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Lords Chamber

Volume 826: debated on Thursday 8 December 2022

House of Lords

Thursday 8 December 2022

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Introduction: Lord Jackson of Peterborough

Stewart James Jackson, having been created Baron Jackson of Peterborough, of Peterborough in the County of Cambridgeshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Stroud and Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent

Ruth Lauren Smeeth, having been created Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent, of Stoke-on-Trent in the County of Staffordshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Coaker, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Conflict


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the contribution of (1) foreign mining companies, and (2) other external actors, to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

My Lords, the DRC faces many challenges but is also an important partner. It is home to Africa’s largest expanse of tropical forest, including 60% of the Congo Basin. The UK condemns the ongoing conflict in the DRC, including the resumption of violence by the UN- and UK-sanctioned armed group M23. This undermines peace efforts and has caused further insecurity and significant human suffering. We reiterate our support for the regional diplomatic efforts to promote de-escalation and create the conditions for lasting peace in the DRC. All support by external actors must stop.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. I am sure he is aware that this week the multinational mining company Glencore has agreed to pay $180 million to the DRC as compensation for corruption between 2007 and 2018. That follows fines and payments of $1.1 billion around the world. Does he agree that the best way we can help to establish stable, secure government and peace in the DRC is to rein in those mining and other western companies, given the fact that Transparency International notes that £100 billion in dirty money is estimated to flow through the UK each year and that the Bribery Act 2010 is now 12 years old? Do we not need urgent action in the UK on bribery and corruption?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to identify corruption as a major problem in the DRC: it is estimated to cost the country some 10% of its annual GDP. Illicit exploitation of natural resources and smuggling to neighbouring countries is a big part of that, particularly deeply rooted in the eastern DRC: it is estimated at around $1.25 billion per year; that is 2.5% of the country’s GDP just for the natural resource exploitation. Gold is the easiest and most lucrative to smuggle and the rate of this is increasing; it increased dramatically over the last year. So, of course, we strongly condemn the actions of any company, in particular companies based here in the UK, that in any way contribute to the further corruption of already fragile systems, with massive repercussions for the future development of that country and the future peace, security and prosperity of its people.

My Lords, in addition to conflict, corruption, environmental degradation and human rights violations, has the Minister seen the report from the United Nations earlier this year about the use of child labour in the DRC, saying that 40,000 children in the southern Katanga province alone are mining cobalt there for the lithium that we use in our batteries? Surely the Minister could take this to the big tech companies—Microsoft, Google and the others—and also use our aid programmes as leverage to stop the exploitation of children in this way.

As ever, the noble Lord points to a really core issue. With the DRC providing around 70% of the global supply of cobalt, we have a particular interest in addressing urgently this issue of child forced and bonded labour in cobalt supply chains. That is reflected in the work we do through ODA; however, I acknowledge to the noble Lord that there is much more we could be doing, not least through the City of London, given the fact that so many large mining players are based in this country. It is certainly my intention to try to create a more co-operative approach with some of those mining companies to see what more we can do to tackle child labour, but also the very widespread environmental contamination. To give one example, there is a village in Peru where every single inhabitant was registered as having near-lethal doses of mercury as a consequence of illegal gold mining, so this is a major problem and one that we absolutely acknowledge.

My Lords, this conflict in the eastern DRC has claimed a staggering 6 million lives since 1996 and 5 million people have been displaced. Arguably, this forgotten conflict is the worst in the world today. Does the Minister agree that among the main drivers of this instability are the actions of the front-line states—Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda—which are financing and developing capacity with different rebel groups and using them as proxies? What assessment has he made of the East African Community peace initiative, once the new Kenyan President has taken his place?

My Lords, we have raised our concerns about the increase in violence at the highest levels with the DRC and Rwanda. That includes messages sent by our Foreign Minister to the President of the DRC and the Rwandan Foreign Minister in November. There has been a joint Great Lakes special envoy statement from the UK, the US, France and Belgium on 18 November and a UN Security Council press statement on 22 November. Various Ministers in the Foreign Office raise the issue regularly with both Rwanda and the DRC. Like the noble Lord, we are extremely concerned by the actions of neighbouring countries in relation to the eastern DRC.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is absolutely right to focus on labour standards. I hear what the Minister says about having chats with City people, but the ILO has minimum standards which this Government could ensure apply to other Governments and the multinationals to which the noble Baroness referred. For example, what are we doing to ensure that the ILO Safety and Health in Mines Convention, first adopted in 1995, is applied much more widely? Today, 27 years later, only 34 countries apply it. Supporting the ILO is something this Government could do.

My Lords, we will certainly not just conduct chats within the City. The reality is that there is an enormous amount of muscle there; if some of our companies are engaging in activity which is exacerbating the problem, it is right that we should talk to them and address those issues, as the noble Baroness pointed out. The UK is working with international partners across the world to address illicit mining, including through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which contributed to the establishment of transparency provisions in the 2018 mining code. We have launched our first critical minerals strategy, which aims to improve the security of supply of critical minerals. That matters because China so dominates that sector at the moment. Through it, we are also using our ODA to help countries develop critical mineral resources in a market-led, transparent way which respects human rights and broader environmental goals.

My Lords, the Congo rainforest is the second largest in the world and sequesters 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon every year. The recent discovery there of the largest area of tropical peatlands in the world increases climate risk for the whole world if the rainforest is destroyed. The Minister will know of our pivotal role in the Central African Forest Initiative, a deal negotiated and agreed at COP 26 in Glasgow. Therefore, can he answer accusations from NGOs that governance and enforcement safeguards have proven utterly inadequate to safeguard the sustainable use by people whose livelihoods depend on the forests?

The noble Baroness is right to highlight the importance of the DRC. As I said, it holds 60% of the Congo Basin. The Congo Basin as a whole provides anything up to two-thirds of the rainfall for Africa, so it is not just a climate issue. If it goes, so does the rainfall, and we are facing a humanitarian crisis on a scale that we have never had to consider, let alone deal with. This is therefore a priority, and that is reflected in what we agreed at COP.

We are relatively new to this issue in the DRC. We have done plenty of work around the world in relation to forests, but not so much in the DRC. We have secured a commitment of $1.7 billion from international donors, including the UK. That money is beginning to flow: $300 million so far has already landed on the ground. We have only just joined CAFI, the initiative that the noble Baroness mentioned. We will be chairing it as of March next year. I will be taking a very active role in CAFI, and we hope to use that vehicle to ensure that the delivery of the rest of that finance actually provides the results that we know we desperately need in that region.

Finally, the other countries in the Congo Basin are in a different place. The Republic of the Congo is doing remarkable things, keeping deforestation more or less stable; Gabon is too—a country I have spoken about many times in our debates. There is a particular problem with the DRC, which happens to contain the main area of forest. That is why our focus will be very much on the DRC.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the fact that Glencore agreed to pay $180 million to the DRC. What work is the British Government doing with local civil society, as well as international organisations, to ensure that that money is spent in the way that it should be spent, rather than also being subject to corruption?

My Lords, the DRC is a country that is riven by corruption. As I said, it is estimated that corruption in the round costs about 10% of the country’s GDP, and a big chunk of that relates to resource exploitation. Therefore, the prerequisite for ensuring that the aid we invest in the DRC is spent properly—not least the money that I was just talking about in relation to the forests, and we intend to escalate and increase that sum considerably in the coming years—on tackling corruption. That is a major focus of our work in the DRC, and has been a major focus now for some years.

Protection of Media Freedom


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to protect media freedom around the world.

My Lords, since launching a global media freedom campaign in 2019, the Government have continued to champion media freedom and healthy information ecosystems more broadly. As part of this work, we co-founded the Media Freedom Coalition and helped launch a new global media defence fund. The Minister of State for Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and United Nations reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to media freedom in November at a conference on the safety of journalists to mark the 10th anniversary of the UN plan of action on the safety of journalists.

My Lords, I acknowledge the work that the Government has been doing on media freedom and I am very grateful for it, but around the world, journalists are detained simply for trying to do their job in an objective way. In Myanmar, for example, journalists have been killed and we have seen a wave of arrests, including of Htet Htet Khine, Sithu Aung Myint and Nyein Nyein Aye. Will the Minister join me in condemning the unjust detention of journalists and tell me what work the Government are doing to help protect media freedom in Myanmar?

My noble friend is absolutely right. I believe it is still the case today that on average, every five days around the world a journalist is killed for bringing information to the public. With 80 journalists and media workers killed already this year and the number of journalists jailed for their work at an all-time high, this continues to be a real priority for us. The military in Myanmar has arrested over 100 journalists and killed at least three, and many others have been subject to torture, extreme violence and so on. It has also shut down almost all independent media in the country. Of course, we wholeheartedly and completely condemn the military’s behaviour and its suppression of opposition voices, including journalists and civil society activists, since the coup last year. We are providing emergency funding to help journalists and media organisations continue to report what is happening in Myanmar, and we are working with the Media Freedom Coalition and international partners to call out the military suppression of media freedom and the targeting of journalists.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that journalists’ rights and human rights begin at home, so how does the chairman of the Conservative Party issuing a SLAPP order and making use of it to shut down discussion of his own affairs help matters? Will the Government support the amendment to the Public Order Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which we will come to next week, to protect such journalism?

My Lords, SLAPPs are clearly an abuse of the legal system, involving the use of legal threats and litigation to silence journalists, campaigners and public bodies who investigate wrongdoing in the public interest. The Government launched a call for evidence on SLAPPs earlier this year, and their response to it was published in July, setting out proposed reforms to tackle SLAPPs. These include primary legislative reforms to introduce a statutory definition of a SLAPP, create an early dismissal process for SLAPPs, and introduce a cost-protection scheme via secondary legislation.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a producer of a new series on Ukraine. Jimmy Lai is a British national who was owner of Hong Kong’s biggest independent media outlet, Next Digital. He was arrested and imprisoned for fraud and now faces another trial for breaking Hong Kong’s national security law. His lawyers say they have been harassed and threatened, and there is a chance that the trial will be moved to the mainland. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to help Mr Lai?

My Lords, on 7 February the UK co-led a Media Freedom Coalition statement, signed by 21 international partners, calling out attacks on media and press freedoms, including the raid on, associated arrests of journalists of, and closure of Stand News in Hong Kong. China committed to uphold freedom of the press in the Sino-British joint declaration and made a guarantee to that effect in Hong Kong’s Basic Law. However, as noble Lords know, China remains in a state of ongoing non-compliance with the joint declaration.

My Lords, what assistance is being given to BBC Persian, which is under such pressure from the Iranian regime, especially given the current protests in Iran?

My Lords, reports of the arbitrary arrest, detention and harassment, mainly of Iranian journalists and media workers and their families, are a huge concern to the UK. The harassment of journalists has also been directed at those covering the Islamic Republic of Iran from abroad. Of course, we condemn the judicial persecution of family members of employees and ex-employees of BBC Persian and the many individuals who have had their assets frozen and have been banned from leaving the country, in breach of Iran’s ICCPR obligations. In November this year the Foreign Secretary summoned the Iranian representative and made it clear that we do not tolerate threats to life and intimidation of any kind towards journalists or any individual living here in the UK.

My Lords, this is a shocking revelation: that journalists who are reporting here about events in Iran are now suffering harassment—detailed harassment. What are the Government doing to ensure that the Home Office and the Foreign Office work in concert to ensure that these sorts of events do not happen? It is bad enough having to defend journalists in totalitarian regimes, but it is outrageous that journalists in this country reporting on events in Iran are suffering such harassment. We have to put an end to this.

The noble Lord is exactly right and what he says entirely echoes the view of the UK Government. It is outrageous that anyone, particularly journalists reporting on a foreign country, should be subjected to any kind of intimidation—here in the UK or indeed anywhere. There is continuous communication and co-operation between the Foreign Office and the Home Office, as noble Lords would expect, on this and many other issues. Any steps taken by the Foreign Secretary have been taken in line with the Home Office.

My Lords, following China’s banning of the BBC World News channel, what advice has been given, as has been given in countries such as Russia, on the use of VPNs and ways around the ban? The importance of broadcasting accurate reporting into China is increasing as we face so many crackdowns on minority groups.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate mentions Russia and China, which are the source of much of the activity and agitation we have seen against a free press, both in those countries and in other countries as a consequence of their actions. The Russian Government’s brutal suppression of freedom of expression and of the media generally is clear evidence of Putin’s desperation to conceal the truth of this war from his own people. We are doing everything we can to expose the Kremlin playbook, including through the new government information cell, detailing how Russia is using the four Ds of disinformation, calling out its lies and contrasting them with verified facts. Through our unprecedented package of sanctions against Russia, we have targeted peddlers of Russian disinformation who push Kremlin propaganda. The Government have already directly sanctioned state media organisations, targeting the Kremlin-funded TV-Novosti, which owns RT, and Rossiya Segodnya, which controls the Sputnik news agency.

My Lords, can my noble friend bear in mind that while nations around the world should protect their own media freedoms—and they do not make a very good job of it—we in this country have a unique opportunity, through our membership of the Commonwealth, and through the Commonwealth Journalists Association and a variety of other Commonwealth press organisations, to press for media freedoms throughout a third of the world’s population, which is not a bad start?

My noble friend is right, and we do. The UK continues to prioritise funding for media freedom programmes, which have helped journalists all around the world. We have provided over half a billion pounds in ODA to media and free flow of information over the past five years. That includes support for the BBC World Service, which we debated a few days ago, and our £3 million pledge over five years to UNESCO’s global media defence fund. The fund has benefited more than 3,000 journalists over two years. In addition, the UK has committed £7 million of new funding for independent media in Ukraine. We co-sponsored the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution on the safety of journalists, and there was the joint statement on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, along with the 51st session of the Human Rights Council. Our media, as has been said, is recognised and respected all around the world, with audience figures rising continuously.

My Lords, returning to SLAPPs, last week we were told by the Minister’s noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton that there was no legislative vehicle to bring in the measures needed. The Minister will appreciate that, it the Bill of Rights is forthcoming, Article 10 would be the legislative vehicle to expand on an anti-SLAPPs law. Will the Government do that?

The Government have reiterated their commitment to using primary legislation to introduce a statutory definition of SLAPP. It is not for me to determine which legislative vehicle should be used—that is way beyond my paygrade—but I will ensure that the noble Baroness’s suggestion is fed back to the appropriate authorities.

Probate: Waiting Times


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether the Probate Department’s recommended wait time for the granting of probate of 10 days is being achieved; and if not, (1) what is the current average waiting time, and (2) what steps they are taking to reduce the delay.

My Lords, there is no recommended wait time to produce a grant of probate. However, despite the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, average wait times for probate following receipt of the documents required have been maintained at between five and seven weeks. Average waiting times are currently almost one week faster than the yearly average for 2020 and 2021. HMCTS is increasing resources to meet higher demand and to further bring down overall timelines.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his Answer. Is he aware that, in 2018, His Majesty’s Government promised radical improvements to reduce the number of days that people have to wait to 10 working days? Four years later, in my own experience with a very simple will that considered only a bank account, it took me three months to get a grant of probate. A friend of mine has been waiting for three years and still has not received a reply. Is the Minister aware that the probate department seems to be infected with a virus that causes it to lose information and not be capable of responding to emails, manning its chat room or answering the telephone? Does he agree that, at a time of deep sadness, confusion and disorientation, these claimants should be treated with respect and compassion? As such, will he ensure that probate staff are trained and claimants are kept in touch with regarding the status of their application?

My Lords, first, I apologise to my noble friend and all those affected by unacceptable delays in the probate registry. Secondly, active steps are being taken to fix the problem. Some 76% of all applications are now made digitally. The problem arises in so-called stopped cases where an element, such as a document, is missing or a query arises. That is where communications have been less than perfect. The registry has now recruited more than 100 staff to make sure that phone calls and emails are answered properly and that the web chat facility, which deals with around 200 calls a day, works well. My colleague in the other place, Minister Freer, is monitoring this closely. I am told that telephone answering times have now come down to less than 10 minutes. We are determined to ensure that that progress continues. I fully accept that, in a time of bereavement, the service in the probate registry must be beyond reproach.

My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating his noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer? This is not the first time in a distinguished career in public service that she has converted personal grief into public campaigning and courage on behalf of other people. I am very grateful for her intervention. The justice system is creaking under the weight of years of austerity. Digitalisation may be part of the answer but it is not the whole answer when there are human beings involved. Perhaps the Minister might meet his noble friend to get some direct experience and advice for his department moving forward.

I fully associate myself with the noble Baroness’s remarks. It is completely right that these issues should be raised, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Meyer on raising them. I have already met her to discuss this problem. In fairness to the probate registry, I simply point out that we are still enmeshed in the aftermath of Covid. Excess deaths are currently running 13% above the five-year average. The first half of 2022 saw 16,000 extra applications above the same period in 2020. So there is a challenge here. I assure your Lordships that, as far as I am concerned, this issue is being monitored closely and everything is being done to correct it.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, has the sympathy of the whole House. The 10 days mentioned in her Question are a pipe dream, frankly. The Minister’s figures are hopelessly optimistic. My understanding is that eight weeks is generally the absolute minimum, and only if the form is flawless. The Government’s website says that you will usually have to wait 16 weeks from application to grant—that is from now to nearly Easter. Any queries add another month. If there is inheritance tax to pay, that adds another month. It often takes hours, not 10 minutes, for someone to answer the phone, and it often takes weeks for them to respond to emails. This is a wholesale failure of service at a desperately sad time in people’s lives—a time of loss, grief, stress and worry. Are not the Government and the Minister ashamed of this performance?

My Lords, I think that I have already conceded that there have been difficulties and some degree of failure in the registry. I understand that the 10-day limit is not intended to apply to the grant of probate, where often complex documents have to be examined and a formal grant of probate issued. My understanding is that the average for digital grants in a straightforward case is currently two to four weeks, although I accept that it is a bit higher with paper applications. The 16 weeks mentioned on the website is a classic and usual example of the Government avoiding overpromising and underdelivering—I would much rather overdeliver and underpromise—but I anticipate that that period will come down. Every effort is being made to correct the issue.

My Lords, how far is this bad example of the law’s delay due to more and more people still working from home? If that is a factor, why on earth are the Government introducing a Bill that will allow every newly appointed person to whatever job to opt to work at home for certain parts of it?

My Lords, as far as I am aware, the problems in the probate registry are not related to persons working at home, but I will make further inquiries for my noble friend Lord Cormack. As I say, processing times are coming down. If noble Lords and others involved would care to report to me or my colleague in the other place, Minister Freer, their personal experiences, we are on the case and we will address this issue.

I am grateful to the Minister for that offer, because my niece has been told that she will wait two years for probate. In the meantime, she is having to care for a bungalow that was left—she has to pay for the heating and the insurance on the property, but she has very little money to do that. There was a problem with the probate service in 2018, which was pre-Covid. The problem arose because of the cuts by Osborne on the public service generally. We are going to the dogs right across the board with so many of our public services and we need to reverse that now. One way in which we could help people with probate problems is to give them some advance towards the costs that they have to meet. Will the Minister consider that?

My Lords, I invite the noble Lord to write to me or the relevant Minister in the other place with that particular problem so that we can address the issue. That is not the sort of thing that we wish to see happening. We will of course consider all available opportunities to improve the service offer.

My Lords, the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, is important and I identify with her views and those of my noble friend Lord Marks. The emotional time of bereavement is made worse by a host of bureaucracy, much of it duplicative and unnecessary, and sheer inefficiency. In the spring of 2020, the probate service lost my late husband’s will, which had been deposited with it for safekeeping, and for three weeks I did not know whether it would reappear. I found the probate service Dickensian. It does not seem to have got much better. Will the Minister and his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, which has many agencies that, frankly, underperform, make this a priority?

My Lords, I very much apologise to the noble Baroness for that incident. I hope that I have made it clear that this is a priority. We have to sort this out.

My Lords, according to the Law Society website, the biggest source of delay in probate applications is waiting for inheritance tax documentation. Can the Minister say what is being done to tie up HMCTS with HMRC to make sure that the proper information goes automatically to the probate service so that it can resolve this issue?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for that question. I am not in a position to answer it, but I will write to him with an answer on the relationship between HMRC and HMCTS.

Rail Strikes: Impact Assessment


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of potential impact of rail strikes called for 24 to 27 December on (1) passenger services, and (2) rail maintenance projects, scheduled for this period.

My Lords, we expect approximately 20% of planned services to run in the 24 to 27 December period, with considerable regional variation. While generally few rail services run during bank holidays, passengers’ travel will regrettably be affected. Network Rail has planned an ambitious £120 million engineering works programme for the Christmas period, aimed at maintaining and renewing track assets. The industrial action will impact planned works, and Network Rail is working to ensure that as many projects as possible can be completed.

I thank the Minister for her Answer, but we have had no leadership from the Government on rail strikes, which have been allowed to drift onwards and expand so that they cover Christmas. The last two Christmases were ruined by Covid, and 19 separate public sector strikes threaten this one. It is a general strike by the only legal means possible, and it is greeted by paralysed silence from the Government. I ask the Minister if it is right that the Government have totally lost control of the situation.

I am afraid I fundamentally disagree with what the noble Baroness just said. There has been no silence from the Government at all. The Prime Minister has answered Questions on it; indeed, the Secretary of State was in front of the Transport Select Committee yesterday and he voluntarily made a statement on rail strikes at the outset of the session. We are absolutely content to talk about rail strikes, so I do not understand her question.

My Lords, one of the consequences of the rail strikes over Christmas is that more people will take to the roads. Quite often, they will be people who do not regularly drive and who have to travel long distances. I understand that the people who monitor our smart motorways are also going on strike. What are the Government doing to keep people safe if they break down on the smart motorway network?

There are varying levels of union membership in the regional control centres responsible for looking at what happens on our smart motorways and setting signs appropriately. The Government have mitigations in place. If necessary, it may be appropriate to put a speed limit on the motorways. We are looking at this in detail, and will do as and when we know more about what level of workforce will be in place.

My Lords, while nobody wants disruption over Christmas—or at any other time, for that matter—it is an open secret that the Government are obstructing a settlement with the RMT. Everybody knows that. Likewise, the Minister knows that there is not a cat in hell’s chance of the rail unions accepting a below-inflation pay deal, with thousands of job cuts and particularly with driver-only operations and closing ticket offices, none of which benefits the travelling public—in fact, quite the opposite. Does the Minister agree that the Government should stop interfering in these negotiations and stop politicising this industrial dispute, and instead allow the train companies to settle?

Well read, my Lord. I do not accept what the noble Lord just said. Indeed, I slightly object to him telling me what I know when it is followed by words that are not true. There is a good offer on the table from the Government, which is fair to workers and to taxpayers, and includes important workforce reforms. Without these things, we will not get the services we need and the fares we want. He says it will cause thousands of people to lose their jobs; there are guarantees of a job for anyone who wants one. The one thing that would take this forward would be for the RMT executive to ask its members whether they would like to accept the offer from the Rail Delivery Group and its members. It is refusing to do so. That would provide the clarity and transparency for everybody to understand what the membership of the RMT actually wants.

My Lords, could my noble friend update us on what will happen to the scheduled £6 million improvements to York station, which we understand cover both track and signalling? Will she give a guarantee that these will go ahead despite the strikes?

My noble friend raises a very important point here, because the Christmas period is always a time when the rail sector endeavours to make important improvements, such as the one that she noted. Some of these improvements are safety upgrades. I really want those to go ahead, and the situation is therefore deeply disappointing: Network Rail will try and make as many of the changes as it can, but to be striking over a period when there are so many engineering works planned is not only disruptive to passengers in the long term but may of course be dangerous.

My Lords, can the Minister explain why it is wrong for public sector workers to try and maintain their living standards at the same time that corporate bosses and bankers are filling their boots with excess profits and extra pay? Can she explain the difference between the two?

My Lords, let us focus a little on the railway workers themselves. I have the utmost respect for the work that they do. During the pandemic, the Government supported the rail industry to an enormous amount. In fact, it was not the Government: it was the taxpayer. The amount was £31 billion, which is equivalent to £300,000 for every single worker in the industry. Not one of them lost their jobs and, even more, not one of them was even furloughed. The railway sector now needs to modernise. We need a seven-day railway and, in return for that modernisation, it is right that the Government have put a reasonable offer on the table. We believe that there should be a referendum among RMT members about that offer.

My Lords, a number of us travel a great deal on the railways, and we are aware that there is now some disquiet with some members of the RMT about the situation that they are in. Many people do not know that members of the RMT do not receive strike pay, which is quite common in many other unions, so they are penalised every time they take a day off on strike and lose a full day’s pay. There is no remuneration at all. There is an offer on the table, and these negotiations have been going on for several months, so does my noble friend the Minister agree that we should put that offer to those workers themselves? Then we can determine whether the offer on the table is sufficient or not.

My noble friend is of course completely right. As the frequency of strikes has increased as we head towards Christmas, and of course over the special period that is Christmas itself, it is absolutely right that we ask the workers—or indeed that the RMT chooses to ask its workers—whether they can really afford this around Christmas, and to think about their long-term career within the railways and the damage being done to the ridership of the railways. We are going to see even lower demand than we did before. It is not going to make for a long-term sustainable solution.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on an open and refreshingly clear acknowledgement that only Ministers set the pay and conditions for railway workers, and that only they can unlock the deal. Will she urge her ministerial colleagues to get around the table and enter intensive negotiations to solve this dispute and find a deal to end the rail strikes?

It is no secret at all that the Government work with the train operating companies and Network Rail to shape these deals. Why on earth would it be a secret? It is indeed the taxpayer that needs to fund these things. But of course the Government have facilitated many meetings: the Secretary of State has met the unions; Minister Merriman has met the unions. At the end of the day, the key to this is for negotiations to continue. My department is happy to facilitate those, but the actual discussions need to happen between the operator and the unions.

Russia: UK Companies

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 7 December.

“The UK and international partners have moved in lockstep since the invasion to impose the largest and most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, designating more than 1,200 individuals and over 120 entities. That includes a ban on new outward investments in Russia, and £18.4 billion worth of Russian frozen assets reported to the Government. On Monday, in alignment with coalition partners, we banned the import of Russian oil and oil products into our markets. In conjunction with partners, we have prohibited UK ships and services from the maritime transportation of Russian oil unless the price paid is at or below $60.

The Government do not comment on individual commercial decisions. The process of divesting themselves of assets in Russia will be complicated for companies, which need to ensure compliance with financial sanctions. However, since Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, we have seen commitments from many firms and investors to divest themselves of Russian assets.

The Government have been clear that we support further signals of intent to divest of Russian assets. In March this year, the then Chancellor—now the Prime Minister—said he welcomed

“commitments … made by a number of firms to divest from Russian assets”,

noted that he

“supports further signals of intent”,

and said that

“there is no case for new investment in Russia.”

That remains the Government’s position.”

My Lords, having reviewed the record of the exchange in another place on this issue, I was struck by the near unanimous condemnation of the Government’s position on this matter. The Minister’s refusal to comment on or act in response to British businesses that continue to operate in Russia is unacceptable. As Russian missiles continue to rain down on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, an already cold winter is becoming even more difficult for the Ukrainian people to endure. With the Prime Minister seemingly in listening mode these days, will the Minister and her Treasury colleagues go to Mr Sunak and encourage him to speak out against British businesses that have opted to profit from Putin’s war?

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, when Chancellor, called on and welcomed UK firms who had taken the decision to divest from Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and said that we would welcome further such decisions from those companies. In terms of the Government’s actions, we have imposed the widest set of sanctions in our history against Russia, which limits the space for companies to operate in Russia, targeted at degrading the Russian war machine and also more broadly degrading its economic ability to continue this war. The noble Lord mentioned the condition of Ukraine’s infrastructure and the attacks on it by Russia in recent weeks. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced that we are looking to support energy generation in Ukraine in response to those attacks.

It is good to hear the Minister talk about strong sanctions. I ask her to direct her department to look at the relationship between OneWeb and Eutelsat. OneWeb was absorbed into Eutelsat in an all-share deal, except for one share, the special share that the Government retain. Eutelsat continues to broadcast Russian channels, including two of the largest Russian pay-for television channels. Is it appropriate, given the Government’s special shareholding in OneWeb, which is a part of Eutelsat, for this relationship to continue?

I hope the noble Lord will understand if I do not comment on the specific case in the Chamber, but if he writes to me, I will look at Hansard and get back to him in writing on that point.

My Lords, do the Government agree that private citizens in the UK should follow the example that is being urged on British businesses and sell any shares they have in businesses that still operate in Russia?

My Lords, that is an individual decision for people to take. Where individuals have found themselves invested in companies that are subject to sanctions, the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation has issued some general licences to facilitate the divestment of those shares where individuals need to do so.

My Lords, British companies are able to call on the very best professional advice to conceal their relationships with Russian companies, both direct and indirect, in Russia and outside Russia. Are we totally confident we have the best intelligence to bring to light those relationships?

If British companies were seeking to circumvent the sanctions that we have put in place, that is something that we would take extremely seriously. The noble Lord is right that the scale and range of sanctions that we have now put in place against Russia need to be matched with increased efforts to ensure that those sanctions are properly enforced.

My Lords, is it the case that there are still a number of Russian oligarchs with assets in this country and the Channel Islands who have not yet been fully sanctioned? What other discussions has the Minister been having in the Treasury with the Channel Islands authorities?

As I have said to the House, the UK has undertaken the largest-scale sanctions programme that we have ever had in our history. We continue to look at new sanctions, and obviously that has to be done within the legal framework that we have set. We amended elements of that framework early on after the invasion to ensure that we could take the widest possible range of action. We continue to look at what we can do, and we continue to speak to our Ukrainian partners about where they would find our efforts most effectively directed.

The UK operates its sanctions regime and will continue to have conversations with all Crown dependencies, overseas territories and others.

My Lords, the Minister will be well aware that one of the ways in which members of the Russian oligarchy became resident in Britain was through the use of the “golden visa” mechanism. The Government have undertaken a review of that but, as I understand it, Parliament has not seen it. Could she tell us when we can expect that report to be published?

I do not have that information with me, but I can take it back to the department and write to all noble Lords.

Financial Services and Markets Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Arts and Creative Industries Strategy

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the case for an arts and creative industries strategy to maintain the United Kingdom’s global leadership within the sector and align the industries’ economic benefits with the Government’s levelling up agenda.

My Lords, a friend asked me, pleased as I was to have secured this debate, “Why is Parliament giving time to debate the arts while the country faces an economic crisis with the highest inflation for four decades, horrendous NHS waiting lists and a savage war resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?” I thought that in response I could invoke Sir Winston Churchill, who has been widely quoted as saying, when asked to cut funding for the arts to support the war effort, “Then what would we be fighting for?” Sadly, that quote does not pass the necessary fact-checking test, but in fact Churchill did say at the Royal Academy on 30 April 1938:

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The state owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them.”

The brave Ukrainian people have perhaps asked the question, “What are we fighting for?”, even if Churchill did not. The National Opera of Ukraine in Kyiv reopened three months after its closure at the start of the war, on 22 May, and has been performing regularly ever since, with 11 performances during December alone. A Lieutenant Butkevych, who attended that first performance in May, said it was

“a symbol that Kyiv, which was surrounded … has reopened its cultural institutions.”

I hope to make the case for why this country should nurture, protect and grow its cultural institutions—first and foremost to complete our national life, but also because they can contribute to restoring the economic growth that is so vital to a prosperous society.

I should declare my interests as set out in the register. In particular, I am a trustee of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which has been a significant philanthropic funder of the arts for 60 years; a vice-chair of the world-leading drama school, LAMDA, and a past director of English National Opera. My wife is a trustee of Gainsborough’s House.

ENO has of course been the focus of huge attention over the past month, following the announcement by Arts Council England of its intention to remove it, at five months’ notice, from the list of national portfolio organisations receiving certain funding over the coming three-year period. I have deep personal attachment to ENO: I saw my first opera, aged 9, when it was still at its original base of Sadler’s Wells, and I was taken to its opening night at the Coliseum in 1968. But, more than that, I believe it has consistently and successfully served an audience drawn not just from London but, as visitors, from all over the country and the world—many of whom would not otherwise have access to opera at all, as Lilian Baylis, the founder, always envisaged. At the same time, it has been the most important platform for the career development of British singers, directors and conductors, as well as a vital employer of top orchestral players and technical crew.

There is no opera company in the world that has had a more profound impact on the world of opera, from bringing great composers of the past such as Handel and Janáček back into the mainstream repertoire, to commissioning or performing contemporary composers, from the premieres of Britten’s “Peter Grimes”, a month after the end of the Second World War—that’s what we fought for—and of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s “The Silver Tassie”, the first great opera of the new millennium. It has championed other contemporary composers such as Philip Glass, John Adams and Poul Ruders, whose opera based on Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, performed earlier this year, attracted a buzzing, young and diverse audience.

For a number of reasons, I do not intend to make the rest of my remarks focus unduly on ENO. The other place has held two short debates already, most recently one on Monday initiated by Sir Bob Neill, in which my right honourable friends Margaret Hodge and Harriet Harman spoke powerfully, as did Sir Bob. Only this morning, the Select Committee on DCMS took evidence from Darren Henley, the chief executive of Arts Council England, with ENO taking centre stage. Another reason is that not everybody likes opera. Plenty of classical music lovers and many devotees of theatre do not like it. I believe that the distinguished music critic of the Manchester Guardian and the Guardian, Philip Hope-Wallace, said:

“Opera is possibly the most sublime, certainly the most ridiculous of all art forms”.

“Everyone Needs Opera” was a possibly ill-judged strapline adopted by ENO 30 years ago, guaranteed to annoy the half of the population—or whatever percentage—who agreed that it was a ridiculous art form but not a sublime one.

The arts, though, are a web of interlocking art forms which nourish each other. David Hockney designed some of opera’s greatest sets for Glyndebourne; Sam Mendes made his name as a theatre director, notably at the Donmar, and went on to direct the Oscar-winning “American Beauty” and two James Bond movies; Nicholas Hytner made his name substantially by directing operas for Kent Opera and with his ground-breaking “Xerxes” and “Magic Flute” for ENO.

A friend and colleague, forcing me to admit that I had not been watching much of the World Cup, said “Well, you don’t like football”—not exactly true—“but I don’t like opera. On the other hand”, she went on, “my favourite band is Queen, and Freddie Mercury said that going to the opera for the first time changed his life. He went on to make a recording with the legendary soprano Montserrat Caballé”. This leads down two paths: the importance of access and, as I have already touched on, the interconnection of the arts with the broader creative industries, which represent over £100 billion of gross value added in our economy and at least 2.3 million—around 7%—of the total number of jobs.

This sector, in which the UK can genuinely be described as a world leader, is also one of the fastest growing in the economy. At its roots are the creativity and skills and the people who have in many cases, but not all, developed and honed those skills in the subsidised arts sector. The economic benefits of the wider creative industries and their essential role in fostering tourism are a hugely important and welcome consequence of investing in the arts, but we should never let go of the primary purpose of the arts: to enrich the lives of people and complete our national life.

That should be true for everyone, of every age and background and in every part of the country. Not everybody needs opera, but everyone should have the chance to experience opera, theatre, dance, visual arts, heritage and music, and then be able to enjoy and participate in those art forms they enjoy. This is what lies at the heart of the Arts Council’s mission and that of the DCMS.

This brings me back to the recently announced awards by Arts Council England to the national portfolio organisations and the choices that lie behind them. The nature of the arts and of all the creative industries is dynamic change. It is important to be open to that change but, at the same time, established organisations can have such deeply embedded knowledge, skills and value to their audiences and to the infrastructure and ecology of their art form.

A very careful balance needs to be struck between dynamic change and the preservation and enhancement of what is good and excellent. Within that, a balance has to be struck between accelerating the provision of arts in underserved parts of the country, both on a broad regional basis and in terms of individual areas within these regions, and the protection and enhancement of the UK’s world-leading position in the creative industries. The bewilderment and anger felt by many at the NPO awards raise the question of whether the balance has been fairly and wisely struck.

It is not just the ENO decision, behind which there are exceptionally complex and long-running issues dating back 30 years. There have been many other contradictory or incomprehensible decisions. A world-leading orchestra outside London, the Britten Sinfonia, has had 100% of its funding cut. WNO, which tours England from its base in Cardiff, has lost a third of its funding. Hampstead Theatre and the Donmar have both lost all their grants. These theatres are at the heart of new British writing, with innovative, excellent productions. Glyndebourne Tour, a long-standing partnership with the unsubsidised Glyndebourne festival to bring its work to audiences around the country, has seen its support halved.

Choices will always have to be made and balances struck, whatever the total resources available are, but there is no doubt that the task of striking the balance between cultural levelling up and the promotion of the UK’s world-leading position is massively harder against the background of the 40% real-terms cut in Arts Council England’s grant in aid since the start of Conservative or Conservative-led Governments since 2010, unchanged levels of lottery funding in nominal terms and 40% real-terms reductions in local authorities’ spending on the arts over the same period. Meeting both objectives would clearly be easier with a larger pie to divide. I look to a future Labour Government, still within strong public spending financial discipline, to creatively and innovatively increase spending on the arts—starting by avoiding questionable political vanity projects such as Unboxed.

In the here and now, the division of the pie, however inadequate, is the crux of the matter, and the evidence suggests that it has been done unwisely, unprofessionally and chaotically by Arts Council England, however much the directions from the previous Secretary of State may have been unrealistic and contradictory. Does the Minister have confidence in Arts Council England’s ability to play its role in the light not just of the underlying decisions it has made but of the abysmal level of planning and communications with both affected organisations and the world at large? Will he use every effort to ensure that, at the very least, adequate transitional arrangements are put in place for ENO and all the organisations suffering severe proposed cuts? If necessary, will the Government vary the policy and directions relating to lottery funding to enable it to be used to supplement the grant in aid for core funding? There is no point adhering blindly to the principle of additionality if the heart of arts provision is failing.

It is not clear to me—I held this view even before recent events—that the central Arts Council contributes much, if anything, to the effective distribution of funding. I hope that the future Labour Government will re-examine the case for moving the major national organisations under the responsibility of the department, as has always been the case for major museums, while devolving everything else to reconstituted and empowered regional arts boards, working more closely with metropolitan and regional mayors and local authorities, along the lines of the approach advocated by my right honourable friend Gordon Brown in his report this week.

I look forward to hearing the contribution of other noble Lords speaking today. With their knowledge and eloquence, I believe that the case for the state sustaining and encouraging the arts, as Churchill advocated, will resound not just through Westminster but throughout the country.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend’s speech, which was extraordinarily powerful and very moving. We are in his debt for securing this debate and for the case he made for creating a cultural strategy that can serve to lift the spirits as well as the economy. I agree with every word he said.

My noble friend’s argument was cast, rightly, against the background of the furore against the Arts Council settlement and, in particular, the decision to redistribute £50 million away from London and into other parts of the country. Of course, the context for this is pretty toxic in itself: a decade of funding cuts that have starved local as well as national culture, a pandemic that cut the arteries of culture and a period of political opportunism. Frankly, our cultural life has never felt more precarious or more precious.

Within this context I will focus on opera, not because it is a narrow aspect of the decision but because it illustrates the widest and broadest implications of what has happened and the decision in relation to English National Opera. I find it not just extraordinary and damaging on its own terms but symptomatic of a deep confusion in the Arts Council’s objectives and expectations. Culture succeeds best when it is embedded strategically and grown from seed, rather than imposed.

There is also a more recent contradiction, which thrives in the absence of a strategic plan for culture: the erosion of the boundaries between what government wants and what arm’s-length bodies—ALBs—are there to do. We are in a new landscape, and one of its features is that arts and heritage have taken on a new attraction for government as the light brigade of levelling up. I ought not to be against this—it could be an epiphany—because for years we have argued for the unique capacity of arts and heritage to make, remake and renew places, skills, resilience, jobs and identity, and this seems to have finally got through to government. On the other hand, this new use of patronage carries huge risks of loss of independence and integrity, and it is this conflicted nature that the Arts Council and other ALBs are well aware of.

There is no argument to be had against redistribution outside London or against closing the cultural deficit. There is every argument to be had about how this is done, and the perverse consequences which may follow. Goodness knows, in this House it is our special subject—perverse consequences. We are for ever telling the other place to think again, to make sure that it does not go down that road, but within this settlement is a set of perverse consequences.

Welsh National Opera has had the second largest cut of any organisation in the portfolio, of 35%, at £2.2 million, after a glowing assessment. It now has to reduce its touring weeks in cities in England—and, of course, ironically, Liverpool, where it has an enormous and loyal following. This is a real threat to the company. Glyndebourne has already been mentioned; the touring company is the one approach to opera which makes people who think that Glyndebourne is simply for the rich understand that it is there for them as well. Most people in Liverpool will not care whose decision this was. They will know only that the WNO has been taken away.

This is not levelling up—it is damage by design, and, like a clock which strikes 13, it questions the credibility of the Arts Council policy of cultural democracy. This is where the decision on ENO fits in; a decision which will drive this extraordinary opera company, with a unique social mission, to a cliff edge next March, with no future in London and an unviable and potentially unwelcome future in Manchester. I say unwelcome because, just as ENO had no warning, so Manchester has had no warning that this is being done. Manchester has its own plans and its own loyalties. I am inclined to think that Gilbert and Sullivan could have set all this to music.

One of the most baffling things to me is that the Arts Council, after so many years of thinking about this, seems to have lost confidence in its own instincts. Who can forget the powerful case that Darren Henley himself made in 2016 for the arts dividend? Cultural placemaking relies on two things: resilient and trusted local and national partnerships, and community engagement at a depth that is genuinely challenging. It takes years to break down the emotional and financial barriers of people who have never walked up the steps of a great museum or into a crowded foyer full of shouty people. That takes time and investment in schools, young people, families and community action. I know that, because I have done it with the support of the Welsh Government in Wales, over many years, through the Fusion programmes.

That levelling up is what ENO had achieved deliberately in London—a city of staggering inequality, with the highest rates of poverty in the UK and the lowest rates of cultural participation—growing a young audience for opera in ways in which could only be the envy of other opera companies. Such other companies have not given away 6,000 free tickets since September; have not grown a young audience, 50% of which is now under 30; and have not set up a highly innovative programme to help people suffering from Covid to breathe. What a waste, if that is all lost—to say nothing of a precious cargo of 350 skilled jobs and a loss of £6 million from cancelled shows. Where is the economics in that, let alone the ethics?

Many noble Lords, I am sure, will talk about the poverty of the process, the lack of transparency and the discourtesy, and the shock of being assured how well you are doing, only to be told how much you will be cut. I do not expect this from the Arts Council leadership. It creates in me a deep anxiety that this was perhaps not just a decision by the Arts Council. I have enormous respect for the Minister in question, but am I wrong to have suspicions that there was more than a ministerial eye on this decision?

My second question for the Minister is the one put by WNO and ENO. What did they do wrong, and when, and why were they not told? My third question is: how can trust and the future be salvaged for these opera companies now? Would the Minister agree with me that random and disproportionate cuts to opera are indefensible in the absence of a strategy for opera which seeks to optimise its benefits? I refer to all the benefits that we have heard about, and the many that I would love to talk about but do not have time. Will the Minister use his influence to secure with the Arts Council a strategic review of opera which looks at how best it can be supported so that it can thrive as an art form which belongs to everyone? Will he work with the Arts Council to give ENO space and time to develop a new model along the lines of the RSC, with a London base and a thriving base outside London?

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Viscount on securing this debate and share very much his view on the importance to our national life and economy of the arts and the creative industries, on which I will concentrate. After all, their economic contribution alone is bigger than the oil, gas, aerospace, life sciences and automotive sectors combined.

I believe that any strategy to ensure that we sustain and build on successes to date must encompass many issues, from digital infrastructure and finance to intellectual property and skills. Your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Committee, on which I serve, is considering all these issues and will report early in the new year.

My fear is that there is complacency within the Government at the present time. In the Chancellor’s 17 November Statement, the creative industries were not one of the five areas for growth that he listed. Publication of the Government’s “sector vision” has been delayed, and there appears to be limited cross-departmental working to address the cross-cutting challenges faced by the sector. The DCMS alone cannot address all the challenges faced by the creative industries. For example, BEIS has oversight of the apprenticeship scheme, yet it is poorly designed for SMEs, which make up the majority of the creative sector; the DfE oversees careers advice in schools, which currently does little to promote the sector as offering exciting job opportunities; and the Home Office oversees an immigration process that hinders international collaboration and stopped the flow of talent from the EU previously used to help the sector.

Yet another department is responsible for local government. The LGA has just published its Cornerstones of Culture report, pointing out that councils are the biggest funders of culture nationally. They spend £2.4 billion a year in England alone on culture and related services, with benefits such as creating jobs, underpinning local economies, contributing to levelling up and supporting the creative industries. But local government funding is once more under threat.

The Treasury too has a crucial role. Current tax incentives for film, high-end TV, children’s TV and video games are of course welcome, supporting some parts of the creative industries, but no such fiscal incentive exists for the music industry—an omission that I hope will be rectified. The Treasury could do more. The creative industries rely heavily on freelancers, so the Treasury should amend the tax and benefit system to support them and widen the definition of R&D to include the sector.

Any sector vision or strategy must be the product of cross-departmental working. Can the Minister tell us what exactly is being done to improve cross-departmental working? How much discussion, for example, is his department having with the DfE about skills shortages within the sector and the way in which the school system is exacerbating those shortages? The 40% decline in GCSE entries in creative subjects over the past decade certainly does not help. That decline can be attributed to the way in which the Government undervalue such subjects, as demonstrated by their absence from the EBacc.

Last year, one of your Lordships’ committees concluded that the national curriculum, and the EBacc in particular, was

“too narrowly focused to ensure that it prepares all young people for the modern labour market and the essential, technical and creative skills it requires”.

Mr Robert Halfon is the new Minister of State in the DfE. In his previous role as chair of the Education Committee, he said that

“New Ministers have inherited an education system that is at odds with the demands of our modern economy.”

Now, as poacher turned gamekeeper, he says that there are no plans to change the EBacc. Will the Minister seek to change his mind?

The Minister’s own department also has many ways to support the creative industries. For example, it has responsibility for our public service broadcasters. Recent reports show just how important the PSBs are to the creative industries and to the levelling-up agenda, not least through the Creative Industries Clusters Programme. I hope that, in the light of the damage that it would do to all that, the Government will drop their plans to privatise Channel 4 and call off the dogs in their seeming desire to cut the BBC down to size. I certainly agree with Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, who said only yesterday that

“The BBC is one of the most powerful and well recognised brands on the planet and we should be backing it.”

The lifeblood of the creative industries is intellectual property, and here too DCMS has responsibilities. The UK is rightly seen internationally as having a gold standard IP framework, which has enabled the UK’s creative industries to thrive. We weaken our IP laws at our peril—but we are in danger of taking just such a step. Following Brexit, the Government consulted on the future of the so-called IP exhaustion regime. Many of our creative industry exporters, fearing significant losses in income, expressed deep concern about making changes to the current arrangements. They breathed a sigh of relief when the Government concluded that there was insufficient data to make a decision and determined to maintain the status quo, at least for the time being. The resulting uncertainty does not help. Does the Minister agree that any final decision must deliver stability, and that the best way to achieve that is to make the interim decision permanent?

The Government also reviewed the text and data mining copyright exception and made an initial decision to widen it significantly. That would mean that businesses could scrape text and content created by others, repurpose it commercially without payment to the original creator, and, ironically, receive copyright protection for that new work. The creative industries reacted with universal dismay and the Government agreed to reconsider. During a recent Select Committee hearing, I asked the DCMS Minister Julia Lopez whether that reconsideration would lead to dropping the proposed change. She replied:

“I am fairly confident, in so far as I can say publicly, that this is not going to proceed.”

Will the Minister go one step further and give categorical assurance that no changes will be made to the exception?

During the pandemic, the then Government did much to support the creative industries and should be congratulated on that. My fear is that there is now a real danger that complacency is setting in and there will be a loss of focus on supporting a critical part of our economy, with different government departments leaving it to others to address the needs of the creative industries. I hope that I am proved wrong.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for securing this debate. I am even more grateful to him—although I did not realise it at the time—for allowing me to say that it was in preparation for this debate that I found myself on Saturday night at the opera in Naples, where they take their opera very seriously. The performance of “Don Carlos” started at 7 pm and finished just before midnight. Opera does of course lift the soul—and at the moment one can do with that.

I take the opportunity to congratulate the extraordinary Wasfi Kani, who raised the money and built a new opera house, starting I think in 2017, for Grange Park. She had no public funding; she went knocking on doors and got the money. Through Pimlico Opera, she also takes opera into prisons, where it has an extraordinary effect on the inmates. I am not sure how musical they were when they started, but they are a lot better when they finish.

I should declare an interest as the chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. I want to interpret this debate in the widest possible way, because the arts and creative industries operate in a holistic manner—they all feed off each other. Even the remarkable success of our video games industry depends on having people who can soak up what goes on in music, the arts and the creative world generally.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Foster, I congratulate the Government on what they did with funds such as the Culture Recovery Fund, in looking after our arts and culture during the period of the pandemic. But the problems remain. According to the Society of Independent Theatres, theatre ticket sales this year will be £845 million lower than they were before the pandemic. That is a lot of money if you are trying to run a theatre on a proper basis.

Classical music, in particular, is the real victim because it would appear that the older audience, who tend to be the ones who go to classical concerts, simply have not come back after the pandemic. There is a genuine threat to some orchestras, particularly in London, where we are blessed to have several, but also in the regions. So, I beg the Minister to contemplate what might be done to help the classical music industry.

That takes me on to the first of two specific points that I wish to raise. Classical music needs to have a new audience all the time, and that depends on music education. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, spoke about the need for education to include far more emphasis on the arts generally, and I echo that. Who knows a toddler who is not keen to draw all the time, often where they are not supposed to, or to make music? They love to, yet when they get to school, these two traits are not fostered. I commend the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, who is working hard to get more classical music, and music generally, into schools. But even though the Government have now adopted a strategy, it is measly—an hour of music a week in schools, and it is not part of the curriculum. It should be.

The Gulbenkian Foundation produced a report 40 years ago extolling the virtues of what the arts, and music in particular, could do for children, and thus for the economy in general. It was included in the first national curriculum in 1988. We have gone backwards, not forwards, and given that our creative industries are renowned and world-beating, we need to foster the talent that will feed them in the future. In particular, we need to foster a love of classical music, so that the audience will be there to continue to allow our orchestras to thrive.

My second point is about tourism, because we know that it is the arts and culture that bring tourists to this country. Overwhelmingly, when they are asked what they are here for, it is not the weather, the beaches or the sewage; it is the arts and the culture. But what are we doing to encourage tourism? Not nearly enough to encourage creative tourism. The OECD produced a report, several years ago now, in which it talked about the instant effect that concentrating on creative tourism could have:

“Integrating creative content with tourism experiences can add value by reaching new target groups, improving destination image and competitiveness, and supporting the growth of creative industries and creative exports … Developing creative tourism has implications for national tourism administration, regional tourism authorities and destination marketing.”

I absolutely agree, but we need our tourism organisations to actually start being creative and making the most of the creative industries. There are so many packages that could be offered to people interested in coming here, and they would support our creative industries.

Finally, I beg the Minister, as others have done on other occasions, to get the Government to reconsider their position on VAT for tourists. It is mad to deter people from coming here and to send them to Paris or Milan. Retailers have already been saying this, and my members in ALVA know their visitor numbers are down because tourists are being deflected because of VAT. In that brief moment when Kwasi Kwarteng was Chancellor, the VAT holiday for tourists was coming back; sadly, it vanished again. If the Minister could put in a plea, it would be really useful.

My Lords, I too must express my gratitude to my noble friend for allowing us to debate this very important issue. Mention has been made, lavish mention, of the opera as an art form and of lavish places where opera has been given to the people, even sometimes at marathon length. The night before last, I was present in Birmingham Town Hall to listen to some operatic singers. I am the patron of the Black British Classical Foundation, which seeks to find ways for artists of colour to enter the rarefied world of classical music. Five finalists in an awards evening were truly stunning in the range of material they sang, all ably supported by the phenomenal qualities of the Welsh National Opera orchestra. So, my recent experience has touched base with some of the things that have been said, but in a humbler and more demanding way for someone like myself, who is not naturally in tune with opera at all. I like the songs.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Foster—I call him my noble friend—I am a member of the Communications and Digital Select Committee, which is focusing on the creative industries aspect of this debate. It is said that this country is among the world leaders in the field of innovation and the technology that stands behind the creative industries, but one committee interviewee after another kept reminding us that we are in danger of losing our top spot because of developments in other countries and a fragmentation of support. That fragmentation is important to note. Lots of things happen, but in a very diverse and unconnected way. We have been promised throughout this calendar year, for example, the sector vision to which my noble friend referred. Again and again, and of course with a different Minister enunciating the delay each time, the sector vision has been put off. We are now promised that it will be issued early in 2023. Perhaps this debate should happen all over again when that sector vision report has been published; it will afford us material that we can look at in a co-ordinated way. All I hope is that when it is eventually published, it will meet the criterion set out in the original vision: to

“set out a vision for high-growth sectors and technologies where we are well-placed to develop a globally competitive advantage.”

That was said in March 2021, three Prime Ministers ago.

We have mentioned already the relationship between our education system and its formation of young people, and the skills shortage in the creative industries. Again and again, witnesses we spoke to at the Select Committee reminded us that the need for skills was paramount for the development of the sector. It is important, therefore, that there should be a co-ordinated effort between the world of education and meeting the needs of the workplace in the creative industries. That needs to be thought through in much greater depth, and I hope to see more evidence of that when the sector vision report eventually comes before us.

In 2018, the Arts and Humanities Research Council launched its creative industries clusters programme, which linked universities and businesses together to drive innovation. Witnesses have spoken to us of the huge success of this initiative; the committee was left scratching its collective head as to why the project, granted its evidential success, will last just five years and be wound up in 2023. Those operating and taking advantage of the clustering idea do not know how to set their budgets beyond that date. That uncertainty undermines their activity in general.

A few of us on the committee paid a visit some time ago to Cambridge. We went around the start-up companies and high-tech people there, who are doing fantastic things. I suppose that Cambridge is the nearest we have to Silicon Valley in this country; certainly, the energy, inputs and outputs were terrific. However, we were told in one place we visited that the normal critical path for a start-up is to bring the activity to a head at a point when it can be sold on to whoever will buy it—that is, to invest in the part of development that yields the possibility of success, but then to let someone else reap that success. We should be protecting those industries and allowing them to grow.

I am a great devotee of Professor Ha-Joon Chang, late of Cambridge University, who showed how South Korea and other countries like it grew their phenomenal industrial base because of government protection through the critical phases of growth. Once an industry can take off under its own steam, it must fend for itself. The Government need to pay more attention to the fact that some of the brilliant work being done in Cambridge and other places should be protected rather further and that the clustering idea should be extended beyond 2023.

My Lords, this is a timely and important debate. I congratulate the noble Viscount on obtaining it and on his powerful opening speech. Like many others, I shall focus on music.

A government strategy for the music sector might have been less necessary in the past, but it is much needed now. In 2019, the industry contributed £5.8 billion of gross value added to the UK economy, with exports worth £2.9 billion and 197,000 jobs supported. Of course, that is without taking any account of the industry’s incalculable value to health, quality of life, and the UK’s global reputation and soft power. All this was achieved without a specific strategy; it was driven by the skills, talent and entrepreneurship within the industry. Music is one of the UK’s great strengths, with world-class talent and expertise not just among musicians and performers but in all the technical supporting roles needed to support them.

Since 2019, the sector has been hit by a perfect storm of challenges, arising from Brexit, Covid and, most recently, rising energy and living costs. These not only reduce the industry’s economic contribution but make it harder to attract audiences when people are seeking to reduce spending. Ticket sales at music venues are down 28% since 2019. So there is a real need for government to be clear about its role in enabling the industry to return to its world-leading position as

“a true engine of growth in the UK”,

in the words of the Secretary of State for DCMS, Michelle Donelan, last October, and in ensuring that the talents and skills which underpin its success are not lost.

That might avoid the kind of deeply unsatisfactory situation resulting from the recent Arts Council England proposed future funding allocations, which other noble Lords have mentioned. They remove all funding from the English National Opera and severely cut funds for other major, highly regarded and successful opera and music organisations, including the Welsh National Opera, the Glyndebourne touring opera and the Royal Opera House. These are all organisations with a national remit, providing top-quality music and opera to diverse audiences and in many cases touring to cities and regions that otherwise could not enjoy large-scale musical performance. This evening I shall go to a performance of Britten’s “Gloriana” at the ENO, the cast of which includes my godson, Charles Rice, in whose developing career the ENO has played a key part, as it has for so many other young artists. I am clearly far from alone in seeing the Arts Council allocations as the exact opposite of “levelling up”. The cuts seem arbitrary and lack any discernible consistency or direction—in other words, they lack a strategy.

One key element of a strategy should address the skills needed to maintain the value of the UK music sector. Many of these skills are in high demand from employers across numerous sectors, not just the arts. They include creativity, entrepreneurship, communication skills, teamwork and resilience. They are often termed “soft skills”, but they are far from soft for the businesses that need them.

Despite the Government’s good work in many aspects of education, the number of students taking formal music education has plummeted over the past decade, with declines of 31% in A-level music entries and of 17% for GCSEs. The alarming gap between independent and state schools is widening: 50% of privately educated children get sustained music tuition, but only 15% of state school pupils. It is surely time to rethink the focus on the EBacc and Progress 8 measures, which have had such a damaging impact on music education.

UK conservatoires are recognised world leaders. They play an essential role in maintaining the pipeline of talent and skills, and ensuring that they can continue to do so and attract top talent from abroad, both students and teachers, should be central to a strategy. The new national plan for music education is welcome, but the funding currently available will not be enough to implement its ambitions and there is insufficient emphasis on ensuring the availability of the music education workforce needed to deliver it—perhaps through restoring bursaries for training music teachers. Of course, one important way for young musicians to hone their skills and broaden their experience has traditionally been through touring and performing overseas, above all in Europe, so the sooner exchanges of this sort can be restored, the better.

I hope the Minister will say something about whether he expects public funding for the arts to remain at current levels. If not, there is surely a need for the Government to think about other ways of boosting funding, whether from fiscal incentives, as in other cultural sectors such as film and TV, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, or by encouraging more individual giving. The Charities Aid Foundation’s latest UK Giving Report found that:

“Fewer people are giving—and those who do continue to give on a regular basis tend to be older.”

So there appears to be considerable scope for improvements in encouraging individual giving. What consideration are the Government giving to providing greater tax or other incentives for individuals to make donations to good causes, including the arts?

For all the reasons I have stated and more, an arts and creative sector strategy, including the music sector, is urgently needed to give clear guidance about the resources the Government expect to be able to commit to these sectors and their priorities in deciding how to allocate them. A proper strategy would play an important part in enabling the arts and cultural sector to rebuild the leading contribution to our economy and culture which it has shown it can deliver. It would also give the Arts Council a clear strategic framework in which to make decisions—the experience of the English National Opera and other bodies that have suffered arbitrary funding cuts shows just how not to go about this. I hope the Minister will confirm the Government’s intention to produce such a strategy with cross-departmental coverage, as demanded by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and with a much shorter timescale than “in due course”.

My Lords, Arts Council England has a strategy, and a very good one, in its plan for 2020 to 2030, Let’s Create. It charts progress towards

“a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish, and where every one of us has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences.”

Earlier this year, ACE also published Creative Health & Wellbeing, an excellent plan for how it will work within health and social care and encourage collaboration between the creative and health sectors.

The Government’s strategy, or lack of it, is a different matter. Everyone wants to see the historic imbalance between London and the regions redressed, but to do this without it being disruptive and upsetting needed a substantial increase in funding for the arts and culture. If provision were made for funding for London-based artistic endeavour to be held steady in real terms, and growth in the culture budget channelled into the regions, the correction could be achieved over a period without damage. Fiscal austerity for the arts is not needed to salvage our economy. The DCMS budget for the arts and culture is indiscernible in the national accounts.

Ministers should recognise that they cannot default and expect philanthropists and the lottery—let alone financially starved local government—to take the strain. It is hard for arts bodies in the poorer areas of the country to raise money from private sources. Lottery players are predominantly people on relatively low incomes facing the cost of living crisis. It would be both foolish and immoral for Ministers to assume that lottery players will bail out the arts economy. It is crucial to sustain it, and that is inescapably the responsibility of Ministers.

The rate of growth of the creative industries has far exceeded the anaemic growth rate of the overall economy over the last 20 years, but the Government should not take for granted that that will continue. They should actively back the creative industries with support in relation, for example, to availability of capital, digital infrastructure, rents and training. The Chancellor has identified five growth sectors that he proposes to support. Any rational industrial strategy must include the creative industries but, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, observed, he has not done so.

No. 10 and the Home Office should abandon their belligerent attitudes to the European Union and, in a civilised and courteous way, negotiate a visa regime that supports creative individuals to move to and fro and creative organisations not to be hampered in working on the continent of Europe. Brexit absolutely should not mean cultural isolation.

We should value the arts for their emotional and spiritual significance but also for their benefits for health, community and economic progress. The arts and culture can be a driver for levelling up, as I have seen in chairing a current inquiry by the National Centre for Creative Health and the APPG on Arts, Health and Wellbeing. Our round table on the benefits of creativity for mental health and well-being focused on young people. The Horsfall, part of 42nd Street—a mental health charity in Manchester—is a creative space and gallery for people aged between 13 and 25. One young woman described how, in this non-medicalised environment, “the help comes really naturally”. Working with ceramics had provided the means to express herself in her own way. She said it had provided her with agency and the confidence to pursue other creative projects. Another said about coming to the Horsfall: “It was a life-changing moment”.

At our round table on creative health and health inequalities, David, a homeless man, told us: “For me it saved my life. Arts gave me that access to see the world differently and for the world to see me differently.” With the pandemic having exacerbated health inequalities, and with the cost of living crisis damaging health and well-being for so many, our witnesses emphasised the power of creativity to release individuals and communities into fruitful self-expression, confidence and achievement, and the power of communities to be creative and organise themselves.

In East Marsh, a deprived area of Grimsby, the community group East Marsh United has run a grass-roots arts project including a choir, a writing group, a library, a recording studio and a community garden created on wasteland, as well as music, theatre and storytelling events. Kelly told us about joining the creative writing group: “After battling with systems and getting let down for nine years, this amazing creative writing group gave me my voice back. Creativity helped me be part of a community, helped me to be heard.” Their work on creativity has energised and empowered the East Marsh community also to address issues of housing, crime, education and training. Our witnesses insisted—as many noble Lords have today—on the need to revive the arts in the school curriculum. Music lessons and drama clubs, they said, should be core and not a luxury.

The arts and culture can open the way to transformational improvement of health and well-being in deprived communities. Whether that happens on a larger scale will depend on two policy shifts. One will be a full recognition by the NHS that the new integrated care boards must form effective partnerships with local government and the voluntary and community sector, including arts and cultural organisations. Northumberland County Council sees investment in the arts and culture as crucial to improving health and prosperity. It is funding an “arts for well-being” co-ordinator post within the NHS integrated care system, with a view to embedding arts and cultural provision in health and social care.

The second policy shift will be radical decentralisation of power, as the Labour Party is promising. Devolution to Greater Manchester has already enabled the launch of its creative health strategy to harness the power of creativity, culture and heritage in addressing health inequalities. There must also be real devolution to local authorities, and they in their turn must devolve power to ward level, supporting local leaders to mobilise their communities in new hope, energy and achievement. If, as was once the case in our history, local authorities and mayors have power and resources to develop their own cultural strategies, we could see new cultural, social and economic flourishing in places that are now sadly depressed.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for initiating this debate. I cannot help but feel that we are in a strange situation when it appears that everyone agrees that art and creativity are both beneficial for our society and so important to our economy. There are wonderful studies proving their positive impact on mental health, with the World Health Organization finding that arts positively influence human well-being and mental health.

Creative industries are also commonly recognised as one of the driving forces of British soft power, which is especially important in today’s globalised world. In schools, it has been found that taking creative courses makes it easier for pupils to learn other subjects. Our public service broadcasters, one of the crown jewels of our democracy, were able to rise to prominence only thanks to the hard work of countless creative, artistic people. Even in strict economic terms, the creative industries are just so important to us. As the Library brief shows, in 2021 that sector alone contributed close to £109 billion to the UK economy. In other words, whichever aspect of the creative industries one chooses to look at, its importance and positive impact are immediately visible. The Government themselves acknowledge the significance of arts and creativity, as exemplified by the many speeches delivered by the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, in this very Chamber.

It beggars belief that this consensus on the importance of arts does not extend to the teaching of creative subjects, which forms the talent pipeline that sustains the creative industries. This is most clearly exemplified by the Government’s intention to see 90% of pupils studying the EBacc subject combination by 2025, which explicitly excludes any and all creative subjects. The results of this policy are already visible. For art and design, compared with 2021, the 2022 entries decreased by 1.8%; for drama, by 5.4%; for music, by 3.6%; for media, film and TV studies, by 3.3%; and for performing and expressive arts, by 6.1%. Previous years had already seen declining figures.

There is a real concern that the Government’s approach will result in creative subjects falling victim to a vicious circle, which would see the already alarming situation worsening further still, with fewer entries resulting in fewer students going on to FE and HE, and with fewer talented young people therefore entering the sector. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, funding per student has decreased by 9% over the last decade. This alarming figure, coupled with skyrocketing energy bills, is likely to force schools to sacrifice many of their artistic courses, prioritising the EBacc subjects on which they are evaluated. That is not merely a theoretical worst-case scenario but a very real process which, according to the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is already under way.

It has been a common practice for the Government to dismiss any such warnings by referring the concerned party to the provisions made for music education. It is true that music is compulsory in all maintained schools between ages five and 14, and the recently published The Power of Music to Change Lives policy paper recommends that schools provide at least one hour of music lessons a week to every pupil and produce a music development plan. This, in combination with the reformed music hubs, is a welcome development, but it is far from enough. In practice, many academies and maintained schools struggle to provide quality music education, and some may be forced to resort to the bare minimum required to satisfy legal requirements. In March the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, pointed out in this Chamber that only 12% of state schools have orchestras—I emphasise that figure—and I do not believe that this figure has drastically improved since. The number of music teachers in state schools is decreasing, while subjects such as drama and dance, which are not covered by similar legal requirements, are being given up altogether.

This means that, in practice, pupils from state-funded schools will find it increasingly difficult to develop their artistic abilities and creativity, resulting in an even greater chasm between state and independent schools, and, in consequence, between the privileged and the underprivileged. That discrepancy is already astronomical: the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre found that while only 7% of the English population was educated in the private sector, 38% of the wealthiest individuals in TV, film, and music, and 44% of our newspaper columnists attended such schools. Similar ratios can be found throughout the creative industry; the policy and evidence centre reports that out of 400,000 new jobs created in this sector between 2014 and 2020, less than 100 000—about 22%—went to people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. In fact, the creative industry has been found to be among the most elitist, being dominated by the privileged to a similar extent as doctors and lawyers.

I do not see any possibility for levelling up without the Government addressing this crisis at the educational level by providing all pupils—regardless of their parents’ social status—with access to good-quality creative subjects which can let them express themselves, develop their artistic abilities, and improve their mental health and well-being. We must ensure that art and creativity do not become one of the luxuries available only to the rich, not only for the sake of those less privileged but for the good of our society. Art should be created by people from all backgrounds. Coming from Liverpool, I will remind your Lordships of four working-class lads who in the 1960s gave us some of the best music that this country and the world have known.

I realise that times are difficult and we all must make some concessions, but let me emphasise this once again: art and creative education is not something we can afford to neglect as a nation.

My Lords, I cannot attempt to share the love of the Beatles expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, although I completely endorse what he said about the importance of creative subjects—music in particular—and how if you deprive young people of access to their visual and musical heritage, you are in fact sending them out into the world as two-dimensional creatures.

We are all very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, not only for bringing this subject to your Lordships’ House today but for the manner in which he introduced the debate. I am just sorry that I am the sole Back-Bench representative of the Conservative Party able to take part in it. I have always felt that this is a subject where one has to cross party boundaries. One of the things that I have been most proud of in my now 52 years in Parliament is being one of the three who 48 years ago founded the All-Party Arts and Heritage Group—the others were Labour Members: Ted Graham, later Lord Graham of Edmonton, and Andrew Faulds. It still flourishes—I believe that some of your Lordships attended the Winslow Homer exhibition at the National Gallery this very morning.

I want to go back to the beginning of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos. He quoted Churchill and, as he did so, I thought of the most memorable, iconic photograph to come out of the war: the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral rising above the smoke of the Blitz. I am sure that all your Lordships have seen it or variations of it. It has symbolised just how much we depend on our heritage, and how, if that heritage is endangered, our very history and identity are endangered. We should be all the more conscious of that at the moment, as the history and identity of the brave Ukrainians is being endangered and in some cases pilfered and eradicated. That should underline how fortunate we are and what a task any Government have to create a cross-party accord and enthusiasm for defending and promoting our arts and our heritage.

I have the great good fortune to live in the cathedral city of Lincoln. I will not necessarily go all the way with Ruskin, who said that Lincoln Cathedral was worth any other two cathedrals in the country, but it is nevertheless one of the great buildings of Christendom. When I go across to listen to choral evensong, as I do virtually every day when I am at home, it seems that so much comes together: the glorious music, the wonderful building, and what a duty we have to maintain both—and it is very difficult to maintain both when it costs almost £100,000 a week to keep the cathedral open without replacing a single tile or engaging in any major restoration.

When I came into the House of Commons and we formed the all-party group, one of the things that we built on was a Bill that I had introduced in 1970 to allow state aid for historic churches. We have come a very long way since then. Churches are eligible for state aid; first, it was through the Historic Buildings Council, and then George Osborne, who has sometimes been maligned, set up that wonderful £40 million First World War fund for our cathedrals in 2014. As a result, a number which would have undoubtedly closed were able to remain open, and long may that be the case.

It is important that we recognise that the current problems, exacerbated by Covid, are different from but similar to the problems that have always threatened our heritage. There was a great exhibition in 1974 in the V&A—some of your Lordships may remember it—“The Destruction of the Country House”. As you looked at the pictures and heard the noises of demolition, you saw the hundreds of wonderful country houses that had been destroyed in the previous years of this century, very few of them by enemy action.

We have a priceless heritage, and it is our duty to maintain it. I understand that many people are very exercised by the recent decisions of the Arts Council. I share some of that concern, although I must be honest that I am glad that Lincoln came out of the settlement rather well. Our art gallery, the Usher, is now entirely secure. However, it is important that we maintain, everywhere in the country, a tradition of excellence and an opportunity to aspire. The one thing above all that we must never take away from our young people is a sense of their history and their identity, and the ability to hope. The real poor of the 21st century are those without hope. We have got to make sure that we share our built heritage, musical heritage and all the other aspects of the arts so that young people are able to aspire and hope. If this debate gives a little impetus to this, it will have achieved much, and we will all be ever in the debt of the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak today. I declare my long-term interest in the cultural sector, a place I have worked for much of my adult life, as well as my role chairing an advisory panel for the Government’s forthcoming cultural education plan.

I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount on securing this important and timely debate. His title invites a number of approaches to an already broad sector; a sector that encompasses advertising, architecture, arts and culture, craft, design, fashion, games, music, publishing, TV and film. What unites these distinct industries is a shared critical dependency on creativity, skill and talent, and a shared potential to create jobs and wealth through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property. This they have in common.

However, as individual subsectors, they differ significantly in their education and career pathways, structures, funding and business models, and potential for economic contribution and local placemaking. Any strategy for the creative industries will therefore require a shared vision and collaborative working between at least three departments—four, if you include the Department for Levelling Up—so I have a great deal of sympathy for the Minister, who stands alone at the Dispatch Box today.

It is this role in levelling up on which I want to focus my contribution. There is a lot of very strong evidence about the potential for arts, culture and heritage to help shape the place where we live and to generate direct and indirect benefits for local communities. The Reimagining Where We Live report from the DCMS Select Committee in the other place drew on this evidence to show how art, culture and the creative industries can help levelling up by supporting education, building local pride, generating jobs, and enhancing health and well-being. However, the report also noted

“pervasive and persistent barriers to cultural placemaking”,

highlighting geographical disparities, poor levels of social mobility and inclusivity in the cultural sector, and skills shortages across the creative industries.

The issue of geographical disparity has been pushed into the spotlight once again following the recent Arts Council announcement of national portfolio organisations to 2026. If there are universal benefits to making, taking part in and enjoying arts and culture, as I passionately believe that there are, then few would argue with the principle that access to these opportunities should not be dependent on where you live. From this perspective, we should celebrate the 276 newly supported organisations in the ACE portfolio, which are doing excellent, high-quality work in new and different places and with different and diverse artists and communities. Their success is welcome and deserved.

The debate is not about the principle; it is about how—and it is not new. Christopher Gordon, David Powell and Peter Stark’s report, Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital, brought the issue to wider attention, as those of us with long memories will know, in 2013, pointing then to the dilemma we face now: how to rebalance distribution of cultural funding without unbalancing a connected and complex sector with a historic footing in the capital city.

My view is that this rethinking should not have been demanded within the short timeframe of a single funding round. In doing so, the February directive from the then Culture Secretary gnawed at the fingers of the arm’s-length principle. Planning for such a fundamental shift requires a much longer horizon if it is to avoid destabilisation, particularly within a sector still recovering from the pandemic, and if it is to lead to sustainable and positive change that delivers for all communities across all parts of the UK.

The rebalancing report pointed to the often overlooked role of local authorities in cultural provision and called for greater join-up across local and national government, as well as more local involvement in decision-making. This is echoed in the Cornerstones of Culture report, mentioned already, which is published today by the Commission on Culture and Local Government, chaired by my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey. This report highlights the £1.1 billion that local councils invest directly in cultural services every year and calls for closer collaboration between arm’s-length bodies, local and national government, cultural organisations and communities to safeguard the future of local cultural infrastructure and to deliver on its full potential for levelling up.

Its conclusions resonate strongly with those of the DCMS Select Committee, that levelling up will not work if it is top-down. Cultural strategies set at a local level, in partnership, can deliver vibrant cultural ecosystems that will create jobs, support health and well-being, enhance learning, open up opportunities for young people, support the growing creative industries, and ultimately make places in which people want to live, work and thrive. But both reports sound the same warning: this kind of success will follow only if those critical and persistent issues of geographic disparities, poor levels of social mobility and structural inclusion in the cultural sector, equitable access to cultural education and skills shortages in the creative industries are resolved.

As the noble Lord, Lord Foster, pointed out, this cuts across the remits of not only DCMS but DfE, BEIS, DLUHC and possibly the Cabinet Office too, given that it has the responsibility for social mobility. Can the Minister reassure the House that all these departments recognise their roles in the success of the cultural and creative industries, and understand the imperative to join up with local government and arm’s-length bodies, if the potential of arts, culture and the creative industries in levelling up is to be fully realised? DCMS has a pivotal role to play in convening and facilitating collaboration, but it cannot achieve this on its own.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Chandos on securing this debate and introducing it so comprehensively and compellingly. I declare interests as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Opera and Arts and Heritage, and as a member of the APPGs for Classical Music and Theatre.

I recall the early days of the Arts Council, given great momentum by Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee in the 1960s. I recall, even longer ago, my mother taking me to see the Carl Rosa touring opera on its annual visit to Nottingham, where our nearest arts venue was, playing to a packed audience. North of the Wash, there has always been a great appetite for music, and the rare visits of the great performers were cherished. During the war, the Sadler’s Wells opera and ballet companies toured from Burnley, and the whole of the north-west provided enthusiastic audiences. After the realisation of the Arts Council, affordable public entertainment in my medium-sized Midlands city was transformed. We got a high-calibre theatre, financed to attract brilliant directors and more resident music, all playing to large audiences. To me, these wonderful new experiences were part of the welfare state. Culture is integral to social justice.

How could it not be? Art interprets our world. Sometimes it reconciles us with it. Sometimes it defines what we should not be reconciled with, and confers uplifting and exhilarating transformations of experience. Part of the remit of the Arts Council was always to get more culture out to the provinces—to level up, in fact. Jennie Lee was explicit about that. It is, after all, something of a Labour Party tradition. Clement Attlee, who set up the Arts Council, said that the three pillars of his manifesto were the basic human rights of health, education and culture—surely an essential gloss on eliminating want, idleness, squalor, ignorance and disease.

Why should this human need for the experience of art be confined to a select few? So-called high art is elite only because, over the centuries, it has become out of reach for many. As a consequence, many have thought it not for them. But in the time of Vivaldi, people played his tunes in the street. I have been in rickety little wooden opera houses in Italy where people sang along to the choruses of Bellini, although, admittedly, I never heard that in the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.

The estimable chair of the Arts Council, Sir Nick Serota, steered high-quality work out of London, as well as continuing the tradition of both enabling London to broaden its “centre of excellence” role for the arts and producing offshoots of equal quality outside it. He arranged support for several initiatives in my present hometown of Newhaven but there was no dumbing down. Surely that is the secret of proper devolution of the arts outside London.

That brings me to the present settlement. There is an inherent problem in achieving nationwide the high standards that we as a nation can well produce without the seedbed power of the great established centres. We should remember that the very successful Opera North sprang from the English National Opera and that London theatres have fostered out-of-London offshoots. We need to nurture our centres of excellence, not least to send out talent to create other centres. The BBC and Channel 4 have played a pivotal role in this development.

This is not simply a philanthropic exercise. As noble Lords have said, and as the excellent Library briefing sets out, our creative industries contribute a sizeable part of our national income. Growth there has been higher than across the economy as a whole since the pandemic and the sector had a faster recovery. The UK is the fifth-biggest exporter of creative services. Their economic effect goes hand in hand with their social impact on well-being, mental health, enlightenment and simple enjoyment.

I hope that we can consider different ways of funding the vital dynamic of arts development—perhaps more that do not depend on divvying up a finite sum of money, thus creating losers and subjecting even some of the winners to short-term budgetary constraints, through fiscal measures such as increased and more widespread tax reliefs. In this way, there could be incentives for growth rather than cuts.

In short, we need to recognise that the arts and the creative sector in general should be acknowledged—unlike in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, as my noble friend Lord Howarth and the noble Lord, Lord Foster, who is not in his place, observed—as a unique national asset and one of the best sectors for growth, and should be seed-funded and incentivised accordingly. Our arts strategy must review its mission on and implementation of these principles. The dialogue about national venues and timescales, announced in this morning’s Select Committee hearing by Arts Council England’s CEO, Darren Henley, must continue. Does the Minister, in his lonely state as the second Conservative speaker, agree?

My Lords, I am pleased to take part today and make a brief contribution. I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Chandos for securing the debate and for the way in which he introduced it; I acknowledge all the expertise that he brings to bear. Of course, the same is true for so many other speakers in this debate. Before I begin, I ought to declare my interests; I have decided on two. First, I am the president of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. Secondly, tonight, I hope to be able to go and see a live Royal Ballet production that will be streamed to a cinema—one of the ways in which ballet and opera are being made more accessible throughout the country, which is a very good thing.

I rise today to make two points. First, as has been said by everybody so far and doubtless will be said throughout the rest of the debate, the importance of the arts and the creative industries to the UK simply cannot be overestimated. Whichever way you look at it, economically or in terms of soft power, the UK is an astonishingly creative country and intellectual property lies at the heart of it. Of course, thanks to the helpful Library briefing, the House will be aware of the DCMS statistics showing that the creative industries sector has contributed around £109 billion to the UK economy; that is a large sum by any standard. The largest subsector in the creative industries, listed as IT, software and computer services, accounted for 2.3% of the UK economy in 2021. Since then, overall employment in the country has fallen but, in that subsector, it has in fact increased by around 5.1%.

However, far too often in this country an artificial dividing line is drawn between the arts and the sciences. In reality, so many of today’s creative industries straddle that divide and render it meaningless in any real sense. The arts and creative industries encompass, and in some cases rely hugely on, the creative sciences in which the UK excels in many areas.

I will take the example of video games, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has already mentioned. The video games industry alone depends on people having mathematical and coding skills to a very high degree. Now let us consider the other aspects involved, such as architecture, design and imaginative storytelling—not to mention the music. Those who listen to Classic FM will know that, in recent years, music generated for video games has increasingly played a part in its “Top 300 of the Year”.

Noble Lords will know that, in 1959, the novelist CP Snow gave a lecture entitled “The Two Cultures”, later published in book form as The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. My noble friend Lord Chandos quoted Churchill; other people have referred to him. I am going to quote a brief extract from a lecture that CP Snow gave only 21 years later. His thesis was that science and the humanities, which represented

“the intellectual life of the whole of western society”,

had become split into “two cultures”, and that this division was a major handicap to both in solving the world’s problems. People know this phrase but often do not know the actual argument that he used. He said:

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s? I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question—such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read?—not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language.”

One of the reasons why that phrase, “two cultures”, has persisted down the decades is because it has struck a nerve. I know that your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Committee is conducting an inquiry into the UK’s creative industries, and I look forward to its result, but I hope it will also recognise the role, contribution and creativity of the science sector.

Secondly, we should never forget that one of the attractions of the UK as a place to do science is that it also offers unrivalled artistic and cultural experiences and heritage. Do noble Lords imagine that scientists are somehow different from everybody else—that the enormous artistic and cultural attractions of the UK do not play a part in encouraging them to come here to do their research? Of course, funding and the huge international links on offer are very important factors, but when eminent scientists decide where to live and work, the arts and culture of a country are a key factor in their decisions, and the UK has traditionally had that pull in spades. We benefit enormously from their presence here, and it is for this reason too, in part, that the present paralysis over the UK’s future participation in Horizon Europe is such a tragedy.

I will add just one thing in view of the briefings we have had about music. The Government should seek to reach an agreement with the EU to allow young musicians and youth orchestras to tour Europe and vice versa, because the collapse of such opportunities is another tragedy of Brexit.

In conclusion, we need to think of this whole area in a slightly different way. We should regard the strategy needed, as outlined in the Motion before us today, as being as important to our science base as to the arts and creative industries as traditionally defined. This is an opportunity to bring these two cultures together—the arts and sciences—as two sides of the same coin, feeding and stimulating each other for all our benefit. On this occasion, I rather wish that we had two Ministers winding up: the Minister we have in front of us, and perhaps the Minister for Science. However, I recognise that we have just the one, so I look forward very much to what he has to say.

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for initiating this important debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss a range of issues. I say at the outset that I want to be very positive about the Arts Council, given the progress it is making in trying to address levelling up.

The last 20 years or so have seen a cultural renaissance of Tyneside. It was an exciting time for me personally, as a council leader and a board member of a development agency, working with so many talented people in delivering a vision, for it was levelling up in action. Today, the buildings, programmes and outreach work are in place for the long term, although generating enough money is always a problem. All of this is evidence that delivering a strategy requires buildings, funding and enterprising people with vision who can make things happen for the long term. Cultural investment in places can have a profound impact. In our case, it has attracted inward investment from new industries and many more international students to our universities, and we have many more tourists and have become a thriving short break destination.

I mentioned the Arts Council and levelling up. As an example of what can be achieved, let me talk briefly about Sage Gateshead, which is so good at skills development, access and inclusion, though its resources are also very tight. It has one of the largest creative learning programmes in the UK, with very large numbers of adults attending music classes. There have been over 70,000 attendances at classes or workshops in the last year by participants aged four to 19. There is, for example, In Harmony Newcastle Gateshead, an immersive orchestral music programme based in two primary schools in the west end of Newcastle, working with local partners; and the Young Musicians Programme, offering introductory sessions up to advanced training, which served 300 children and young people each weekend through term time in 2021-22. We should note that 75% of Centre for Advanced Training students receive a bursary. This is important—as my noble friend Lady Hamwee would have said, had she been able to take part in the debate—to meet their travel costs, which can often be substantial.

The national plan for music education, which was debated recently in this Chamber, is to be strongly welcomed. As its title says, music has the power to change lives. It says that music education is

“an essential part of a broad and ambitious curriculum for all pupils”,

and it draws attention to the vital importance of every child having access to a musical instrument and personal support on digital music platforms.

This is all excellent, but it takes me to last year’s report by the Youth Unemployment Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing. A number of references have been made in this debate to that report, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me for expanding on them. The committee said that

“young people, school leaders and employers agree”—

this is from the evidence they gave us—

“that young people do not have the essential skills needed for work by the time they leave the school gates.”

As Youth Employment UK told us, there are not enough options for digital, computing, design and technology and creative subjects within the core curriculum, despite these being growth and in-demand areas. The Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and the Centre for Cultural Value said that arts education should be a statutory part of curricula to meet the challenge of skills and training shortages in that sector. We have heard a lot of evidence in the Chamber today about the importance of this.

Other figures have been used, but let me cite some more. At GCSE level, entries in the performing arts were down by 41% from 2017 to 2021, while entries in music fell by 9%. Between 2010 and 2020, there was a 70% decline in GCSE entries in design and technology and a 40% decline in GCSE entries in creative subjects, yet we were told that design and technology was “thriving” in the private sector, with parents seeing it as an “essential subject”—as they did, in fact, with all creative subjects.

We concluded that the national curriculum

“is too narrowly focused to ensure that it prepares all young people for the modern labour market and the essential, technical and creative skills it requires, in particular for the creative, green and digital sectors. These views were shared by employers and young people alike.”

I submit to the Minister that it is time they were shared by His Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend Lord Chandos and your Lordships’ House for my delayed arrival for the debate. I am grateful for the understanding shown to me on this occasion. I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Chandos on securing this debate, and I declare my interests as set out in the register.

As I listen to these excellent contributions, I am reminded of just how important the creative industries are to all aspects of our lives. We must never forget the many ways in which the creative sector enriches us through connection, escapism, solace, joy, insight into new worlds—real and imagined—and almost unlimited opportunities to expand our knowledge and understanding of the world.

Let us also remember that behind all the famous actors, musicians, writers, composers, artists and architects are hundreds of thousands of talented and passionate people who build, design, administrate, program, publicise and use any number of skills to realise a staggering range of creative experiences—each one contributing to an industry worth £116 billion to the UK economy.

I worked for many years in publishing, a sector that not only constitutes around £6.7 billion of this figure but is often a foundation for other areas of the creative industries. Harry Potter, for example, started as a series of novels and expanded into a £4 billion industry encompassing film, television, theatre and tourism. In fact, such is the power of this creative endeavour that, as a relative newcomer to this Chamber, I sometimes need to remind myself that I am not actually in Hogwarts.

The UK publishing sector supports 70,000 jobs across all regions of the country and exports more books than any other nation—flying the flag for British culture and language across the world, generating £3.8 billion in exports and reducing the UK’s trade deficit by 2.2%. One of the reasons for the success of British publishing is the UK’s gold-standard copyright and intellectual property regime, which ensures that creators are paid for their efforts and can continue creating. To retain our position as a global leader, we must ensure that this regime is protected by legislation that is fit for the challenges of the digital age.

I draw your Lordships’ attention to two important current issues: copyright exhaustion, and text and data mining. Currently, the UK’s copyright exhaustion regime prevents the unauthorised parallel import of international copies of books to the UK. This prevents wholesalers undercutting domestic sales by selling books tailored and priced for foreign markets. However, last year the Intellectual Property Office consulted on moving to an international exhaustion regime, which could lead to a loss of almost a third of the UK publishing sector’s total value, some £2.2 billion. Although the Government concluded that there was insufficient evidence to change the current regime—to a collective sigh of relief from all readers, authors, publishers and other creatives—the IPO has not yet announced its final decision. I urge the Minister and other noble Lords to call for the IPO to retain the current gold-standard regime, and not put thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of UK exports in danger and risk reducing the variety and quality of books available to British readers.

The second issue of concern is around text and data mining of digital content. Millions of people engage with authors’ work through screens and laptops rather than the printed page. UK publishers support innovation in artificial intelligence by licensing their research and datasets for text and data mining, which ensures that publishers and other rights holders are paid fairly for the use of their work. However, the IPO has proposed the introduction of a blanket copyright exception for text and data mining for any purpose. Under this proposal, tech firms could use machine learning to copy and monetise any UK-licensed creative content. In other words, having paid for the content just once, there would be nothing to prevent firms distributing this content potentially to millions of others. Depriving the original creators and rights holders of their income would self-evidently have terrible implications across the whole creative economy. Moreover, it would put the UK significantly out of step with similar creative economies and undermine investment in the content that innovative AI companies seek.

A broad coalition of professionals, from news publishing to music, and from magazines to photos, have called on the Government to reconsider these IPO proposals as a matter of urgency. I ask the Minister to join me in opposing both these proposals from the IPO, so that we safeguard the incredible creativity and innovation of our world-leading publishing sector and look forward to the enrichment, education and entertainment that it will bring to millions of lives in years to come.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Viscount for securing this debate at such a critical time for the arts and creative industries in the UK, as we head into a recession, perhaps followed by years of low growth. As we know, Governments often suffer what I call a macrotemptation to cut support for the arts and creative sectors when money is tight, as it undoubtedly is, in the mistaken belief that it makes sound economic sense—and never mind the cultural implications.

It was especially disappointing to see the Government’s sector vision for the creative industries being delayed yet again and the new Chancellor not including this dynamic sector as one of the five priority areas for growth. I find that strange because, cultural issues to one side, there is a compelling economic argument for prioritising the creative industries. I will focus on the business arguments. I do this having worked as an entrepreneur in this sector for 30 years. I declare that I am an active investor in theatre, film and online information—and still bear the scars to prove it.

First, we need a discriminating rather than flat approach to economic growth, which means identifying sectors where GDP growth is above the national average and, crucially, where there is considerable scope for future growth. As we have already heard, the creative industries contributed £116 billion to the UK economy in 2020. Importantly, that is an average 4% per annum growth over the last decade, whereas the economy in general struggled to reach 2%.

Secondly, when domestic demand is weak, as it is, we need export-led growth. The UK creative sector generated $57 billion in exports in the pandemic year of 2020—the fifth-largest such exporter in the world. There is clearly an appetite for UK content overseas and the weak pound makes this an even bigger opportunity, especially outside Europe. We need to grasp it.

Thirdly, productivity is the only realistic way we can generate economic growth, given demographic trends and our shrinking workforce. The technological enablement and digitisation of content has led to some hugely important productivity gains. I witnessed this first-hand over the last 30 years as a journalist turned publisher: first, it was desktop publishing transforming laborious editorial and typesetting practices; then the internet came along, which forced us to digitise our content and become a real-time online information provider, rather than a staid print publisher delivering reports by airmail across the world. The digital revolution is not just about speed and productivity; it allows content producers to reach audiences across the world at a fraction of the cost and, of course, to boost export revenues. The BBC is a good example.

It is often overlooked that the creative sector now employs more than 2 million people across the UK. An increasing proportion of that number are technical and scientific staff—a vital subsector. We have an exciting fusion, known as createch, between the content creators and those who structure and engineer, or write or promote code through multimedia channels, yet this growing intersection between creative skills and technology is in spite of, not because of, our stubborn, rigid approach to education, as the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, just highlighted. We see it at schools with A-levels and universities at degree level, dividing pupils between the arts and the sciences. This in no way reflects the real world. I believe it was a young James Dyson, the British inventor, who after much agonising opted to go to art school, and received a letter of condolence from his headmaster. We need much stronger links between universities and businesses in the creative industries, to drive innovation and indeed make courses much more relevant to careers in this sector. Media studies, take note.

Given the limits on time, I shall finish by making three quick observations to the Minister. The first is on freelancers: a huge number of the 2 million people are freelance and therefore self-employed. I should declare that my daughter is one of them. Please can we stop discriminating against them? The furlough scheme and the flawed off-payroll working rules are two cases in point. They deserve our support for creating their own jobs, showing flexibility at the price of job security, and for being paid on results, unlike many other permanent jobs I could mention.

Secondly, on tax relief, yes, national finances are incredibly tight at the moment, but if we want to boost productivity and innovation in this country, now is surely not the time to slash R&D tax credits for the creative sector.

Finally, I have a word on levelling up. As my noble friend Lady Bull points out, it is formidably difficult to balance the desire to spread opportunities geographically and maintain our national cultural icons which, as in other countries, tend to be concentrated around capital cities. But in the interest of balance I, like many other noble Lords today, question the wisdom of the Arts Council axing entirely its grants for institutions such as the ENO, the Barbican and the Donmar.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Chandos, in securing this debate and introducing it so powerfully, has unleashed a range of comments and expertise in the last two hours which are quite formidable to follow. What is left to say? Well, not much, but I am going to plough on anyway.

Given the breadth and economic significance of the creative industries, it is absolutely clear that a robust strategy for defending and developing them is crucial, as many noble Lords have made clear in the debate today. I underline the comments that have come from so many people about the vital contribution that the education system has to make to sustain those industries. At the moment, we are not doing well enough in that area.

I want to focus a bit more on one small—in financial terms—but absolutely vital part of the strategic network or jigsaw: government support for the arts via the Arts Council. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, I have been around this subject many times in a long career: I chaired a peer review of Arts Council England for DCMS in 2005 and subsequently wrote a report commissioned by the Arts Council itself following its funding decisions in 2008, which were highly controversial, and again after its funding round in 2011, when the outcomes were less contested. I have also been involved for decades in organisations in receipt of Arts Council funding, in both executive and non-executive roles. I say this to declare a long-standing interest, in both senses, but also to apologise for the slightly weary tone that may creep into my remarks, because I have been here before. Checking what I wrote in 2008, for example, I find that sadly some of it applies just as pertinently today.

That said, and for the avoidance of doubt, I have always been, and remain, a committed supporter of the Arts Council model, at the heart of which lie the two main principles that animated its founders in 1948: first, that the arts are a public good from which everyone benefits and which should therefore receive public support; and secondly that the funds allocated to the arts by the Government should be administered at arm’s-length from government, through a body making independent decisions about exactly where and with whom money should be invested. These principles have frequently been troublesome to Governments of all complexions but, even though our cultural landscape is much changed since 1948, they are still worth defending. I fear that both are now under serious threat.

Earlier this year, I observed at close quarters the process that all organisations seeking membership of Arts Council England’s national portfolio—whether large or small, new applicants or long-standing clients, and no matter what quantum of funding they were seeking—had to go through. Everybody I spoke to about it, from the largest to the smallest, found it exhausting and frustrating, at a time of enormous pressure and great anxiety post pandemic. I understand how difficult it is to design a system that works fairly across the board, but this attempt seemed to be unacceptably stressful for everyone, whatever the eventual outcome for individual organisations. Among its most troubling complexities were indeed the special requirements placed on organisations based in London.

To be clear, I think that a lot of the decisions that Arts Council England eventually made, with increased emphasis on diversity, inclusion and regional spread, were excellent. It was inevitable there would be winners and losers: there always are. However, the way the process was designed and managed, and how decisions were communicated, both to clients and to the wider world, left a great deal to be desired and exposed Arts Council England once again to legitimate challenge. So it was very concerning when, faced with considerable dismay as the new portfolio was revealed last month, Arts Council England began to refer to having received instructions from the then Secretary of State, which were subsequently prayed in aid to justify some of the more controversial decisions.

Does the Minister believe that this is an accurate reflection of what happened? If so, does he think it appropriate that a Secretary of State should instruct an arm’s-length body? Governments for decades have relied on asserting that such bodies make choices independently and should be accountable for them. How can that be a defensible position if those bodies are in fact acting under instruction? Apart from its inherent dishonesty, that position leaves the Government open to direct lobbying from aggrieved parties who understandably question the integrity of the decision-making process.

The Minister knows that I respect his personal commitment to his role, and I am glad to see him back in it. I hope he will be able to say whether the Government still support the founding tenets I referred to earlier: the arts as a public good and an arm’s-length principle for distribution of funds. I suspect that he will say that the Government are committed to both—I hope he will—but perhaps he will agree that the ongoing disquiet, with questions asked about process and nobody quite taking responsibility for controversial decisions, undermines that commitment and does no favours to the arts sector, the Arts Council or the Government, and distracts from the really important wider issues which are the subject of this debate.

My Lords, it is a delight to follow my noble friend and her very prescient questions to the Minister. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Chandos on securing this crucial debate, and on his extremely strong opening, especially his reference to the battle for the survival of Ukraine and the survival of its cultural soul. I will be brief, as we all want to hear the Minister and I am very aware that I am surrounded by people who know a lot more about the arts than I do.

Many of us witnessed sparkly fairies roaming the Committee Corridor recently. It was not a new special committee; it was members of English National Opera dressed up to lobby parliamentarians on the Arts Council’s pre-Christmas surprise for it: move out or no more money. Even if you think that London gets far more than its fair share of the national arts budget, what a way to consult, as my noble friend Lady Andrews said. ENO reaches so many of the targets set for it, such as creating a far more diverse audience, cheaper and free tickets, and attracting a younger following, which is so important for the future of the arts. None of it seemed to be enough to convince Arts Council England in the case of ENO.

As a patron of a very small, community-based youth orchestra in London, Musico Musica, I see first-hand how important it is for young musicians and their skills development to have access to the outreach work of major cultural institutions, such as ENO, whether those institutions are in London, Bristol, Manchester or Cardiff. I am not convinced that a Government so keen on centres of excellence within the NHS see that policy transferred to the arts. Perhaps the Minister will convince me otherwise.

Fair access across the country to creative arts has been Labour policy since for ever, as my noble friend Lady Whitaker said, long before the current tendency to put together “levelling” and “up” so frequently. I was one of several chairs of regional cultural consortiums in the early noughties, under the last Labour Government, whose aim was to promote and attract inward investment into the regions for the arts. Labour has this week reaffirmed its commitments to the nations and the regions as a future Government.

The performing arts sector alone, such as theatres, concerts, live music, creative arts and writers, contributed more than £8 billion in gross value added to the UK economy in 2021, according to the ONS. These sectors supported more than 100,000 jobs in 2021. These are major growth providers. But if we take the music industry in 2021, according to UK Music, an umbrella organisation, it contributed £4 billion to the economy in gross value added terms, down 31% on the £5.8 billion it contributed in 2019, pre-pandemic. UK Music assesses that Brexit-related barriers, alongside a lack of international touring, has restricted export recovery after the pandemic.

So we come to the present difficulties faced by all touring British artists, who, as a result of Brexit, can no longer work and tour completely freely across the European Union. The lack of specific provisions in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement means that UK performers have to comply with regulations in each and every one of the 27 EU member states, often with different sanctions within each of those regulations. Transport of equipment for tours has to comply with customs regulations set out in the TCA. As a result of leaving the customs union and the single market, UK touring artists face administrative hurdles and costs that they should not be facing. Although the guidance from the Government this summer on dual registration for specialist events hauliers was welcome, it does not answer the problems of artists using medium-sized hauliers or of orchestras with their own purpose-built vehicles. What a tangled web we weave when first we exit from the EU, as Sir Walter Scott might or might not have said. An EU-wide waiver from the TCA for creative industries has been called for, and the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, of which I am a member, has also raised the issue of cultural exemptions for touring artists.

We are in a serious pickle and our wonderful musicians and performers are paying the price. What further plans do the Government have to assist touring artists? Their creativity, their freedom and their earning capacity are being hobbled and it is not good enough for a country with a cultural heritage such as ours. The creative industries are a major driver of our economic growth and economic future. The Government’s new strategy for the arts has been delayed far too long, as many speakers have said. When will we see it?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, on bringing the debate and opening it so powerfully, and all noble Lords across the House for making a case for a strategy so ably. As always with regard to the creative sector, the most compelling, knowledgeable, logical and irrefutable arguments have been made by noble Lords across this House about the imperative for the Government to elevate creativity and the creative sector in their priorities for growth and levelling up.

Judging by the actions, not words, of this Government, the opposite is sadly true, as evidenced by a long list: 13 Secretaries of State in DCMS in as many years; the lack of cross-departmental working; the omission of arts in the EBacc; the reduction of university creative courses; the lack of protection for our creatives in negotiating Brexit; the focus on STEM not STEAM; the omission of the creative sector as one of the five priorities for growth in the Autumn Statement; the alleged interference by the Government in Arts Council funding; the delayed sector vision; and the lack of a strategy, which this debate rightly calls for.

Even the ex-but-one Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, opined:

“You know, sometimes I don’t understand what’s wrong with us. This is just about the most creative and imaginative country on earth—and yet sometimes we just don’t seem to have the gumption to exploit our intellectual property.”

It is a shame he never put his money where his mouth is. He did not have the gumption, and sadly I fear that Rishi Sunak appears to be in the same vein. He did manage to use the word “innovation” a few times, but seemingly without understanding what that actually means when it comes to investing in the creativity of our country, economic success, vision, originality and well-being. There is not only a compelling case for a strategy but a desperate need for one. Given the trouble the Government are in and our quest for growth, this is a lifebelt they really ought to grasp.

I have said before to this Government—in fact, from here, this time last year in the debate on the same subject, when the Liberal Democrats brought forward this issue; if some of my words seem familiar, it is because they are—that the following would be a good start for a creative strategy. We should get the barriers out of the way to trading and working with the EU, as we have just heard from the noble Baroness. We should educate our children properly and stop treating creative subjects like second-class citizens. We should respect and capitalise on the creative sector.

We should support and encourage our broadcast companies and recognise their irreplaceable value as the second-largest exporter of television programmes and formats in the world. We should support the BBC rather than undermining it and stop trying to sell off Channel 4. We should feed the ecosystem that spawns new and emerging talent, as well as being financially successful. We should ensure that broadcasters have continuing access to European platforms.

We should invest equally in STEM and STEAM. We should fight for rights for intellectual property. We should recognise the part played by creative courses in the innovation economy, ensuring that policies are retained and enhanced. We should support the freelancers, sole traders, part-timers and those with a portfolio of roles who people the creative industries, and ensure that the tax and welfare systems support them to thrive and earn well.

We should understand the contribution the advertising industry makes to our economy and how much of that relies on creatives. We should intensify and strengthen our creative core by promoting creative subjects in schools, further education and university. We should ask Ofsted to monitor the curriculum so that no school can easily drop music, art and drama. We should encourage institutions and businesses to collaborate with schools to provide cultural education and offer high-quality careers advice. We should make sure that high-quality apprenticeships are offered in the creative and digital industries, and get a grip on the pathways needed for screen skills.

We should promote the value of live events in small and large public venues, regional theatres, local halls and festivals across the country, and much more. Look at our gaming industry, which has been mentioned by many noble Lords. Look at the streamers streaming in; at our BBC, our designers, our musicians and so on. We in this country have a unique ability to create, to bring forward the new and produce the brilliant. Sadly, our innovators get snapped up by other countries, which put their investment into creative education. Look at Singapore; look at China.

We have heard from all parts of this House that the Government need to turbocharge their level of commitment to the creative sector. The low esteem in which creativity is held by this Government is unbearable, insulting and, more than that, plain stupid. The Secretary of State said the following in a letter to the Office for Students:

“Courses that are not among the Government’s strategic priorities—covering subjects in music, dance, drama and performing arts: art and design, media studies and archology are to be subject to a reduction of 50%”

That contempt was again on display in the way the Government negotiated Brexit. Just take music, for example. Our music industry, as has been said, contributed £5.8 billion to the economy in 2019. Brexit completely undermined our touring musicians and performers, but no thought was even given to that during the negotiations. I could go on and on—indeed, I am—but the point I am trying to drive home is that the Government have signalled clearly, at home and to the world, that the UK creative sector is not a priority and not important.

As several contributors have mentioned, the current inquiry of the Communications and Digital Committee, which will report shortly on our inquiry into the creative industry, has done excellent work under the stewardship of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, on this very issue. We have looked across the world and at the digital world ahead, and I have no doubt we will conclude that the vision, understanding, promotion and priority that the Government give to the creative sector is lacking.

Creativity is our secret weapon, our soft-power success. My noble friend Lord Foster of Bath pointed out that the creative sector’s economic contribution to our economy is bigger than that of the oil, gas, aerospace, life sciences and automotive sectors combined. That is enormous. How crazy it is that the various departments that bear responsibility for parts of that agenda have such poor cross-departmental working.

My noble friend Lord Storey highlighted that the Government expect 90% of students to do an EBacc, which means there will be almost no one studying the arts. My noble friend Lord Shipley emphasised how crucial school education and the national curriculum are to cultural subjects.

A number of companies and organisations have been fathoming out our future requirements. McKinsey’s 2018 report, Automation and the Workforce of the Future, demonstrated that creativity, critical thinking, decision-making and complex information processing are going to grow in coming years, from an already high base. According to Realizing 2030: a Divided Vision of the Future, a report by Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future of Jobs, 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not even been invented yet, while 56% of business leaders say that schools will need to teach how to learn rather than what to learn, in order to prepare for that.

This is a critical moment of both opportunity and necessity to build back better and level up by using the talents of the most precious commodity we have: our human capital, our unique and original thinkers. However, it is also the moment of greatest jeopardy, because, if the Government fail to heed the wise words in this debate, they cannot deliver.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register as a trustee of the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust in Brighton and a trustee of the People’s History Museum.

I join in the general congratulations to my noble friend Lord Chandos on securing this important debate, which, as a number of Members have noted today, is extremely timely, given that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, has just made clear, we are at something of a crossroads in government policy. I liked the way my noble friend neatly invoked Churchill’s being in favour of the arts during a time of national crisis; I think we are at that point, and my noble friend was right to do so.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh alluded to, this is an extremely broad debate about a sector, the arts and creative industries, that is broad in its extent and impact. As the title of the debate highlights, and as outlined in the very helpful Library briefing, the UK, as many noble Lords have mentioned today, is a world leader in the arts and creative industries. Many of our cultural institutions are the envy of the world. We are one of the largest exporters of creative goods and services, and British TV, film, music and video games are enjoyed across the globe.

The economic benefits of the creative sectors have been cited throughout the debate but are worth repeating: a £110 billion-plus contribution to the national economy, the direct creation of more than 2 million jobs, and support for the associated jobs in supply chains. Perhaps it is timely to remind the House of the BBC’s role, which makes for a case study. The role of the BBC in generating cultural investment is very much at the heart of our creative industries—a sector that, as many have reminded us today, is growing faster than the rest of the economy. Between 2010 and 2019 it grew by 44%, and it could, given the right circumstances, more than double by 2030. The BBC is the single largest investor in original UK content: £1.4 billion-worth in 2021, which is 60% more than its nearest rival, Netflix. It also commissions more than its rivals. More importantly, perhaps, it has, as it always has had, a strong regional base, with 71% of its content coming from producers based outside London.

Those are impressive figures, and they are repeated across the sector. As has been noted, the creative industries have outperformed other parts of the economy in recent years, and they are likely to be a key factor in our eventual return to GDP growth. The cultural sector has the capacity to bounce back faster, quicker and higher than all other sectors, but it needs support to do so. We will remain a world leader in these crucial sectors only if central and local government continue to nurture them. In our experience, local government recognises the value of the arts and creative industries. Arts-led regeneration is now very much flavour of the month in terms of what local authorities are trying to do, and it makes a massive contribution to local economies. But if we get it wrong, as a number of Peers have said today, the cultural sector suffers and shrinks.

Councils and regional partnerships play a supportive role through the planning system, with funding for venues, events to highlight local talent and so on. However, in the past few years we have seen what happens when central government fails to support the arts and creative sectors. Yes, the Government provide funding via the Arts Council and other bodies, and we accept that there are tax incentives in other areas, but many creatives feel that more could be done to support them. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, made a strong case for the use of fiscal incentives. Perhaps today the Minister could comment on this without upsetting his ministerial colleagues in the Treasury.

The Covid lockdowns brought the arts to a standstill. That was understandable from a public health point of view but it means that many artists, museums, galleries and other cultural organisations are only just getting back on their feet. Gaping holes in the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus support schemes left creative freelancers, as a number of Peers have said today, very much out in the cold. Labour repeatedly called for action to bring freelancers within the scope of emergency funding, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Londesborough, said, but none was taken. Event organisers and performers experienced visa problems; many performers also experienced a downward push in their opportunities and their ability to export our cultural excellence.

Covid restrictions may have eased, but the cost of living crisis and the Conservative Government’s wider economic failures mean that the sector’s costs are literally going through the roof, threatening much of our cultural inheritance. At the same time, household finances are being squeezed, meaning that people have less to spend on leisure and cultural activities. What assessment has DCMS made of the likely impact of current economic circumstances on demand for the output of arts organisations and creative firms?

As the Library briefing makes clear, and as colleagues have referenced, DCMS has been slow to come forward with a sectoral vision for the creative industries, despite the importance of having such a strategy in the current economic climate. We have had months of dither, delay and chaos at the centre of our Government. While we have been fortunate in some senses to have the Minister reappointed—a second coming, one might say—he must surely share our frustration with regard to the lack of recent progress in key areas. I am sure the Minister will disagree, but there is a growing feeling across different sectors that DCMS is unable to deliver. Its failures to deliver on a sector vision are the latest in a long list of delays, downgrades and cancellations. As my noble friend Lord Griffiths argued, we need to see that sector vision so that we can give greater certainty to the cultural institutions that thrive in our country. Importantly, that vision should link the creative sectors with the Government’s wider levelling-up agenda, which many noble Lords alluded to during the debate. This is another area where progress has been unacceptably slow.

Colleagues have referred to the recent Arts Council funding decision, which will see a greater emphasis on areas of the country outside London. We will of course have a more detailed debate on that next week but, today, my noble friend Lord Chandos made a very powerful case for ENO and opera, and rightly so. I could make an equal argument for better and stronger support for Glyndebourne, my local opera house, set wonderfully as it is in the Sussex Downs—and now hampered, as my noble friend Lady Andrews suggested in her powerful speech.

We all agree on the need to address geographic disparities, which are greater in this country than any other. These disparities are reflected in funding, but this does not need to be a zero-sum game; nor, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, argued, should these disparities be tackled in such a short timeframe. My noble friend Lady McIntosh argued that the background to the decisions that were made undermined the integrity and independence of the Arts Council’s decision-making. I think we all need reassurance on that. Why do we need to level down London, whose cultural offering draws in tourists from around the globe, to support the rest of the country? Is that really the best way to achieve levelling up?

On the Arts Council and English National Opera, why were certain decisions not properly consulted on or communicated better? That has been a strong feature of comments made during the debate.

To finish, we must always remember how lucky we are to have the incredible talents that we do across the arts and creative industries in this country. We can put a sum on these sectors’ economic value, but it is hard to convey the immense enjoyment and educational value that comes on top of those economic benefits. Our brilliant creative industries struggled during Covid but pulled together, innovated and weathered the storm. However, they now face sky-high energy bills and the impacts of a recession. The Government need to stop dragging their feet and, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, argued, pull together several departments—DCMS, BEIS, DLUHC and the Cabinet Office—to drive the strategy. It is vital that they deliver a strategy that gives the arts and our creative industries greater certainty and puts them at the centre of future growth.

My Lords, this has been a long, thoughtful and well-informed debate. As the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, said, on Monday night there was a similar debate in another place. The deputy arts editor of the Times thought it was

“an indictment of the government’s attitude to the arts”

that the Arts Minister could not take part in that debate, because I sit in this House. At the risk of sounding thin-skinned, I want to respond to that—not to defend myself or the Government particularly but to defend the work of your Lordships’ House and our bicameral system, particularly as the party opposite now thinks we are indefensible and should be abolished.

Monday’s debate in another place lasted 30 minutes and had 10 speakers. Today’s will last up to three hours and has 21 speakers, including a former Arts Minister, a prize-winning dancer with the Royal Ballet, a chairman of English Heritage, an executive director of the National Theatre and leading light at the Royal Shakespeare Company, a teacher who ran her local youth theatre and many more. The noble Viscount set out his own credentials at the beginning of the debate and he follows in a proud family tradition: I believe it was his grandfather after whom the Lyttelton Theatre on the South Bank is named, following his work as the first chairman of the National Theatre.

Noble Lords have asked detailed questions today, based on their decades of expertise. Any policy area is fortunate to be scrutinised in your Lordships’ House and I, for one, am glad to be held to account here, so I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for giving noble Lords the chance to do that today—but I take some small exceptions to the framing of his Motion.

The terms of the Motion imply that protecting our world-leading creative industries and ensuring that more people have the opportunity to enjoy or take part in them through levelling up are somehow in opposition, and I must disagree. The point of levelling up is to make sure that everyone, in every part of the United Kingdom, can be part of the arts and creative industries’ success story. That is a story that many noble Lords have told eloquently again today. The noble Viscount’s Motion talks of “the case for” a strategy towards the arts and creative industries, implying that there is not one already. I am happy to reassure him that there is, and glad to have the opportunity to explain how it is shaping the approach taken by the Government and our partners, such as Arts Council England.

Specifically, I point noble Lords to: the levelling-up White Paper, which was published in February; the work we are conducting with the Creative Industries Council to develop a sector vision; and Arts Council England’s 10-year strategy, Let’s Create, which was developed in consultation with the public and people from across the arts and cultural sectors, and approved by government Ministers when it was published in 2020.

For more than three-quarters of a century, the Arts Council has nurtured cultural life in this country and kept it separate from party politics. It is a cross-party legacy; it succeeds the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, which was set up in the dark days at the beginning of the Second World War by the national Government led by Neville Chamberlain. As noble Lords rightly reminded us, it was given its royal charter and new name in 1946, under Labour’s Attlee Government. It is a cross-party model of which we should be proud and which has been emulated across the world. Its decisions about which organisations to fund and by how much are taken at arm’s length from government Ministers, so if I do not go into detail on some of the specific organisations raised by noble Lords today, that is not to be slopy-shouldered but to defend that arm’s-length principle, which the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and others extolled.

As a number of noble Lords noted, Arts Council England plays a central role in supporting arts and culture in this country. It recently announced the outcome of its investment programme for 2023 to 2026, investing £446 million each year in arts and culture across England. It is doing that in a slightly different way to previous rounds, but in line with the trend the Arts Council itself has been pursuing for a number of years and over a number of rounds. It might be helpful to take a step back to provide a bit of context.

Most cultural organisations in this country do not rely on funding from the Government or from the Arts Council. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, it is just one piece of the jigsaw, albeit a vital one. We saw the Culture Recovery Fund, the emergency support of more than £1.5 billion that the Government provided during the pandemic, helping more than 5,000 cultural organisations across England. Many of them had little relationship with the Government or the Arts Council until the pandemic hit—or indeed with the British Film Institute, Historic England or the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which helped us to distribute that emergency funding—but they were grateful for the help that came when they needed it. As a result of the work we did in the pandemic, we have a sort of Domesday Book of culture, showing the full range of organisations across England that weave the rich tapestry of cultural life in this country.

More than 5,000 organisations received support through the Culture Recovery Fund. Only 1,700 applied for Arts Council funding in the next investment programme. While noble Lords are right to probe how that money is being spent, it is important to remember that it is only one way in which arts and culture are supported in this country. None the less, 1,700 represents a record number of applications for the Arts Council’s competitive funding and a record number of organisations, 990, will receive funding as a result—more organisations than ever before and in more parts of the country. Some 276 organisations are set to join the portfolio for the first time, with 215 of them outside London. This reflects our commitment to distribute funding and access to arts and culture more fairly. However, in London more organisations will be funded in the next round than the last—283 compared with 268.

The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, talked about the size of the pie that is available in funding. I am pleased that my right honourable friends Oliver Dowden and Nadine Dorries secured an uplift for the Arts Council at the last spending review. There was an additional £43 million for the Arts Council’s grant in aid. We did not succumb to the macrotemptation mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Londesborough. Thanks to this larger pie and increases from the National Lottery, Arts Council England will be spending £30 million per year more through its core investment programme than in the previous NPO round.

The question is how that larger pie should be sliced. In the last portfolio London benefited disproportionately, receiving around £21 per capita compared to an average of £6 per capita in the rest of the country. Even accounting for the important role that London plays as our capital and the wonderful organisations housed here, that is a stark discrepancy. Some 133 local authorities across England did not receive any funding—not a penny. A national portfolio should be based across the nation. I am sure that noble Lords would agree that it is not the case that there is no culture of note in places like Bolsover, Mansfield or Blackburn. These areas are all now represented in the new portfolio, which covers 217 local authorities compared to 180 last time.

Working with the Arts Council, DCMS identified 109 levelling-up for culture places which received historically lower levels of funding, or which had lower levels of participation through metrics we set out transparently and published on the Arts Council’s website. Because of that decision, investments in those levelling-up for culture places were more than doubled.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked about the instruction to the Arts Council. The letter from the previous Secretary of State to the Arts Council was published and set out precisely what she asked it to do. It is important to stress that it was not giving instructions based on specific institutions or art forms, but it was asking the Arts Council to ensure that the taxpayer subsidy—which comes from taxpayers across the country—is spread more equitably across England. That is consistent with the arm’s-length principle we all cherish.

As a result, towns like Mansfield will receive funding for the first time. Mansfield District Council will receive £1.7 million over three years to manage Mansfield Museum and Mansfield Palace Theatre. Unanima Theatre, which brings young people and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities together, will benefit from nearly £700,000 over three years—something I hope noble Lords welcome.

We have seen an increase in the number of organisations led by people with disabilities in the new portfolio to 32. I had the pleasure of visiting one of them, DASH in Shropshire, three weeks ago. We have also seen a huge increase in the number of organisations led by people from black, Asian and ethnic-minority backgrounds, from 53 in the last portfolio to 143 in the next. Arts, culture and creativity are all enriched when everybody is able to tell and share their stories. I congratulate the Arts Council on its work to enable that.

At the same time, we recognise the special role played by our nation’s capital. It houses world-class institutions. People visit them from all over this country, and indeed from all over the world. We see that particularly at the moment as tourists flock to London to enjoy the cultural offering. Those institutions perform a levelling-up function in providing a national stage on which people can perform. For the fictional Billy Elliot, it was dancing with the Royal Ballet which persuaded his family of the value of dance as an artistic medium. That story is based on “Dancer”, a play by Geordie playwright Lee Hall, which premiered at the Live Theatre in Newcastle and was heavily influenced by the photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s book Step by Step, about a dancing school in nearby North Shields, the town of my birth. The film “Billy Elliot” made over $100 million at the box office. It won three BAFTAs and was nominated for three Oscars, which is an illustration of the economic benefit and soft power of UK culture. We want to see more films and plays like it. That is why I am proud to see an additional £90,000 going to New Writing North to encourage new playwrights like Lee Hall and continued funding of £640,000 for the Live Theatre and its connected organisations. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I am delighted by the cultural renaissance we are seeing on Tyneside.

Noble Lords and people beyond this House may disagree with some of the individual funding decisions taken by the Arts Council. They were made entirely independently of the Government, so, as I said, I cannot comment in detail on individual outcomes. They were taken against well-established criteria and expectations, with careful consideration taken by employees and the regional and national councils of the Arts Council, who have a deep understanding of the sector. Some of them are appointed by the Government; some are appointed by other politicians such as the Mayor of London. Many others are simply drawn from people with expertise across the sector and in their regions.

A number of noble Lords have mentioned the English National Opera. I saw earlier that its excellent chairman Dr Harry Brünjes and its excellent chief executive Stuart Murphy were here watching our debate. I think one of their colleagues has stayed behind; they are all very welcome. The English National Opera has done tremendous work. I pay tribute to it and all the staff for the work they have done, including the fantastic ENO Breathe programme, which has been helping people with respiratory problems as we emerge from the pandemic. The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, asked about transitional funding for the ENO. I confirm that Arts Council England has offered the ENO a package of support. We are keen that the Arts Council and ENO work together on the possibilities for the future of the organisation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State encouraged the Arts Council to provide a larger and longer pot of transitional funding, which will be available to all organisations affected by the decisions in this portfolio. I reassure noble Lords that in the new investment programme, Arts Council England’s investment in opera, orchestras and other classical organisations will represent around 80% of all investment in music. I hope that will be music to the ears of the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft.

Through this programme, opera will continue to be well funded, remaining at around 40% of overall investment in music. Organisations such as English Touring Opera and the Birmingham Opera Company will receive increased funding. There are many new joiners such as Opera Up Close and Pegasus Opera Company based in Brixton, which I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday. The Royal Opera House will continue to be funded, receiving the largest amount of any organisation in the portfolio of more than £22 million—about the same as all of the east Midlands.

London’s role as a global cultural centre is clearly reflected in the next investment programme, with 61 London organisations receiving funding for the first time, including the Jewish Museum and the Foundling Museum. Arts Council priority places in the capital such as Croydon and Brent will receive £18.8 million over the next three years. In Croydon alone investment will double, and the borough will see three organisations join the portfolio. We are levelling up within London as well as between London and the rest of the country.

As noble Lords have noted, this funding round was extremely competitive. With a record number of applications, it was inevitable that some organisations would be disappointed. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, it was ever thus. There is no automatic entitlement for arts organisations to continue receiving public funding in perpetuity. We recognise that leaving the portfolio can be an anxious and challenging experience, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic and with the challenges of the winter we all face. But this can also lead to organisational innovation and development in the organisations that did not get as much as they were bidding for. As the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, said at the start, the nature of the arts is to be open to dynamic change, and I agree with him that this should be encouraged carefully, mindful of the need for balance.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the creative industries sector vision that we are developing, which will set out our 2030 ambitions to drive growth and employment in our world-renowned creative industries as well as increase the positive impact that they can play in our lives. I recognise that the delays in publication have been frustrating, but we will publish it early in the new year—I hope that is better than “in due course”. At the heart of the sector vision is £50 million of investment from DCMS to drive growth across the country through the Create Growth programme, the UK games fund and the UK global screen fund. UKRI has announced over £100 million of support for R&D and innovation in the creative industries, including the creative catalyst and CoSTAR programmes.

In August last year, we announced our flexi-job apprenticeship offer, including a £7 million fund to support sectors with flexible employment patterns and project-based working, which is particularly the case in the creative industries. Five active flexi-job apprenticeship pilots are currently under way, with creative employers such as the BBC and the National Theatre. The ScreenSkills apprenticeship pilot, supported by DCMS, Netflix and Warner Bros, also focuses on widening participation and diversifying the talent pipeline in the TV and film sectors. Both the Department for Education and DCMS continue to work closely with the creative sectors through the creative advisory group to explore further possibilities and flexibilities for apprenticeships, alongside other post-16 pathways, including T-levels, higher technical qualifications and skills boot camps. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has agreed to chair the expert panel to inform the new cultural education plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, spoke with passion about ensuring that everyone, whatever their background, has the opportunity to take part in arts and culture. You should not have to sofa-surf in London or know someone already in the business in order to pursue a career in the arts that can be rewarding in every sense of the word. As a former comprehensive schoolboy who grew up in Tyneside and rural Suffolk, I feel passionately about this and welcome the expertise that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, will bring, along with her fellow panel members, to help us to deliver that. She is right to highlight the commission of the Local Government Association, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey—I am pleased to say that I will attend its launch later this afternoon.

A number of noble Lords talked about the international reputation of UK arts and creativity. The cultural sector is a key asset that boosts perceptions of this country abroad, with both a financial and a reputational return on investment. Research shows that people who have been exposed to UK culture and education report more interest in doing business with the UK than those who have not—an average difference of 11 percentage points.

The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, talked importantly about the two cultures, which have never been closer, and the importance of science and scientific researchers. He may have seen the new exhibition at the Science Museum, “Injecting Hope”, about the search for a Covid vaccine. This will move from London to tour China and India. Earlier this week, I was at the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL, which benefited from the £4 million pot of funding from the DCMS/Wolfson Foundation.

The noble Viscount and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, mentioned the importance of touring. We have supported the sector to adapt to new arrangements with the European Union, and we worked extensively with it and directly with EU member states to clarify arrangements on the movement of people, goods and haulage. We have worked across government and with the industry to develop guidance on landing pages on GOV.UK specifically for touring musicians and other creative professionals. We have worked to ensure that that is clear, accessible and available to people, and we continue to work with the sector to make sure that it is.

I mentioned the Government’s commitment through the Culture Recovery Fund, but a number of noble Lords asked about freelancers. The Omicron strain hit about this time last year, and I am glad to say that we provided £1.5 million of emergency funding specifically for freelancers, matched by £1.35 million from the theatre sector, which was distributed through the Theatre Artists Fund, Help Musicians and the Artists Information Company. This helped in addition to the money provided to organisations to ensure that they were able to open their doors and employ freelancers when the pandemic abated.

The last Budget increased tax reliefs for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries until 2024. These additional tax reliefs are worth almost £250 million to the sector and are a fantastic boost to it to keep producing the content for which we are world famous. Taken together, along with the other pan-economy support measures that the Treasury provided, these interventions supported the cultural sector throughout the challenges of Covid. Furthermore, the £500 million film and TV restart scheme helped us to ensure that our screen sector could continue to produce content safety, protecting over 100,000 jobs and more than £3 billion of production spending.

We continue to be aware that arts and cultural organisations face new challenges because of the increase in energy prices. I recently hosted a series of round-table discussions with people from the performing arts, heritage and museum sectors to ensure that we maintain our focus on the ongoing impact of energy price increases and inflation as well as identifying opportunities to improve energy efficiencies. The Government continue to support all sectors in the economy this winter with the energy bill relief scheme, but I have heard first-hand how important this support has been to our cultural organisations. DCMS has worked closely to inform the Treasury-led review of the scheme, which will be published by the end of this year, and we have provided evidence on the nuanced challenges faced particularly by the cultural sector as part of this review.

In the Autumn Statement last month, the Chancellor set out his plans to restore stability to the economy, protect high-quality public services and build long-term prosperity. He also announced a £13.6 billion package of support for payers of business rates in England, which will support people in the cultural sector too. Plans for the second round of the levelling-up fund were confirmed, with at least £1.7 billion to be allocated to infrastructure projects around the UK before the end of the year. One of the themes for that fund is supporting cultural and heritage assets, which will give another important boost to the sector.

The noble Lord, Lord Leong, asked about text and data mining, and we recognise the concerns that the sector raised about this. My honourable friend Julia Lopez raised this with the IP Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who has agreed to engage further on the text and data mining exemption. We will consider all of the evidence before making a decision.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, asked about creative clusters programmes. Since the last spending review, UKRI has announced more than £100 million of support for the creative industries to support innovation. The decision to fund creative clusters is made by UKRI, but I am keen to work with it to look at the results of the programme and other interventions to see what has worked and ought to be replicated.

So the Government recognise and appreciate that London is a leading cultural centre, with organisations that benefit not just the capital but the whole country and that are enjoyed the world over. But that is true of other towns and cities too: only last night, Veronica Ryan won the Turner Prize—I congratulate her—which was announced at Tate Liverpool. Next year, the eyes of the world will be on that city as it hosts the Eurovision Song Contest, inspiring people around the world about the power of music.

Through the Arts Council’s next investment portfolio, by increasing investment outside London, it will help to generate culture and creative opportunities for more people in places that have been underserved for too long. In doing so, it will help to redress an historic imbalance in arts funding. I firmly believe that that work, alongside the investments and other programmes that I outlined, can ensure that our world-class arts and culture can continue to thrive into the future.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and the Minister for summing up. I endorse the comments of many noble Lords who welcomed his return to the Front Bench with this portfolio. The richness and breadth of the contributions from the 20 or so speakers are a symbol of the richness and breadth of the creative industries and the arts and culture sector. I have certainly learned a great deal and been challenged to think in a new way about many things.

I mentioned that there had been 20-odd speakers, but my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, probably represent the experience of about six people between them, whether as performers, producers or academics.

The Minister picked me up on implying or suggesting that levelling up was in conflict with maintaining our world-leading position. I had meant to make it clearer in my opening remarks that, at least in the medium and long term, I think that they are not in conflict—but in what we are seeing in the clumsy and ill-planned implementation, at the very least, in the short term, there is that danger.

I also wanted to make it clear that this is not about us metropolitan Londoners going out, educating and bringing culture to the north or any other part of the country. As has been mentioned, there are wonderful and long-established institutions all over the country. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talked about Sage Gateshead, which is one of the great cultural achievements of the past 25 years, and was very much the initiative of the local community. Indeed, it is two-way traffic; the wonderful Kings Place office building with its two concert halls was the result of a Newcastle property developer, Peter Millican.

I welcome the Minister’s indication that the Secretary of State is pushing—if I understood him correctly—to make the transitional payments available widely to affected organisations and to make them larger and longer, although anything that is transitional rather than ongoing will clearly still be only some small consolation.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster, was I think the first of several noble Lords to mention the absence of the creative industries from the five sectors prioritised in the Autumn Statement. I found that depressing and a bit ominous. This month’s Chancellor was the Secretary of State at the beginning of the coalition Government for what is now DCMS. His ruthless pruning of the departmental budget may have aided his ascent up the slippery pole of his political career, but it did nothing for the sector. That is when so much of the damage was done, whatever modest adjustments there have been to funding more recently.

At the heart of many noble Lords’ concerns is the question of the arm’s-length nature of the Arts Council’s position, and whether it has been dented or breached. I have a different view from my noble friend Lady McIntosh, but I guess I am a bit defeatist, and the reality may be that the arm’s length is not being and will not be maintained, so it is better to acknowledge it by bringing more direct into the department.

I will wind up with one last comment. My noble friend Lord Leong, my newest colleague, said that he sometimes wondered whether he had found himself in Hogwarts. This is my 40th or 41st year in the House, and the only difference is that I know that it is Hogwarts.

Motion agreed.

Independent Cultural Review of the London Fire Brigade

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Independent Cultural Review of the London Fire Brigade, published on 26 November.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who are here to contribute and to listen. I am also grateful to the Minister for taking the trouble to have a word about some of these very serious issues yesterday, and especially to my noble friend Lady Thornton, with her long knowledge of the London Fire Brigade and expertise in equality issues. It is also very good to see the former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, in his place opposite. Further, I am very grateful to the London Fire Commissioner and to the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union for taking considerable trouble to engage with me in recent days. This is in sharp contrast to my experience of raising issues around, for example, the Metropolitan Police under its previous leadership.

The LFB and the FBU are to be respected for not doubling down—neither resorting to complacent comments about a few bad apples and so on, nor suggesting that to seek to reform the culture in a brave and essential uniformed service is in any way to undermine it. Quite the contrary, they have both persuaded me that they do not support the so-called “hero” mythology—and that is in a heroic service where members literally run towards burning buildings.

I congratulate Nazir Afzal on a painstaking report that makes painful and even devastating reading. I am sure that all firefighters in London, or certainly the overwhelming majority of them, are decent human beings. As noble Lords will remember, the report was commissioned after a young black firefighter and FBU member, Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit, took his own life in August 2020. That is really not very long ago for the family, and I want to acknowledge that. His family had substantial concerns that he had been subject to racialised bullying.

As I am not an expert on the Fire Brigade, and there are experts in the Chamber, I shall focus on the words of others, and start with the report itself. Mr Afzal said that his review

“found evidence that supports a finding that LFB is institutionally misogynist and racist. We found dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women and the barriers faced by people of colour spoke for themselves. Not only were they more likely to be subject to disciplinary action, less likely to be promoted and largely unrepresented at senior levels, but they were also frequently the target of racist abuse.”

He also found examples of how this was driving some people of colour out of the brigade. There was, he said,

“evidence that talented people, committed to public service were being lost as a result.”

He was encouraged to see an increase in diversity at board level, but felt that

“there needs to be more urgency in rooting out deeply prejudiced staff and inappropriate behaviour and attitudes because they undermine the hard work of the many decent, public spirited people in the Brigade.”

He also found that

“LGBTQ+ staff and people who are neurologically diverse are treated unfavourably compared to others.”

That said, he emphasised that he wanted to make an “important distinction”—his words, not mine—with similar problems experienced by the Metropolitan Police, where there have been

“flagrant examples of police officers misusing power and allowing prejudice to shape their actions”.

Mr Afzal’s team did not find the same level of “operational bigotry”. I think that what he means by that is that, for the most part, he found the very bad and the worst behaviour to be directed towards comrades and colleagues within the fire service, rather than towards the public. That is not comforting, but it is a distinction. But this is not a service that is arresting people and stopping and searching them; it is rescuing people—but apparently not rescuing them on a racialised or sexualised basis.

It is encouraging that, for all the issues that management and unions have in this country at the moment—and have had for some time—my understanding is that the union encouraged its members to participate in Mr Afzal’s investigations, to co-operate with the team and to give testimony, including in an anonymised way. That was no doubt important, because the strength of this report, and one reason why it will be very hard for people to deny its veracity, is that so many people participated in the investigation. Continued partnership between the commissioner and the leadership of the service and the union will be essential; I really urge that partnership on both institutions, and more generally.

The Fire Brigades Union told me that

“senior management alone cannot address the serious concerns set out in the conclusions of the independent review. Many of the cases and incidents reported would already have been known to … senior management and many will have been a result of … failings, either individually or institutionally … The situation is set against a background of abolishing equality targets and national strategy since 2010”.

The union feels that the Government have perhaps focused on taking advice from the National Fire Chiefs Council, but that the advice needs to be more broadly taken, including in partnership with the FBU. I ask the Minister to consider having discussions with the FBU as the Government continue to digest and formulate their response to this very painful report.

I also want to quote the commissioner, Mr Rowe, whose colleagues got in touch with me when they saw this Question for Short Debate on the Order Paper. Much to my surprise, when the commissioner came to meet me and my noble friend Lady Thornton a couple of days ago, it has to be said that he came unescorted and unaccompanied by colleagues, advisers and so on. That was interesting and refreshing. He asked me to share this:

“The independent review of LFB’s culture led by Nazir Afzal is written by the 2,000 members of staff who responded to him. In that, it is both unassailable and undeniable. In hearing our staff so clearly and in such numbers, we must for their sake and the communities they serve accept this report and its recommendations in totality. My commitment to the many thousands of courageous public servants we employ and the people of London we serve, is that we will take that courage so often demonstrated in response and turn inwards to face this problem, seizing it as an opportunity to make real change.”

I return, finally, to Mr Afzal’s report and some final words from him:

“Unless a toxic culture that allows bullying and abuse to be normalised is tackled then I fear that, like Jaden, other firefighters will tragically take their lives. This review has to be a turning point, not just a talking point. Everyone who works for the emergency services should be afforded dignity at work. That is the very least they are owed.”

I am sure that all noble Lords would agree with that.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti on initiating this short debate about this important matter. I have an interest or two to declare. I am Labour’s women and equalities spokesperson and I declare another interest in that my husband, John Carr, was the chair of the GLC staff committee in 1981 and led the successful fight to have women and people of colour admitted into the London Fire Brigade. At the time I was chair of the Labour London Women’s Committee, and I recall that the London Fire Brigade and the Fire Brigades Union resisted the admittance of women as firefighters and, in some fire stations, did not make black and ethnic minority firefighters welcome either. Indeed, one of the first women admitted in the early 1980s, Lynne Gunning, undertook a formal disciplinary complaint about the initiation ceremony she endured at the Soho fire station, with urine thrown over her, indecent exposure and other horrible indignities. As I recall, one of the defences mounted by the FBU at the disciplinary hearing of one firefighter was that staff had not been trained to work with women. So it was with some depression that my husband and I read, 40 years later, the recent report about the culture in the London Fire Brigade.

As my noble friend said, the report was precipitated by the suicide of Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit, who took his own life, tragically, in August 2020. It reflects long-standing issues with poor culture and behaviour in the brigade that were revealed, and that the many attempts to address these issues had not met with success. I wish to place on record my thanks to the commissioner, Andy Roe, who took the time, as my noble friend said, to come to meet us and who impressed me very much with his determination to lead massive change in the London fire brigade with regard to racism, misogyny and homophobia. I congratulate him, as well as Sadiq Khan, the mayor, and our new colleague, my noble friend Lady Twycross—Fiona Twycross, deputy mayor for fire and resilience at the GLA—on commissioning this thorough report, chaired by the excellent and independent Nazir Afzal, and for accepting its findings in full. I also congratulate the Fire Brigades Union on its welcome of the report and its encouragement of the participation that has made it such an important report.

It is important to note that this review is a thorough examination of the culture at the London Fire Brigade. There is no hiding place, therefore. I also note what Nazir Afzal said on Twitter when the report was released:

“Before you rush to judge #LFB please ask your organisation to look in the mirror.”

I reflect on our workplace, this Parliament, as justifying that comment. Afzal goes so far as to recommend national inquiries into other large public institutions, such as the NHS and the military. In response, the Secretary of State for Transport told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that he did not want lots of organisations

“setting up inquiries all over the place.”

I ask the Minister: is this an accurate summary of the Government’s position on wider investigations?

A brief search will reveal, for example, the case of a black fire commander in the West Midlands called Warren Simpson, who was called Frank for seven years by his colleagues, after Frank Bruno; in other words, demeaning and belittling and denying someone their name. He eventually sued for race discrimination for being passed over for promotion year after year. In 2015, the Fire Brigades Union took a motion at its conference from women firefighters which said:

“Conference is disgusted at the treatment some of our women members in the UK Fire and Rescue Services have experienced and continue to experience. Since the coalition Government came to power and abolished equality targets, we have seen an increase in discrimination and unwanted behaviour towards our women members. Our women members have been forced to raise grievances or pursue complaints over pregnancy discrimination, bullying and harassment, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination.”

I have to say, as an aside, that some of us told the coalition Government at the time that abolishing quality targets would lead to discrimination, and the women’s organisation in the Fire Brigades Union was absolutely correct.

However, the issue I wish to highlight, which is a challenge to all our uniformed services, is that in recent times we have seen reports of sex discrimination, misogyny, racism, racial discrimination and homophobia in our uniformed services in the UK—the Army, the Navy, the police and the fire brigade. All these are services we depend on to keep us safe and to be there to defend and protect us. All the people who work in them are prepared to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others and our society, and we are grateful and applaud their bravery and steadfastness every day and all the time. But, as this report points out, as well as the comradeship, interdependence and trust that are required for these necessarily hierarchical uniformed services to do their job, whether on their watch, in their unit or in their regiment, these wonderful and vital qualities also seem to produce, sometimes, a misplaced loyalty which covers up and does not challenge bad and sometimes illegal behaviours. This is not only counterproductive and undermining of their service and reputation but, as we have seen in recent times, it causes huge personal anguish. Surely this is the challenge which all of them face and the reason why Andy Roe’s leadership in embracing this report, which he admits was dreadfully painful to read, is so important and wide reaching. It is a start.

The reaction of the London Fire Brigade to this report—a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, introducing new external complaints and investigation services, reviewing its HR processes, and making it easier and quicker for staff to access help—are all very important, but it will not be marking its own homework; it will be creating an independent audit committee to measure its progress. I think that is vital, but it is just a beginning. It is an important beginning, not just for the London Fire Brigade and for fire brigades across the UK, but for all our uniformed services.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for securing this timely debate. It is important that this House considers the implications of this shocking review. I declare that I was not only the Fire Minister until July but the first London Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime. We have had two reviews—the Casey Review and Nazir Afzal’s review—that really give us pause for thought about what we need to do and what action needs to be taken so that the sort of racism and misogyny, to be frank, that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, campaigned against is a thing of the past.

As someone now well into middle age, I was struck by the phrase in Nazir Afzal’s report that 20th-century banter can lead to the vile abuse, racism and misogyny that can lead to loss of life. I grew up in the 1980s and was at university in the 1990s. I think we all experienced that culture of the mob when growing up—there was quite disgraceful behaviour, and you had to choose. The best I can say about myself is that I chose not to participate and stayed silent. I was not brave enough to intervene, but perhaps I was a child. We must recognise that that sort of 20th-century banter has no place in the 21st century.

I was also struck by the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about the need for this to be not a talking point but a turning point. That is why I feel I need to reflect on why this happened and what we need to do about it in the time I have available.

As to why, both the police and the fire and rescue service are essential front-line public services that we need at times. The police keep us safe and the fire and rescue service rescues us; we rely on them in dire times. They go forward and face danger, and of course we love them for doing that, but they also promote from within their organisations. That means that every leader, whether of the union, right to the top of the national executive, or the leadership of the London Fire Brigade, passes through the ranks. It is a “promote from within” organisation.

I support the comments that we must commend the leadership of Andy Roe. He had the courage, with the support of the mayor, to commission this review and has accepted all 23 recommendations, but he has to look at the leadership around him and ask who is fostering that culture that is so unacceptable in the workplace and root them out, starting at the top and working all the way down. That is the only way that we will solve this problem.

I listened very carefully to the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. She talked about how co-operative the London Fire Brigade’s union has been in engaging on this, but I have heard different stories about the national executive of the Fire Brigades Union. I have had conversations with the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross; we need leadership in the union at a national level that is as strong as we see from Andy Roe as the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade. It is one of the world’s largest fire and rescue services, with 6,000 people working there. We have to look at a change in leadership to understand why this happened and what we can do to ensure that it never happens again.

What do we do about it, so that it is no longer a talking point? I spent two years and three months as Fire Minister. I will not say it was an easy—I may be using the wrong word—assignment; in fact, after a 20-year local government career, the two years as a Minister of State across levelling up and the Home Office were probably the hardest and least fulfilling of any element of public service in my political career.

However, we did produce one thing—an idea of the late James Brokenshire, who said to me, “Stephen, that thinking on reforming fire and rescue services needs to be wrapped up in a White Paper”. Nazir Afzal says that this culture spreads well beyond London; it is a national issue that requires a national solution. There is a blueprint for reform. To misquote Sir Robert Walpole, I am certainly no saint, no spartan, but I am a reformer. I ask my noble friend the Minister to think very carefully about how we can move now, based on this review, to deliver this White Paper, which sets out a blueprint for reform around improving the access of people of all types across this great global city to join the service—women, men and women of colour, and all minorities—to reflect the capital they serve. It would increase, drive forward and boost professionalism and strengthen governance.

The governance model in London is right in the sense that it is mayoral oversight, but the resources of the Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience are woefully inadequate, as is the structure elsewhere. Governance to hold people to account must be strengthened at the London level. Democratisation—having an elected leader in the mayor overseeing an important service such as this, with the requisite resources to challenge and support the commissioner to deliver for London—is important. I call on my noble friend to say whether this will happen. Having been in his seat for over two years, I know that it is often down to something called PBL—getting a legislative timeslot—but we need action now to bring about change in our fire and rescue services. We should implement the blueprint now and in full.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for promoting this debate on this important issue, which I very much welcome. As someone who lives in London, I start by paying tribute to the men and women of the London Fire Brigade, to whom we all owe such an immense debt. I am also appalled by this report. I do not need to speak extensively on this issue: it speaks for itself and previous speakers have made the points.

I congratulate the commissioner on his approach to this issue, which is to be welcomed in a public servant. I have to declare a sort of interest as a past member of the Greater London Council in the early 1980s, when the first serious attempt was made to confront these issues in the London fire service. I always regarded the changes we brought about—or at least initiated—at that time as one of our successes. I very much endorse what my noble friend Lady Thornton said about the role of John Carr. It was a group effort but he very much led the changes that we made at that time. There are, however, two important lessons to be learned from that. First, obviously, we did not do enough. The problems have continued and still need to be addressed. Secondly, dealing with these issues is not a one-off: it is not something where you make some changes, set down some objectives, say “All will be well” and that is it—the issue is dealt with. It is an issue that must be the unrelenting and unceasing focus until that golden day when all society changes. It must always be a priority at all levels of management. If you read the report, you can pick out where the key failures have been and where they need to be addressed. It is a report very much to be welcomed.

It has to be said that having this report in itself represents some form of progress. Clearly, there is more to it than just the prejudice that persists throughout society as a whole. I am pleased that, as already mentioned, the report goes out of its way to distinguish the situation in the fire service from that described in the recent report about the culture in the Metropolitan Police Service. Nevertheless, there are sufficient similarities, along with reports about what has happened in the Armed Forces, to suggest that there is a particular dynamic at play in the disciplined services. This obviously involves initiation ceremonies and the like, but there seems to be more to it than that. There is a common link in what the report refers to as the “tight knit team spirit”. Done right, it is an essential element of the service, but too often it has clearly become toxic.

I shall not attempt a full analysis of this today, but my first question to the Minister is: do the Government see any general pattern—any wider pattern—here and, if so, what are they going to do about it? What responsibility do the Government have to address those issues and pay them more attention?

Secondly, the two recent reports relate to London, but do the Government see the need to take the initiative in encouraging or facilitating similar work across the country as a whole? Obviously, this will be part of the ongoing work of the relevant inspectorates, but is there a need to take a more proactive approach?

Turning specifically to consideration of what work needs to be done in the light of the report on the London Fire Brigade, I pay tribute to the response of the FBU. This has been clear. It regards the reported incidents of racism and misogyny as extremely alarming. It believes that there is no place for such behaviour or attitudes in the fire and rescue service or its trade union. It has also said that it will review the effectiveness of its own rules and policies in the light of issues raised in the report, as well the issues it has itself identified through its members. This is to be welcomed, as any solution requires the involvement of all parties, not least the Government. Can the Minister tell the House what plans they have to support the work needed arising from this report?

A section of the report perhaps most relevant here is that on the level of morale within our fire service. Obviously, low morale provides no excuse for what has happened—absolutely not—but it makes it more difficult to achieve a solution to make the necessary changes. The national Government have significant power over the fire service, so it is reasonable to ask them to tell us what they will do to improve the morale of the fire service in London and, by extension, across the country as a whole.

Finally, I would like a response from the Minister on what specific action the Government might consider is needed around the effect that the report will have on recruitment into the service. Anybody hearing about this report or reading it could well think that this is not the job for them. That is an important issue which the Government could have an important role in addressing.

My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for initiating this debate on a very important subject.

It has taken the tragic death of Jaden Francois-Esprit for the leadership of the London fire service to finally realise that there was something dark and very wrong with the behaviour of some firefighters. I pay tribute to Jaden’s family, who, in their grief, pursued a request for an investigation into the bullying culture that they felt Jaden had experienced. I too commend the work of the team led by Nazir Afzal for its meticulous and well-evidenced report.

I think I am the only non-Londoner speaking today, so we will see if the rest of my remarks fall on good ground or not. Before I turn to the findings of the report, I want to be absolutely clear that I have complete admiration for the difficult and dangerous tasks that firefighters undertake on behalf of Londoners—in fact, it happens across the country, but this is a London Fire Brigade report. As the report states,

“there were many examples of exemplary culture within LFB. Where it works well, there is a powerful sense of belonging and purpose.”

However, it uncovered evidence of a culture in some parts of the service that failed to uphold basic human rights and to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Throughout the debate this afternoon, we have heard from across the House of the horrific acts of racism, misogyny, homophobia and discrimination on the grounds of faith and sexuality. The evidence shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, from 40 years ago—that is scary, is it not?—demonstrates that this issue is not new; despite the best efforts of previous governance arrangements, some changes were made but not enough. She rightly said that this is a lesson to us all, in any big organisation.

Such behaviours as we read about in this report are utterly degrading for the recipient and deprive the individual of basic human dignity. They lead to a lack of self-worth, which, as the report concludes, leads to men and women resigning from the LFB and, tragically, for some, the decision that life is not worth living.

The culture of any organisation lays the foundation for its success. As the report states:

“When you have an optimum culture then … Staff are motivated, teams are high performing and people want to join you.”

This excellent report has 23 recommendations. As we have heard, the Fire Service Commissioner has made clear his intention to implement all of them. I congratulate the commissioner on being so bold in that commitment, because it will not be straightforward. I look forward to the reports that will follow to demonstrate progress made.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, I looked at some elements that could have been included but were not. Why did this happen? What about the governance? Why was a toxic culture allowed to develop in some parts—I emphasise “some parts”—of the LFB? It was evident that managers were aware of behaviours that were plainly not acceptable from earlier reports on the same issue, but nothing seemed to happen. Some changes were made but nothing fundamental. Why were the normal routes for those being bullied and belittled not effective? Where were the whistleblowing and complaints systems? Why were horrendous behaviours not rooted out? Putting a noose on somebody’s locker—why was that not called out? Why did senior managers not feel empowered to deal with it? Was it just too difficult? As the report exposes, if allowed to go unchallenged, toxic behaviour is contagious in a very destructive way.

I turn now to the governance, and will perhaps come to some different conclusions from those of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh. The Fire Service Commissioner is a corporation sole—in other words, he is it—with oversight from the Mayor of London and a deputy mayor, and an assembly scrutiny committee. I find it difficult to understand how a very large organisation such as the LFB can rely on a single person for its management. Private sector companies are always governed by a board of appointed individuals—non-executive directors—alongside the executive directors. They must take personal responsibility for the effectiveness of the company. Obviously such a board provides a forum for questioning and challenging decisions and proposals being made by the executive. Clearly, none of that can happen very easily in the LFB. Where is the external, independent, detailed examination of plans made in the LFB prior to decisions being made?

A more inclusive and collaborative governance model that enabled pre-decision questioning may go some way towards creating a forum where the culture of the organisation can be thoroughly dissected and then improved. Can the Minister respond to that? Do we have to continue with this sole person model?

This has been a useful debate that has given us a forum to raise important issues. A future report, demonstrating the progress being made to root out those who revel in humiliating others, and to create an open, welcoming and supportive organisation, will be a worthy legacy for Jaden and all those whose lives have been harmed by the rotten culture detailed in this excellent report.

My Lords, I open by reflecting on the huge breadth of experience demonstrated in this short debate. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Davies about his days in the GLC. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Thornton, whose husband John Carr was in the GLC as well, about her own experience of these matters. I recall that my father was an alderman of the GLC at about this time; he would have been aware of these issues as well. A huge depth of experience has been exhibited here. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti on initiating this debate and on the tone in which she presented both the case and the questions for the Minister to answer today.

Some 2,000 firefighters in London have told their story through this report. That is in large part down to Linda Francois, the mother of Jaden. She campaigned for this report. As we have heard, Andy Roe, the commissioner, has said that he will take immediate action as a result of the report. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I hope Linda Francois takes some comfort in the fact that she has played a leading role in the production of this watershed report.

I acknowledge that the London Fire Brigade is primarily the responsibility of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and our new colleague, my noble friend Lady Twycross, who is the current Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience at the GLA. I also acknowledge and fully endorse the findings of the report, as they have been endorsed by Andy Roe, and congratulate Nazir Afzal on chairing the report.

However, the report’s findings should not be news to anyone. The Government have been put on notice time and again about cultural failings in our fire services. In 2015 an independent review in Essex found dangerous and pervasive bullying. In 2018 the inspectorate found failings in culture, values and the grievance process. In 2019 the inspectorate warned of an unchecked toxic culture in many services. In 2021 it found that genuine change was urgently needed.

Elements of this are similar to the recent reports on the Metropolitan Police. I acknowledge that Mr Afzal noted particular differences but, nevertheless, it is unlikely that the conduct identified is isolated to the London Fire Brigade. Does the Minister agree that it is for the Home Office to take responsibility for the conduct failures of fire brigades across the country—the London Fire Brigade as well as other fire services—not to sit back and leave matters to individual forces? What urgent work is the Home Office doing to identify whether similar poor standards of conduct exist in other fire services across the country? My noble friend Lord Davies also asked this.

Are the Government satisfied that the whistleblowing procedures are sufficiently robust and that firefighters and civilian staff feel empowered to report abusive behaviour? That was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, when she questioned the existing procedures. Further, will the Minister commission a fundamental review of national standards and culture in our fire services? Will he agree to publish national statistics on misconduct? Will he commit to national professional standards?

The noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, suggested that the Government and the Home Office consult the Fire Brigades Union—a constructive suggestion, I thought. He also pointed out—it was news to me—the differences in approach between the national Fire Brigades Union and the London Fire Brigades Union. I wonder whether that could also be fed into the consultation process.

There were 11,000 fires across London last year. Every day, firefighters run towards danger and keep us safe. We are all grateful for that, of course. While we expect the best from all firefighters in London, we must stamp out this culture of misogyny and racism. I believe that, ultimately, it is for the Government to act.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for securing this timely debate. London Fire Brigade’s culture review, conducted by Nazir Afzal, makes for incredibly uncomfortable reading, as many noble Lords have noted. In places, it is positively shocking.

At the outset, I express my gratitude to those who shared their testimonies. They have shown immense courage, and without their input we would not be here today discussing these vital issues. I note, as many noble Lords already have, that it was the London Fire Commissioner himself who decided to commission this report into the culture in his own service. Of course, the trigger for the review was the tragic suicide of Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit, a trainee firefighter, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I am glad to see that the London Fire Commissioner has already accepted all 23 recommendations made by Mr Afzal. I join other noble Lords in commending the London Fire Commissioner’s approach and its immediacy.

As noble Lords are aware, the review contains some terrible examples of racist and misogynist behaviour. It is utterly appalling for these reprehensible incidents to be happening anywhere, not least within an organisation that we look to for support in times of need. I am sad to say that these were not wholly unexpected findings. The culture review adds to an already compelling case for reform. The review, along with the Grenfell Tower and Manchester Arena inquiries and findings from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, shows that there are systemic issues at play—issues that can be addressed only through wide-ranging reform. We have already seen progress through the work of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the Fire Standards Board and the National Fire Chiefs Council.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked what the Government are doing in response, and I will outline this now. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services—or HMICFRS—shines a light on performance, helping identify what works and where improvement is needed. This includes considering how services promote their values and culture and ensure fairness and diversity. We expect its inspection findings to be taken seriously and action to be taken to improve performance. If sufficient progress is not being made in a service, HMICFRS’s new monitoring regime will provide a sharp focus on improvement. HMICFRS inspections and annual reports have highlighted issues with culture, and unfortunately it is clear that these are not confined to London Fire Brigade. HMICFRS’s recommendation that a code of ethics be developed for fire and rescue services was met with support from the Government and has been rapidly enacted.

I also highlight the independently chaired Fire Standards Board, created to boost professional standards in services. The Government have funded this work, enabling the publication of 12 standards, including standards on safeguarding and ethics. The Fire Standards Board will also shortly publish standards on leadership. Fire and rescue services must have regard to fire standards and should take action to embed these expectations.

We have also funded significant work through the National Fire Chiefs Council to drive improvements in ethics, talent management and inclusion. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, spoke about morale and recruitment. The work that the Government fund in the NFCC provides significant tools to fire and rescue services in supporting well-being, morale and recruitment. We are fully aware of the need to support the majority of firefighters.

We need to build on this good work. What we want, and what the public expect, are effective, modern services with a welcoming, respectful culture that enables all who work in them to thrive. That is why the Government, and my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, published the fire reform White Paper in May. We remain firmly focused on delivering the change that is needed and have brought forward far-reaching plans for fire reform, which I will speak to shortly.

I turn to some of the specific points raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, raised the role of the Fire Brigades Union. As the largest union representing firefighters, the FBU has a role to play in creating fundamental change, alongside the other fire unions. The Government have ongoing engagement with all representative bodies.

I also take note of the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, but the existing work of HMICFRS, at a national level, means that a further national review would be duplicative. As I mentioned earlier, HMICFRS helps to identify what works and where improvement is needed. These reports are vital tools and we have no doubt that the leaders of services identified as requiring improvement or inadequate will take these findings very seriously and take urgent action to improve performance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, spoke about governance in the London Fire Brigade. I highlight the fire, resilience and emergency planning committee, which has been set up to scrutinise how the London Fire Commissioner is exercising his functions. There is considerable value in a single point of accountability.

Finally, I turn to the future. We are committed to meaningful reform and change across the services. Inquiry findings and independent inspection show that further improvements are needed. Alongside action from services, the Government have an important part to play. The fire reform White Paper, published in May, set out reform proposals on three themes—people, professionalism and governance. Of particular relevance are proposals for measures such as placing a code of ethics on a statutory basis, introducing a mandatory oath, further developing direct entry schemes, and introducing mandatory training for leaders within the services.

I will not prejudge the consultation findings as we are carefully considering all the responses. However, our White Paper clearly demonstrates our ambitions to address cultural issues in fire and rescue services. It will also address the important points on governance raised by my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. We will publish the Government’s response to the consultation in due course.

In closing, I reiterate my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for securing this debate, and to all those who have spoken today. London Fire Brigade’s culture review highlighted some truly terrible incidents of racism and misogyny. It is absolutely right that this House has devoted time to this issue. I pay tribute once more to those who have told their stories and enabled a light to be shone on these matters. This must be a watershed moment: action is needed and we are committed to pursuing a major programme of fire reform.

There are, of course, a great many people across the fire and rescue sector who, as many noble Lords noted, perform their duties with courage, skill and professionalism. Both they and the public deserve a service of which we can all be proud. Achieving that is a key focus for the Government.

Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, published on 23 May, and the case for integrated care and support across all services.

My Lords, we find ourselves at a time described by the report of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care as

“a once in a generation opportunity to reset”

the delivery of children’s social care. With the first half of this year witnessing the publication of three major reports on the subject, that statement does not sound like hyperbole.

In March, the Competition and Markets Authority issued the findings of its market study, which declared that action was needed on what was described as the

“dysfunctional children’s social care market.”

Last year, the Government asked Annie Hudson, chair of the national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, to conduct a national review into the shocking deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson. Her recommendations were published in May, calling, inter alia, for the Government to ensure that systems, processes, leadership, culture, and wider services were enablers for our safeguarding professionals, and not barriers placed in front of them.

May also saw the publication of the independent review, led by Josh MacAlister. It involved a fundamental examination of the needs, experiences and outcomes of the children whom the system should support and, to quote again from the report:

“What we have currently is a system increasingly skewed to crisis intervention, with outcomes for children that continue to be unacceptably poor and costs that continue to rise.”

The review delivered an ambitious report which is forensic in its detail, containing more than 70 recommendations, many based on the evidence that emerged from the involvement of care-experienced young people. That in itself makes the report stand out, because care-experienced young people should have their voices heard in decisions made about them.

I welcome the thrust of the report and almost all its recommendations. To accentuate the role of families, there is a proposal for a “family network plan”, where a local authority can fund and support extended family members to care for a child. The report focuses on enhancing local integrated help for families, with social workers at the core of providing this help.

There is a clear distancing from the commercialisation and excessive profit-making from the care of children, including a call for a windfall tax on organisations doing so. The CMA report to which I referred also highlighted the high prices often paid by local authorities when placing children, and found that the cause of this was to some extent the fragmented system by which services are commissioned. It also pointed to the role, and financial fragility, of private providers of children’s homes, particularly those financed through private equity. I was pleased to hear the Minister say in your Lordships’ House on 7 November:

“I have to say it sticks in my throat to have private equity investors who are responsible for considerable distortions in the children’s home market”.—[Official Report, 7/11/22; col. 449.]

I have to say it sticks in my throat that there is such a thing as a children’s homes market, but I suppose that is a debate for another day.

There are more children needing help from children’s social care than ever before and the numbers continue to rise. Figures published by the DfE show that in 2022 in England there are more than 404,000 children in need, more than 50,000 on child protection plans, and a total of 82,170 children looked after by their local authority. All those statistics show an increase on 2021. In 2022, 38% of care leavers aged 19 to 21 were not in education, employment or training, compared to around 11% of all young people in that age group.

The Government should implement an integrated, top-to-bottom reform programme, to improve the system at every level for vulnerable children and families. As outlined in the report, there needs to be a radical reform of family help, to ensure that the system is able to reach more families before they reach crisis point. It recommends a major investment to support local authorities to transform family help. I welcome that, together with the further recommendation that the Government should ring-fence funding to ensure that the rebalanced investment is sustained.

Appropriate recognition is given in the review that

“The greatest strength of the children’s social care system lies in its workforce.”

Children’s services social care is able to function due only to the long hours that social workers and their managers work, but this was under intolerable strain even before the pandemic. Almost 5,000 full-time equivalent children’s social workers left their roles in the year to September 2021. Levels of pay, working conditions, negative and hostile media coverage and poor public understanding of social work are critical issues. In some parts of the country, the level of abuse and threats directed toward social workers has been appalling, and this can only undermine the work needed to keep children safe and to support families. The Government have a central role in raising awareness and must consider how to improve public understanding of social work.

There is some concern about the proposed restructure of commissioning and the move to regional care co-operatives. This could be a costly—

I thank the noble Lord for giving way briefly. He mentioned the central role of social workers, and an important part of the report deals with training recommendations for social workers. Does he agree that it is also important that all those involved in social care provision be given training in trauma-informed practice? That would be of value when dealing with young people. In Northern Ireland, we are seven years in to the children’s services co-operation Act. There has been good co-operation at departmental levels, but that has not always permeated down to practitioners. It is important that any implementation of integrated services deal with not simply the strategic level but the grass-roots level, which deals with individual cases.

Absolutely. There is no substitute for formalised training, or on-the-job experience of situations in which children in need find themselves and how they got there.

I was talking about the proposed restructuring of commissioning and the move to regional care co-operatives. This could be a costly reorganisation that moves decision-making further away from children and young people and the people who know them best, without tackling the supply problems or the excessive levels of profit made by the largest private providers. Such disruption would cause harm to those currently needing in-care and leaving-care services, and there is no evidence of benefit. There seems to be a lack of appreciation that foster care, residential care and kinship care are all different and need different ways of facilitating their provision. This recommendation lumps them all together because they are seen in terms of commissioning and not rights-based quality services.

Professionals must have the key role in supporting and protecting children and young people, and the professional development of social workers as part of the new family help teams is central to this, but there are many grass-root charities, for example, those that form the Centre for Social Justice Alliance, which are well-equipped to assist in providing the services children in their community need.

As noble Lords will know from the many briefings received for this debate, there is widespread opposition, cross-party as well as professional, to the review’s proposal to end the independent review service. This would mean abolishing the independent review officer role, independent child protection chairs and the Regulation 44 independent person. A robust reviewing and regulatory system does not undermine good care; it supports it. Removing independent reviewing officers from all children in care is dangerous. It goes against the evidence base and against the wishes of children and young people. IROs are experienced social workers who scrutinise local authorities’ care and decision-making in respect of individual children and their families.

The National Youth Advocacy Service is concerned that ending Regulation 44 visits could risk the safety of children and young people living in residential care homes. The review proposes that strengthened advocacy in residential children’s homes could replace Regulation 44 visits. However, the two roles are significantly different, as advocates provide voices for children and young people, while Regulation 44 visitors must take a more holistic view of a home’s practices. I recall similar proposals being contained in the Children and Social Work Bill 2016. Labour and others in both Houses fought it off then, and it should be fought off again. Local authorities need to be held to account, but independent review officers do that effectively. This is a bad idea, and it should not be endorsed by the Government.

On the other hand, one issue that the review unfortunately does not confront should be acted on by government. Any society should be judged by how it looks after its most vulnerable children who are in the care of the state. Latest official statistics on looked-after children, released last month, show that 37% of children aged 16 and 17 are living in unregulated accommodation where they do not receive any day-to-day care from staff. That is nearly 7,500 children. The figures show a 5% increase since last year, when Ministers ignored the arguments of noble Lords and prohibited the use of unregulated, non-care settings for children aged 15 and under but left those aged 16 and 17 unprotected.

Does the Minister believe that the best we can do for 16 and 17 year-olds who are in the care of the state is to put them in a bedsit on their own or pay for them to live in a property alongside adult strangers? How many of us here today would be content for our children and grandchildren to live in such accommodation as they complete their final years of compulsory education and training? These are children who have experienced tremendous loss and trauma, yet somehow the DfE has convinced itself that, unlike teenagers across the country being cared for by parents in the family home, they have no need for care where they live. It really is a scandal, and it should not be tolerated any longer.

It is a highlight of the report that it has made far-reaching recommendations on kinship care. The charity Kinship has found that 70% of kinship carers are not receiving the support they need to meet the needs of their children. I particularly welcome the recommendation in the report for a legal definition of kinship care. The review contains landmark recommendations for kinship care and recognises the need to improve support for families, particularly by introducing a financial allowance, kinship care leave and improved access to peer support and to training for kinship carers.

That said, the review could have made a stronger case for children in kinship care to be eligible for additional support like that provided to looked-after children, such as pupil premium plus, given their similar needs. It is to be hoped that that might be taken up by the Government in their response. That is one of the points highlighted by the charity Kinship in its Value Our Love campaign, of which noble Lords will be aware.

I note that, in its response to the report, the British Association of Social Workers welcomes the recognition that foster care can make a transformational difference to the lives of children and young people. However, the review uses the term “broken” to describe the current system, which the BASW points out is not helpful at all. Foster care is a very complex undertaking, and the current crisis of retention in foster care is not likely to be helped by that sort of language. To some extent, the same applies to foster carers and adoptive parents—not regarding the language, but the support given—both before and after they have taken on their role, to make sure they can do it most effectively.

The title of today’s debate also refers to the need for integrated care and support across all services. The report does not have a great deal to say about integrating services for children, although it helpfully suggests that the Secretary of State for Education should be responsible for holding other government departments to account and should report annually to Parliament on progress. I certainly agree with that.

I was told by an Association of Directors of Children’s Services officer recently that they deal with nine government departments, including Ofsted. There really needs to be more effective Whitehall integration in the delivery of children’s services, and indeed locally. Local authorities, adoption and fostering agencies, social workers, schools, GPs, the wider NHS and the police should all pool resources and pull together to ensure that there is as little duplication as possible and the chances of children falling through the cracks are minimised.

The new Children’s Minister, Claire Coutinho MP, said last month:

“We have also been working closely with other departments across government to rapidly agree on an ambitious and detailed implementation strategy”—

that is, for this report—

“that will respond fully to all three reviews. Ministers from across government are engaged on emerging policies and will agree on the final implementation strategy in due course.”

That is good to hear because, quite simply, the network of support for vulnerable children should be cast as wide as possible.

Before drawing to a conclusion, I want to thank the many organisations that have sent me and other noble Lords their priorities for today’s debate. Having no staff, noble Lords depend on such briefings. They do not only emanate from what might be termed mainstream charities. For example, the review is also of concern to Hope instead of Handcuffs, which campaigns for young people living in or on the edge of care to have the right not to be restrained when being transferred between settings; and to Pause, which works with women who have experienced, or are at risk in future of experiencing, children being removed from their care. A vast array of organisations exists to support vulnerable children and young people, and we are indebted to all of them.

The first step by the Government must be to accept that the £2.6 billion referred to by the MacAlister review is a necessity. That may not be enough but, without secure and stable funding guaranteed to all local authorities, any moves to fund one part of the system will be stolen from other parts—and nowhere is funding currently adequate.

The Government established a national implementation board in July without first announcing what they intend to implement. The Children’s Minister in another place stated recently that she had chaired a meeting of the board last month. What was discussed? Will the board set out plans for public consultation through Green and White Papers? Can the Minister provide approximate timings for when their proposals for children’s social care will be put out to public consultation? Children’s organisations briefing noble Lords for this debate have mentioned the end of January. It is not really acceptable that they are better informed than parliamentarians. Have the review’s recommendations been discussed within Cabinet, and were they considered during preparation of the Autumn Statement? It seems not, as there was no ring-fenced funding for children’s social care in the Statement.

The review concluded that

“a radical reset is now unavoidable”.

Indeed. That reset of the system needs to enable it to act decisively in response to abuse, provide more help to families in crisis and ensure that those in care have lifelong loving relationships and homes. It is vital that reforms to the care system create greater stability for children in care, so that they can grow up in steady environments and maintain the connections that matter to them. The Government have a major responsibility now to make that happen.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for introducing and championing this important review, the design group for which I was a member of. I welcome the review’s stress on preventing, where possible, children coming into care in the first place and the care system acting as a conveyor belt into crime and other highly detrimental outcomes. Rightly, it prioritises children having the relationships they need to thrive during care and once they leave it. It is love and relationships which make life worth while.

Currently, relationships with members of birth families and the wider community are an undertapped resource. Sibling and other family relationships are still, too often, treated as disposable, despite tried and tested models such as Lifelong Links. This programme aims to ensure that children and young people in care have a positive support network around them to help them while in care and when they leave. An independent co-ordinator works with a child in care to find out who is important to them and who they would like to be in touch with, then searches for these people in a variety of ways. A family group conference brings them together to make a plan with and for the child, which the local authority supports, so these relationships continue to grow.

DfE’s innovation fund trialled Lifelong Links in 17 local authorities. Over 2,000 young people from 31 councils across the UK have benefited from it already, so this is not a new programme to the Government. Various effectiveness studies, including Oxford University’s evaluation of that DfE trial, found overall positive impacts on the lives of children in care: greater placement stability, an increased sense of belonging and, on average, a more than tripling of the number of their social connections. Perhaps most importantly, Lifelong Links changes the culture and practice of those authorities which use it, so that relationships are not broken in the first place.

It is a decade or more since Family Finding came to the UK, but this proven model is still not standard practice. The independent review calls for it to be part of the national children’s social care framework, and says:

“Because of the evidence around these and other family finding programmes, there should be no delay in local authorities developing these, and all local authorities should have skilled family finding support equivalent to, or exceeding, the work of Lifelong Links in place by 2024 at the very latest.”

I completely endorse this and would go further. Lifelong Links should be available to every young person in care and, as I said in my 2017 review for the Ministry of Justice, to care-experienced young people in a young offender institution or prison.

Healthy relationships are, statistically, the most protective factor against reoffending. Lifelong Links could make the difference between the revolving door of crime for care-experienced young people and custody being the turning point. That, after all, is central to the purpose of prison. Yet why has it taken another major review to state the case for Lifelong Links, when the evidence has already been so assiduously amassed? I ask the Minister: first, what is the department specifically doing to promote its own evidence? Secondly, more generally, how can the Government ensure successful programmes are scaled up and made available as standard in a timely manner?

There seems to be an intolerably long journey from innovation to evaluation to implementation, even when the Government get involved, as they did with Lifelong Links. The journey will often be so long that thousands of children never benefit from transformational innovation during their time in social care. The country is in desperate need, so we must shorten the dispiriting process where organisations do all they can to get evidence of effectiveness, which then appears to be ignored.

The second area I will touch on is the revolution in family help which the review indicates would need roughly £2 billion to build. Putting prevention at the heart of social care in this way would continue the revolution that the Children Act 1989 was intended to bring about, through its emphasis on prevention, keeping children with their families wherever possible and ensuring help is available for deeply struggling parents.

The troubled—now strengthening—families programme started a decade ago and brought another vital wave of change, the success of which must be integrated in children’s social care reform. How will the Minister ensure that this happens? As a director and controlling shareholder of the Family Hubs Network Ltd, which advocates for family hubs and advises local authorities on how to establish them, I welcome the review’s recognition of their role as a delivery site for family help.

Returning to the Children Act 1989, paragraph 9(1) of Schedule 2 states that local authorities

“shall provide such family centres as they consider appropriate in relation to children within their area.”

Forty years earlier Michael Young, one of the architects of the welfare state, called for child welfare centres to fulfil Beveridge’s principle of the preservation of parental responsibility and deal with the emotional cost to children of high post-war levels of family breakdown. Family hubs are unfinished business from the founding of the welfare state. The Government’s early investment in them lays an essential foundation for the implementation of this review. They build on Sure Start children’s centres, but crucially they help whole families with older children. That, respectfully, is where they are an improvement on what went before.

However, I agree there is a funding scale disparity between the two projects. Sure Start investment ran into billions. Family hubs, so far, are attracting around £130 million from central government. The revolution in family help outlined in the review will need a reversal in the lack of investment noted in The Case for Change. The review states:

“Spending on help has reduced significantly in recent years, and the system has become overwhelmingly focused on crisis management and more costly late stage intervention.”

While I wholly support delivering family help from family hubs, local and central government must protect the value and principle of access to all. If hubs are seen as spaces for problem families, going to them will be stigmatised. The review highlights the need for a front door any family can walk through without necessarily being referred, where they will find the appropriate level of help. Some of these voluntary walk-ins might lead to the intensive, preventative help a family would never have received without that universal access point. A mother who can approach a family hub with worries about her son’s possible drug use might get the early help which spares her a visit from the police months later.

I am also looking forward to the Government’s response to this review. In the meantime, can the Minister confirm that the review will be integrated with existing family hubs policy and not skew delivery away from universal access, which its authors would not support?

My Lords, I join others in thanking and congratulating my noble friend Lord Watson for bringing this debate to the House. It is a crucial area and one we should discuss more frequently about a group who so often do not have a voice of their own.

I congratulate Josh MacAlister and his team on the report. It is very thorough and challenging. I would not say I have read every dot and comma; I no doubt do not agree with every dot and comma. However, it really makes us think and gives us some very good pointers on what we should be doing. My biggest fear is that it will lie on the shelves like every other review of social care for children and somebody in five or 10 years will be talking about it again. I want to concentrate on why that is the case.

Very often in debates in this House, we do not agree to begin with; we come with different ideologies, viewpoints, hopes and aspirations. But on this, everybody agrees: these are important people; we owe it to them to get it right; and we are not doing well enough. I think we all agree that things are going wrong because there is a lack of a co-ordinated approach, the early intervention is too little and too late and we do not tackle underperformance quickly enough when we see it. We undervalue and undersupport the workforce and there is a lack of consistency and stability for children. All of that is not surprising because we also all bemoan the progression route and the attainment these young children have.

My noble friend Lord Watson pointed to the gap in the number of 19 and 20 year-olds not in education or employment, but that is not surprising when you see the attainment gap at key stage 2, which is 28% between the two groups and widens by the time they get to the key indicators at key stage 4. So it is not surprising that care leavers make up 24% of the prison population. So there you have it—we all agree that it is important and that something should be done, and we all say what is working well and know that the results are awful.

The challenge now is: why does policy fail in this area in a way that it does not in many others? We would worry if there were any other policy area in the Minister’s department—my former department—where, despite the money that we put in and what we hoped to achieve, it went backwards. It would be a topic of national conversation. If we spent all the money on phonics, literacy and numeracy, and it went backwards, we would do something. But one of the things that came out of this report for me is that we are not standing still but going backwards. If we do not change tack, 30,000 more children will be in care in 10 years’ time. So the problem is that we have a policy in a key area that we all say is important, but it is not working.

Another thing that struck me about the report is that the language is really strong. It talks about a “dramatic whole system reset” being needed, about a “fundamental shift” and about a “complete rebalancing of spending” and a “radically new offer”. My worry is that we are getting a bit more of the same, and I do not think that that is what the report is asking for or recommends. That is the big worry, and it is what we have got wrong in the past.

I spent some time looking through the Government’s response so far in Parliamentary Questions and debates in the House of Commons. I was surprised that they will develop a framework, that they have set up a pathfinder and that they have a national practice group and a new fund. There were four months in between the first and second meetings on their implementation plan—and, blow me down, Ministers are “engaged” and will agree the implementation strategy “in due course”. That is an absolutely standard set of government responses to any report that comes their way: get a small fund, get a committee together, make a few speeches, think about it and hope that, by then, people will have forgotten the urgency of what the report was saying in the first place. That is why we have a choice. My worry is that more of the same will not work, because it never has.

The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, who has a strong and long-lasting interest in this area, talked about pilot programmes that are successful but never get rolled out. That is an absolute mystery, but government does this all the time: we are not good at implementing best practice. I am not sure what the answers are; if I knew the government answers for all this, I probably would have done a bit of it when I was in the department—but that was 20 years ago.

One thing in the report that struck me and made me think was the powerful phrase about putting

“lifelong loving relationships at the heart of the care system”.

As a human being, that makes sense to me, but as a politician I do not think that it would ever have come my way. Government and politics are not good at putting “loving relationships” at the heart of a system—and, in truth, it is not their job. But part of the success of good schools is lifelong loving relationships with the children. If you look at a doctor’s practice or a hospital that works well, you will find that there is a loving relationship—some respect, kindness and understanding. Government cannot mandate that to happen, but it can put things in place to make it more, rather than less, possible. Therefore, the answer to this is in people, not structures—so I have just picked out some of the things that I would pick out if I were in the Minister’s position now.

The people who are most likely to give a lifelong loving relationship are actually the family—the parents, brothers and sisters—if you can make it work for them. That is the value of early intervention. If that does not work, other members of the extended family, which my noble friend will no doubt talk about later, are also good. And if that does not work, and it comes to the state, we have to think really hard about how we can make it possible for social workers to focus on lifelong loving relationships. If we ask them to deal with people only when the child has reached the end of the road, everyone has already let them down, they do not think that anyone cares and nothing has ever worked, we just make it too difficult for social workers to do much good. That is the job we are asking of them, and it is too tough a job to ask any sector of the workforce to do.

My last plea is that we really think about what we do to support the workforce and let them do what they want to do, which is to build relationships with children and families. They do not want to be always in crisis mode, yet if you ask them how they spend most of their time, they will say that it is in crisis mode. I know as a teacher that, if I had spent all my time in crisis mode, I would not have done well with the kids I did well with. You need a gap and a space to build things—that is what matters. I know that the Minister genuinely cares about this, and I hope that she can persuade her department really to make it a priority this time around.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Watson for securing this important debate at such a critical time for children’s services. Understandably in recent years, the ongoing debate on adult social care has dominated discussions in local government relating to structure and funding, but there is now no doubt that the existing and accelerating crisis in children’s social care, with potentially even more hazardous consequences, needs the same focus and attention.

I pay tribute to all those social workers out there who are dealing with this crisis on a daily basis. I declare an interest: my own mum was a children’s social worker, so I saw this at very close hand.

I congratulate the chairman of the review, Josh MacAlister, on a wide-ranging and thoughtful review, which genuinely challenges the Government to properly fund the children’s social care system, as well as setting out a great deal of innovation and initiatives for improvement and a change of focus to prevention, which is really key and also needs to be funded.

The detailed nature of the report means that it is not possible to cover all the ground that it details in a short intervention in this debate so, as I am still a serving county councillor and therefore a corporate parent to children looked after in Hertfordshire, I will confine my comments to those areas where I can best inform from my own front-line experience—that is to say, funding, the voice of young people, joined-up working, kinship care and ongoing support for young care leavers.

As with most of the local government issues that come before your Lordships’ House, the funding situation for children’s social care has gone from bad to worse with successive cuts to funding since 2011. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, reminded me of the decimation of the very valued Sure Start centres, when he talked about family hubs. Those centres were hugely valued, but they have been decimated by funding cuts. The LGA reported a budget gap of £1.6 billion in children’s social care, and that was before the £2.6 billion identified to deliver the outcomes set out in this independent review. This gap is increasing very rapidly: in 2020-21, the amount spent nationally on children’s social care was £10.5 billion, 25% more than the £8.5 billion spent in 2016-17. Councils are, as set out by the chair of the LGA Children and Young People Board, my friend Councillor Louise Gittins,

“buckling under significant funding pressures”.

I checked the current situation in my own county of Hertfordshire and, at the end of quarter 2 this year, the overspend on children’s services was almost £9 million. To some extent this funding crisis is being fuelled by the sheer struggle to find placements for the most complex cases, which means that costs for these are escalating and can reach around £12,000 a week for children with the most complex needs. I hope this is not as a result of profiteering by private sector providers, although I suspect that some of it is, but that is something that merits even closer examination. If the emphasis on co-operatives in this report was about replacing that expensive, privately provided care with co-operative provided care, I would certainly support that.

I congratulate the independent review on working with an experts-by-experience board of young people who have lived experience of the care system. I hope that the Government will take this best practice forward as a way of ensuring that it is those with lived experience who are engaged in ensuring that the outcomes detailed in this review achieve its aims. Just before the Covid pandemic, I worked with our CHICC—our Children in Care Council—in Hertfordshire on its own of the local care system. The voices of two of our witnesses have stayed with me; I will call them Justin and Nadine. They were very clear about the two issues that they wanted to highlight. On the first, consistency of care, they outlined that, over and again, when a placement broke down, they would find themselves sitting in a social worker’s office with all their possessions in black bin bags, waiting for their next move. They said that it would have helped them to feel more valued if they had even been given a suitcase.

Their second point related to access to mental health services. It was moving to hear them describe being told that they would have a six-month wait, which made the feelings of despair and isolation far worse. As they said, waiting six months when you are an adult may not feel like the end of the world but, for a young teen, it can seem like an eternity and as though no one really cares how bad you are feeling. The independent review recognises the need to join up the services provided for children in social care. I hope the Government will reflect on just how urgent this is and, particularly for child and adolescent mental health services, provide funding that enables target access times that are much faster than they are currently.

Joined-up services are a key focus of this review and highlighted in its powerful recommendations on kinship care. I was struck by the experience of one client at the food bank where I was volunteering, Dennis. Dennis was a gentleman in his late 50s coming to the end of his working life when, tragically, his daughter became unable to look after her four very young children as she struggled with alcohol and drug addiction as well as poor mental health. Dennis took the children into his home and cared for them, but unfortunately against a backdrop of bureaucracy and a minefield of barriers put in his way, particularly by the DWP, which had neither the systems nor the compassion to understand the situation he found himself in. It was this that meant he had to resort to using the food bank and his issues took almost 12 months to resolve. I hope that one outcome of this review is to smooth the path for those involved in kinship care, ensuring that they get the support they need, including a key worker whose job is to help join things up. It will also be necessary to ensure that all departments involved have absolutely clear systems and processes designed to meet the needs of kinship care and the will to work together in the interests of families.

I want to talk, lastly, about an area touched on in the review but which I believe needs a great deal more work—the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, called it lifelong links. More thought and discussion are needed, particularly with those who have lived experience of the care system, to ensure that care leavers do not fall off a cliff edge when they reach an age at which they are no longer formally supported by the system. Most parents and foster parents go on supporting young people they care for long after they reach adulthood at 18 but, sadly, some care leavers do not have that experience. There is so much more that could be done—for example, by exempting them from council tax payments, giving additional preference in social housing allocation, providing subsidised travel for access to work, college or training and continuing consideration of fast-track access to mental health support. No children should ever live in unregulated settings. The comments made about the loving relationships around those children also really struck home with me.

The Government need to act now to avoid a catastrophic situation in children’s social care. I know that the Local Government Association has serious concerns that the cost of living crisis will push more families into poverty and crisis, which means that more of our children will require support. None of the recommendations in the review will be achieved without significant increases in funding and guaranteeing that funding is sustainable, including in meeting the gap that already exists. The cost of not doing so is immense, as the ongoing harms and damage to life opportunities for those young people who are let down when the system does not work properly place immeasurable costs on their lives and the public services that will need to support them in the future.

My Lords, I say well done to my noble friend Lord Watson for securing this debate because the number of children in the care system in England is, as has been said, at an all-time high and rising. The independent review forecast that without reform it will rise to 100,000 and that the current £10 billion annual cost of the care system will rise to £15 billion. The evidence is now overwhelming that the state is failing children for whom it has taken responsibility and we really are in a crisis situation. We have a deep moral obligation to the number of vulnerable children being failed.

The backlog in children’s cases in the family courts is big. The CMA reported that UK has “sleepwalked” into a dysfunctional market for children’s social care, which fails to provide the right services in the right places, with children frequently placed miles from where they live, often separated from siblings and unable to access the care and therapies they need. Yesterday’s report from the cross-party Children and Families Act 2014 Committee concluded that

“a lack of joined up action at all levels, has contributed to children and their families feeling let down by the system”.

I want to focus in my few minutes on the near 200,000 children raised in kinship care families by grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and friends. The main reasons for a child being in kinship care are parents’ mental health and substance abuse, domestic abuse, parents being unable to cope and parents being in prison. There is a growing concern, even scepticism, I now hear, among that community that while the Government sound supportive, their response to the review will offer little of substance to provide the support they so badly need. I really urge the Government to act now and do three really urgent things.

First, as many have referred to already, they must invest urgently in early help and preventive support for families, to prevent more children facing crisis and becoming looked after in the care system. Kinship carers consistently report that they did not have access to the support and advice they needed at the beginning, and that they felt alone and did not know what their options were or how to navigate the justice system. The independent review called for

“a revolution in family help”,

so that families can access responsive, respectful and effective support. This would include, as has been said, family help teams based in community settings.

Family group conferences have been revolutionary in New Zealand, and some parts of the UK, bringing a child’s wider family together early on, when support for the parents might allow the child to remain at home or find relatives who could become kinship carers. The APPG on Kinship Care inquiry consistently heard about the importance of friends and relatives being able to access free and early advice when there are concerns about a child’s welfare, so that they are informed from the outset about their rights and options as potential kinship carers. More families could come forward as kinship carers and avert more children going into care if support was available earlier. We hear too often about missed opportunities and family options not explored.

The review called for a major injection of funding over the next five years, targeting 500,000 children. Investing in early help and family-led solutions will cost less in the long run and provide better outcomes for children. The social cost of each looked-after child across public services is about £70,900 per year: resources are better targeted earlier to prevent children even going into care or getting into crisis.

Secondly, the Government should extend legal aid to more kinship carers. The compelling evidence is that carers are left to navigate the family justice system without the legal aid and representation they need. Many incur significant debt from paying legal costs or find themselves sidelined in important decisions about the child, directly increasing the risk that more children will end up in care. The extension of legal aid to protect special guardians of children in private law cases is welcome but it is not matched in public law proceedings, where the majority of guardianship orders are pursued. Here, children are in a crisis situation.

There are two key areas in public law cases where legal aid provision urgently needs to be considered. At the formal pre-proceedings stage, prospective kinship carers have access to only limited advice. This is means tested and merits tested, and remunerated at such low rates that few solicitors will offer advice on taking on the care of a child. During care proceedings, prospective kinship carers are still entitled to only very limited advice. Only where the prospective carer is made a party to the court proceedings or where they make a private law application may they be entitled to legal aid. Many carers do not have the early advice even to know that becoming a party to proceedings is an option, or how to make a private law application.

That so many barriers are put in the way of kinship carers—I have heard them articulate this—who have the necessary strength of character it takes to give these children better life outcomes, at great savings to the state, is beyond dysfunctional. The very people who could help and protect these children face barrier after barrier to prevent them doing so.

Thirdly, the Government should give kinship carers a statutory right to a period of employment leave, akin to adoption leave, when they take on kinship children. The law recognises that those who give birth or adopt need a period of protected leave from employment to adjust. If you step up to care for children in crisis to whom you did not give birth, the law covers its eyes and turns away. That has to stop. It is simply wrong to leave these carers in that position. They have stepped up to the plate, often at high personal cost.

I listened to a young woman who gave up her legal training and her job—she gave up everything—to take on her sister’s two children. Her sense of moral duty and love for those children has come at a high price. There has been no support; she has had to use her own wit and wisdom to find a way through to get guardianship of those children. It was quite humbling to see her strength of character and listen to her articulate her story.

Over half of kinship carers have to give up work when the children come to live with them. Many are forced into a benefits system that is not necessarily sympathetic to their needs. We now face the highest fall in household incomes on record. We all know that that will create even more families in crisis and even more vulnerable children. Even more kinship carers will be needed to provide the support to get those children through the crisis. This is time-critical stuff; it is not just an interesting debate. Anybody who walks the streets outside highly affluent areas can see the crisis emerging from falling household incomes.

Rather than our just having a nice debate, can the Minister pledge that the Government will increase urgently the total funding available for early help and preventive support for families so that fewer children enter crisis and the care system? Can they extend legal aid in public law proceedings and give kinship carers, who would prefer to stay in work and are often making big sacrifices, a statutory right to employment leave so that they can have some margin to take on and manage these often traumatised children? Can we have some pledges, not just sympathetic commentary? People are becoming sceptical and anxious about the quality of the Government’s response to this review.

My Lords, I sincerely thank my noble friend Lord Watson for securing this timely debate and all noble Lords who made such incredibly well-informed contributions today. I also thank those responsible for the many briefings that we have all received. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA, and express my thanks and gratitude to all those working to protect vulnerable children and young people in such difficult circumstances across the country, and to the many carers who do such extraordinary work in all the different settings that exist.

My personal involvement in children’s services goes back a long way, particularly to 2010, when in Leeds, Labour formed a new administration after the local elections and we inherited an inadequate—a failing—children’s services department. I became the lead member, and as a whole council and city we embarked on a journey to become the first core city to achieve an outstanding rating across the board. I am proud to say that Leeds still maintains the outstanding rating today, despite the pressures, which remain immense.

I mention this to illustrate that major change is possible if the collective will of decision-makers is clear and determined, and focused on putting the needs of our most vulnerable children at the heart of everything we do. “Every child matters” was not an empty phrase; surely it should be the bedrock of any civilised society. In the same way, we took the view in Leeds that enhancing the life chances of children and young people is everyone’s business, involving all agencies and all departments, and reflected in all decisions made across the wider community.

To this end, we established Child Friendly Leeds 10 years ago, launched by Her Majesty the Queen and endorsed by King Charles last month in a visit to celebrate its 10-year milestone. A child-friendly city basically means developing a relentless focus on children and young people and taking hard decisions—for example, on targeting funding—that will benefit those vulnerable children whose lives can be blighted without the timely intervention of services to give them, their families and their carers support. One of our collective main priorities was to safely—and I emphasise “safely”—reduce the number of children and young people coming into our care, and to reinvest the significant savings into expanding preventive and early help services on a cross-agency basis.

I was the chair of the children and young people’s board at the LGA, and in that capacity I worked with Josh MacAlister and the review team—along with the noble Lord, Lord Farmer—on the design group, inputting in particular from a local government perspective and bringing Leeds’s experience into the process. I pay tribute to the review team and all the many people who contributed to the process, bringing their rich personal experiences to the discussions and exploring, as we have heard, the commitment to lifelong, loving relationships.

I am deeply disappointed to hear that the Government have delayed issuing their next steps following the publication of the review earlier this summer. We need action now. I am even more concerned that the review will become submerged into the spending review and be seen as a cost problem rather than as an enabler to improve services, achieve better outcomes for young people and their families, and lead to major savings in the wider societal areas that are impacted so heavily by failure in this space.

By way of example, research shows us that roughly 25% of the prison population has had some care experience. That is shocking. Of the young care-experienced people who enter prison, roughly 45% present a substance misuse problem and 61% have a record of being disengaged from education. Indeed, ONS figures released yesterday show that 52% of care-experienced children had been convicted of a criminal offence by the age of 24, and 92% of those who received a custodial sentence had previously been identified with special educational needs. Some 18% had been permanently excluded and 81% had been suspended during their time in education. How much more evidence do we need that action is urgent and that government needs to respond immediately to the recommendations in the review and take action?

The recent figures re skyrocketing incidence of mental health presentations and the worries concerning SEND provision following the scrapping of the education Bill further add to the enormous concern among practitioners. There are so many aspects of the review to highlight. Tackling the workloads and staffing issues in social care remain critical. We hear constantly about the pressures on adult social care budgets but, as said by my noble friend Lady Taylor, we need to shout about the pressures on children’s social care budgets: a 25% higher spend by councils over the last five years, with pressures of over £1 billion estimated for each year. This is simply unsustainable.

From my experience in Leeds, I welcome the focus on early intervention in the review—the right time and the right place being the key focus. I particularly welcome the proposals for strengthening support for kinship carers—we have heard a great deal about this today. Working with kinship carers has been one of the key components of our journey, recognising the huge significance of close family and friend relationships based on understanding and love. The estimate that 162,000 children are being raised by kinship carers across England and Wales is probably an underestimate. I am sure we have all seen the briefings that estimate that every 1,000 children raised in kinship extended families rather than the care system save the Government £40 million and increase the lifetime earnings of those children by £20 million.

In that context, surely the recommendations in the review are fairly modest: for example, non-means-tested financial allowances that match the minimum fostering allowance; the introduction of kinship leave on a par with adoption leave for all special guardians and kinship carers; and, importantly, a requirement for local authorities to use “family group decision-making” as a means to identify kinship arrangements earlier by introducing “family network plans” to offer flexibility, intensive support and funding to give an alternative pathway to children entering local authority care. The focus throughout these recommendations is that better outcomes for children and young people are paramount. I hope the Government will take note of good practice in the sector and learn from its example.

In conclusion, I specifically ask the Minister to assure us that the Government have the ambition and resolve to deliver reforms urgently. By that I mean legislative changes introduced now, and certainly in the next Session. Also, is the urgent need for expanding the number of foster carers being gripped, alongside the support for kinship carers, as I have outlined? We cannot ignore the cocktail of circumstances that are exerting pressure on our families, poverty being front and centre, as well as the mental health experience of parents and children, and domestic violence, to name but a few. Can the Minister assure us that she will use all her experience in this space to personally steer the Government’s response to focus on these issues?

My Lords, I was hoping not to intervene. I was quite lenient with the previous speaker but one, but I regret that we are now running a bit short of time. I therefore ask all the following speakers either to stick to eight minutes or to go slightly less than that. We do not want to eat into the Minister’s time.

My Lords, this is an excellent report. One of the more interesting things in it is the set of examples that it gives. It confirms what I have seen all my life, which is how complex families in crisis can be. There is no “this is a family in crisis” model. They are all different.

I am here to give your Lordships a bit of what was mentioned earlier: lived experience rather than professional knowledge. I declare that I am not a vice-president of the LGA; there are not many of us in this House who are not vice-presidents of the LGA, but I am one of them. However, I began a part of my life at the London School of Economics, looking at children’s services among other things. Children’s services as a distinct subsection of social policy really ran from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s, from the Curtis report to the Seebohm report. The Curtis report grew out of the abuse of children who were sent to foster homes during the war, where they were often abused and in one or two cases died.

That led to the setting up of a committee and to the Children Act 1948, which positioned children’s services not in education or health but in the Home Office. One of the great advantages was that a children’s service grew up that was devoted to children. That may sound a bit odd, but at that time social services was very much welfare services. It was still the old workhouse. The children’s service was the one beacon. I remember early in my life meeting a remarkable woman, Baroness Lucy Faithfull, and her sidekick the children’s officer for Oxford, Barbara Kahan, who did a lot of pioneering work concerning children. I was struck by how all the problems were different and how local authority children’s services were, above everything else, conditioned by being flexible. The best of them could respond to the individual demands, which meant that the social workers and the heads of social services departments had to have a certain autonomy, while the local authorities had children’s departments and children’s committees.

I speak with some knowledge. I was a child “in care”, as they said. I was extraordinarily well looked after by Sheffield City Council. My first point for the Minister is that privatisation does not work. Children’s services and social services must be public services. You cannot put a profit motive in there and expect a humanitarian concern. There must be a very careful look, because many of the decisions that you are called on to take are not taken against a strict financial backdrop.

My second lesson is that you need devolution. Having been David Cameron’s envoy to the trade unions, I read very closely what the Labour Party is up to. I see that it is up to a bit of devolution at the moment. Devolution to local government is a jolly good thing, but it must be accompanied by financial devolution. It is no good saying to local authorities, “Get on and do the job”, unless you give them the money to do it. My lifetime in local government leads me to believe that there is no finer structure for local government than the old county borough arrangement, where you had the services under one authority without the conflicting authorities, and they were able to get on with the job. I say to the party opposite that you cannot just devolve power. You must devolve financial power, and local government has to be trusted. If you live in a democracy, you must trust people to raise the rates from the people and get themselves either elected or thrown out. This is quite crucial.

If we are to make children’s services work, they have to work—and be seen to work—at a local level. The fact of the matter is that when you build up a local service, you are actually building up dozens of individual services. I would not have been as well looked after in a for-profit organisation; I do not think the children of Sheffield would have been as well looked after in one. We were well looked after because we were professionally looked after and there were professional people looking after what we had.

I must say, I remember all the “loving relationship” stuff. It falls on stony ground a bit when you are 13 years old with, as someone just said, a bin bag in the children’s services department. You need the kindness of strangers but let us not delude ourselves that, somewhere out there, there are lots of people with their hearts brimming over. I saw evidence of some people seeing having a foster child as a way of supplementing their income, which was often not very high. It was a legitimate way but it needed a business-type relationship. It was not that they were overwhelming in their love and gratitude. They were in many ways overwhelming with wishing to help, but it was also a business relationship. We have to remember that.

The job of the professional in this sort of area was to hold the ring between kindness, compassion, obedience to the law and the best interests of the child. It is a very difficult ring to hold. I say this to the Minister: go back to the department and look at devolution. Look at letting people get on with the job and setting up what I would call a loose field of rules and regulations. Above everything else, look to the official guidance of strangers.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Watson for this debate and for giving us a chance to refocus our attention on one of the most vital reviews commissioned by any recent Government. It is the kind of report that, if you read it in one sitting, as I did, lives with you for a long time.

The review is vital for lots of reasons. First, it goes to the heart of the Gandhi test—maybe it should be called the Watson-Gandhi test, seeing as my noble friend also mentioned it—which states:

“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

We have failed this test for tens of thousands of children for many years.

Secondly, the report reveals not just a catalogue of problems but a genuine systemic crisis from top to bottom, from the handling of individual cases to the strategic management of the system and from private care providers to consistency across local authorities.

Thirdly, the review is vital because we know that unless there is a restoration of the functioning of the system as a whole, this problem will get worse in the coming years, as my noble friend Lady Morris said. The report estimates a nearly 20% increase in the number of children entering the system in the next decade and a worsening of outcomes for those children. Crucially, it explains the false economies of thinking that sorting these problems out now is too expensive when, in fact, the current system is on course to cost more than £15 billion a year in a few years—a 50% increase on the current costs.

The review is full of detailed recommendations, but I want to focus attention on three genuinely systemic aspects that the MacAlister review discusses. I ask this directly: are the Government committed to implementing and endorsing those big but systemic aspects of change that are called for?

The first aspect is around a theme that recurs throughout the report: if the children’s care system is to shift away from expensive and ineffectual crisis intervention, there must be multiagency and multidisciplinary work throughout the service. This is the idea at the heart of the proposal, which has been discussed by many noble Lords, for a single category of family help for different kinds of cases to reduce fragmentation, reduce the number of handovers in the system and enable families to get early, integrated support.

A similar model of multidisciplinary team working is envisaged in the section on child protection, with the idea of a bespoke child protection safety plan. The review demands that when children emerge from the care system and face the challenge of establishing their own independence as adults, public services, employers and educational providers share a joint mission to act as what it calls “corporate parents” for looked-after children.

We all know from our experience in politics and government that among the hardest things to deliver is a reform that crosses departmental boundaries and binds in organisations with a common agenda that report to different Ministers, let alone requiring them to work together in a genuine way. Similarly, it is incredibly hard for Whitehall to countenance any reform that pools money, knowledge and professionals in local community institutions and genuinely allows them to make on-the-ground decisions tailored to the needs of individual children. That model of accountability is considered risky in a Whitehall system in which departments are directly called to account for their particular slice of a more complex outcome. Anyone who reads the review knows that this call for change is not an optional extra but absolutely at the heart of saving the system from further collapse. Beyond exhortation, what will the Government do practically to make this multiagency preventive focus a reality?

Secondly, aside from the heartbreaking stories of individual children failed by the system, I found the most moving sections—which have been referred to by noble friends and colleagues here—to be on the networks of informal care provided by grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters. The report brings out a shameful contrast between, on the one hand, the extraordinary caring role played by these extended family networks—often very informally, and provided by people who themselves face huge, complex challenges—and, on the other, a system of rules and funding that ignores these networks, makes decisions without them and often in spite of them, does not provide funding or other kinds of legal protection for them, and often forces them into decisions such as becoming foster carers to receive financial support from the local authority.

Again, the child-first rationale is easy to applaud, but we all know that it is very hard for Whitehall to genuinely prioritise this kind of approach, coming as it does with the risk of different solutions for different kinds of children, outcome variations, the requirement for significant financial flexibility, et cetera. But making the money follow the logic of supporting the most trusted networks of care is absolutely at the heart of the report. Will the Government take the risk across departments of introducing the measures that the MacAlister review recommends in this report?

Lastly, the review is unambiguous about reforming the overall governance of the system. For all the amazing work done by many individuals in the system, as a whole it is not one in which securing these loving relationships is the priority. It is a system in which many providers of care are making profits out of their services, and outcomes for children vary not because of local decisions made in the interests of children but because of sheer randomness in the application of existing duties and programmes across different areas. This lack of strategic coherence goes all the way up to national government. As MacAlister says:

“There is currently a lack of national direction about the purpose of children’s social care and national government involvement is uneven.”

That is a pretty damning sentence.

Addressing this problem of strategic grip and securing unambiguous strategic authority is a priority. This means taking seriously issues such as revising the funding formula for children’s social care so that resources go more effectively to where they are needed, changing the metrics used in inspections, and lots more besides. At the heart of this is the innovation that the MacAlister review talks about—these new regional care co-operatives—to make local authorities inescapably responsible for care provision, fostering and commissioning activities. This issue was also touched on by the CMA review, which has been discussed. Will these regional care co-operatives form part of the Government’s response?

I have one last very quick point. The report shows that there is a very big difference between saying that lots of things are failing in children’s social care and saying that the system of provision is in need of overhaul. That is quite a big difference, and I hope that the Government’s response does not become the former rather than the latter.

Are the Government going to provide a loud, bright signal of intent that they are serious about changing this system and having collaborative working across departments, and between levels of government, at the heart of a new system? It is the hardest thing of all for any Government to introduce, but it is the most vital thing if you have read this report and take its impetus seriously.

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Watson for giving us the chance to have another look at this issue. I chair the Public Services Committee, which produced a report on vulnerable children earlier this year. It did not look at the care system in detail, because this review was going on. Josh MacAlister did give evidence to the committee before our report was published and again after it was published, in September. I congratulate him on the report before us. He was given the clear mandate to do this without talking about a lot more money. He made a proposal that would raise the money that is undoubtedly needed to change the system.

My committee and I felt that we need to face the fact that this crisis is getting worse. When we were doing the report, it was very clear that the pandemic was having a devastating effect on many children—not just those who were considered vulnerable at the outset of the pandemic. We know about the increased prevalence of mental health need among adolescents, and, now, about the number of missing children that services have simply lost. They do not know where they are. We know of children who have fallen further behind at school, and of those who have experienced increased domestic abuse in their families, during the pandemic. We also know that the number who are subject to grooming and county lines is estimated to have doubled in the last two years.

Critically, as colleagues have talked about, we had a real-terms reduction in funding for children’s and young people’s services after the 2010 election, whether that was in children’s or Sure Start centres. My committee paid tribute to Leeds City Council for resisting the pressure to close all its children’s centres, but youth work has virtually disappeared in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, addressed some of the evidence-based programmes. I introduced, I think, three evidence-based programmes when I was at the Cabinet Office, one of which was endorsed by every Prime Minister until Theresa May. They endorsed that programme, said it was working well and that it should be extended elsewhere, but then externalised it, so it has not disappeared totally, but almost has. We renamed that the Family Nurse Partnerships Programme. These were serious long-term programmes of prevention and early intervention, which would mean that children would not end up in crisis.

That is the issue and that is what this report demonstrates: local authorities, in too many cases, now have no money for early intervention and support, because the need for money for their statutory duties under the Children’s Act has diverted funding into that crisis work. This is most acute in the most deprived areas, and our report spells that out.

Following our second evidence session with Josh MacAlister, the committee wrote to the Minister on three issues. The first was to push the Government to establish long-term protected funding for early intervention. Unless we do that, what we have seen happen in the last decade will continue. Local authorities say they would like to do preventive work but, actually, have money to do only the crisis work. Unless we have protected funding for early intervention, we will fail family after family.

Secondly, we asked the Government to go ahead more quickly with the family hub proposal to embed early intervention and support for families in every community. I ask the Minister: how far have we got in meeting that commitment?

Thirdly, we must be more supportive of kinship care, because in the broken system we have, kinship care is in many senses a beacon of light with far better outcomes for children. I have a lot more to say about that, but it has been very well said, particularly by my noble friend Lady Drake; she and I have done quite a lot of work together on this.

The review makes it clear that the system is broken. I entered my professional career training as a family caseworker and was a family caseworker in Newcastle just after Seebohm, when we had the first social services department. The reality is that I left after about three years to divert into community work because, even then, it was not as easy as I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, was telling everybody. I had a hundred cases, which meant that I was unable to give particular, definitive attention, but I worked out very quickly that early intervention was far more important than trying to pick up the pieces, as we were doing then. I went into community and youth work from that beginning.

So I have long believed that the system does not deliver for children in the way it needs to. It needs to be transformed in order to give children the necessary opportunities. This will take significant investment, but I absolutely believe that simply throwing money at the status quo is not the answer. Can the Minister therefore assure us that this is recognised, that some of the ways of funding a better system outlined in the review are being seriously considered, and that, in recognising the need for this significant shift, the Government will properly fund it? That is what children need, what families need, and what this House should hold the Government to account for.

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Watson, on securing it. I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, and as chair of the Lords Select Committee conducting post-legislative scrutiny of the Children and Families Act 2014, which has already been referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. The committee published its final report this Tuesday, with important findings on the state of children’s social care in relation to adoption, kinship care and families going through the family courts. I will return to that in a minute.

Back in 2017, the APPG for children published a report on the state of children’s social care in England and concluded that there was a significant lack of resource for and focus on preventive and early intervention services. It would seem that nothing has changed. In 2018, we published a follow-up report which shone a light on the extent to which children, young people and families were subjected to a postcode lottery of services, and to which rising thresholds for support were simply storing up trouble for later on.

Sadly, these predictions have now all come to pass, and we have seen a huge shift towards late and crisis intervention and record numbers of looked-after children, up from around 65,000 a decade ago to over 80,000 now. The average age of children in care has risen, with children entering care with more complex needs. The care system in places is in a parlous state; that is why reform is so badly needed.

I will give a few specifics which we have heard about this afternoon. First, in the last decade, the number and proportion of children in care who are placed miles from home or in unregulated accommodation has risen steadily, which is a huge cause for concern. The CMA report that we have heard about stated that this year, there were significant problems with the functioning of the care market, with some private providers making disproportionate profits from the care of children and young people.

A significant workforce shortage in children’s social care and high levels of churn mean that children and young people face a revolving door of professionals entering and leaving their lives. The number of social workers leaving children’s posts in English councils is at its highest point since comparable data collection began, resulting in unsustainably high caseloads for those remaining.

As we have heard today, the care system is currently costing £10 billion per year. Josh MacAlister’s very welcome review estimates that this will rise to more than £15 billion in the next 10 years without reform. The review’s final report argues that the current children’s social care system is,

“increasingly skewed to crisis intervention, with outcomes for children that continue to be unacceptably poor and costs that continue to rise.”

It concludes:

“For these reasons, a radical reset is now unavoidable.”

I totally agree.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group that I mentioned recently held an excellent event at which Josh MacAlister spoke, as well as the new Children’s Minister, the Children’s Commissioner and others. What was notable to me at that event was that the children’s sector, statutory services and parliamentarians were all calling for the same things: for progress on social care reform that prioritises early intervention and co-production with children and families and sufficient investment to restore the long-term erosion of support.

With the independent review of children’s social care and the other key reviews on child protection that we have heard about, we have momentum behind us, and I like to think that vulnerable children—at very long last—have a political profile that has not been the case for many years. It is vital that the Government’s response to the review, which we have heard this afternoon is now being pushed back until next year, maintains that momentum and that we all continue to press for action and hold the Government to account, a point made so compellingly by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris.

However, before we get there, the overriding concern for families right now is the ability to put food on the table for their children and to heat their homes. The highest rates of inflation for 40 years will undoubtedly push more families into precarious situations and put more children at risk. Soaring inflation and energy prices are also putting huge pressure on local authority children’s services, and we face the very real prospect of further cuts to essential services.

We must act now to protect children and stabilise services. We need urgent government action to shield children from the brunt of the cost of living crisis and to shore up public sector finances after the impact of inflation and rising need. What assurances can the Minister give us on these points?

While we must not ignore the here and now, we must also hold on to the hope of a brighter future where children and families get the help they need. I welcome many of the proposals in the review, particularly those that seek fundamentally to rebalance children’s social care towards helping families earlier and the significant investment that is needed in the system.

There are three things I would like to see feature prominently in the Government’s implementation strategy. The first is working with families rather than doing things to them. Many of the parents who spoke to the independent review expressed distrust of children’s social care and felt they were blamed for circumstances beyond their control. Children’s social care will be sought out by families who need it only when they have been fully involved in the design of the approach and the offers the services can make.

The second is a focus on improving data and information sharing. In response to amendments in this Chamber during the passage of the Health and Care Act 2022, the Government acknowledged the serious challenges with sharing relevant information about children, particularly around safeguarding, and committed to a review of how to improve it. They also recognised the potential benefits of a single consistent identifier to bring together disparate records about an individual child. I expect to see significant reference to this review in the Government’s social care implementation strategy.

Finally, there is workforce, on which all else hangs. We know there are huge challenges in recruiting and retaining children’s social workers, along with other parts of the children’s workforce. We need to kick-start a longer-term project to rebuild the workforce.

I return to the Select Committee report on the Children and Families Act 2014, given its relevance to today’s debate. As well as containing a raft of important recommendations to improve support for adoption, kinship care and the family justice system and to help parents to balance work and family life, it identified some critical cross-cutting themes. One of those was the, frankly, dire state of children’s mental health services, with unacceptably long waits for referrals and treatments, including post-adoption trauma support. Our report highlighted the fact that children in care are four times more likely to experience mental health issues than their peers. Surely there should be some form of priority access for these exceptionally vulnerable children.

A second key theme was the importance of early intervention, which has been so well covered in today’s debate.

The third theme was the lack of coherence, both within government and between services. Indeed, throughout our inquiry we met children and families who said they felt let down by the systems that they had encountered, suffering long delays and needless bureaucracy. Calls for coherence of care extended to social care. Our witnesses raised concern that children and their families often do not receive continuity of care, undergoing numerous changes in their social workers.

Lastly, in the area of kinship care, which has been key to this debate and spoken to compellingly by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, we recommend greater support for kinship carers, including financial support, and that kinship carers with a special guardianship order be given the same right to paid leave as adopters.

All eyes are now on the Government’s implementation strategy. It was initially expected before Christmas, but we are now told that publication will be in the new year. In line with many other speakers today, I ask the Minister what assurance she can give us that the Government will not let this drift and will publish the strategy as early as possible in the new year.

I ask the Minister to respond on three specific points. First, what assessment has been made of the impact of the cost of living crisis on already stretched children’s social care budgets? Secondly, what plans do the Government have for stabilising the current children’s social care system, as local authorities and other public services grapple with rising inflation and increasing demand? Thirdly, will the Government commit to additional funding for the measures outlined in the forthcoming implementation plan in order to make these reforms a reality?

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. I liked what she said: this issue now has some momentum and political energy around it, and we all welcome that. It now falls to the Minister and her colleagues to make sure that we avoid the drift that the noble Baroness referred to. Sadly, too many of us have experienced that, and we fear it may follow.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Watson on securing this debate and introducing it so well. I will not repeat the startling statistics that he shared—they speak for themselves—but I echo the points that he made about social workers in particular and the valuable and arduous work that they do, which we all admire and respect so much. This is an important issue that I know many in this Chamber and those watching our proceedings care passionately about. There are armies of people, professionals and others, ready to step up and play their part in the reform of the system. They need resource, of course, but also clarity and stability of direction and leadership from the Government. I am reminded of many similar debates that we have had in the past that, sadly, have not so far resulted in the change that so many reports, including this one, have argued for.

I remember that we had an excellent debate earlier this year led by my noble friend Lady Armstrong, who is an authority on these issues; listening to her today, I think we could hear why. She is an authority particularly on the issue of early intervention and prevention. Many of the points that were made in that debate earlier this year have been made today. Our worry is that we will continue to hear excellent speeches making strong arguments, as we have today, but that at the moment the Government lack the focus or the bandwidth to do what is necessary.

It was touching to hear the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, describe his experience. I also note his comments on the Brown report and devolution. We may return to these issues in future debates but, having looked through the list of contributors this afternoon, I knew that this sitting would be good because of the quality of those contributors and the experience and knowledge that they bring. I am all for an elected Chamber, as long as everyone on that list can be part of it.

I pay tribute, as others have done, to Josh MacAlister for his work in carrying out this review. I thank my noble friend Lady Blake for her speech, sharing her experience in Leeds, and for introducing me to Josh. Like my noble friends Lady Blake and Lady Taylor, I am also a former lead member for children’s services, and I particularly acknowledge the way that he went about his work. This was not just a dry academic exercise with lots of tables and data, although there is of course some rigorous work underpinning it. It was a task that he led alongside those who work with children in care and, most significantly, which involved closely those who themselves have experience of the looked-after system. That is the real power behind the report. It is exactly how this sort of work should be done and I could not commend him more on it.

As my noble friend Lady Taylor said in referring to her experience in Stevenage, the system is fighting hard but there is no doubt that, at the moment, it is becoming overwhelmed. An increase in referrals alongside a slashing of resources over the last 12 years has led to a crisis, too often, in the quality and timeliness of the support available. Its effectiveness is therefore compromised too. Everyone will agree that, for most children, being placed close to home or with a suitable family member is the right approach. Yet we find that in recent years the number of children being placed miles from home, or in unregulated accommodation, is going up and up. As I am sure the Minister will agree, that needs to stop. With high staff turnover, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, leading to even more instability, the odds are stacked higher and higher against children who have already been badly let down.

The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, made a strong speech in support of Lifelong Links. His point about the very long journey from innovation to implementation was very well made; if only we always completed that journey, however slowly. Twenty-one per cent of all children in care were placed more than 20 miles from home, while 31% experienced a mid-year school move in the last two years.

My noble friend Lord Wood got to the real heart of it when he explained the difficulties likely to be faced by Whitehall. As he said, are the Government going to take the risk of implementation? Maybe the right answer is that it is surely a bigger risk not to take that step. It is not difficult to see why outcomes for children with experience of the care system are so much less favourable than for other children but, without a collaborative approach across Whitehall, not enough will ever change.

We are all disappointed that the Government have not yet formally responded to Josh MacAlister’s report, when so much energy and hope has gone into it. But it is impossible to listen to the stark analysis of my noble friend Lady Drake and allow the hope that we all share to overcome our experience of false starts and a failure to see the job through. This cannot be another such occasion; the Government must have known that we needed a comprehensive overview of the problems within the system to have commissioned this report in the first place. On that, they are to be congratulated, but perhaps the Minister could help by letting us know how much longer she thinks we will have to wait. We understand that it is to be January; can she confirm that this is still the case, given all the changes that we have seen in recent months?

We look forward to a plan from the Government that is going to take on board the review’s key findings and recommendations so that local councils, charities, carers and others know what to expect and when. For example, is there going to be a specific strategy for kinship care? Will there be a legal definition? Will early legal advice become available? Why can they not have parental leave? The sector is ready for change. There is huge political will behind this on all sides of both Houses. There is not a political reason to resist change. This is not housing targets or onshore wind; we now have a unifying mission that we would join in a heartbeat.

There is serious concern, as some colleagues have mentioned, about profiteering among private sector providers. We share this concern and would be keen to know whether the Government have any appetite for addressing this. Do the Government share the analysis, if not the suggested remedy in the report? This is not really an ideological point, although I cannot pretend I do not have a value-based objection to what has been going on; I have. This is just about making sure that every single penny spent in this sector goes towards supporting vulnerable young people, because that is not happening at the moment.

Many of the recommendations of the review have been picked out by colleagues. Of particular importance is the reform of family help. We all know that the idea is that support is put in as early as possible to support families that are reaching the point at which removing a child is necessary. I have never heard anyone argue against that premise. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, this is not an issue where there is a division of opinion. We all know it is what needs to be done—not more of the same. I am mindful of what she said about the spotlight moving on; she put that really well. We must not let that happen. MacAlister recommends an investment of £2 billion up front to enable this process to start, with savings in future years because the intervention is happening at an earlier stage. Can the Minister give us some indication of the response she is getting to that recommendation? This is going to save money and heartache.

We welcome the comments of Ministers so far, that they are determined to come forward with an implementation plan. It is encouraging but many of us are nervous that the Government will produce a plan that is not sufficient, fails to meet the challenge or lacks the resources to deliver. Far too often people with experience of care have not been heard. This report has given them a voice and I look forward to returning to this Chamber in the new year for another debate, perhaps, but not one like this—one in which we are discussing the Government’s plan and supporting them in putting it into action.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for securing this extremely important debate. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. I do not think I have been in a debate with her before, so I welcome her to her place. I echo others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, on her part in the remarkable turnaround of Leeds children’s services in achieving an outstanding rating. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for her part in leading the post-legislative scrutiny committee and its work on the Children and Families Act 2014. With great respect to my noble friend Lord Balfe, I am grateful for his wisdom and insight relating to his own experience of the care system. Finally, I need to make the same declaration as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, as my mother was also a children’s social worker, so we understand that side of life.

We have had three very important reviews—from Josh MacAlister, the national panel, and the Competition and Markets Authority. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, those reviews and reports give us a burning platform for reform, and I agree that they have brought a renewed spotlight on vulnerable children, and rightly so. But they also show that, despite the extraordinary work of social workers past and present, children and families with experience of the system show that it is not delivering consistently enough for those who really need and deserve it. That is why reforming children’s social care is a priority for this Government, and integration will be at the heart of that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, anticipated that we are already starting to take action in response to those reviews. I felt that she was perhaps a bit dismissive of some of this and anxious that it would not be followed through. I reassure the House that my right honourable friend the Children’s Minister is absolutely committed to seeing this through with great effect.

We have established a national implementation board to drive reform, and we have set up a new child protection ministerial group to ensure that safeguarding is championed at the very highest levels across government to drive the kind of integrated policy that all of your Lordships have rightly called for and discussed today. We launched a data and digital solutions fund to help local authorities unlock progress for children and families through the better use of technology. Importantly, we are developing recruitment and retention campaigns to increase the number of foster care placements, working closely with local authorities.

We absolutely recognise that these actions are just the beginning. The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care calls for “whole system” transformation, which is why we are developing an ambitious and comprehensive strategy for implementation that responds to those reviews, which will be published early in the new year. I know that your Lordships will understand that, as a new Minister who takes her role incredibly seriously, the Children’s Minister wants to understand and be completely confident in the actions that we are taking. I beg noble Lords’ patience on many of their questions on the detail of what we will do. It will not be long until that strategy is published, and it will include a number of the areas that your Lordships queried, including all of the options around kinship care that the noble Baroness opposite and others raised.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, asked me to exert any previous experience that I have. I absolutely assure the House that, wherever I possibly can, I will of course bring that.

On our vision of the future, the care review contends that, with the right support, families are the best means of protecting and nurturing children, and the Government wholeheartedly agree with that. Our ambition for reform will reaffirm the central role of families in the care system and put love and stable relationships at the heart of what children’s social care does. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, highlighted this ambition—this is, as noble Lords know, an important and challenging ambition.

On families, children’s social care services play an important role in promoting safe, stable and resilient families, and they should be enabled to provide effective integrated support to help families overcome the multiple and complex problems that many face, before they escalate. Importantly, the shift in the balance from late-stage crisis intervention to preventive, earlier intervention makes moral, human and emotional sense, but it also makes economic sense, as we heard. The noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, asked whether multiagency work would be an important part of that—of course it will be.

A second priority for the Government is strengthening the child protection system. The awful murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson made us once again confront the terrible reality of child abuse. We owe it to every child to have strong and effective child protection arrangements that help keep them safe from abuse, neglect or exploitation, whether it is inside or outside their homes. We need a child protection system that intervenes quickly and decisively through a more expert, multiagency child protection response. Integration is critical to that, including that of local authorities, police, health, charitable organisations and others.

Thirdly, when children cannot be looked after safely by their parents, our first port of call should be to support the wider family network to step up wherever possible. At the moment, as your Lordships have set out, there are practical, financial and cultural barriers to this which need to be addressed. Finding care for a child within their family network gives them a much better chance to achieve the lifelong stability and network of loving relationships which sustain all of us. As your Lordships have articulated so eloquently, kinship care is a vital part of that.

All the recommendations in the MacAlister review around kinship care are being carefully considered. Just to be clear about what we have already committed to doing, the Ministry of Justice has made a public commitment to extend legal aid entitlements to special guardians in private court proceedings, which is a partial implementation of the care review’s recommendation in this area, and we are working with the MoJ to make that change as quickly as possible. We have also made early progress in investing in the current financial year and next year in a partnership with the charity Kinship to establish more than 100 peer support groups for kinship carers across England.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, asked about recruitment of foster carers. As I mentioned, we are working on a recruitment campaign with local authorities to recruit more carers. In relation to the care system itself, where family is not an option, the care system should provide stable and loving homes. We are committed to making sure that there are more places for children to live of the right kind, quality and location to meet our children’s needs. We are determined to set and deliver ambitious missions for children in care and care leavers, covering our aspirations for their loving relationships, health, education, employment and housing.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, asked about children living in independent and semi-independent provision. There are cases where high-quality supported accommodation can be the right option for some older children, but we also know that some of that provision is not currently good enough, which is why Ofsted will be regulating and inspecting all provision for looked-after children from next autumn.

We are also providing £99 million of funding to local authorities to increase the number of care leavers who stay living with their foster families in a family home up to the age of 21 through the Staying Put programme. We have provided £36 million to increase the number of young people who, when they leave residential care, receive practical help with move-on accommodation, including ongoing support from a keyworker through our Staying Close programme.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, and other noble Lords raised the importance of the children’s social care workforce. I echo the appreciation and acknowledgement of other noble Lords of the extraordinary work that social workers and others in the children’s social care system do. But we also know that they need support to be empowered and freed up to do the job that is so critical for our children’s lives.

Over the current spending review period, we will invest more than £50 million every year to recruit, train and develop child and family social workers to make sure that the workforce has the capacity, skills and knowledge to support and protect vulnerable children.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lady Tyler of Enfield, asked about funding for local authorities. I am sure other noble Lords also asked about this, so forgive me for those I did not note down. Your Lordships will be aware that the Government announced that approximately £6.5 billion will be made available to local government to deliver core services, including children’s services, in 2023-24 and in 2024-25, in addition to what was agreed for local government in the 2021 spending review.

Early intervention, focused on by many noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, and my noble friend Lord Farmer, is of course critical. It is really helpful to have had the example of Leeds and how expenditure there was recalibrated to focus on early intervention. I appreciate that that is an easy thing to say and an incredibly difficult thing to execute, but it is helpful to have those examples to give confidence to the system that it can be done.

We have announced over £1 billion for programmes to improve family services, including for family hubs, the Supporting Families programme and the Start for Life programme. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, talked about being sceptical and anxious—I think they were her words—about these pledges. As I say, I have every confidence in my ministerial colleagues and their focus on this—apparently, I have only two more minutes, so I apologise: I will have to write to your Lordships.

My noble friend Lord Farmer asked about how the department was using its own evidence and how we can scale up successful programmes. I absolutely agree with my noble friend about the importance of this. We are committed to scaling up programmes that work. One example is the £84 million Strengthening Families programme, which is scaling up well-evidenced programmes across 17 local authorities.

In relation to excessive profits of independent providers, we are absolutely clear that we need to avoid profiteering from any provider, and the key to this is growing capacity in some areas. That is why we are supporting local authorities to expand their provision and reduce reliance on the private sector.

I would just like to finish with the words that my honourable friend the Children’s Minister in the other place used in closing a debate in November. She said that

“this is a programme for a long-term, once in a generation reform. We will start by laying the foundations for a system that is built on love and the importance of family.”—[Official Report, Commons, 24/11/22; col. 539.]

In quoting that, I am reminded of sitting outside my mother’s office as a child after school. I would wait for her to finish work—which never seemed to happen—and look at the pictures that the children she worked with had drawn of their families. Those pictures will live with me for ever.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response, which I think was quite positive, and all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It was a stimulating debate and the fact that there were not more speakers was actually a benefit, because people got to go into greater depth in their contributions, which were really powerful.

I shall mention just one. I hope other noble Lords will forgive me if I mention my noble friend Lady Taylor. I have not heard her speak before and I was very taken with her contribution. It will not be the last I shall hear from her and I very much hope that, before long, we will hear her speaking from rather further forward in the Chamber, where I am sure she will be a great asset to the Official Opposition. I thank everybody for the debate.

Motion agreed.

Called-in Planning Decision: West Cumbria


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement following the decision I made yesterday to grant planning permission for a new metallurgical coal mine at Whitehaven in Cumbria.

It is important to stress at the beginning of my Statement that I am speaking with regard to a planning decision that I have taken in my capacity as Secretary of State in what is a quasi-judicial process. Members of the House will be aware that the decision may, of course, be subject to a legal challenge, so I urge all Members of the House who are interested to read the decision letter, which was published yesterday, alongside the detailed report of the independent planning inspector who oversaw the public inquiry into the proposals. Any mature and considered response needs to take account of both my decision letter and the planning inspector’s report.

I will refer directly in my Statement to some of the arguments that the planning inspector has entertained and some of the arguments that he has made in the course of his report, but nothing that I say at the Dispatch Box should be taken in any way as a substitute for full engagement with the inspector’s report.

It is important to note that it is rare that any planning case is an open-and-shut matter. There are almost always competing elements for and against any planning scheme—particularly a substantial one of this kind, which can raise serious and passionate debate—but the open and transparent public inquiry system allows all those issues to be fully explored. It also allows all parties to put their case before an independent inspector.

The decision that I issued yesterday was directly in line with the recommendations of the inspector, who heard all the evidence for and against the scheme and was able to test that evidence through the participation of interested parties. This was a comprehensive and thorough process, lasting over a month and hearing from more than 40 different witnesses. It is summarised in a report of over 350 pages, which, again, I urge all honourable Members to read.

It is important to restate—as I think is well understood—that the proposal granted permission yesterday for the production of coking coal for use in the steel industry. It is not an energy proposal. Our net-zero strategy makes it clear that coal has no part to play in future power generation, which is why we will be phasing it out of our electricity supply by 2024. Coal’s share of our electricity supply has decreased in recent years. It was almost 40% of our energy supply in 2012; it is now less than 2%.

I took account of the facts when considering the planning application, as did the inspector, taking into particular account the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s decarbonisation strategy of March 2021, which explicitly does not rule out the use of coking coal in an integrated steel-making process, and makes it clear that, together with carbon capture and storage, that can be part of a net zero-compliant option.

It is important to note, as the inspector makes plain on page 239 of the report, that it is clear that all the scenarios and forecasts for the future use of coking coal which were put before the inquiry demonstrated a continued demand for coking coal for a number of decades to come. It is also important to state that the European Commission, as the inspector noted, recognised the indispensable role of coking coal during the steel industry’s transition to climate neutrality.

It is also important to note, as the inspector did on page 238, that the UK is currently almost wholly dependent on imports of coking coal to meet current demand. In 2017, 98.8% of the more than 3 million tonnes of coking coal used in UK steel plants was imported. The main exporters of coking coal at the moment are Australia, the United States of America and, of course, Russia. European metallurgical coal demand is expected to remain at about 50 to 55 million tonnes per annum for the next 28 years, and in the UK demand is forecast to hold at 1.5 million tonnes per annum.

The coking coal that will be extracted from the mine in Whitehaven is of a particular quality. Coking coal is usually a blended product of high-volatile coals and low-volatile coals. The coal from the proposed mine would have a very low ash content of below 5%, compared with between 7% and 8% for US coal and 10% for Australian coal. It would also have a lower phosphorus content than Australian coal and a higher fluidity. It is also important to note that, while the sulphur content of this coal has been referred to, and it is relatively high, the evidence before the inspector suggests that the coal produced at this plant would have an average sulphur content of 1.4%, and the applicants stated in their application that the coal leaving the mine will meet this level.

It is also important to note that it will be the only net-zero metallurgical coking coal mine in the world. It is vital that all of us recognise—as the inspector does on page 255—that the proposed development would to some extent support the transition to a low-carbon future specifically as a consequence of the provision of a currently needed resource from a mine that aspires to be net zero. It is also important to recognise that, with any proposal for land use, there will always be a potential impact on biodiversity and on the local environment as well. Again, it is important to note that, on page 278 of his report, the inspector makes it clear that this mine would not cause any unacceptable impacts on ecology or result in a net loss of biodiversity. The inspector also makes it clear in paragraph 22.9 that the proposed development itself would have a neutral effect on climate change, and therefore there is no material conflict with the Government’s policies for meeting the challenge of climate change.

Taking account of all these environmental considerations, it is also important to have in mind the impact on employment and the economy, locally and nationally. As the inspectorate notes on page 279, the mine will directly create 532 jobs, which will make a substantial contribution to local employment opportunities because they will be well-paid and skilled jobs. The employment, and indirect employment, that would follow will result in a significant contribution to the local and regional economy, with increased spending in local shops, facilities and services. In addition, the export of some of the coal to EU markets will make a significant contribution to the UK balance of payments. It is therefore the case that granting the application is compliant with planning policy, and the social and economic benefits should be afforded substantial weight.

The inspector’s report makes a strong case, in a balanced way, for the granting of the application. After reading the inspector’s report in full, I am satisfied, in my role as Secretary of State, that it is the right thing to do to grant the application.”

My Lords, I thank the Minister for reading through the Statement. I note that it suggests that any mature and considered response needs to take account of the decision letter and the planning inspector’s report, so I reassure all noble Lords that I have indeed done so.

The Statement stresses that this is not an energy proposal, and that it is not only energy projects that burn fossil fuels or create emissions. Environmentalists warn that the mine will create around 400,000 tonnes of emissions every year. The former Government Chief Scientific Adviser and chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, Sir David King, has labelled the decision as an “incomprehensible act of self-harm”. He said:

“Worldwide, there should be no new venture into coal, oil or gas recovery. This action by a leading developed economy sets exactly the wrong example to the rest of the world.”

Does the Minister agree that, in other words, this trashes the UK’s reputation as a global leader on climate action and looks utterly hypocritical to low-income countries, whose own fossil fuel ambitions we have repeatedly criticised?

The Statement also refers to the Government’s net-zero strategy. The decision letter says that the proposed development would have a neutral effect on climate change and is therefore consistent with government policies for meeting this challenge. Therefore, can the Minister explain exactly how this can be, when the developer has said it will offset emissions with carbon credits, certified by the Gold Standard foundation? Yet, the foundation says that this goes against its core principles, because it is strongly against the extraction of fossil fuels, and that any plans to offset its climate impact should not be used as a reason to grant permission.

The decision letter also says that there is currently a UK and European market for the coal and, although there is no consensus on what future demand in the UK and Europe might be, it is highly likely that a global demand will remain. The business plan for the mine is therefore based on exporting 85% of its coal. Can the Minister explain how that is carbon neutral? Does she acknowledge that the world is in fact moving away from coal? This Government have pledged to end coal-fired power generation by 2024, and many other countries are looking to end the use of coal by 2030. The British steel industry itself has said that it that will not use the coal from this mine because of its sulphur content. Many steel makers in the UK and globally are planning to move away from coal and manufacture steel using technologies such as electric arc furnaces, powered by renewable energy, or through hydrogen direct reduction. Professor Haszeldine, from the University Edinburgh, has said:

“Opening a coal mine in Cumbria is investing in 1850s technology and does not look forward to the 2030s low carbon local energy future.”

More than 80% of the proposed jobs are, I understand, to be in underground coal production. Is this the Government’s aspiration for young people in West Cumbria? As somebody who lives there, I can understand why there is some support in the local area. The reason is that West Cumbria desperately needs jobs. Is the Minister aware that the Conservatives promised a new nuclear power station, and failed to deliver? They promised major investment in West Cumbria’s road and rail infrastructure, and failed to deliver. They promised investment in advanced manufacturing, and failed to deliver.

Granting permission for a coal mine is not going to create the long-term skilled jobs we need. Cabinet minister Gillian Keegan admitted that the coal mine was “not a long-term solution”. Does the Minister believe that this is good enough, when in the decision letter, the Secretary of State agrees that the local area has a compelling need for additional investment and employment opportunity? This Government should invest in small modular reactors and other new nuclear projects in the area; they should invest in renewable energy, electric arc furnaces for green steel production, green hydrogen and sustainable transport. They should support West Cumbria in a prosperous, clean, green future, not turn Britain into the dirty man of Europe. This decision does not offer secure, long-term jobs for West Cumbria and it makes the statement that this Government are giving up on all pretence of climate leadership.

I endorse the remarks just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I agree completely with them so I will not repeat them, but I will make a couple of points.

First, this is not a short-term investment. Anybody opening up a coal mine knows that it has to have a reasonably long-term investment profile and business case. The fact that only 15% of the output will be used in the UK—or at least that is the indication—puts a big question mark over the value of the investment. If it was not as little as that, we would be looking at having to have, presumably, some coking coal process plants to process it. It is not just a question of mining the coal; you have to prepare it for the coking process, and that in itself is not an environmentally pleasant process.

Fundamentally, though, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, this is a huge blow to the credibility of a country which is trying to go to a carbon-neutral future. We are trying to lead the world on what we have been doing, but this will question our credibility. The Government have been dragged back by their feet on onshore wind farms. I have to ask: how long will it be before they have to be dragged back by their feet on this terrible decision?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham of Droxford, for their comments. Before I move on to my further remarks, I must emphasise that this debate surrounds a planning decision made by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Community, in what is a quasi-judicial process, and that his decision may therefore be subject to legal challenge at a later date. As was stressed earlier in another place, nothing I say this evening should be taken in any way as a substitute for that very full reasoning which is set out in the Secretary of State’s decision letter and in the inspector’s report, both of which were published yesterday.

The contributions raised here today deal with matters which were raised in evidence and considered in huge detail by the public inquiry. They were challenged at that public inquiry and were dealt with in the decision made yesterday by the Secretary of State, who has considered that report very carefully. It is extremely important that all parties reflect on that point, that the decision was based on evidence put forward in a public forum, all of which could be tested by cross-examination of witnesses or by written rebuttals, and that the entire process was overseen by an independent inspector. It is important that today we are talking about an independent inspector’s report that has been clearly looked at for a number of months by the Secretary of State who has made this decision.

Published guidance on planning propriety is clear that decisions may be made only on the basis of evidence and considerations which are relevant to the planning merits of the case, and that planning Ministers must give clear planning reasons to ensure that their decisions are transparent and can clearly be understood by all parties. This means that planning Ministers must not take into account any evidence or considerations which are not relevant to planning, not relevant to the decision, or not before them as part of the evidence in the case. Therefore, I can reassure noble Lords that this decision was not made on the basis of press release, newspaper interviews or by reference to any external considerations which were immaterial to the planning decision at hand.

On the key issues surrounding the climate interests, which I think were of particular interest to both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, the need for coking coal is now, and the economic benefits of the scheme and indeed some other matters not raised in this House this evening are all considered. The bringing together of these issues into a single conclusion on the merits of the scheme was at the heart of yesterday’s decision. That decision was in line—

I will come to that in a minute.

The decision made by the Secretary of State was in line with the recommendations of the independent inspector.

We are on track to deliver our climate and emissions commitments, which are among the most ambitious in the world. We will continue to lead the way in reaching net zero and tackling climate change from 2024. The UK will end the use of coal to generate power, which is what we agreed, and which currently makes up only 2% of electricity generation every year. We are already on that trajectory.

The Whitehaven coal mine proposal relates to coking coal, which is used in the production of steel. A number of people have talked about wind farms. Wind farms need steel, and we need to produce that steel here. The coking coal does not generate power. It is also important to note that this will be the only net-zero coking coal mine in the world. That is important. Noble Lords on the other side of the House laugh, but it is important that we do that. Therefore, the 85% that we export is being produced in a net-zero coalmine. That is important—

On that point, can the Minister answer the questions that I raised. If you are exporting, how does that meet your net-zero targets? Also, the Gold Standard Foundation will not accept the credit but will offset it.

I will write to the noble Baroness on that last point. If you are exporting something that has been produced in a way which is more environmentally friendly than other coal mines elsewhere in the world, surely that is good. We are currently importing coke. We will not be importing it in the future because we will be producing our own.

Can the Minister clarify where this coal—the 85%—is going? Is the European single market likely to accept it?

Yes, it is my understanding that it will be going to Europe.

The inspector’s report also sets out, and the Secretary of State agrees, that the proposed development would have an overall neutral effect on climate change. It is therefore consistent with the government policies for meeting the challenge of climate change, and that was after the independent inspector heard all the evidence and it was challenged.

The noble Baroness also brought up the issue of jobs. These jobs that we are offering are well paid and skilled jobs, in an area of the country that wants well-paid and skilled jobs. From what I have read in the newspapers and heard on the radio, the local community is very pleased to hear that—they want these skilled jobs. I think that 500-plus jobs is important for that area, but the noble Baroness knows that area better than me.