stands for and tells us who we are. That cohesive self-knowledge is increasingly necessary and energising in what is a fractured time. People in this country will march for the BBC because they know that, since the beginning, it has served them well in a democratic and equal way. For almost 100 years, they have paid for it with very little complaint. It is a public service; it belongs to them and we cannot let them down.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Bragg, who has enormous authority in this area. I hope and expect that this will be the first of many debates when we discuss again the new threats to public broadcasting, which, like my noble friend Lord Bragg and other noble Lords, I regard as one of the central pillars of Britain’s unique cultural life.
In my brief contribution, I will make two points from personal experience. First, I declare an interest, albeit an historical one. In my pretty varied and rather disjointed working life, my longest and most fulfilling employment was with the BBC. For over two decades, I was a broadcast producer and journalist trying to achieve the very high standards that the corporation demanded. Those high standards of factual accuracy, objective assessment of controversial issues and rational analysis have always been bedrock requirements in the corporation. I was also proud to be part of an organisation that has been seen as a flag carrier for Britain, recognised and respected throughout the world.
However, my professional and fundamental belief in public service broadcasting is not simply the loyalty of an ex-employee. Most importantly, it is based in international broadcasting experience, specifically in the various times I have lived and worked in the United States. The vivid contrast between what the audience experiences on this side of the Atlantic compared with the other is certainly not about the respective qualities of the programme-makers. Rather, it is about what I describe as the necessarily “breathless” nature of American programming, driven by the intensely competitive environment of a profit-based system.
I have just returned from spending several weeks in the United States, and can easily illustrate this point with a very current example: the comparative coverage of the alarming coronavirus, which to me encapsulates the advantages of our public broadcasting system. From the start of the Chinese epidemic, the rich American networks poured resources into their coverage, as they always do. Every evening, the nightly news includes correspondents following the story all over the globe. However, no report lasts longer than a hurried 30 seconds before returning to New York and another lengthy commercial break. The medical experts are allowed perhaps a minute to explain a complex issue, and when Vice-President Pence assumed government responsibility for the crisis, he simply appeared in a one-sentence clip from a Washington media conference. None of this has provided consistent, detailed information to help the anxious public. President Trump has merely contributed a Twitter blitz, blaming the Democratic Party for creating health hysteria. At the same time, the President has announced budget proposals to cut funding to the valiant but tiny public broadcast sector there to zero—zero—over the next three years.
In stark contrast, in this country, your Lordships will have seen and heard special programmes on the coronavirus from all the PBS networks. There have been lengthy, informative interviews with health experts and scientists, and Ministers have been accessible and open—even breaking the No. 10 omertà to appear on the “Today” programme.
Once again, at a difficult and potentially dangerous time, the BBC is the primary source for responsible news and critical information. We are experiencing public service broadcasting at its very best. It is hard to imagine any British Government, however ideologically driven, choosing this time to undermine such an extraordinarily valuable asset. Let us hope that the extremists recognise this before it is too late.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Young on securing this debate at such an important time. It is interesting to look around the House to see which Benches are busiest. I suspect that a lot of noble Lords on the other side of the House have not sought to come in because they agree with the position that is adopted by this debate. My noble friend Lord Puttnam made a powerful speech that sums up, more eloquently than I could, my view of where we are in this debate about the BBC. This is a fundamental issue about the nature of British culture and the British people.
I speak as a Scot who once worked for the BBC: I did not last very long, because it was in the days of received pronunciation and, as your Lordships may have noticed, I do not have received pronunciation. However, it was one of the proudest experiences of my life, because I learned that the BBC is the gold standard, admired around the world.
I want to say a little about the World Service, because it is one of this country’s most effective tools of public diplomacy, and it gets into places that no one else can reach. It is always a symbol of how useful it is that dictators the world over try to find ways to block the World Service, or indeed the BBC in general. It has already been cut but it is still very good indeed, and it should be treasured. On the issue of decriminalising the licence fee, which will cost £200 million, I worry that the bean-counters will look again at the BBC World Service.
I will spend a little time on a much more parochial issue, perhaps in your Lordships’ view, although I see it as integral to the culture of the United Kingdom. The Culture Secretary is today talking about the need for diversity in the BBC and the need to be less urban. Perhaps I can politely suggest to him that he needs to get out more. One need only look at some of the broadcasting in Scotland: at BBC Alba, the Gaelic channel, and BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, a Gaelic channel. I suspect that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, is the only Gaelic speaker in the House. Gaelic is spoken by a small number of people but it is a valuable culture. When Gaelic broadcasting took off, the need to make programmes gave a huge boost to the creative industries in Scotland. Programmes were made and people were taught skills, and, as a consequence of that, the creative broadcasting sector has grown. We now have a very useful partnership between BBC Scotland and Screen Scotland to make movies in Scotland; a lot of it is based on the BBC and Channel 4—another public sector broadcaster—having capability in Scotland. Diversity comes in many different forms, and that kind of diversity matters. To someone like me—a Scot who is proud to be British—one of the best examples is the British Broadcasting Corporation.
In various guises in my past, I have complained about bias in the BBC. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, complains about bias in the BBC. The SNP had hundreds of people outside the BBC studios during the referendum campaign, complaining about bias in the BBC. I am sure that the Lib Dems have done it as well at some point. If we are all complaining, it must be getting something right. If we are all unhappy about bias, something must be working. We have a great opportunity to take the BBC into its next century. Let us not be myopic; let us not see Fox News as our ambition; let us be proud of what we have got. We are not good at doing that—this is a chance to do it.
My Lords, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the Members’ register of interests and declare that I am a board member of the BBC and work as a freelancer, mostly in sport. I will extend this debate on creative culture to sport and elite women’s sport, and want to take a short time to describe the impact that sport has had on my life.
Watching the London Marathon in 1981 gave me the opportunity to think that somebody like me could do wheelchair racing. In 1990, when the BBC took a brave decision to put Helen Rollason on “Grandstand”, as its first female presenter, that was a special moment. The public debate was, “How dare they allow a woman to be on television, talking about sport?”—because obviously none of us know anything about it. She was incredible; she changed the dialogue around women’s sport and the Paralympics, pushing hard to move away from the very patronising coverage that we had experienced beforehand. That had a huge impact on my life.
Last year, BBC Sport set out to try to “change the game”. The ambition was pretty simple: to make a huge commitment to women’s sport. While in 2019, it accounted for only 3% of UK TV sports hours, the BBC delivered 33% of sports viewing figures and is the most popular destination for sports fans in the UK across all platforms. It is amazing to think that the continual investment in showing women’s games is changing the conversation. I am glad to say that I do not often have to have the conversation any more about the fact that “Women don’t play football like men”. No, they do not, and that is why it is exciting; it is about giving young women the opportunity to see others.
Having the Women’s FA Cup final, the Women’s Football World Cup final, and the Netball World Cup on the television changes the conversation. In a changing world that is not easy, when sports rights can be expensive and there are funding limitations. Some 45 million people watched, listened or read about Change the Game, and it has 30 million followers on social media; 11 million people watched the TV coverage of the Netball World Cup.
The Women’s Sport Trust did some research during the summer looking at the proportion and prominence of women’s sport stories put out by different media companies. Of the top 10 stories on the BBC Sport homepage each day, 46% featured women’s sports. If we look at the World Cup, 28 million TV viewers tuned in, with 11 million watching the semi-final between England and the USA. I am very proud to say that that made it the most watched sporting event of the year, bigger than the likes of the Rugby World Cup, Wimbledon and the Six Nations. It has been proved, again and again, that people want to watch women’s sport.
The FA has stated that from September onwards, there were more than 850,000 committed participants playing 11-a-side, or small-sided football competitively, with a retention rate of 23% among existing adult female participants. That is a direct impact of being able to see women’s sport on television. There is also more money flowing into the women’s game because of this. Barclays paid £10 million to sponsor the Women’s Super League—I never thought I would see that happen—SSE sponsors the Women’s FA Cup, and Gatorade extended its global sponsorship of Manchester City to cover the women’s team.
We should never underestimate the impact on young women of being able to see other women play sport at elite level.
My Lords, I very much welcome the initiative of my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green in bringing this debate to the House. Now is the time for the many friends and admirers of the BBC to get into campaign mode, not just to save it from the attacks it has been experiencing, but to press for its expansion and development in order to put it on the best possible footing to face the future.
The UK does not have many national institutions that command widespread international regard and respect. The BBC does command that respect and also provides some much-needed glue for the relationships of the four nations of the UK. The concept of Britishness has diminished as Great British-labelled companies have shrunk or disappeared. Even BT and BA prefer to downplay their full names. The BBC and the NHS remain proud and strong flagships of the best of Britain, shaping as well as reflecting the nation. The BBC in particular, as others have said, is regarded as the gold standard, setting a very high bar for the rest, including ITV and Sky. But the BBC has powerful enemies, and they are mobilising. The enemies are not the public, of whom 40 million use the BBC every day; they are not the young audience, 76% of whom support the BBC’s mission; they are not the regions, where 50% of the BBC is now based; and they are not the many who regard the BBC as the most trusted source of news and the enemy of fake news.
The enemies, understandably, include rival media organisations, but they now include many in the Conservative Party and Government, who regard the BBC as being full of metropolitan lefties. This has led them to engage in a campaign against the licence fee and to the childish boycott of the “Today” programme. For the sake of fairness, I must say that the critics include some on the left who regard the BBC as a timid creature of the establishment—witness the unpleasant and disgraceful reception that Laura Kuenssberg has had to endure at times. My admiration for the BBC does not blind me to its weaknesses; the muddle on equal pay has been morale-sapping. More strategically, the competition now comes from deep-pocketed rivals, mainly from the United States, and the trend towards social media use—streaming and watching programmes at convenient times. This is a major challenge. However, the BBC can rise to these challenges. It has risen to previous ones and I am confident it can do so again.
Let us not assume that all is well on the other side of the Atlantic. As has been mentioned, Netflix has a long-term debt of $12 billion. So instead of sniping and weakening the BBC, now is the time to strengthen it and public sector broadcasting in general. For me, this means keeping the licence fee, enforcing its collection and finding an alternative source of funding TV licences for the elderly. Public sector broadcasting is a jewel in the UK’s crown—fight off its enemies and get behind a re-energised and strengthened BBC.
My Lords, as others have said, media freedom is a foundational value in a democracy. It is rather interesting that this Government, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are at this very time promoting media freedom around the world in a great project which I am involved in. This includes an expert legal panel of lawyers from around the world, and Britain—with Canada and other nations under the umbrella of UNESCO—is promoting media freedom. Yet it causes me some disquiet to say that, at the very same moment, the Government are not engaging with the BBC, trying to limit senior politicians taking part in BBC television debates and limiting their attendance at press conferences. That does not seem to fit with the idea of media freedom that we want to champion.
The BBC is recognised around the world as one of the jewels in the UK’s crown. Here, I disagree with my noble friend who has just spoken, who said, “It’s the one institution that’s admired.”. It is not: our senior judiciary is also admired, but that too is under attack. Our Civil Service is greatly admired, and it is also under attack. We should be worried that these institutions, which are greatly respected around the world, are somehow at the receiving end of the attentions of Mr Cummings and the hard right. It also amuses me that the hard left is a source of great anxiety to many in your Lordships’ House; the hard right should be just as alarming, if not more so.
All Governments get irritated by the BBC, as my noble friend Lady Liddell has said. Of course, the coverage, at times will be an unhappy criticism of those in government, but the current assault on the BBC has a more sinister and calculated provenance than anything that has gone before. Dominic Cummings has been mentioned a number of times and I am sure it will be a great source of delight to him, because we hear in the press that he rather likes being seen as the sinister author of so much that is going on. He is our Steve Bannon, and we should be clear about that. He is an ideologue and has great influence currently, and we can see from his writings what his ideology is. He is someone very much from the fringes politically, but unfortunately, he and others like him of the extreme right wing have captured the castle. Many on the Opposition Benches should be alarmed about that, because of the consequences that may come to pass.
Dominic Cummings and his friend James Frayne, and Frayne’s wife Rachel Wolf, were all part of the think tank New Frontiers Foundation, which has already been mentioned. It has always been opaque regarding the source of its income, as indeed are some of the other organisations around them. Frayne and his wife Rachel Wolf had both worked for extreme right-wing lobbying companies in the United States before they worked with Cummings. They had learned, before any of us even knew about any of this, how to install fake monitors and protesters on social media and how to create online smear apparatus. We should be very clear about what is going on: when he talks about going after the mortal enemy that is the BBC, he really is thinking about the Americanisation of our media ecology —a phrase others have already used.
I call for noble Lords to be alarmed about what is happening. Our institutions are under assault because the Conservative Party, with its long tradition, has been captured by sections of the hard right who want to deconstruct many of the good things about our society that hold us together. It is a scorched earth policy —beware.
My Lords, I thank the Labour Party for securing this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Young, for the ringing conclusion to his introduction.
In a world of floods of dodgy or fake information, where commercial imperatives push broadcasters and publishers, driven by the profit motive, to even further extremes, where the nation needs reliable sources of information that bring together common understandings of the condition of itself, we need public service broadcasting, particularly the BBC. As the Green Party’s long-term vision for the UK’s future puts it, we need
“a shared space for all citizens”
“information and education are given equal precedence to entertainment.”
When there is a massive, pressing issue of coronavirus or flooding, the BBC should be there, providing immediate, authoritative, often local information that serves its communities and the national interest. When the topic is contentious and contested, immigration or economics, it should provide thoughtful, accessible information able to support informed, careful debate.
As many noble Lords have said, visible pressure is put daily on the BBC by the right-wing commercial media, which has a clear interest in knocking down a competitor, and by the right-wing politicians who support it. The Green Party has many criticisms of the BBC’s approach but, rather than using that as an argument for allowing decline, let us make it an argument for improvement. The principle of a public sector broadcaster is sound and must be defended. We have heard many noble Lords doing that already today, but there is a problem with the approach that many are taking. Defence of the BBC has been equated with defending the licence fee, and that means defending the undefendable, the already damaged and the outdated.
Why is the licence fee undefendable? It is now officially classified as a tax, and it operates as a deeply regressive, flat poll tax, one that falls at exactly the same level on the poorest bedsit in Wigan and the largest mansion in Chelsea. It has ludicrous anomalies, so that, depending on the tenancy agreement, one five-bedroom house in multiple occupancy can pay £154.50, while its identical neighbour can pay £772.50. It will now also fall on the over-75s who are not in receipt of pension tax credit. This is a situation for which the Government should be squarely blamed, not the BBC. We know that many pensioners who are eligible for the credit—about 1.3 million households—do not claim it. They will be forced to pay what they cannot afford.
Why is the licence fee damaged? It is politically damaged. Non-payment can result in individuals being sent to jail. Certainly, that is rare, because the courts try to avoid it, but some individuals are jailed and a much larger number live in fear of jail as a result—and that for non-payment of a sum that many of them simply cannot afford. I think that is impossible for those concerned about the vulnerable to defend.
Finally, the licence fee is outdated. As the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, said, the whole media landscape is changing. Almost half of UK households now subscribe to a subscription video-on-demand service—Netflix, Amazon TV or similar—and the very idea of the TV as a box in the corner or a screen on the wall that collects signals is going fast. By the time the current BBC charter ends, in December 2027, we will certainly be much further down this road. This is not the way forward. We have to maintain funding for the BBC, but instead of the poll-tax funding model, we need a secure, hypothecated slice of general taxation for the BBC in the future, perhaps established by the mechanism of a funding commission, as your Lordships’ Select Committee recommended.
My Lords, I am grateful to speak in this debate and I join in the justifiably effusive congratulations to my noble friend Lord Young. This has been one of the most impressive and informed debates I have sat through in this Chamber, and we have many impressive ones—it has been really tremendous.
The role of public service broadcasting is a crucial issue. I highlighted it recently in a report I was privileged to prepare for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on threats to media freedom throughout Europe. As I reported, public service broadcasters are under increasing threat from the growing number of authoritarian Governments in Europe today, and now, sadly, we see it happening here in the United Kingdom, as my noble friends Lady Liddell and Lord Puttnam said. As was made clear to me by MPs from all over Europe at the parliamentary assembly, the BBC is seen as the gold standard in public service broadcasting.
As my noble friends have said, the BBC is under attack in different ways: the principle of funding through the licence fee, in particular; but also, as others have said, in the despicable way of passing the buck for free TV licences for the over-75s, which is and ought to be the responsibility of the Government, and the Department for Work and Pensions in particular. It is disgraceful that that buck should be passed to the BBC. It will have a huge impact on vulnerable pensioners up and down the country, particularly those who fall just short of qualifying for pension credit but are by no means well off. It is those people who will be hardest hit by the changes, contrary to what was in Tory manifesto, which promises older people
“the security and dignity they deserve”.
Loneliness is a critical issue facing older people. It is an issue I have raised previously, in this Chamber and in my work as chair of Age Scotland, and it is one that the Government pretend to be concerned about. Research by Age UK found that more than 1 million people say that TV is their main source of company, yet the lack of responsibility from the Government to honour their promise to support older people who rely heavily on TV has been rightly met with overwhelming dismay and disappointment. That 2019 manifesto said:
“We recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s”,
yet the Government still continue with the nonsense that their licences should be funded by the BBC, despite the widespread opposition.
Another worrying aspect of this approach is that asking the BBC to take on this responsibility must be incompatible with data protection laws, as well as being a time-consuming and costly exercise. Above all, I fear that some pensioners who will, in fact, remain entitled to free TV licences will nevertheless pay the fee for fear of prosecution, the resultant fines and even the threat of imprisonment if this remains a criminal offence. It is outrageous that the Government should put the most vulnerable people in our society in this position.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I regard the BBC as a great national asset. I support the values on which it is based, I approve of the standards to which it aspires, I value its contribution to our national economy and I believe that it enhances the country’s reputation and soft power. At a time when all eyes are turned on Hilary Mantel and her great new book about Thomas Cromwell, I urge the BBC to look at another historical novel, namely Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s great work The Leopard, and in particular the words of the Prince when he says:
“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
The Prince saw that in the turmoil of Risorgimento Italy, his family could maintain its position only if it was willing to adapt and change. I think the same applies to the BBC. I do not believe that it can go on, either in terms of financing or reach, in the way it has up to now. I think it must decide, for both, how best to preserve its essential interests and promote its mission and its core values in a changing world.
I turn first to financing. I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, was quite right when he said it is unrealistic to expect the licence fee to be increased at anything like the rate that the BBC will need. I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who spoke a few moments ago, when she drew attention to some of the deficiencies of the licence fee, which make it unrealistic to expect it to increase as much as the BBC requires. It would also be unrealistic for the BBC to expect non-payment to remain a criminal offence, in quite a different category from the non-payment of utility bills. I think that it will be necessary to find alternative and/or—I emphasise “and/or”—additional sources of finance. Whether the BBC itself should come up with proposals is a tactical decision for it to make. It is up to the BBC to be clear on how it will respond to proposals put forward by others, and to be clear on the terms that it believes are consistent with the principles and mission at the heart of its operation.
I turn to the question of reach. My old friend Sir David Clementi recently made a very important speech, dealing with a number of aspects of the BBC. He said:
“Everyone pays, everyone gets something they value in return.”
The problem is that, in a world of constant technological innovation, that means constant expansion. It means moving into more fields as they open up. That too is, like the licence fee, simply not practical. Constant expansion and diversification inevitably lead to the dilution and contamination of an organisation’s core activities. We have seen that in many different fields; I think there are signs of it in relation to the BBC at present. It also leads to diseconomies of scale, and to problems beyond the abilities of management to manage, and certainly we have seen signs of that in the BBC.
If one values the BBC, wishes it well and wants it to prosper in the future, it would do very well to take a leaf out of the book of Giuseppe di Lampedusa.
My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Young for bringing this timely debate to the Chamber today. For almost two decades I taught media studies and the media industries, at GCSE and Advanced Level. At the core of every syllabus, at every level, was a deep analysis and evaluation of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Media studies grew out of literary criticism and early cultural studies; indeed, it is concerned with the popular. That is one of its strengths. It is firmly grounded in society: in the communication, cultural understandings, concerns and sometimes even manipulation of the mass of ordinary people. Long before anyone else, media studies questioned the once utopian view of the internet, examining race and gender representation and analysing the economic and political power of media moguls.
I tried to demonstrate to my pupils the essence of the BBC and why it is still so important to us in our multichannel, online media culture. It is a British cultural institution, held in highest regard across the world, in fierce competition with other broadcasters.
I will mention the programme “Blue Planet II”, an eight-part documentary about our oceans, which took four years to produce but ultimately profoundly changed the world’s understanding of two-thirds of our planet’s ecosystem. Commercial and satellite operators could only dream of such influence and reach. Moreover, I am sure that the unconfirmed proposal that the Six Nations is to go to paywall TV would be an unmitigated disaster for the sport.
Some of the BBC’s key content, such as documentaries, children’s programming and extensive news coverage, would not be prioritised in the commercial demands of the free market. Advertising revenues are shrinking, and the broadcast marketplace is expanding. The BBC under commercialisation would run the risk of being squeezed both financially and in terms of the high standards of its production quality. One example is BBC Bitesize, the educational website. It is outstanding, and there is no way that content such as this could be funded without the licence fee.
According to reports, the BBC is to be massively pruned back, and the licence fee scrapped and replaced with a subscription service. Senior government sources insist that they were “not bluffing” about changing the way the corporation is funded: in her excellent speech today, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, called their bluff. Plans being drawn up include forcing the sale of the majority of 61 radio stations, reducing the number of television channels and scaling back the BBC website and the very important World Service. It must be protected. The BBC offers more services, across more platforms, with greater longevity and choice for viewers and users, at a lower cost than ever before. I would often ask my students to compare the cost of the licence fee with subscription services, and they were astounded that it was less than half the price.
The BBC is not perfect: in my political roles, I have been dragged around the houses by many a political journalist, from both television and radio—mainly in Wales, of course. But I defend their right to do so in our open democracy. I have yet to make it on to “Newsnight” or be interviewed by Andrew Neil, as many noble Lords have, but unlike some elected politicians, I certainly would not turn down Andrew Neil’s request if that opportunity arose in the future.
Well over 90% of the population consumes BBC programming and content every week. Despite its faults, the BBC remains the gold standard in multiplatform broadcasting. My noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely, in her role as the Welsh Government’s Minister for International Relations, has put a strong focus on the creative industries, and we have huge productions going on in BBC Wales—“Doctor Who” and “Sherlock”, to name but two. Despite its faults, the BBC remains the gold standard. It is a basic universal service, and if the Government make it a subscription service, then health and education could be next.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green for tabling this very timely debate. To start, I ask the Minister to confirm that, in 2019-2020, the licence fee was £12.54 per month, whereas Netflix—cited as a comparator by those who would like to see the licence fee abolished—was £11.99 per month, or 55p less; and that £5.29 of that BBC monthly fee went towards the World Service, BBC Monitoring, 40 local radio stations, orchestras, choirs, BBC News online and a host of other services that Netflix does not and would never provide.
I intend to focus on the World Service and BBC Monitoring, as both impact on the security and strategic posture of our nation. The global soft power index for 2020 puts the UK at third place in the overall rankings, after the United States and Germany, and states that arguably one of Britain’s greatest soft power tools is the BBC, which reaches a colossal 426 million viewers and listeners abroad every week.
The BBC is, without a doubt, the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster, with correspondents on location in more countries than any other broadcaster. It is available in 42 languages and is globally recognised as being committed to accurate, impartial and independent news. Independent surveys show that there is an exceptionally high association between awareness of the BBC globally and thinking positively about the United Kingdom.
As the Government set in train the biggest review of our foreign, defence, security and development policy since the end of the Cold War—let us call it the “Johnson review”—we should not be risking our greatest soft power tool. BBC Monitoring scrutinises the world’s media, from state broadcasters to streetwise social media. Its expert journalists and linguists provide vital information from all corners of the globe to our Government, charities, NGOs, think tanks, security groups, businesses, the OECD, the UN and universities. I found it extremely important when I was Chief of Defence Intelligence and as a chief of staff. It remains as relevant today as it was at the height of the Cold War.
As the UK faces uncertainty following Brexit, as tensions between Russia, China and the West increase, and as the Middle East and the Gulf are a powder keg, the work of BBC Monitoring is more important than ever. BBC Monitoring works in close partnership with the equivalent American organisation, the Open Source Enterprise, but if we continue to run down our service, as we have over the last years, we cannot be certain that the USA would want to continue to share information. The current agreement with the Government is that BBC Monitoring should be global, sufficient, adaptable and flexible. This should not be put at risk.
Constant exposure to Netflix might drive our enemies into a catatonic state of lethargy but hardly matches the significant importance of the World Service and BBC Monitoring to our nation’s security. We really should not put them at risk.
My Lords, I declare a pair of interests. First, since the early 1980s I have made a number of programmes, mainly for BBC Radios 3 and 4, working with as gifted a set of producers as any broadcaster could wish for. Secondly, the BBC has escorted me through my entire conscious memory, broadening the maps in my mind and changing what makes me laugh as a constant enriching presence. It arouses an intense loyalty in me when it is attacked, as it is likely to be throughout the early 2020s, by those who see it as a standing affront, a self-serving liberal confection funded by a form of taxation without representation. In Michael Frayn’s neat distinction, the attackers are the carnivores; I am an out-and-out herbivore.
As a lifelong ruminant, what would I bring to the BBC’s long-term defence? Throughout my life the BBC has fulfilled the mission set for it by the great Huw Wheldon of making
“the good popular and the popular good”.
We have two dazzling exemplars of that in this debate in my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lord Bragg. As many other noble Lords have said, it has set a gold standard for public service broadcasting—not just here but with the rest of the world, which recognises this even if sometimes we do not. It is a very British distortion: we tend to turn on those institutions that are regarded as world-class by the rest of the globe. The BBC has created a bounteous multiplier effect across the length and breadth of British culture.
Now for the short-term defence. I am deeply worried by the cuts already planned to news and current affairs. In a decade that will see at least a serious stress-testing of the very UK that has nurtured and shaped us, with the real risk of a Scottish separation, this is not the time to weaken a crucial ingredient in our national glue or to diminish the best instrument we have for furthering a serious national conversation as we seek a new equipoise within our home islands and a refreshed post-Brexit place in the world. Nor is this the time to blur the distinctiveness of the bespoke “little platoons”—as Edmund Burke might have described them—of the BBC Radio 4 sequences, as “Today”, “The World at One”, “PM” and “The World Tonight” are known in the trade.
Speaking of the “Today” programme, which seems to enrage certain people in Downing Street beyond all belief, I wonder whether they know the special role it plays in the last line of national defence. My noble friend Lord West knows this very well. Only when researching a book a few years ago on the British secret state in the Cold War did I discover that failing to pick up the “Today” programme for several days in succession—allowing for Sundays, of course, although Paddy O’Connell’s superb “Broadcasting House” should do to fill the gap—is one of the tests the Royal Navy Trident submarine on patrol applies to check whether the UK has been reduced to a smoking and irradiated ruin by a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The argument is that there cannot be a Britain if it does not have a “Today” programme. Only then do the captain and his number two reach into the boat’s inner safe to open the so-called “last resort” letter from the Prime Minister, conveying his instructions from beyond the grave on whether to retaliate or not. Carnivores, tamper with the “Today” programme at your peril.
My Lords, I make my remarks as a great fan of the BBC, although, as an avid Radio 4 listener rather than TV watcher, I realise I am not a typical viewer. This does not stop me feeling strongly about the benefits of the BBC.
As others have highlighted, Britain is a world leader in creativity. Our creative industries are worth over £100 billion a year and employ more than 2 million people. I believe that the BBC’s Chairman Sir David Clementi is right to describe it—the biggest single investor in the UK’s creative industries—as
“an engine of ideas, risk-taking and ambition that powers the whole of our creative industries.”
I am sure that the 14 million people who watched “Blue Planet II” in 2017, the 11.7 million who watched the England women’s football team play against the USA in the World Cup last year, or indeed the 11.6 million who watched the broadcast of “Gavin & Stacey” on Christmas Day, will agree with me that the BBC is continuing to inform, educate and entertain to a high level. These BBC broadcasts are so-called “event television”, providing moments that bring the nation together.
From documentaries to dramas, talk shows and news, the BBC raises the game for competing commercial broadcasters, while its commissioning and support for independent producers, writers and directors encourage innovation and experimentation in its programme making. Its research and development deliver significant value to the creative community and the UK economy. As others have said, every £1 spent by the BBC on R&D during the last charter delivered a return of at least £5 to £9 to the UK.
But, as Ofcom and our own committee report highlighted, our viewing and listening habits are changing. While the total time we spend watching TV programmes and films has remained broadly stable, we are increasingly watching them via on-demand and online services. Indeed, some 42% of adults now consider online video services to be their main way of watching TV and film, while 38% of users of subscription video on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime say they can imagine not watching broadcast TV at all in five years’ time. For children aged 12 to 15, brand awareness of Netflix and YouTube is now higher than that of the BBC. That does not bode well for growing future BBC audiences.
Given the fast-moving competitive environment and its responsibilities to serve all audiences, the BBC needs to be properly funded. I support the view of other noble Lords that the licence fee still represents good value for money. I believe that it is currently the best mechanism we have to ensure the provision of universal and freely available content—the principle underpinning the value of public service broadcasting. Can the Minister tell us whether any further thought will be given to the recommendation that there should be an independent and transparent process for setting the licence fee, along the lines of a BBC funding commission?
The funding question is vital, because I want to see the BBC do more to attract a wider audience—not just to counter the criticism that the levy payment is unfair, but because it is in clear danger of losing its future audiences right across the regions and the generations.
More internal co-operation within the BBC across TV and radio, particularly on news programmes, would help viewers and listeners feel that they are getting value for money. It is surely inefficient to have multiple teams of journalists from similar programmes working on the same stories or flying en masse to cover the same events. Having said that, cutting 450 journalists’ jobs seems questionable given some of the eye-watering salaries paid to top presenters and executives.
The new director-general will have a lot in his or her in-tray. I wish them the best of luck. The BBC cannot afford to stand still or arrogantly ignore criticism, but any reform of its funding model must recognise that the BBC serves a unique purpose. I believe that reform should be pragmatic, not political, and focused on how to safeguard and upgrade a hugely valuable British asset in our fast-moving digital world.
My Lords, the BBC is the most potent institution created anywhere in the world for reflecting every aspect of a nation’s culture and affairs. It weaves a tapestry of national types echoing all our many idiosyncrasies as a nation: Captain Mainwaring, Alf Garnett, Basil Fawlty, the louche Patsy in “Ab Fab”, the nightmarish David Brent, the wickedly knowing Fleabag.
The BBC captures our brilliance in popular music as a nation—witness the extraordinary sessions recorded by the BBC over 60 years, daily paraded on BBC 6 Music. It has enabled Simon Schama and Lucy Worsley to tell our eventful national story and Brian Cox to explain the planets. It has commissioned 54 series of BBC Science’s “Horizon”. “In Our Time”, presented by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and Laurie Taylor’s “Thinking Allowed” offer unsurpassed insight into the work of the UK’s finest scholars. Possibly the BBC’s greatest gift to the modern world is its natural history programming, with David Attenborough at the prow. I could go on and on.
The BBC is peerless, but of course it is not perfect—not in my day, not now. We must engage with and not dismiss the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and other considered critics. But let us nail the Netflix myth: that new subscription services are making the BBC less relevant. The BBC has a significant but no longer dominant position in UK media. Currently it enjoys 26% of all UK TV, radio and online consumption. I am an enthusiastic Netflix subscriber, but Netflix currently represents something like 2% of UK consumption —a thirteenth of the BBC’s. The two organisations are not remotely comparable in either their purpose or popularity.
How has the BBC been able to develop, over a century, a most extraordinary range and array of programming? First and foremost, because the licence fee has enabled the BBC over and again to take risks and innovate in a way that the private sector never can. Secondly, because, almost uniquely among the world’s publicly funded PSBs, the BBC is truly independent of government. Thirdly, because it has enjoyed enduring cross-party support from John Major, Tony Blair, Willie Whitelaw and—whatever her reservations, newly resurrected in recent weeks—Margaret Thatcher, as I can personally testify. I do not believe for one moment that our new Prime Minister really wants to “whack” the BBC, to quote No. 10 sources in the Sunday Times. He is a feisty career journalist, gifted of expression, and the child of a notably erudite, public-spirited and liberal-minded family. I do not believe for one moment that he would want to celebrate the BBC’s centenary with its destruction.
Let us reboot the debate about British broadcasting. Let us focus on the real issues: the 10-year assault on the BBC’s revenues, ITV’s and Channel 4’s revenue decline and the slow draining away of original British programming from all our screens. They are the issues that really matter.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green on introducing this wonderful debate. It ought to be compulsory reading for Ministers involved in the emerging debate. I am one of those who is astonished by the things on the BBC that one gets hooked on. On a Thursday night, my noble friend Lord Bragg gives me the impression that I can get my brain around Plato, the evolution of the dinosaur, astronomy, every subject under the sun. He might say that it is nothing to do with him, but it is amazing, and one of a range of examples. My radio is usually on Radio 3. When its controller came to one of our all-party groups, my only criticism was that there was too much talk. This is a good example of one person’s bias being cancelled out by another’s, as happens in theology.
This is an important political point. Would the Minister say that this is the spirit in which the Secretary of State is approaching this? His speech yesterday bore signs of a more reflective approach. I hope she picks up that none of us mind a debate, but not a debate in which Mr Cummings has got his retaliation in first. Whether that is done by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, or any of my noble friends who have worked at the BBC, it is not a debate.
One of the quotes that struck me in yesterday’s speech by the Secretary of State was about the BBC’s impartiality in an era of fake news. He is right to raise that problem, but the BBC is trusted by the public. Should not the Minister be looking at ways to support this independent, globally respected broadcaster in this age of disinformation?
There is this notion that the licence fee is patently out of date and that there is an obvious alternative. Many noble Lords have spoken about this, including the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. What is the alternative? I think we would all agree that it must be looked at very coolly. Take the business of the decriminalisation of the licence fee. What do we think will happen if we decriminalise non-payment of the licence? Surely it is obvious. We may as well decriminalise non-payment of council tax. There are no simple alternatives and the Treasury under any Administration would certainly say that hypothecation has its problems as well.
Right around the world, at every level, in villages in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, they say, “I heard it on the BBC, so it must be true.”
I welcome this opportunity to speak up for the BBC and thank my noble friend for moving this debate. Like other noble Lords, I am appalled at how this Government seek to undermine the BBC to get obedience and conformity, as my noble friend Lady Bakewell put it. Yes, there may be a need for change at the BBC. The world is moving on. The BBC must find its place in our digital future but let us not just complain. Above all, let us keep all the good things that every speaker has told us about. Other noble Lords have spoken about how they value the BBC’s independence in producing news, comment, current affairs, entertainment and humour. I too value its independence, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and others, that the licence fee enables this all-important financial independence.
I mention one aspect of the economic and cultural value of the BBC of which I have personal experience: soft power. Before I entered your Lordship’s House, my main work was developing a business in a sector now called “technical textiles”—products made to high standards of safety, hygiene, stability and reliability. The key to selling these products was getting the standards accepted, and we were successful in many countries—in Europe, in Asia, in the People’s Republic of China—and in each of them, without exception, people associated me, coming from Britain, with the truthfulness, honesty and reliability with which they associate the BBC, as explained by my noble friend Lord West. This soft power was of enormous value to me. I am sure that it continues to be of value to many UK endeavours overseas, economic, cultural and political; now, we are going to need it more than ever.
This soft power takes years to establish and can easily be dented or destroyed by ill-thought remarks from members of the Government or by taking unwise action motivated by a perceived wrong. The inevitable consequence is a national loss of influence in business, in defence and in political negotiation. We can ill afford this pointless collateral damage.
Equally childish, thoughtless and irresponsible is the absence of government Ministers from news and opinion programmes such as “Today” and “The Westminster Hour”. It has taken the seriousness of the coronavirus to get a Minister to react to our concerns by participating in these programmes, as my noble friend Lady Jay explained. The inevitable conclusion is that the Government do not care about the damage that they are doing. All they want us to hear from the BBC is what makes the Government look good—and that must not happen.
My Lords, I strongly support the Motion introduced by my colleague Lord Young of Norwood Green. As other noble Lords have said, it is good to speak about a great British achievement in the amazing cross-fertilisation between the BBC and public service broadcasting on the one hand, and most British walks of life, on the other—even extending, as we have heard, to new kinds of sporting activities.
As other noble Lords have emphasised, the BBC is extensively appreciated and trusted abroad. The change before us is that UK broadcasting could become a commercial commodity, so that we may not see in future the coverage of new developments in science, technology and culture. Which organisations will provide the brilliant and innovative programmes in these fields, and who will grow the future links between media, technical and education organisations?
The BBC has explained and publicised advances in science and engineering to schoolchildren through its Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution, which are now also available in other countries. How will these be continued in future? Every year those lectures are given in exciting and different ways, which schoolchildren really appreciate. The BBC’s TV programmes have covered clearly and visibly the hottest issues in science and the media, as we have seen in the past month with the coverage of coronavirus.
Of the greatest importance has been the BBC’s explanation of the science and economics of climate change. Of growing importance have been the innovations in public involvement at all ages, with all organisations—from 17-year-old Scandinavian schoolgirls to leading financiers and industrialists on the snowy slopes of the Alps. This has required the BBC’s scientific presentations to be very diplomatic, as I saw when I was chief executive of the Met Office, but also to avoid unscientific discussions. I would say that the BBC has succeeded in that, despite the questioning of it by some. There are sceptics; that makes the debates healthy. I believe that the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, can be criticised, but this is not the time for that.
Another innovation in collaboration took place in the 1960s, between the BBC and the newly formed Open University, with excellent instruction for students and the public. Sometimes, as other noble Lords have said, the programmes provided information for the general public. Conversely, sometimes entertainment programmes were brought into the OU set of programmes; that has been very effective.
On a visit to China, I was very interested to see how the information was spread around the world. There they took a programme that I had made with the Open University and incorporated it into a local Chinese programme in the university. Formally, that approach rather breaks the usual restrictions on data exchange, but it was remarkable to see Chinese students take an OU programme that we were exploring in the morning, and by the afternoon turn it into something extraordinary. That kind of innovation in using data is currently very difficult, but it is important.
The future of public service broadcasting is extremely important. There are new and innovative ways of doing things, and one of the areas in which more still needs doing is local government.
My Lords, I warmly welcome this initiative by my noble friend Lord Young. I hope that he is pleased with the calibre of the response in this debate. For a thriving, open, free democratic society there is a high dependence on the information, the quality of analysis and the stimulus that comes from the media. There is a historic tension between the high calling of the media in a democracy and the commercial pressures that inevitably operate.
I am sad that so much of the media has succumbed to commercial pressures, and also to the political and vested interests bias of the ownership to which it is subjected. Public service broadcasting has always risen above that. In making that point I am thinking very much of Channel 4, not least its news, and ITV. But the guarantor of that standard has always been the BBC. Long may it remain so.
The BBC has become part of the fabric of British society. When I think of the profile of the Britain in which I want to live, the BBC is salient as a leader of what that society should be about. I think of the years of Lord Reith, the standards he set, the integrity he brought, and the influence that has lasted ever since. I think of the war years, when I was growing up—sitting with my father during an air raid and listening when, at the end of broadcasting for the day, the national anthem of every occupied country was played by the BBC. This is the significance: it was emotional, but what it said about the BBC and its role in society was real.
The overseas service has been very important in my life. I think of myself overseas, sometimes in quite difficult situations, waiting to hear the news, and the authority that it brought. I think of all those people, in too much of the world, where oppression, cruel warfare and tyranny are the order of the day. The BBC is a vital link to keep the idea—the ideal—of freedom, and of a future, alive.
We should never underestimate that. It literally has been the saving of many people in desperate situations, because they can cling to that vision of what society could be. What is it that has been central to the BBC’s standards? The courageous integrity of its journalists, no doubt, and its representation of cultural diversity—but above all, its relentless and total commitment to truth.
My Lords, I congratulate the Labour Party on choosing this timely topic and the noble Lord, Lord Young, on introducing a powerful, well-informed and, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, called it, high-calibre debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, claimed that he was the only speaker on the government side here today. I am delighted that your Lordships’ House, on this occasion and on many others in the past, has given him a voice—even if the BBC does not want to do so. I associate myself with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and consider that the BBC should look again at the way in which it has treated him. Like him, I am a supporter of the BBC—he claimed still to be so—but I am a critical friend of it. Neither he nor I have demurred—nor has anyone today—from the simple premise of the debate: that there is little doubt that the BBC and other public service broadcasters play a vital role in our economy and our cultural life.
Many examples have been given. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, spoke about the educational role of the PSBs; 75% of school pupils, for instance, use BBC Bitesize. We have talked about research and development and job creation, but no one so far has mentioned its important role in exports of both programmes and formats. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury spoke about another important role—levelling up—which is relevant at the present time given the Prime Minister’s desire to see it. That is being done by the PSBs as more of their staff and programme spend are outside London.
Many noble Lords—including the noble Lords, Lord West of Spithead, Lord Young and Lord Haskel, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty—have spoken about the important soft power of the PSBs helping in many ways, including, more importantly in the future, in international trade. The BBC is one of the top four most-recognised British brands internationally. It is known, as the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, put it, as the gold standard; or, as the noble Lord, Lord Monks, said, it is known for its widespread international regard and respect.
However, the biggest contribution that the PSBs make is to our extremely successful and growing creative industries, which are creating employment faster than any other sector. In passing, as it has not been mentioned so far, I ask the Minister—she will say how important the creative industries are; I know that it will be in her brief—to reflect on, if that is the case, why the Government fail to address the concerns of the creative industries, including on the apprenticeship levy, which is not suitable for their use, and the concerns that have been expressed about the post-Brexit immigration scheme that is now coming in and which is irrelevant to them. Also, as we will come on to, why do they not stop trying to cause damage to the BBC?
I recognise that the Government accept the crucial role of the PSB and support it. As I said, there is a great deal of data. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Young, in talking about research and development, reminded us that for every £1 the BBC invests, we get a return of between £5 and £9. It is worth reflecting that the PSBs collectively are seeking to do more in all of those areas by commissioning more from independent production companies and providing even more support. It is therefore hardly surprising that many people who work in the creative industries have seen real benefit from the PSBs.
One interesting example I discovered yesterday is that, last year, the BBC received 16 BAFTAs and 16 Emmy Awards and, earlier this year, four Golden Globes, and every single one of the British winners of those awards had worked in the BBC at some time in the past. No wonder Philippa Childs said that
“it is the PSBs that are providing the training and skills that the likes of Netflix and others are then happily accepting.”
But, of all the PSBs, as has been pointed out by many, the biggest single investor into the creative industries is the BBC. It is the guarantor of the standards of the other PSBs, as noble Lords have mentioned.
It is worth reflecting—the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, pointed to this with his phrase “salami slicing”—that, since 2010, the BBC has already had to tighten its belt. Only yesterday, the Voice of the Listener & Viewer research was published, showing that, since 2010, the amount of money in real terms that the BBC has for the production of its products for viewers and listeners in the UK has gone down to 70% of what it was in 2010. Now it looks as though the situation is going to get worse.
I have had an opportunity to see an advance copy of an article by Professor Stephen Barnett, which is to be published shortly. It states:
“Not since the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979 has the future of the BBC been seriously threatened by a powerful and deeply hostile government with a massive majority intent on doing it serious damage.”
My noble friend Lord McNally described it in another form by saying that it was score-settling against a mortal enemy.
Professor Barnett goes on to say that the origins of this are clearly in some of the things that have happened in the past. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for instance, reminded us of some of the quotations from the New Frontiers Foundation document in 2004 at the time when it was directed by Dominic Cummings. It is worth reminding the House of a couple of the examples she gave. The NFF said that
“the Right should be aiming for the end of the BBC in its current form”.
It went on:
“There are three structural things that the Right needs to happen … the undermining of the BBC’s credibility … the creation of a Fox News equivalent—
my noble friend Lord McNally warned us about that—and
“the end of the ban on TV political advertising”.
It was therefore hardly surprising that, with Dominic Cummings in tow, the Prime Minister went into Downing Street soon after the election and, as Professor Barnett says:
“Even before the Downing Street boxes were unpacked, the Prime Minister was announcing a ‘consultation’ on whether non-payment of the BBC licence fee should remain a criminal offence—despite a comprehensive, independent review ordered by David Cameron and published less than five years ago concluding that the current arrangements were fair and proportionate.”
I should point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who was concerned about people being put in prison, that you can be put in prison for the non-payment of a civil fine as for the non-payment of a criminal fine.
Professor Barnett—I share his view—went on:
“This was the first shot by a government which knew well that decriminalisation would cost the BBC well in excess of £200 million while actually making life more difficult for poorer households which would simply be pursued with higher fines through the civil courts.”
Worse, we subsequently heard government sources saying that there should be consultation on the replacement of the licence fee with a subscription model, that the BBC should be reduced to a few TV stations, a couple of radio stations and a massively curtailed online presence, and that,
“the Prime Minister is firmly of the view that there needs to be serious reform. He is really strident on this.”
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert of Panteg, and many others that there are many things the BBC could do better—not least in diversity—but, as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, said, it is childish to send a wrecking ball to the BBC. It is crazy to pray in aid the subscription model of, say, Netflix and Amazon. As the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, and others have already pointed out, given what you get from Netflix for £7.99 and what you get from the BBC’s range of output and services for £13 a month, the two do not compare. A simple figure worth reflecting on is that, last year, the BBC, along with the other PSBs, invested £2.6 billion in the UK to deliver 32,000 hours of original, home-grown content compared with only 210 hours of content provided by Netflix and Amazon Prime combined. There is a huge difference.
The noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, is right that many issues need to be debated but within the context of being supportive of our public sector broadcasters. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury said that the BBC should be cherished. Only today, the Secretary of State said that all the PSBs should be cherished. However, the evidence before us is that that is not the plan of the current Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said that we should all be alarmed; the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that we should be appalled. I ask the Minister a simple question: does she believe that the BBC is the mortal enemy, or does she believe, like many of us, that the BBC is the best broadcaster in the world and one of the best gifts this country has ever given to the world?
My Lords, this has been a truly remarkable debate. It would do us all well to read it in Hansard when it appears. I suppose that I should express some kind of a conflict of interest since, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, I have had a working relationship with the BBC for more than 30 years and have been paid much less than he ever was. I still do my little bits now and again. I have read all the briefing material that has come my way. As often happens, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, has stolen a bit of my thunder, but it is the rolling kind of thunder and so there is a bit of it left.
Some of the original research I did was in the Radio Times. I thought that it was not a bad idea to look in it to see what is on today. All I have done is choose half a dozen things. There is women’s football, for example; women’s sport has been mentioned. There is “Villages by the Sea” on Clovelly; this programme was done regionally at first but it is showing across the network now. There is “MasterChef”; on my honeymoon, I took a book with a perfectly produced picture of the meal I was going to cook for my beloved, but it did not look like that when it got on the plate, and “MasterChef” does that for me too. Across the PSBs, we have “EastEnders”, “Emmerdale” and “Hollyoaks”. Informing, educating and entertaining is exactly what is being done. By the recommendation of the Minister herself, this evening we have “Noughts + Crosses”. We all ought to watch that to show the capacity of the BBC to look imaginatively at British society from a curiously upended point of view, following the novels of Malorie Blackman. I shall be watching because of the Minister. I want to say a nice word about her because where have all the Tories gone? Where are they? They are shy violets, every one. How will they ever learn?
In this debate, we have heard authoritative voices. We have the experience of my noble friends Lord Puttnam, Lord Bragg and Lady Bakewell, the hands-on experience of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the vast experience of an entirely different kind of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who I shall now think of as a ruminant and who has an insightful take on all these things, and the hands-on experience of the noble Lord, Lord Birt. That is just picking some names. Of course, I cannot do that for everybody, but this is an authoritative body of people sharing their views about a matter of great concern to all of us, and we hope that we are articulating a voice out there in the country, which would be glad to think that people such as the noble Lords I have mentioned are bringing their voices to a debate of this kind. It matters to us but it matters much more to them, and that is what we are here for.
I would also mention a Conservative who spoke in a previous debate on this subject and who is not in his place: the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, a leading journalist who wrote a much-quoted article after the general election in which much criticism was offered of the BBC’s coverage. Of course there are things that go wrong and could be better. Who can think of an organisation the size of the BBC that does not sometimes put its foot in it in a big way? To answer the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, there must be change. If we do not embrace change and anticipate and study where developments have to be made, the BBC will increasingly become part of our archive rather than an ongoing, vibrant part of the national culture.
Much has been said about the licence fee and continuing funding. The licence has been called the least worst solution, and many people have advocated it. It is worth picking up a comment from across the Chamber that it is worth looking at a progressive household tax as a possible alternative. We will certainly need to raise money; the noble Lord, Lord Foster, quoted the Voice of the Listener & Viewer statistics that there has already been a 30% erosion of the funding base in the past 10 years. We will have to look for a model of funding if we believe in the BBC and believe that it should be publicly funded. Everybody seems to think that and I suspect that if we took the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, out to a good lunch, he might think that too—well, I hope so.
We need to look more critically at alternative ways of achieving better funding, but the BBC gets everywhere. I have sat in studios all over the United Kingdom; nobody can tell me that the BBC is dominated by this elite in London. There are fast-moving BBC radio and television stations across the country. Where Welsh coverage would be without public service broadcasting, I do not know. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, is not in his place. I did not know that he speaks Gaelic. It is said that there are probably only about two people who do, but there is something for them. In Wales, the resurgence of the Welsh language can be attributed almost directly to the reach of the BBC and public service broadcasting. As the right reverend Prelate said, the BBC is not just descriptive; it is shaping the public with proactive involvement in a culture that is always on the move.
I have found this debate extremely insightful and I have enjoyed it very much. I will certainly read Hansard, particularly to get my noble friend’s comments about the lean and hungry man in No. 10 who thinks too much; the power behind the throne; the éminence grise. I will not call him Rasputin because I believe that he likes that, but for all that, there is something curious and weird about policy being made about an institution so integral to the British identity as the BBC by someone who has never been elected and who never has to stand and face an audience such as this.
Incidentally, I have a word for the Minister. The Prime Minister did not have the bottle to face Andrew Neil in the course of the election campaign; this kind of displacement on the part of the Conservative Party has put the noble Baroness almost on her own to face a collective body that might be rather like Andrew Neil. How she is going to deal with it, I simply do not know, but we look forward to her remarks. The debate will convey to the Government of our day the importance of this institution and the necessity of us contributing to it our support and confidence as we look forward to its ongoing influence in the years ahead.
My Lords, I start by echoing the comments of other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Young, for securing this important debate on the role of the BBC and public service broadcasting in the UK’s economy and our creative culture. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for his sympathy. The more noble Lords remarked on the quality of the debate, the more my knees began to shake. As for Andrew Neil, I confess that, during the election campaign, I had a dream that I had been rung up and asked to do the interview, so be careful what you wish for. We have had some extraordinarily well-informed, eloquent and passionate contributions this afternoon. I will do my best to respond to them, but if necessary I may have to follow up in writing if time does not permit.
I start—I hope that this language is not too strong—with some of the accusations that have been made about this Government’s attitude towards the BBC. Noble Lords used quite strong language. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, talked about an unremitting vendetta and the noble Lord, Lord Foster, asked me to confirm that we do not see the BBC as a mortal enemy. I repeat what the Prime Minister said recently, as was echoed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State: the BBC is a “cherished British institution” and a great source of national pride. Almost every noble Lord who contributed to this debate gave examples of why we should be so proud of the BBC, and why it is a cherished institution.
All our public service broadcasters play a vital role in not only our media ecology but our economy and, crucially, throughout our lives. The noble Lady, Baroness Bakewell—
I welcome the Minister’s remarks, but perhaps she could help us understand something. Two weeks ago Tim Shipman, a most reliable and professional journalist, ran a piece on the front page of the Sunday Times about the BBC, sourced from No. 10. In it, the source said that the Government would “whack” the BBC, cut it back, scrap the licence fee, and appoint a new chair to sack the new DG if he or she was not to their liking. Are the Government repudiating that statement?
I do not want to play “quote wars” with the noble Lord, but he will be aware that my right honourable friend made a speech on this. I have it here somewhere—I apologise, it is hiding in my pile of papers. This morning the Secretary of State confirmed our commitment to the BBC, and I am sure that the noble Lord has read that speech.
On a similar theme, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about an agenda to undermine the BBC. Obviously, the Secretary of State works closely with the Prime Minister on these issues, but the Government remain clear that it is for advisers to advise and for Ministers to decide. That is what we continue to do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Monks, referred to ministerial appearances on the “Today” programme. Ministers talk to the public through many different channels, including the BBC. That has always been the case and will continue to be so.
Turning to the economy, public service broadcasting has proved to be by far the largest driver of the UK production sector, as we have heard. Each year, the PSB system invests around £2.6 billion in original programming, of which around £1 billion is spent outside London. The BBC alone spent approximately 94% of its £1.3 billion of content spend on first-run UK-originated programming, making it the single largest investor in British TV content.
As many noble Lords said, public service broadcasters sit at the very heart of the UK’s creative culture and industries, which are renowned worldwide. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for the shameless plug for “Noughts and Crosses”—I commend it to your Lordships. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Chesterton and Lord Bragg, and my noble friend Lord Lilley noted the breadth of offering that the BBC gives us. Our public broadcasters produce world-class content that stimulates our interest in arts, science and history, and broadens our understanding of our own culture and the world around us. As the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said, it is the quality of that content which is so important —I hope I have caught his point accurately
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, talked about the BBC as a bastion of British culture around the globe. It reaches around 426 million viewers and listeners each week, and—as we heard—it is a trusted British brand that is invaluable for our soft power and influence.
But clearly the key issue is that times are changing. Improving technology and greater consumer choice mean that people are moving away from traditional ways of watching TV and towards streaming and on-demand services. Our audiences are being served by many different companies, which have been mentioned this afternoon. In this context, the PSBs must work even harder to make sure that all nations, regions and people of the UK are represented, both on and off screen.
Our public service broadcasters are best placed to create programming with British viewpoints and identities that meet both British audiences’ needs and global audiences’ appetites. They need to utilise and evolve their unique platform to help strengthen our shared cultural identity, and make sure that they work for all the UK audiences that they serve. In this changing landscape, both industry and government need to change to keep that which is so precious to many of us.
I turn now to the future of the licence fee, which was raised by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Young, Lord McNally, Lord Haskel and Lord Foster, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. Noble Lords will be aware that the current licence fee settlement is agreed until April 2022. That includes the licence fee rising by inflation each year. Negotiations for the next licence fee period, from April 2022, will take place in due course, but the Government are committed to maintaining the licence fee model for the duration of the 11-year charter period up to 2027.
On that point, and very quickly, can the Minister confirm that, as the charter continues until 2027, the Government could change the quantum of the licence fee between 2022 and 2027? Can she assure us the Government have no plans to do that, and that they recognise that the BBC’s scope and remit should remain constant until 2027?
I am going to cover the noble Lord’s point in just a second. The Government are committed to ensuring that the BBC and all public service broadcasters adapt to the fast-changing market, keeping them at the heart of our world-class TV sector.
In terms of other options for funding, raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and my noble friend Lord Tugendhat, the former Secretary of State for the DCMS noted that the Government were open-minded about how the BBC would be funded in the future and said that this would require a great deal of further discussion and evidence from all sides before a decision was made.
I was asked about the mid-charter review—a matter touched on also by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. It will take place between 2022 and 2024. The BBC charter is clear that the mid-term review will focus on governance and regulatory arrangements and will not be able to consider mission or public purpose. I hope that that addresses that point.
My noble friend Lord Gilbert of Panteg and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Warwick, asked about the transparency of the licence fee settlement and the potential introduction of a licence fee commission. The government response to the Lords Communications and Digital Committee report on public service broadcasting made it clear that we have no plans to introduce a licence fee commission. We believe that it remains appropriate to determine the level of the licence fee in discussion with the BBC. My noble friend asked whether we felt that greater transparency was important. We absolutely agree with that point and with the comments made by Margot James to my noble friend’s committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, talked about the importance of prudence and deliberation. Obviously, 2022 to 2027 is not the 100 years that he referred to, but I hope that it goes some small way towards reassuring noble Lords that we are at the beginning of a long conversation on these matters. My noble friend Lord Gilbert summarised three key questions: what we want the BBC to do; what it should cost; and how we should fund it. I absolutely hear noble Lords’ anxiety, which comes from their great experience, but surely the form of the funding should follow the function that will be agreed in discussions over the next few years.
A number of noble Lords talked about the importance of the independence of the BBC. I reiterate that the BBC is operationally and editorially independent of government. Government cannot and should not intervene in the BBC’s day-to-day operations.
My noble friend Lord Lilley, the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Kennedy and Lady Liddell, talked about impartiality. The BBC obviously has a duty under its royal charter to deliver impartial and accurate news, and it is not for the Government to make judgments about any perception of editorial bias.
Does my noble friend not think it odd that the BBC puts such emphasis on diversity of race, sex and sexuality but no emphasis on diversity of opinion? I am sad that today no noble Lords have addressed whether there is a single mindset that deals with certain issues such as immigration, climate change and Europe—what the French call “la pensée unique”—and which forbids other views to be expressed on the BBC.
I thank my noble friend. I have now found the Secretary of State’s speech. As he knows, the Secretary of State said this morning that we need to ensure that there is
“genuine diversity of thought and experience”
and to be able to raise that in an open and balanced way. Indeed, in his memoirs, John Humphrys touched on some of the points about bias within the BBC. We do not have to agree with him but it is a valid view.
I am not clear why those things are linked, but perhaps scarcity of time means that I should move on. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, highlighted the importance of supporting journalists who are harassed both in their work here, as was referenced in connection with Laura Kuenssberg, and internationally. We echo that.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked about the over-75s concession, and commented on loneliness. I cannot help but feel a little defensive. As Minister for Loneliness, I reassure him that we take it extremely seriously.
We are now into March. This scheme is supposed to come into operation in a couple of months, yet we do not know how it is going to operate, who is eligible or whether the data protection laws will come into it. The last time I raised this, the noble Baroness said that she was disappointed that the BBC had not taken the funding on board. What is happening in relation to sorting this out?
If he will forgive me, in the interests of time I will write to the noble Lord with some of the detail. He raised a point about data sharing and the over-75s concession. The BBC’s decision document sets out that the BBC will operate a self-verification model. Therefore, the issues that he has raised should not arise but I am happy to write to him in detail about this.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Judd, Lord Hennessy and Lord West, raised soft power—a matter that I have already touched on. The Government strongly support the BBC’s mission to bring high-quality and impartial news to audiences across the world. The noble Lord, Lord West, had done some clever maths on expenditure.
I apologise to the noble Baroness and I do not want to delay the House but there is an elephant in the room and it needs to be shot. This morning the Secretary of State said that the BBC was
“an institution to be cherished.”
Words matter. I know what cherished means, as does the noble Baroness, but it is not in any way possible to square that with the supposedly informed comments that come out of No. 10. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to the Shipman piece. Would she like to use this opportunity at the Dispatch Box to totally repudiate the continual comments about wishing to destroy the BBC that are claimed to emerge from No. 10?
I can reiterate with confidence what the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have said, but I am sure that the noble Lord will understand that I cannot respond confidently about leaks to the newspapers; I can deal only with the facts before me. My noble friend has whispered in my ear that I have a minute or two more, and I would be grateful if I could go through the important points that other noble Lords have raised.
On soft power, the royal charter is clear that the BBC must spend at least £254 million a year on the World Service until 2022, and in 2017-18 that figure was £268 million.
I will write to the noble Lord to clarify any other points that remain unclear.
I want to take the last minute and a half to talk about the creative industries. My noble friend Lord Gilbert asked if the BBC and the public service broadcasters are considered as part of the Government’s industrial strategy, and that was also touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Foster. The Government continue to support the wider broadcasting landscape by having developed the creative industries sector deal, which came from the industrial strategy, and in 2018 the Government and industry agreed a landmark £150 million deal to promote the creative industries. The deal set out a number of measures, including rebalancing growth between London and the rest of the country. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, asked about the apprenticeship levy and we recognise that some employers in the creative industries experience challenges in using the apprenticeship levy to support their business, and we are working very closely with the sector to try to address this.
We have had some very passionate speeches and I want to try to close on a slightly more positive note and pick up what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said in talking about change as an opportunity for improvement. Change is not a choice in a landscape that is moving very rapidly, but we want to see it as an opportunity to build on and enhance the strengths of both the BBC and the creative industries. Both are success stories of the British economy and, as noble Lords have highlighted today, public service broadcasters have contributed to the success of the creative industries but have also benefited from that success. I have no doubt that in the next seven years there will be a very important debate continuing about how public service broadcasters should evolve in a rapidly changing broadcasting landscape, and that debate should and will ensure that both our public service broadcasters and our creative industries remain world-class.
My Lords, I thank everybody who has contributed to this debate. Perhaps it did not quite go the way that I wanted it to go. In my contribution I decided that I was going to accentuate the positive because I knew that there would be many others who would point out the strange decision of the Government not to appear on the “Today” programme—certainly until recently, when, feeling either inspired or compelled by the coronavirus, the Secretary of State for Health did appear on there. I hope that is an omen. The Minister was saying to us, “It is not true, all this”, and then, “I cannot possibly comment”, which is slightly different.
What I really wanted to get across in this debate, because I thought it was vital, was the fact that—as quoted from The Leopard which the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, referred to and which is one of my favourite books as well—if we want things to stay as they are, there will have to be changes. That is a much-used quote but an appropriate one in the circumstances. We cannot say in this digital streaming environment that everything will be the same. If we look at the listening and viewing habits of young people, who have been referred to one or two times in this debate, we know that they are not necessarily the most avid consumers of public service broadcasting. That is not to say that they do not use it at all; they do, which is why the BBC has focused on things like iPlayer, BBC Sounds and podcasting. Those are signs of change.
My intention in this debate was to signal how fundamentally important to the future of the economy of the UK in what I described as the post-Brexit environment the creative economy and the creative culture is. The BBC and public service broadcasting, as we have heard today, is demonstrated in a vast array of wonderful programmes. We only touched on a few. One of my litmus tests is whether new dramatists emerge—the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge or my other favourite, Sally Wainwright, whose next few episodes of “Last Tango in Halifax” are coming up. There is such wonderful content but, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said, if we are serious about the future of public service broadcasting and its ability to survive in this rapidly changing environment, then somehow it has to have funding. All I ask is for a coherent, evidence- based debate.
When the Government say that they want all nations represented, I would like to see demonstrated how all nations are not represented in public service broadcasting. It is not good enough for the Government to just allege that is the case. As for impartiality, I attach an awful lot of importance to that and I want to go away and look at that. I do not think we can dismiss it. I certainly would not agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, on climate change, but that does not mean to say it should not be represented. As to the future of the licence fee, I do not necessarily share the views of all my colleagues. I think there is a sort of bargain to be struck—what I call the intergenerational bargain—between what we offer to young people and what we offer to the older generations. I sometimes feel the pendulum has swung the other way. I do not want to go into decriminalisation because that is another debate.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I shall read it, not least to go through the Minister’s response. One thing we can say is that there seemed to be a united view across this Chamber about the importance of preserving public service broadcasting, not in aspic but in a way that ensures that it is vibrant. In a partial defence of the opposite Benches, there were at least three people who said to me that they would have taken part in this debate had they been able to, but I am not going to name them because I do not think that would be appropriate. Once again, I thank everybody. We have made an important contribution to the future of public service broadcasting and, as they say in the theatre, I think this one will run and run.
Educational Opportunities: Working Classes
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to introduce this debate today. I think this is one of the most important issues facing the nation and I am delighted that so many people have volunteered to speak and to stay late on a Thursday.
I suspect that many noble Lords are going to be quite critical of the Government’s performance as regards the opportunities available to working-class children—I know I am—so I want to say at the start that there are very many working-class children who now occupy places in our professions and in business. They are leaders and campaigners, they contribute to all areas of the economy and they contribute to society in full; indeed, they are Members of the House of Commons and they are Members of the House of Lords. There is nothing inevitable about being born into a working-class family and not having the opportunity to succeed in life. This is a complex issue.
We could spend the whole debate defining “working-class”, but I hope we are not going to do that. I am conscious that it is not only about money and income: it is about the support you get from your family and the neighbouring community; it is about the attitude and the aspiration that you have; it is about whether you meet a teacher, at some point in your life, who believes in you and gives you the extra push; it is about whether you yourself decide to seize the opportunities and run with them; and, at the end of the day, it is about working hard as well. Sometimes, though, young people from working-class backgrounds say that if they have succeeded because of those things—because of a teacher or a parent or because they seized the opportunity—they feel that they have done so in spite of the system, not because of it.
We know that at every stage of our education system there is a correlation between parental income and educational attainment, and that the gap gets wider the older a child gets. At age five, 50% of children from this sort of background will go into early years education with a language deficit. At year 1, the gap between them and the wealthier pupils in their class will be 14%, rising to 18% at the end of key stage 1, 22% at the end of key stage 2 and 28% at the end of key stage 4. These children are less likely to stay on at school in the sixth form. They are less likely to go to university and, if they do, they earn less after graduation, and 80% are less likely to enter a profession.
When you put the regional, gender and ethnic differences in attainment on top of that, what is stark—and this must be our agreed starting point—is that our education system has an unacceptable and unenviable link between the income of your parents at the time of your birth and your life chances throughout life. We know that it need not be like that: it is not like that in other developed countries; they manage to succeed. That is the kernel of this debate, and I hope that today we will hear suggestions as to how we could change things.
There have been some successes; it is not all failures. I think that these are my successes from my time both in politics and in education: a national curriculum—not necessarily the national curriculum we have, although that of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was very successful—the London Challenge, Sure Start, literacy and numeracy strategies, the pupil premium and of course the Open University. All of those were sustainable initiatives. They were comprehensive, well-funded and ambitious, they involved taking risks, and they are still with us in the shape of the people who benefited from them.
However, littered among all that are the many small initiatives over the years that have been more about a press release and a headline than they have ever been about sustained and important change, or improvement in opportunities for working-class children. We have had breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, holiday clubs and catch-up clubs; we have had this zone, that zone and the other zone; we have had tsars. Every initiative that the Government launch has a paragraph at the end saying, “You must take extra care to target this at children from deprived backgrounds”. I am not critical of that—at least it shows intent—but the questions for us now are these. Have we learned from what has gone on in the past? Can what we have learned be seen in the policies before us at the moment? Are those policies likely to improve the situation?
We should be clear: in every stage of our education system, from early years right through to employment, there are problems. I want to look at three areas in particular that I think are important. The first is early years education. When you hear the statistics about the growing social-class gap as children move through school, you can conclude only one thing: once a child falls behind, it is very difficult for them to catch up. That is not because they get the poorest teachers or go to the worst schools or because no one tries; it is because it is damned tough to catch up if you have fallen behind at the age of five. The only conclusion can be that early years ought to be our prime focus; it ought to be where we put our resources if ever we have the chance. Yet when we look at that area, we see staff who are less qualified. Some 45% of childcare workers claim benefits or tax credits; it is essentially a low-skilled workforce. You have to have a PhD to teach a university student but you do not even have to have a level 3 qualification to teach the nought to fives. So we have learned what is needed but failed to take action.
I have to say that Michael Gove’s action in abolishing Sure Start was nothing short of politically criminal. I hope he has lived to rue the day, when he sees that nothing has been done—in fact, the gap at age five is growing, not closing. I believe that there is a review of the future of children’s centres, and it would be helpful if the Minister could give us some reassurance about what is happening. This is not just about the child; institutions such as Sure Start and children’s centres work with the parents. If you are going to get it right at aged five, that is the opportunity to bind together that most important of educational partnerships, not between teacher and pupil but between parents and children. We are wasting opportunities there.
Secondly, I want to look at schools. Again, I would say that the many schools that succeed do so against the odds, in the most extraordinarily challenging circumstances and working harder than many of us can imagine. Many individuals will talk about how they owe their life chances to the school that they went to and the teacher who taught them. But there is a danger in this debate that we pick out individuals or groups and say that it worked for them, but forget to look at the overall picture. Schools are still struggling to close the gap between social class and educational attainment.
The figures and statistics belie the actuality of what is happening because the biggest difference in attainment is within schools, not between them. We measure the difference between schools, saying, “This school got that and that school got the other”, but, no matter how affluent the catchment area of the school or where it is situated, poor children in those schools do worse. If poor children make up 1% of children in a middle-class school, guess who does the worst in that high-achieving middle-class school—the 1% of poor children. I worry about the Ofsted figures in this respect as well. When you look at the Ofsted gradings for outstanding schools, you see that they correlate to schools in middle-class areas taking middle-class children. It is not an exact fit, but a school is far more likely to be in special measures or to require improvement if a number of its children are on free school meals.
That means that we are not asking the right questions. You cannot just look at the performance statistics and say what is right or wrong. The reality is that even in high-performing schools, working-class children are not doing well. That means that our approach to failing schools and schools that have a lot of working-class children should sometimes be more empathetic than I fear it is. To be honest, there is little incentive for schools to tackle long-term inequality: you do not get many badges for it and you run the risk of ruining your overall performance, with all the consequences that that has.
I want to bring up one more important item in relation to schools. I do not mind the emphasis on literacy and numeracy—indeed, my time in office as a Minister, during the first term, was focused on the literacy and numeracy strategies—but I worry about, and am pretty cross about, the narrowing of the curriculum. If you want to help children from working-class backgrounds, you have to teach them to read and write to prepare them for secondary school and for life, but you also have to give them access to that wider, richer curriculum. That is what will give them the foundations to be brave enough to make decisions, and confident enough to visit places that they may not otherwise have gone to. If we have schools where is there is no creativity—no art, no music, no band or orchestra—but there is an awful lot of phonics teaching, we are not going to build children up. They might be able to pass the phonics test, but they will not have the confidence that is essential to get on in life.
I turn to a topic that for me is a tragedy equal to that of abolishing Sure Start. Since 2010, the Government’s priority on the schools agenda has been to try to force every school in this country to become an academy or a free school. I am not making a judgment—there are many such schools that are good—but I am absolutely confident that the amount of time, resource, leadership and effort that successive Ministers in the Department for Education have put into forcing schools to academise could have been spent on tackling the problem that we are discussing today. It is a tragedy that that has not been the case.
My third area is post-16 education. I will be honest: I was not quite as up to date on the statistics as I thought I was, before leading on this debate. I had not realised what a segregated system post-16 has become. Quite simply, twice as many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds go on to further education than stay at school. At post-16 we now have working-class children taking one path and middle-class children taking another. But which is the most underfunded sector of our whole education system? It is further education. Which sector has taken a 20% reduction in funding, compared to 8% in schools? It is FE. The salary of college lecturers is, on average, £2,500 less than that in schools—no wonder the average college had 16 vacancies at the start of the 2017-18 academic year. That cannot be right. I am not making a judgment about where children choose to go, but if they choose to go to further education, and if we are serious about closing the attainment gap, that is where our priority must be and where investment ought to be made.
I finish on this: education is the most powerful lever for change that we have. I stand second to none in believing in the power of education to change lives, and I pay tribute to everybody who chooses to spend their life in this sector. But I also believe that they cannot do it by themselves. Too often, our response is to blame them, because they have not got our policies right. They cannot do it by themselves; it is our responsibility to make sure that there are things around them to help them do their job better. It is difficult to close a social-class gap during a time of austerity. If being poor means that you are more likely to do badly at school, why do we make more children poor, as we have done since 2010? If we believe that a broader co-ordinated service is important, why do we cut social services, the probation service and the numbers of health visitors who go into schools?
What is happening in schools? Teachers know that if they are going to do the best for their children, they have to not just teach them but help them overcome the barriers to learning. These barriers are not necessarily educational: they are domestic, social and aspirational. Teachers do it because there is no one else to. We have a situation in which teachers are taking time out from teaching to help a parent who comes in with a money problem, or a child who comes in dirty because there is no bath at home to wash in, or a child who needs fed because they have had no breakfast. When Labour was in Government, we moved away from that. It is far more challenging to close that social-class gap during a time of austerity than at any other, and I lay that at this Government’s door.
This remains one of our biggest challenges. If our education system and our politicians want us to be the sort of society we say we want, we should put our hands up and volunteer to be judged by how much we can close the gap between the poor and the rich. We are not without successes and some evidence of how it can be done, and we are not without the wish and the will to do it. But I fear that, at the moment, we are without the ability to look at what has happened and seize the evidence of what works, and to turn that into policies that could shape a different future.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness. I do not know if I agree with everything she said, but I agree with a lot of it. I volunteered to speak in this debate because it follows one yesterday—I remind the House of my declared interests—in which I talked special educational needs. I did not have a chance to raise how the parents have to take on a huge responsibility for this group, because the school system seems to be failing them. Teachers are not trained to deal with most of the commonly occurring special educational needs—I have already referred to my interest in dyslexia—and parents traditionally have to step in. They normally step in to get the diagnosis in the first place. They have to notice that the child is underachieving or not achieving in certain ways. That means they need to know what the norm and the expectation are. If you do not have a background in education, you are less likely to know that. Then, once you have done that, you have to take on the system, to an extent. You need to start putting pressure on the teacher and the structures around you to say, “Why are you not doing it?” This means writing letters. Good literacy helps. Knowing how to access forms and look things up are all part of it. The tiger parent gets results.
Then look at straightforward cash. It costs £500, maybe £600, to get, privately, a diagnosis for these hidden disabilities. Other situations may vary. That is a big chunk. It is more than you would get from one week on the national minimum wage. Then, it is reckoned to cost about £1,000 a year to keep the pressure on and make sure you get the support for that child and the things they are missing at school. The people I have been speaking to reckon that, if you have to go to appeal, it costs over £6,000. At least 15% of the population have special educational needs according to the Government, and virtually everybody agrees that that is an underdiagnosis. It is reckoned that 80% of those with dyslexia are undiagnosed through the school system.
There is another, small element that goes into the bigger cocktail the noble Baroness has identified, and which may ensure that your chances of success are that bit lower. Everything is on a downward multiplier. You are being pressured to do things that you just cannot do if you do not have the resources or understand the education system that well. I do not know how many times I have had a conversation with a parent who said, “I have a dyslexic child and, by the way, I think I am dyslexic as well.” The same is true of dyspraxia and autism. With that sort of pressure, we will not get out of this until we start to have better education for teachers and make the system slightly friendlier to enable them to implement those changes. All these small changes will help but unless we keep an eye on them and how they fit together, we will miss out. Please can we hear how the Government are going to make sure that parents with lower educational attainment know how to access the help that the middle- classes are clearly getting?
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for securing this debate and for the way in which she introduced it. I absolutely agree that education is the most powerful lever for change, but I did not always appreciate that. I grew up in Gateshead, when it was one of the poorest communities in the country. I attended a typical inner-city comprehensive school, where our most famous alumnus was Paul Gascoigne. The only remarkable thing about my O-level grades was that they spelled out “FUDGE” when I got them.
In later life, however, with the encouragement of my noble friend Lord Baker, the then Secretary of State, and the inspirational local businessman Sir Peter Vardy, I was part of a team that founded a city technology college in Gateshead. Over the past 30 years, it has transformed the academic opportunities of more than 10,000 children from working-class backgrounds. It did this by raising expectations among students and parents. The school instilled in students personal pride and self-belief, along with beliefs in self-discipline and ambition. Later in life, I was to have the opportunity of graduating from Oxford University as a mature student. What has all this taught me about the subject before us?
There are a few things. I am absolutely convinced that education is the surest path out of poverty ever discovered. I believe that investment in the early years of a child’s life will yield the greatest socioeconomic return it is possible to get. I believe in the dignity of hard work, and in celebrating excellence wherever it is found: in academia, the arts, sport, public service or enterprise. I believe in levelling up, not levelling down, and that the person who has the greatest responsibility for achieving your life goals is you. I failed my O-levels not because the system failed me but because I did not put in the work necessary to pass them. I believe that people born anywhere in the United Kingdom have won the biggest prize in the lottery of life. It is, without doubt, the best country to grow up in. I believe it offers some of the best schools and universities, and the best opportunities available anywhere in the world at this time. The British education system is the most admired in the world, judging by the fact that last year the UK overtook the United States as the number one destination for foreign students.
Over the past six years, we have seen the proportion of children achieving good development by the age of five rise from 55% to 74%. I am proud that the number of people being taught in good or outstanding schools has increased by over 2 million since 2010; this will pay dividends in future. I am pleased that the proportion of children who were on free school meals entering higher education in England has increased every single year since 2005. I am pleased that the scourge of mass unemployment, which I knew in my youth, has given way to the highest employment levels in our history and some of the lowest unemployment rates for 50 years. I am proud that we now have the lowest ever number of low-paid jobs, as a proportion of the working population.
The message I would send from places such as this to the working-class communities from which I hail is: you are special; there are opportunities open to you today which are unparalleled in our history; you have incredible potential; and it matters not where you start but where you finish. Be inspired, work hard, aim high and persevere. Above all, when you get there remember to invest back in the lives of the young, so that they might grow taller than we did.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for securing this debate. I would like to use the few minutes I have in what I see as a critical debate to focus on those areas that are rarely spoken about, much less understood in these discussions. I first declare my interests as chair of the advisory group for the Government’s race disparity unit, director of Operation Black Vote and board director for Youth Futures Foundation.
The importance of this debate must not be underplayed: as an extremely wealthy nation, we should be ashamed that children from poorer backgrounds are now less likely to have job security, and possibly social mobility, than when I left school 40-odd years ago. A decent and more level playing field in education, from early years to university, has to be the goal. We are talking about not dumbing down, but rather investing to raise up. It is in the top universities’ self-interest to acknowledge that a student with all the socioeconomic disadvantages who still gets two As and a B is probably as bright as a privileged student who has gained three As.
My second point is on the growing and misleading narrative that seeks to pit white working-class students against working-class black and minority ethnic students. First, black and minority students, particularly those from Roma, Gypsy and Traveller, African, Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani families, are more likely to live in poverty and disadvantage, as are their families. So why are they doing better than some disadvantaged white students? I would argue there are two fundamental reasons.
First, particularly outside big cities—for example, for some in the north, in Wales, in the south-west and in other places—there is a bottom-up lack of investment in good jobs, or in schools. This can contribute to certain sections of their communities having expectations and aspirations that are not as high as they could be.
In contrast, the black and minority ethnic, and the migrant, mentality towards education has been: “It’s your way out of poverty and disadvantage, and it will lessen race inequality.” In spite of their educational aspirations, BAME working-class students and youths face a disadvantage that their white counterparts do not: the race penalty. Just a few days ago, Operation Black Vote, alongside the Carnegie Trust and University College London, launched a research paper entitled Race Inequality in the Workforce. The data showed that black and ethnic minority young people
“are 58% more likely to be unemployed”
“47% more likely to have a zero-hours contract”.
In education, we are more likely to be expelled from school and have lower degrees, even though students start at the same level. But for me, the clearest factor, which we have witnessed, is that when student papers are marked blindly, without the student’s identity being revealed, lo and behold, black and minority ethnic students do that much better.
Let us bring this back to finding solutions. First, we must understand class that and racial disadvantage are not the same and stop pitting one community against the other. On race, I call upon the Government to have the biggest recruitment drive for black and ethnic minority teachers and role models ever seen. Funding our universities must be linked to them adopting the race equality charter—as they did for gender with Athena SWAN, which dramatically moved the gender inequality dial. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, as a nation, in a scary post-Brexit world, we must have the political will to properly invest in our children’s future. That is looking after our own self-interest.
My Lords, given the number of reports and studies on this issue, I think we all recognise the importance of educational attainment to social mobility, and indeed to social justice. It is therefore all the more important to be reminded that inequalities continue to exist within the education sector between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers. We start, of course, at the beginning. In the first five years of their lives, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often suffer disadvantages compared to their more affluent peers. In its most recent state of the nation report, the Social Mobility Commission found that 43% of children entitled to free school meals did not reach the “good” level of development at age 5, compared to 26% of more advantaged children.
Disadvantaged pupils start school behind their peers in terms of attainment, and the gap persists throughout the school years. By age seven, their attainment gap is 18 percentage points in reading and mathematics, and 20 percentage points in writing. By age 11, less than half of pupils entitled to free school meals reach the expected standards in reading, writing and maths, compared to 68% of all other pupils. Research shows us that high-quality early education is one of the most important determinants of every child’s life chances. Children who receive early years education start primary school at a cognitive advantage, and the longer children have been in preschool, the greater that advantage.
The excellent debate in this House last week, brought by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, drew attention to the need for improved early years interventions to support children and families facing a range of disadvantages. Over the last decade we have seen a plethora of policies aimed at addressing the attainment gap. In early years, we have seen the introduction of a number of hours of free early education or childcare for qualifying two, three and four-year olds, and an Early Years Pupil Premium aimed at helping disadvantaged three and four-year olds. In schools, the pupil premium was introduced for pupils eligible for free school meals, and for looked-after children. There is a national schools breakfast programme, and an essential life skills grant, aimed at supporting disadvantaged children in the most disadvantaged parts of the country—the 12 so-called “opportunity areas” that include Blackpool, Derby and my hometown of Bradford.
Although I welcome the ambition behind these schemes, the sheer range of policies and schemes is questionable. In her passionate opening speech, my noble friend starkly highlighted this. Over the years, we have seen many initiatives come and go without being properly evaluated, or without being given a chance to prove themselves before being scrapped. I think of the life chances strategy that was never published, and the disappointing decision not to carry out an early workforce feasibility study. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government will reconsider, or develop, a workforce strategy for early years as a priority? Although the commissioning of research on family hubs is well-intentioned, do we really need yet more reviews? Surely, we already know the benefits of children’s centres from the documented success of Sure Start and its basis of listening to parents and working with local communities.
The Government’s levelling-up ambitions include a commitment to education and skills, and to addressing inequalities in the regions, particularly the north, where I have seen for myself multiple inequalities. A report by the End Child Poverty coalition last year showed that child poverty is rising. The deep-rooted problems it highlighted emphasise the need to get consensus for long-term policy changes that will be kept to, over time, across the parties. If social mobility is indeed a “top priority across government”, will the Minister acknowledge that there are no quick fixes and urge the need for long-term commitment and investment, and joined-up, cross-government approaches?
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on putting down for debate a subject in which the words “working class” and “education” are in the same sentence. For the past 10 years, I have promoted schools—university technical colleges—for the working class of our country, and I am proud to do so.
The youngsters whom we recruit at 14 are disengaged, disheartened, disobedient and entirely fed up with their schools; they are looking for a fresh start. We give it to them. First, we treat them, at age 14, as adults—that is simply not done in normal schools. They decide what uniform they want to wear—they invariably elect for business dress—and they usually call their teachers by their Christian names. It is a totally different relationship. Secondly, from day one, they make things with wood, metal and plastics and using 3D printers, and they realise that this is something quite different. When I speak to those classes, I say, “This is the first day of your working life, because you start at 8.30 am and go on until 5 pm.” These schools are transformational. We are proud of the record of our students. Frankly, 30% to 40% of our intake is challenging, but our principals do not give up, and they are very reluctant to expel the pupil. They work at it; we give the pupils additional training classes to catch up, and they do.
The destination data is quite striking. Every July, August, September and October, our heads have to determine what happens to each of their students. If you ask the head of a normal school, “What’s happened to your students?”, I guarantee that they will tell you how many went to university, and then there will be silence. They are not really very interested in what happens to the other students. But we track down each one. Last year, we found that 27% of our students became apprentices; a normal school has about 6% or 7%. Some 43% went to universities, which is similar but slightly better than for many schools. What we found striking was that 75% of them did STEM courses—double the national average. Those courses are where the skill gap is in our country. The rest either get a job or go on to other forms of education. When it comes to NEETS—unemployed—we had only 3% last July, whereas a normal school would have 8% or 9%. Undoubtedly, then, we have transformed the life chances of those many youngsters who joined us two or three years early.
The other thing is that, on the whole, there has not been much encouragement for these schools from the previous four Secretaries of State. Michael Gove did not like them, tried to close them down and cut our money, and the other three Secretaries of State had passing relationships with education. However, the present Secretary of State is very enthusiastic about UTCs. He did not go to a public or private school—he went to an ordinary school and then college—and I found out that his daughter is at one of the city technology colleges that I founded back in the 1980s in Telford. Therefore, I have high hopes of the Secretary of State. He has visited a UTC and likes it, and said that we can expand, so we have put in applications for three new ones, in Salford, Carlisle and Birmingham, and we hope to have that approved in the summer of this year. Another will open in Doncaster this September.
More than anything else, these schools show that you can transform the life chances of many of the youngsters we have. Your Lordships might like to know of a striking example, because it is the sort of thing you might remember. We have a UTC in Liverpool, which is right on the border of Croxteth, the area for the black community. If you were born in Croxteth in the black community, you have a 15% chance of going to university. Three or four years ago, we took in several students from that black community, and it is striking that 85% of them gained university places. That is very strong social mobility, and it will be technical education—
I will finish in a moment; do not worry. The success of the Government in education over the next five years will depend on whether they manage to transform technical education fundamentally in our country and make it better. Remember: every attempt to improve technical education since 1870 has failed apart from UTCs, so they have a great task. That is the task on which they will be judged: not on the EBacc or Progress 8, but on whether technical education is better in five years’ time.
My Lords, I praise my noble friend Lady Morris for her inspiring speech and for the debate, and I remind the House of my interests as the chief officer at TES Global and as chair of Whole Education.
I believe that education is failing working-class communities in this country. Many of those places were formed to serve an industrial economy that has since moved on. Our education system emerged as those places became established and has yet to move on with the economy, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has told your Lordships on a number of occasions.
Our current system is a sift, and academic exams are the sifting mechanism. You go to school, work hard and get good grades. If your grades are good enough, you go to university and get a great career; if not, get some skills and get a job. Policy-makers have been delegating more to schools in exchange for more accountability, in the hope that it will generate more improvement so that more young people from more backgrounds can access the higher aspiration university route. Yet, the Sutton Trust tells us that the eight top schools in this country send as many pupils to Oxbridge as three-quarters of all schools. Working-class children are being failed. Teach First research in 2018 revealed that poorer pupils are more likely to be excluded than to pass the English Baccalaureate.
The most the current model can do is work for two-thirds of young people. For working-class kids, we would be lucky to get to half, however hard we drive the current system. There simply are not enough teachers and leaders to make the system work, and academic learning is not for everyone. For working-class communities, it is not just about learning and exams. On Saturday, I met the job-sharing head teachers from an all-through school in Portland, Dorset, where I used to be the Member of Parliament. They asked me to tell you this:
“We have felt that things have become even harder over the last few years. Students starting school with us have vast gaps in their education, not just academically. We support that well, and are proud to say we’re in the top 10% of schools in the country for progress, both at secondary and primary. However, the social and emotional needs of our students are challenging. The support Sure Start centres used to offer families had a vast impact on parenting skills and abilities. Now, there is very little early intervention for families who struggle or need assistance. The threshold for children who are at risk appears to be unknown. We leave students to go home on occasion unsafe to homes that are not suitable for them, and hope to see them the next day. Social care simply cannot support the needs of families like ours.”
We need a national debate about a new system. There can be no change in working-class communities without regeneration through education. That system must be designed for a long life of continuous reskilling—one that prepares people for a working life of 60 years, multiple careers, being great at interacting with machines as well as humans, but also out-competing machines at being human. It must be one that accepts that analytics will replace qualifications and that universities will have to innovate to deliver lifelong learning rather than a debt-loaded rite of passage, as at present. It will have more grow your own: across a lifetime, someone with a higher apprenticeship has higher average earnings than a graduate from a non-Russell Group university. Employers are increasingly growing their own talent rather than relying on graduate entry schemes. Schools should be growing and qualifying their own teachers from their own working-class communities, with less high-stakes testing and more trust in those teachers. We need a curriculum, not unlike that of some of the UTCs, that balances knowledge and skills, and is designed to nurture a love of learning, curiosity and skills for self-directed learning. This needs cross-party consensus, and what better place to start than in your Lordships’ House?
I really just want to say “I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris” and sit down, but I will use my personal experience to highlight what I believe is an absolutely fundamental issue. I was the first person in my family to go on to higher education. I was the eldest of five, and my father was a bus driver who brought us up as a single parent. So I guess that my appearance here says that I must have been pretty good at grabbing the opportunities that were available to me.
Delving into my background, you would find I went to a grammar school, but I am not an advocate of grammar schools—why? Because I saw what happened to my working class friends who went to the secondary modern. When I passed my 11-plus, news went around the neighbourhood faster than a Facebook post would today. It was unprecedented; no one in our area had done this. Within hours, a posse of mothers, who kind of looked after my father, had arrived at our door demanding to speak to him. Actually, they had come to convince him that I should not go to the grammar school, that it would be a disaster, make me different from everyone else and I would be outcast. Fortunately, my father listened more to his headstrong daughter than to the well-meaning neighbours, so off I went. Those women had a point, though. To start with, it was hard. I did not fit in anywhere. At school, I never had the right equipment, my uniform was second-hand and I was accused of being common or poor. Back at home, I was now shunned from the street life, teased for being posh, having a stupid uniform and being a clever-clogs. “You think you’re better than us!” echoed down the street after me as I walked down the road in my blue stripy dress and straw boater.
My point is that things have not changed. It is still the case that youngsters from similar backgrounds to mine have rules, mores, values and norms that are very different from those at the school that they attend. They see no link between being successful at school and future employment and a better life. They do not believe in the things that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, talked about; they see that as a myth that they have been peddled, because they do not see it around them in their area. We now have communities that have been hollowed out over decades, where traditional employment has declined and there have been no replacements. There is no clear pathway from school to employment, and in some communities some children are the third generation without a job. Such jobs as they can get are unstable and on zero-hours contracts. The brightest youngsters do not see their future in their community and, like I did, they escape and move away, taking their talent with them and compounding the problem in that area.
I believe that our education system is failing these youngsters. I wonder whether, like me, noble Lords watched the dramas “Little Boy Blue” and “Three Girls” and felt ashamed. It is absolutely clear from studies that there are two kinds of comprehensives. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, those who are in the more working-class and ethnically mixed comprehensives get a worse deal—there is no doubt about it. The studies show two completely different educational experiences under one roof. The reve