Lord Byron: 200th Anniversary

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Tuesday 16th April 2024

(3 days, 20 hours ago)

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Hear, hear!

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, Lord Byron is rightly canonised as being symbolic of the international contribution that UK art and literature make to the world. Byron himself once said:

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,

Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces

That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think”.

In Greece, they celebrate National Byron Day on 19 April. Does the Minister think we should have a Byron day to celebrate the arts and the contribution that they make to our industry and culture? Does he agree that it will take more than moving the statue to ensure that we continue to revive our cultural sector?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I hope that the campaign to move the statue into Hyde Park, where it can be seen and admired by more people, will help to inspire people into art, whether that is sculpture or poetry, and to investigate history. The efforts of the Byron Society to promote this legacy are important. Many towns in Greece have an Odos Vyronos—that is, a Byron Street. He is perhaps better commemorated in Greece than in the land of his birth. I hope that this bicentenary will help inspire new generations of admirers.

Regional Arts Facilities

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Wednesday 27th March 2024

(3 weeks, 2 days ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Earl is right to point to the importance of partnership working. The Government are very proud to have contributed towards the museum in Perth and the new home for the Stone of Scone—I hope that the opening tomorrow goes well. In the Budget, we also joined the Welsh Government and Flintshire county council in supporting Theatr Clwyd, which does important work not just in north Wales but in the north-west of England. I had the pleasure of visiting the theatre and seeing the renovation that has been done there. Through both the levelling up fund and the UK shared prosperity fund, the UK Government are playing their part in helping arts and culture in every part of the United Kingdom.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I know the Minister supports Labour’s view of a positive approach to the arts and to culture. The UK originates blockbuster films; it is one of only three net exporters of music; we are the second-largest advertising supporter and the largest book exporter; and the cultural sector, as the Minister well knows, supports 2.5 million jobs and is worth £125 billion. Yet, in 2021, the Government said that arts subjects were not a strategic priority. Given that culture is one of our most dynamic and growing sectors, is this still official Government policy? If it is, will the Minister commit to reviewing and reversing this damaging and neglectful approach to our arts and cultural industries?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right to point to the importance of arts and culture to our economy, as well as our society. It is one of the Chancellor’s five priority areas for the economy, and that was reflected in the Budget through the tax reliefs and through the direct investment that was made. He is also right to talk about the importance of cultural education, so that we can unleash the talents of everybody and make sure that future generations have the ability to join, enjoy and pursue a lifetime in arts and culture. That is why I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, is helping lead the advisory panel to inform our new cultural education plan, working jointly with DCMS and the Department for Education.

Human Rights: Sportswashing

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Thursday 21st March 2024

(4 weeks, 1 day ago)

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, is to be heartily congratulated this afternoon on bringing forward this topic for debate. I am not sure what hotline he has to the heart of government, but his foresight in choosing this issue for this week—the week in which the Government plucked up the courage to publish their football regulation Bill—is to be admired. Like me, he sees the opportunity with the football regulation Bill to make a stand on sportswashing—the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has advertised the point well—and to try to set a high bar, not just nationally but internationally.

This afternoon’s debate has been fascinating, with a broad range of views, from the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, through to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, with his nuanced take on how best to tackle sportswashing and achieve change and improvements in human rights. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, largely echoed his take on how we make more inclusive international events such as the Olympics and the Paralympics. I personally found her take on politics in sport not just realistic but insightful and fascinating. I was particularly drawn to, and enjoyed, the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hayward; they were not just thoughtful and illuminating but very revealing too. I had not included any points in my comments about sponsorship, as noble Lords will hear, but that was a well-made argument, and one that we should reflect more on when we look at some of the issues associated with sportswashing in the future.

As pretty much all noble Lord have said, sportswashing is nothing new. As long as there have been international competitions between competing nations, an element of sportswashing has always been present. The fascist states of Italy and Germany made ruthless use of sporting events, notably football and the Olympics, to project themselves to the wider world. Of course, the 1936 Berlin Olympics was the most obvious and probably the largest example. I particularly enjoyed the fulsome and witty explanation of all of that from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. In more recent decades, the practice has become more subtle—but arguably not that much more subtle.

What do we mean by the term “sportswashing”? The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, gave his definition and academics have tried to define the idea. Jonathan Grix perhaps nailed it when he wrote that it had become

“a short-hand way of criticising (usually) non-democratic regimes or large corporations for using investment in world-renowned athletes, sports clubs, and sports events to detract from illiberal, non-democratic, and/or exploitative practices in their home countries or businesses”.

As the House of Lord’s Library note says, the term has been applied to hosting large events such as the Olympics and Paralympics or the World Cup, setting up new facilities, sports infrastructure and domestic competitions, investment in teams and leagues internationally, usually through sovereign wealth funds, the sponsorship of teams or tournaments by state-associated bodies such as tourism departments and national airlines and, of course and in particular, engaging well-known international sportspeople in ambassadorial roles for new leagues and bodies.

Many commentators have observed that states getting involved in support, direct sponsorship and other forms of sports-related alignment provides endless opportunities for soft power and reputational enhancement. The opportunities for promoting a positive image of the states themselves and increasing their status and credibility are limitless. From Berlin in 1936 to Beijing in 2008, via the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018, the pattern is the same.

In recent years, more attention has, as we have heard, focused on the Gulf states. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, made a good job of displaying exactly how Bahrain is operated, but also Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. The expansion of Formula 1 is an interesting case study in this regard. The Bahrain grand prix has been running for two decades and has been joined on the calendar by races in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

A BBC estimate suggests that Saudi Arabia has invested some £5 billion in sport since 2021. As well as F1, there have been major investments in events such as boxing, the LIV golf series, the ATP tennis championships and the America’s Cup regatta. In recent times, we have seen the takeover of Newcastle United, and the state’s interest in football seems more to be more widespread, with reports that the country is seeking the rights to the 2034 FIFA World Cup and, interestingly, the 2035 FIFA Women’s World Cup. In the case of the latter, it is worth noting that the growth of the women’s game in Saudi Arabia is both very recent and limited by international comparison.

Of course, elite sport can contribute to economic growth. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman argued in September last year:

“If sportswashing increases my GDP by 1% then I will continue doing sportswashing”.


It could not be more blatant than that. The Sports Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al Saud, explained to the BBC that accusations of sportswashing were “shallow”. On human rights, he said:

“Any country has room for improvement, no one’s perfect”.


He added that

“these events help us reform to a better future for everyone”.

There is little doubt that the Saudi states sees being a player across many different sports, in particular football, as a form of soft power. We in this Chamber often talk about the notion of soft power and the influence that UK institutions can wield through the BBC, the British Council and our aid budget, but these are by comparison benign interventions designed to promote liberal and democratic values. They are not designed primarily to advance solely economic interests or to provide cover for human rights abuses or unregulated workplace practices such as those reported widely during the construction of football stadia for the Qatar World Cup. In that context, yesterday’s report in the Guardian about emerging evidence of similar construction-related deaths in Saudi is very worrying indeed and I think should be reflected in action from FIFA as football’s governing body.

What should be the approach of government to states that use the power of sport to impact upon reputation, international standing, trade and much more? First, we should encourage greater transparency. For example, FIFA should be more open in its dealings with any nation seeking to host a future World Cup. This means that there can be no allegations of corruption surrounding the awarding process, and the adoption of a zero-tolerance approach towards human rights abuse claims. The bidding process should not be used to excuse poor human rights records. For example, if Saudi Arabia is to play host, the Saudi Sports Minister should be held to his words about events being a driver towards genuine and verifiable reform on human rights and much else.

Secondly, we must make it plain internationally that sport—and, in particular, football in this instance—is sport for all. Labour has long believed in sport for all. Our vision is of sports being not just of interest at elite levels but inclusive and participative, so that we can all play our part, and play a role—this, after all, was the motif for the London Olympics of 2012. As we have seen, for many countries, from Afghanistan to the Gulf states, this is an issue. So we should be using our version of soft power to influence Governments who seek to use their wealth to promote strategic investments in sport for less altruistic purposes.

A Labour Government would seek to use their influence to promote human rights and tackle abuses such as those experienced by construction workers in Qatar. Equally, we would wish that influence to stop the abuse of LGBT+ fans and the discrimination that women suffer. In football, we take the view that FIFA should put its house in order. Ahead of the 2034 World Cup, the next 10 years should be used constructively to tackle the issues that emerged during the Qatar event. FIFA should show some leadership and work with its partners to bring change.

In this context, the welcome publication—finally—of the Government’s Football Governance Bill could be used constructively to set a high bar in football regulation that shows what can be done to tackle a myriad of regulatory issues, starting with financial fair play and fairer competition. One important objective of the moves towards football regulation was to give fans a bigger say in the governance of football and put them very much at the heart of the game. We should look to extrapolate that example elsewhere, and use that power to change attitudes nationally and internationally.

I am looking forward to the Minister’s response to this highly significant and well-timed debate. Will the Minister use his time to say a little about how His Majesty’s Government see the regulation of our nation’s number one obsession, football, as a way forward to improve not just governance but other related matters in the culture of the game? Can he also set out the Government’s approach to ensuring higher standards around human rights, LGBT+ rights and workers’ rights in the context of future World Cup bids, and international sports events more generally? Perhaps he could be tempted to reference any discussions that he and other Ministers have had with FIFA and other international sporting bodies to ensure that there are far higher standards for countries bidding to host the World Cup and other similar international events.

This has been a valuable debate, and one that, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, will probably prefigure similar debates during the passage of the football regulation Bill in the future. I have greatly enjoyed, and been fascinated by, the compelling, wide and varied contributions.

Media Bill

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I will start with a reference to the amendment to the Motion laid by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I fully understand the noble Lord’s frustrations. Concerns and questions over this issue have been raised multiple times in both Houses. I have asked previously whether the Government have any plans to review rules on media ownership and to date have received no answer. We recognise the Government’s response that they are awaiting the conclusion of investigations by the CMA and Ofcom. However, I wonder whether the Minister can offer an opportunity, perhaps outside of this debate, for noble Lords to raise issues and hear from the Minister or Secretary of State on this. That said, we have waited 20 years for the Media Bill in front of us. I will focus my remarks on the substance of the Bill which has finally reached us, but I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, later in the debate.

The Minister has fairly set out the rationale behind the Government’s Media Bill but, of course, he has not given us the full story behind its arrival here in the Lords. We were promised this particular piece of legislation a long time ago. Finally, two years ago in the 2022 Queen’s Speech, details were provided of a media Bill, although this turned out to be a draft Bill published in March 2023. Some commentators have said that this has been in the offing for nearly 10 years. I do not intend to try to embarrass the Minister; the delay is embarrassment enough.

We would certainly have had a Bill earlier in this Parliament if it had not been the subject of internal wrangling about the future of Channel 4. However, we are pleased that the Government saw sense and dropped their desire—or the desire of the former Secretary of State—to privatise it. I suspect that if they had pursued that course, they would have upset the whole public sector broadcaster eco-structure. I suspect that it would have also made the Minister’s job today a whole lot harder.

It was way back in 2003 under the previous Labour Government when the legislative framework for public service broadcasting was renewed. So much has changed, as the Minister said, since the Communications Act 2003. As the Government have rightly asserted, much has changed in the media landscape. We now have on-screen entertainment divided into linear broadcasting and on-demand streaming services. Broadcast radio has also changed, with the public being able to choose how they access on-air services. The Government have argued that these changes make it essential that public service broadcasting, on-demand programme services and commercial radio have a new regulatory framework. We agree wholeheartedly with that. For that reason, we support the Bill.

The Bill is important, as the Minister has said, because it brings media legislation into the digital age. Although the Bill lacks a commanding overall vision for broadcasting in the UK, the PSBs believe—and we think they are right—that it is in good shape as currently drafted and it will enable that sector to thrive and develop, not just here but will enable us to compete internationally, where our public service broadcasters are much admired.

The PSBs and other stakeholders are all rightly keen that the Bill passes into law as quickly as possible, so that they can have the long-awaited certainty they need for programming, commercial and long-term planning. However, that should not detract from our duty as legislators to ask questions of the Government and, where appropriate, to seek to amend the Bill. However, I assure the House and those listening eagerly to the debate that we support the Bill and will be looking to work on a cross-party basis to get it on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

We are also conscious that with advertising revenue shrinking in a highly competitive market, the commercial PSBs will not welcome any additional undue cost burdens being placed upon them. Several, including Channel 4 and ITV, have indicated that to remain sustainable as businesses, they will have to reshape their business model.

There are a number of key issues the House will want to scrutinise carefully, including prominence for our PSB services and ensuring that audiences are protected and have access to varied and high-quality content. We will want to ensure that Ofcom is empowered to achieve what is being asked of it as a robust regulator and, of course, that the legislation is future-proof.

We are pleased to see the case for prominence being updated has been recognised by the Government. Clause 28 is hugely important to the PSBs, extending it to cover services not currently included, such as interfaces on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks. Given that Ofcom recommended this back in 2019, it is long overdue. This should make PSB content prominent on both linear and on-demand services and make public service content available and easy to find across the full range of television platforms.

We are aware that, in another place, some Members—notably, the chair of the DCMS Select Committee, Caroline Dinenage—made the case for a different wording for “prominence”. They argued that, instead of “appropriate” prominence, it should be “significant”. I am sure that the House will want to probe to ensure that the word “appropriate” is flexible and robust enough to do the job for the PSBs. It might be useful if the Minister could fill out in a little more detail the thinking behind the language used. I am not sure that Sir John Whittingdale’s clarification in the Commons quite did the job.

On assuring quality content for our audiences, we welcome the simpler, streamlined public service remit and believe that the Bill will enable a broader reach of audiences across a wider range of platforms. We will have questions to probe the genres included, or not included, in the remit, ensuring that the right safeguards are in place. We will also want to consider the details of Part 4 on video on demand regulation for both the industry and the audiences who access the services, including the tier model and age ratings.

On future-proofing, we welcome the listed events reforms, which will strengthen the role of public service media within the regime. However, this is one of the key areas where future-proofing the legislation comes into play, on the issue of digital rights for listed events in particular. Attention to digital rights will be necessary to enable UK audiences to come together for our biggest sporting events, whether this is online or through traditional linear broadcast outlets. Future-proofing will also be a key issue when we consider radio provisions in the Bill, including access to on-demand content and access through services other than smart speakers—particularly in cars, where car manufacturers can effectively become the default gatekeepers of radio access.

This Bill was much delayed in the 20 years since the Communications Act 2003. More generally, given the pace of change in the media world, can the Minister say today that the legislation is sufficiently flexible to match the changes and challenges that we can immediately foresee? Perhaps the Minister can assure noble Lords that the Secretary of State will keep under regular review the platforms through which PSB content can be viewed? This will surely be essential, given how technological developments are likely to work alongside shifting markets and audience expectations.

As I made plain at the outset, we are pleased that Channel 4 privatisation has been dropped. The Government have made two changes that materially affect Channel 4. The first is to place a sustainability duty on the company, and the second is the removal of the existing publisher-broadcaster restriction. The first change, relating to the duty, is, I hope, limited to ensuring the channel’s financial security and stability. Perhaps the Minister can say something about that when he comes to wind up. The lifting of the restriction on Channel 4’s ability to create content directly is clearly significant. I noted, as I am sure other noble Lords will have done, the careful response adopted by Channel 4 to this new freedom. The channel, having rightly made the argument about privatisation upsetting the broadcasting eco-structure, will not want to disrupt that same eco-structure through rapid expansion of in-house production, having carefully built up its commissioning role over the past 40 years.

With others, we are considering carefully what might need amending in the Bill. As well as the areas that I have referenced, there a few amendments that we feel are important in addressing possible gaps to the legislation. One that seems particularly important, given concerns about the viewing habits of children and young people, was that relating to a review looking at ensuring that they have access to public service content. With the dominance of smartphones and social media among young people as a means of viewing TV content, this would seem vitally important. We also support having a review within six months of the Bill passing into legislation on whether a Gaelic language service should be given a public service broadcast remit.

I finally come to the Government’s decision to bring forward the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, relating to the Leveson provisions. In my opinion, it sits rather oddly in a Bill about broadcast media. But we are aware that this measure has manifesto cover from 2019 and we have not sought to remove it. From conversations with key stakeholders and noble Lords, it seems fair to say that the debate in this House will not focus solely on the question of repeal but will instead look at a range of possible amendments. In the Commons, Labour supported an amendment laid by George Eustice MP that would retain an incentive for newspapers to sign up to an approved regulator. This will, I am sure, be part of our conversations going forward. Ensuring access to justice and a free and important press is very much a live and current issue, and I look forward to hearing from noble Lords across the House today on that point.

In conclusion, this Bill is much needed and long overdue. The PSBs need it, the media world needs it, and it is welcome. Our approach will be to carefully listen to the arguments over points of contention. We have no intention of disrupting the architecture of the Bill or its main provisions. If we have an argument with the Government, it is simply this: instead of spending the last four years running down the excellence of our PSBs, they could have better spent that time promoting their strengths internationally and celebrating their role in helping make the UK the arts and culture superpower that we truly should become.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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We have set up the review because there are important questions to consider, and it is worth considering them properly. As I say, there is a complexity here in striking the right balance. The review is looking into that and more, and from it may flow some suggestions for necessary changes in the law. It is right that we complete the review and look at that picture in the round. As I say, I am sure we will touch on this in Committee, and there are emerging areas which noble Lords will want to press, but we think it is right to complete the review, which is a logical consequence of setting it up.

The Government are also keen to ensure that sporting events are made available for the public as widely as possible. That is why we have the listed events regime. We acknowledge the interest that fans have in watching our sporting teams compete. It is important, again, that that regime continues to strike the right balance between accessibility and the ability of sporting organisations to generate revenues, so that they can invest in sports at all levels. We believe that the current list of events works well to deliver the right outcome and that it strikes an appropriate balance, so we have no plans to review the list at this time.

My noble friend Lord Bethell spoke about the importance of age ratings for television content, and we are in complete agreement on the need to protect children and other vulnerable audiences from harmful and inappropriate video-on-demand content to which they might be exposed. As people move to a digital world, so must our regulation change. That is why, for the first time, we are bringing mainstream TV-like on-demand services in scope of the new video-on-demand code. That will be drafted and enforced by Ofcom, which has a long track record of regulating broadcast television to ensure that it is age appropriate, and protects those who may be more deeply affected by what they see or hear. In addition to creating this new code, the Bill gives Ofcom new powers through its audience protection review duty, so that it can provide guidance and report on and deal with any providers it considers are not providing adequate protections.

Taken together, these changes mean that the on-demand streamers will no longer be marking their own homework; that, rightly, will be for Ofcom to assess and do. The British Board of Film Classification, which my noble friend mentioned, does a fine job and the Government encourage all services to consider using it when reaching decisions. However, it is not the only source of effective child protection. Many streamers, including our public service broadcasters, for example, have very effective child protection measures in place and do not use BBFC age ratings. We do not want inadvertently to discourage services from investing in, developing and using the most effective child protection technology that is available and becomes available, which includes but is not limited to age ratings. The Government’s overriding goal here is to ensure that effective protection is in place as the outcome, rather than specifying from the top down how that should be done.

The measures in the Bill will ensure that all streamers are given the incentive to place child protection at the heart of their product development, rather than just relying on the regulator to tell them what the bare minimum is they can get away with. For example, protections such as parental controls and warnings, in addition to age ratings, can be more effective than any individual age-rating system. However, we are listening to what my noble friend and others are saying and have been listening to the debate in another place as well, and we look forward to continuing to debate these issues as the Bill progresses.

My noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood raised concerns about the risk of complaints tourism arising as a result of Ofcom’s regulation of video-on-demand services. As with existing broadcasting regulation, how these rules are implemented would be for Ofcom to set out. However, to be clear, Ofcom will be regulating only on-demand providers’ UK libraries. In addition, following feedback from providers during pre-legislative scrutiny, we have already considered the issue of complaints tourism. The Bill now ensures that Ofcom will be able to consider the length of time that content has been available when considering complaints, which will reduce mischievous accusations. However, this is not new territory. Ofcom has a long history as an international regulator, and we have full confidence that it has the expertise and powers to deal appropriately with complaints of this nature.

More broadly, noble Lords rightly asked about the additional responsibilities Ofcom has taken on in recent years. As they know from our exchanges on the Online Safety Act, the Government are invested in Ofcom, which has taken on many more staff to cover its additional responsibilities. We are confident that it has the capability and resources it needs. Like others, I am very grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, attended our debate on the Bill today. Ofcom will continue to be accountable to Parliament. The Bill extends its powers in areas it has much experience in regulating. My department has worked closely with Ofcom throughout the drafting process. As I said in my opening speech, we are very grateful for the contribution it has made.

I am grateful to some—not all—noble Lords for expressing support for the repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. Views differ on this across your Lordships’ House but, as I said, this is a government manifesto commitment. We worry that commencing Section 40 would risk creating a chilling effect on freedom of speech, undermining high quality journalism and causing serious damage to local newspapers. The Government consulted on repeal in 2016. A huge majority of respondents, some 79%, including press freedom organisations such as Reporters Without Borders, backed repealing Section 40, many arguing that it could have stopped publishers undertaking valuable investigative journalism or publishing stories critical of individuals, for fear of being taken to court and having to pay for both sides. However, I look forward to the further debates that I am sure we will have.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked about the Press Regulation Panel. As he knows, that was established through a royal charter on the self-regulation of the press in 2013, which is separate from the Crime and Courts Act 2013. The repeal of Section 40 will not affect the Press Regulation Panel. Any press regulator can apply to be recognised by the panel. The panel will continue to recognise, review and report on Impress. It can also recognise other press regulators, should they choose to apply.

My noble friend Lord Astor asked how we can prevent strategic lawsuits against public participation if we repeal Section 40. If enacted, Section 40 would protect only news publishers which are members of an approved regulator. SLAPPs typically target individuals instead of their employers and can target people other than journalists, including consumers, tenants or victims of sexual assault. Many SLAPPs never reach court as their intention is to silence people before the case is pursued. As I hope my noble friend knows, the Government are taking broad action against SLAPPs to create a changed culture and raise awareness of them, alongside legislative change. The task force on SLAPPs that we established published its workplan in December, outlining action from government as well as from media and legal organisations to tackle SLAPPs. The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act, which received Royal Assent in October, includes measures to tackle economic crime-related SLAPPs, which we believe represent up to 70% of all these lawsuits. The Government are also supporting a Private Member’s Bill introduced in another place by Wayne David MP, Second Reading of which was last Friday. It has cross-party support, and we will update the measures in the 2023 Act to cover a broader scope, blocking SLAPPs across all types of litigation.

I am conscious that I am reaching the end of my time, so I will turn finally to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked whether a meeting with the Secretary of State might be possible. As he will appreciate, at the moment she is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity in relation to this matter, so she is very restricted in what she can say. A meeting would not therefore be helpful. However, I and other Ministers have kept your Lordships’ House and the other place updated as much as we are able to while that legal process unfurls. I pointed in—

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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Does the Minister have a sense of the timetable for this review to be completed?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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If I may, I will point the noble Lord to the answers we have given which set out some of the timelines; there are different timelines under the different Acts and the work that Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority do. I will set them out, rather than try to give them off the top of my head, but I have answered questions from this Dispatch Box before and will continue to do that and through Written Questions where possible.

I pointed my noble friend Lord Forsyth to the Enterprise Act and the National Security and Investment Act, which cover the actions available to the Secretary of State, including where she has concerns about media freedom and freedom of expression. As my noble friend indicated, his lively discussions with the Public Bill Office and his resorting to this regret amendment reflect that this is not a matter for this Bill, but, as the contribution from our noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston showed, she has had more success with tabling an amendment to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. I would certainly encourage them both to continue their conversations with my noble friends Lord Camrose and Lord Offord of Garvel.

Arts

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Thursday 1st February 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in this debate on the contribution of the arts to the economy and society. It is even more of an honour to take part in a debate led by my noble friend Lord Bragg. For most of my adult life, he has been the cultural advocate to follow and one whose opinions on the arts, artists and the art world have shaped much of the national conversation. His contributions have made the arts accessible and helped us all to see their value, rather than to see the artistic endeavour as remote, highbrow and elitist. With others, he has argued the place of popular culture—a legacy to celebrate, surely.

In my few comments, I will draw attention to the role that the arts can play in regeneration, in particular in seaside and coastal communities. Living in and running a coastal city has, inevitably, shaped my view.

In 2018-19, I chaired a Select Committee on the future of seaside towns. Our report painted a depressing picture of decline and lost opportunity—of once thriving seaside communities feeling disconnected and left behind. Health and education, caring services, public transport, access to the arts and culture—all had outcomes infinitely poorer than in our major cities. We charted this decline from the 1960s, when many seaside towns lost access to the rail network and Brits with rising living standards changed their holiday habits. We concluded that none of this was inevitable.

The committee visited Cornwall, Clacton, Skegness, Blackpool, Whitby and Scarborough, and Margate. We heard from councils, social commentators, cultural entrepreneurs, MPs, Ministers, architects, regeneration experts and, most importantly, local people. In short, we listened to those with a passion for those communities and their potential.

One thing came across strongly. The British people have not fallen out of love with the seaside—visitor numbers remain high. They just view the seaside and our coast in a different light. The successful coastal communities we visited had a strong cultural imprint and had invested in the arts, education and culture. Margate, St Ives, Penzance, Scarborough and Falmouth had all taken a leap of faith, and it was evidently paying off.

Take my own city: back in the 1960s and 1970s it was a semi-industrial tourist town in economic decline but with the Brighton Festival, the arrival of higher education and the development of a college of art, it has shifted from being Keith Waterhouse’s town that looks like it is

“helping the police with their inquiries”

to becoming the place to be. Now it is full of creatives, arthouses, art entrepreneurs, TV production companies, musicians, writers and performers. It has one of the UK’s highest business formation rates, many of them linked to the arts and the digital economy. The Brighton Festival, the Brighton Dome and the Royal Pavilion show an economic impact annually of some £60 million and support 1,200 jobs. It is an arts hub for the south.

Is this a miracle cure for the seaside economy? In itself no, but it is part of the answer. As we have heard, the arts have high levels of productivity, can be open and accessible, can deliver new skills, and are at the cutting edge of new technologies. The UK, partly because of the brilliant advocacy of the arts by my noble friend Lord Bragg, is a recognisable arts superpower. But just as decline is not inevitable, nor is success. The arts economy needs champions, risk-takers, well-shaped investment plans and a sense of national purpose, and it needs a Government—a Labour Government—who are confident, outward looking, invest in winners, help its arts exporters, and celebrate and value our successes.

Regeneration led by arts and culture has enormous transformative potential—just look at Dundee and the V&A’s impact—but we need support, a framework of renewal and a national plan for improving the seaside that embraces that potential.

Telegraph Media Group: Proposed Sale to RedBird IMI

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I find myself in the somewhat novel position of fiercely defending the interests of the Telegraph newspaper group and the Spectator in the interests of press freedom.

There was a fairly remarkable debate in the Commons yesterday because, on a Question about transparency and protecting democracy, the Minister’s answer was mainly that she could not answer any questions. I must gently say that this questioning is not designed to trip Ministers up; these are serious concerns, put forward thoughtfully by Members of all parties right across the House. I therefore hope the Minister will be able to answer two of those questions today. First, can the Minister point to any existing examples of a nation state with “differing media values”—as the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee delicately put it yesterday—acquiring a major newspaper of another country? Secondly, and in the light of the proposed sale, do His Majesty’s Government have any plans to review existing rules on media ownership, and if not, does the Minister think they should?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions and welcome him to the ranks of Telegraph and Spectator readers—I hope he will enjoy what he sees in their pages. He will understand that the Secretary of State is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity following the provisions laid out in the Enterprise Act 2002. She is considering whether mergers raise media public interest concerns. She has issued public interest intervention notices, reflecting the concerns that she continues to have that there may be public interest considerations in this case: the

“accurate presentation of news; and … free expression of opinion”

as set out in Section 58 of the Enterprise Act, which are relevant to this planned acquisition. I hope the noble Lord will understand that, as she is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, it is essential that she does not take into account, and that there be no perception that she has taken or is taking into account, any political or presentational considerations. I therefore find myself in the same position as my honourable friend Julia Lopez in another place yesterday in being limited in what I can say while that quasi-judicial process unfurls.

BBC: Funding

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Wednesday 17th January 2024

(3 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, purely in terms of fairness, shall we hear from my noble friend Lord Grade?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord. The creative industries were growing twice as quickly as the economy overall before the pandemic. That is why, as part of the creative industry sector vision, we are looking to turbocharge that growth and why the creative industries are one of the Chancellor’s five priority areas for our economy. The noble Lord is also right to point to the importance of our public service broadcasters. I watched the third part of “Mr Bates vs The Post Office” last night on ITVX. It is a shining example of how the arts and creative industries can shine light on important issues facing society, and long may that continue.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, during Monday’s BBC Question, references were made to the threats posed by disinformation and, in particular, the value of the BBC, which is seen as a trusted provider of news both at home and abroad. The Minister said that it was

“a beacon that shines brightly around the world”.—[Official Report, 15/1/24; col. 222.]

With that in mind, does he welcome the recent launch and gradual scaling-up of BBC Verify? Does he agree that the Government could greatly assist this new team by improving their own presentation of political events and official statistics?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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That is fitting for a Question begun by the noble Lord, Lord Morse. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is right. So many of the world’s democracies go to the polls this year, and this is an issue which will face broadcasters, but the BBC particularly, both at home and through the World Service, does a brilliant job at making sure that the claims of politicians—wherever they are in the world, whatever party they come from—are rightly scrutinised and that people are informed so that they can make decisions about the societies and countries in which they live.

Loot Boxes in Video Games

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Wednesday 13th December 2023

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am not, but I shall take my noble friend’s very good question back to the gambling team at the department and encourage it to make sure that we are pursuing research that will add to our understanding of the implications for all age groups.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, whether it is the two-year gap between the Government’s call for evidence and their response, or the further year-long wait for the games industry to announce guidelines, efforts to tackle child access to loot boxes and other in-game features with gambling-like features have been far too slow, in our view. Like others, we hope that voluntary arrangements will work, but if they do not, can the Minister confirm whether the Government have a specific regulatory approach in mind? If so, how long might implementation take?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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We think the industry-led guidance on loot boxes has the potential, if fully implemented, to improve protections and to meet the Government’s objectives. We expect the games industry to implement the guidance in full and we will monitor that carefully. If the industry is unable to meet our objectives, there are a range of options that the Government may consider, but we would like to see how they bed in first.

Dormant Assets (Distribution of Money) (England) Order 2023

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Tuesday 24th October 2023

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, when I looked at this, I thought I had one or two clever questions, but they have both been asked. It is one of those SIs which is basically a good idea but there are a series of “Yes, but what if it happens?” questions. The final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, that if you insure against this then maybe you could get the money out there and would be covered anyway might be an answer. I certainly had not thought of it, but it deals with the problem of getting the money, which is designed for a good cause and which you are holding, out there and letting it do the work.

I appreciate that we should hear about how everyone who is paid from this is using the money, benefiting from it and reporting back. Can the Minister say something about that? I declare a small interest as a trustee of the Atlas Foundation, which does this on a very small scale from privately arranged funds. Reporting back is very important to what we do because we have to know what has happened, usually in youth projects based around rugby football abroad. We have reports back so that we can see what is going on. The Government should let us know how this is happening.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, made a point about additionality and the National Lottery. I wonder how many times that has been breached and whether it has now become the National Lottery’s normal activity to cover certain activities. It has been a great success and done positive things, but has it let the Government off the hook? I do not know. If we want a pointless activity, let us go through that and put the balancing scales up. My attitude is that we do not need to, as long as it gets done and we do not try to overload it.

How it is administered seems to be the major cause of concern. I do not know whether we are holding too much money back—whether for 15 or 20 years—and then giving the whole thing away. Are the Government or the Opposition thinking about whether they will challenge this in future? What is the Government’s long-term thinking on this? Helping good causes, most of which do well, and making sure you find out which ones do not is basically a win-win. It has been a successful scheme, so what are the Government doing to make sure that this momentum is maintained and that we continue to have good results? That is the only thing that could cause any controversy. It is a question of how they are monitoring it and making sure that it is doing this properly. There is also the principle of additionality. Is it doing something that other bits of legislation say are government activity, either local or national? With those caveats, which sound rather miserable as I look back at them, this should probably be supported.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, like everybody else, I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he introduced this. It is a short SI. That has not stopped noble Lords this afternoon asking a plenitude of questions, but all of them are highly relevant. Many of them are repeats from when we discussed the Bill back in 2021-22, but they are nevertheless highly relevant today.

This is of huge importance to community organisations and individuals who will benefit from the funding. I thought that the testimony of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, was very good on that point because she gave very good examples of the benefits of using the funds in the way in which they are used. I am sure that the Minister will fondly remember his many hours taking the Bill through the House; I have a feeling that it was his first Committee, and he did it very well and with tact and skill.

During the passage of the Bill, we had a lot of discussion about the potential inclusion of community wealth funds as beneficiaries of the dormant asset moneys. In the best tradition of the Lords, there was cross-party support, including in particular from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the now-retired Bishop of Newcastle, and, speaking on her behalf, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely. That collaboration gave rise, as I recall, to an amendment that many of us signed, which led to a shift in the position of the Government. It was initially resisted by the Minister, who stressed that

“current evidence for community wealth funds, as well as concrete designs for how they would operate, are relatively sparse”.

He did, however, go on to say that

“there is more work to be done in this area before a commitment can firmly be made”. [Official Report, 16/11/21; col. 177.]

In a refreshing break from tradition, the Government have followed through with their promise. I congratulate them on that, because it is a very important and significant one.

Based on the outcomes of their consultation, which saw 71% of respondents agree or strongly agree that community wealth funds should be included as a cause for dormant assets, they have rightly included them on the list in this instrument. This is, without doubt, a very exciting time for those involved in the creation and scaling up of community wealth funds. However, the Minister will know that some in the sector are concerned by the direction indicated in the recent technical consultation document published jointly by DCMS and DLUHC. We understand the need to build the evidence base for community wealth funds. Limiting their work to smaller towns of fewer than 20,000 people appears counterintuitive to us—I will not say counterproductive. Some of the most deprived areas across our country have populations larger than 20,000, yet for a variety of reasons they lack the type of social infrastructure that these funds could provide. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, gave a very good case example of where that sort of community capacity can be missing.

Yes, we need to build the evidence base for community wealth funds over time, but I hope the department will consider whether this rather arbitrary threshold is wise. If the pilots are run in the wrong areas or to the wrong criteria, we may never see an accurate picture of the role these funds can play in improving communities and people’s lives and livelihoods. Will the department reflect further on this? This design principle is not even subject to consultation, and I think that needs to be given some urgent thought. At the least, we would like to see the Minister prepared to welcome views on the point and the issue.

While we are glad that community wealth funds have been named as a cause, we are equally pleased to see the existing three causes keep their place in the list. Dormant assets have funded a variety of important services for young people and those with debt or financial inclusion issues, which the Minister referenced. It is vital that their work is able to continue, particularly at a time where our economy continues to struggle and inflation remains a problem for people up and down the country. The Minister will be familiar with the work of organisations such as Big Society Capital, Local Trust and so on, that fall under the third category on the list. As I am sure the Minister is well aware, Big Society Capital has come up with a community enterprise growth plan, which aims to put dormant asset funds to even better use by leveraging additional private capital and multiply the impact that the initial investment generates. While I understand that the Minister will not be able to announce individual allocations today, will he commit to looking closely at least at that plan?

Some questions will remain over elements of the Government’s approach, but we are generally pleased to support this SI. As I have already noted, there is cross-party support for the scheme, and we should harness that energy. At the same time, there are legitimate concerns over particular aspects of the policy. Ministers like to talk about levelling up but, despite the fantastic work of social enterprises across the country, it is not clear that we are yet seeing it on the ground. With that in mind, I hope the Minster can commit to further discussions in the months to come.

For me, the dormant assets scheme is an original great Labour success story. It started in 2008 and was authored by Gordon Brown. The current Government have taken it a stage further and broadened the range of options for paying into that fund. It has put millions of pounds to good use around the country. We are happy to support the expansion of the asset categories through the 2022 Act. Once the finer details have been ironed out, we hope that even more will soon go to good causes.

A number of questions that colleagues asked were particularly important, such as on additionality. Ensuring the restoration of money to the right place is important. The size of the reserve fund seems questionable. We must ensure that we get the right distribution of funds and that they deliver additionality, rather than just paying for things that would otherwise be paid for by government programmes through local government.

This has been an impressive and useful debate. I hope this is an issue that we can keep at the forefront of the House’s consideration. Perhaps we could return to the point about monitoring and analysing the impact at some stage in some form or other. It might be the sort of thing that could be the subject of a Lords’ report, because this is an exciting opportunity. It is all about building capacity, providing opportunities and getting funds to communities that most require them.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, that this has been an important and useful debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to it. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and her fellow members of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for the work they have done in this regard. I reassure her that we do indeed want this scheme to continue long into the future. The expansion of the dormant assets scheme is expected to unlock a further £738 million for England alongside the almost £1 billion which has already been unlocked, as I mentioned in my opening contribution. We are committed to ensuring the success of this expansion so that ample funding can be distributed across the four causes. That is what the primary legislation—the 2022 Act—and the secondary legislation intend to promote and protect.

I can also reassure the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Brixton and Lord Addington, and other noble Lords who underlined the importance of the additionality principle that it will be adhered to. Ensuring additionality is an essential criterion of the dormant assets scheme. The Government are committed to ensuring that a community wealth fund is designed and delivered in a way which does not replace or undercut central or local government funding. We specifically sought views on how to embed the principle of additionality in the design of a community wealth fund in the technical consultation, which closed on 19 October and which we are working our way through at the moment. That will include ensuring that any interventions provided to communities to support their decision-making will exclude statutory duties. We will work with the National Lottery Community Fund as the main distributor. Lottery funds are also subject to the additionality principle, so the National Lottery Community Fund already has its own policies and practices in place to maintain that important principle.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked about the pensions dashboard. Ensuring that efforts are made to reunite dormant assets funding with its rightful owner remains the first priority of the scheme. A number of ongoing initiatives are aimed at preventing pension assets reaching dormancy, including pensions dashboards, which will enable people to access their information online, securely and all in one place.

Royal Albert Hall Bill [HL]

Lord Bassam of Brighton Excerpts
Thursday 19th October 2023

(6 months ago)

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Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, as all other Peers have said this lunchtime, we are enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrington of Watford, for facilitating this Second Reading debate. As I understand it, it is something of a rarity for private Bills of this kind.

We should also be grateful to the noble Lord for the transparent way in which he described and set out the Bill, and his particular role and interest. I thought I heard him say at some stage during his peroration that the Bill seeks to put questionable practices on a legal footing. We have heard the noble Baronesses, Lady Stowell and Lady Fraser, my noble friend Lord Chandos, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, set out their concerns with great eloquence and a very fine understanding of the legislation that underpins them. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for putting her finger on one of the major problems. We face something of a difficulty here, frankly, and we should face it honestly. We need to say at the end of all of this that the trustees need to reconsider their position.

That said, the Royal Albert Hall is a treasured cultural institution. These Benches recognise that. We recognise its value, its history and, very importantly, the need to safeguard its future for future generations. Indeed, as a charitable organisation—I declare an interest as an employee of a charity—one of its core missions is to preserve and enhance the wonderful grade 1 listed building that we are all very familiar with. Whether you attend the Proms—I was fortunate in the summer to listen to some fine examples of northern soul—go to a comedy show such as Les Patterson, for whom my noble friend Lord Chandos explained his love, or have a tour of the building, anyone who has visited there will have fond memories and stories to tell. Mine is from 1969, when I witnessed a fine performance by Jethro Tull, with Ian Anderson standing on one leg playing the flute—a sight to behold. I was 16 at the time; I must have escaped my mother’s clutches to get there. It was a memorable concert.

We recognise that, to safeguard the Royal Albert Hall’s future, its trustees must be able to generate new interest in it, and new income, and that this will largely focus on fundraising. However, as with everything in life, this is about balance. The charity’s other key mission is to promote the arts and sciences—its founding purpose, as set out by Prince Albert. We must never see that cause become secondary to the interests of fee-paying members.

Noble Lords will know, as many have expressed, that the past few years have not been an easy time for the arts. During the pandemic the Royal Albert Hall and other venues were forced to close their doors, with all the consequences that brought for venues, performers and others across the cultural industries. Although the Royal Albert Hall does not directly receive taxpayer funding, it does get grants. As others have said, the realities of the pandemic meant it got a sizeable loan from the culture recovery fund, of some £20 million.

Beyond Covid, changes to our relationship with the EU and other domestic schemes that support the arts have created other problems in the field. Although today is not the day to go into the specifics or to debate the rights and wrongs of certain policy decisions, we must consider this legislation in that wider context, and remember that the world around us is changing. Yes, venues and cultural institutions must adapt to changes in how people consume and participate in the arts, but they must also reflect other changes in consumer preferences, including an increased interest in fairness and transparency. The noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, expressed that rather well by drawing on charitable purpose as the basis of her argument.

That said, I can see why the Royal Albert Hall has brought forward these proposals. But they are too narrow. The provisions around additional seats in grand tier boxes would enable the corporation to raise money, while sparing the blushes of those who have already installed seats ultra vires.

This Bill goes into the Opposed Private Bill Committee process, and I can well understand, because of that, why noble Lords have been as forthright as they have in today’s debate. We owe a debt of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for his forensic take on the Bill and its impact.

Others will have noted the tabling of a petition against the Bill by Mr Lyttelton, in co-operation with the FanFair Alliance and the Court of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. That petition quite rightly raises the questions that have been raised today relating to the institution’s governance, the rights of its members, and the extent to which the proposed changes will impact on ordinary people’s ability to access the arts at an affordable price.

No doubt these topics will also be the subject of detailed discussion in the forthcoming Committee hearings, perhaps informed by the tabling of the amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, has drawn our attention to. For our part, we see merit in those amendments; we think they will begin to set this piece of legislation in the right direction, but we do need to get this right. We value the Royal Albert Hall and the work it has done to broaden its appeal and open its doors to new visitors. But we should not lose sight of the need for it to act quite properly as a charity.

As others have highlighted, the proposals raise questions about the charity’s aims, how they are delivered and whether the number of seat-owning members on the organisation’s council gives rise to clear conflicts of interest. I have read the Charity Commission briefing on this, and it is very clear. It says:

“These conflicts of interest are allowed under the charity’s governing documents. However, the situation has regularly attracted criticism and threatens to undermine public confidence in the charity”.


We should take that as a very clear warning. The Charity Commission has put on record its

“longstanding concerns about these inherent conflicts of interest”.

This Bill needs to tackle that issue. The Charity Commission suggests that

“the board of trustees should have enough independent members to enable it to be quorate without the participation of seat-holders or those appointed by seat-holders. The Private Bill does not make provision for these improvements”,

but they could be addressed either in the constitution or in legislation.

Previous attempts to get clarity on this have been blocked by the Attorney-General, and one wonders why that might be the case. This Bill does not deal with the core issues regarding those conflicts, and until those issues are properly dealt with, it is a piece of legislation which it is very hard to see our side of the House supporting.

I spoke earlier of balance; I am convinced that there could be a way forward that will support the future of the Royal Albert Hall in a manner that delivers fairer access to the arts that it hosts. But that cannot be as a profitable sideline for those seat-holders who get a benefit from the Royal Albert Hall acting as a charity in the way in which they do. So I too am drawn to the conclusion echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, that this piece of legislation is a missed opportunity, and these Benches will not support it in its current form.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Harrington of Watford Portrait Lord Harrington of Watford (Con)
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My noble friend makes his point clearly and with great lucidity, as ever.

Quite a few points were made about the Covid loan—as has been said, it was given according to the decision of an independent committee that DCMS, I presume, appointed for all the loans that took place—and whether surplus money should be used to pay back the loan early to the Government. Any charitable body which has a loan that it can pay back at 2% would not be doing its duty for charitable purposes if it did not invest it in something that would perhaps pay back at 4%. I do not believe that that point is relevant to the conflict of interest issue.

The valuation of seats was raised. My noble friend Lord Hodgson believes that seats should be valued by an independent evaluator nominated by the Charity Commission, or put through the Charity Commission. I remind him that, although the clause says that the trustees should take professional advice, all trustees, whether they are appointed, like me, or are seat-holders, are subject to the duties of trustees under the Charities Act, which means that they would be in breach of that duty if they sold them at less than the available market price. One noble Lord told me that some of these seats have already been allocated and sold. I am not aware of that, but I intend to find out. I would disapprove most strongly if that were the case, but I do not believe it is.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, made, as one would expect, a very significant contribution regarding the legal aspect. He made a point about charities having separate commercial entities. I have some experience of that, having been chairman of a charity that had a separate commercial entity. That happens all the time. However, that is different because the commercial entity of the charity is set up for that purpose. In the case of the hall, the commercial interests are owned by the seat-holders. From that perspective, they are there in two capacities: because they are selling their seats and because they are trustees of the hall, trying to enforce its charitable purposes.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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There is a point which we need to reflect on. In putting his argument, the noble Lord is seeking to protect those who have a conflict of interest. He is right that the hall can have a commercial side to its charitable practice, but it cannot surely be right that seat-holders be able to exploit its being a charity. Those seats are sold by seat-holders at a vastly inflated commercial rate that reveals no benefit to the hall itself. That is one of the fundamental objections we have voiced clearly today. Until this legislation answers that question, I cannot see the merit in having it before us.

Lord Harrington of Watford Portrait Lord Harrington of Watford (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for that. He made it clear that he felt that his Benches would not be able to support the Bill in its current form, but I do not think that is particularly important today, because I think the last time a Private Bill such as this was divided on was in the 1930s. If I remember correctly, it was a railways Bill.

It has been my duty and pleasure to propose this Bill—perhaps a masochistic form of pleasure, given what has been said in the past couple of hours. The serious point is that I am proud to be a trustee of this charity, and I believe that the trustees act in a manner commensurate with its interests. If I had experienced any conflict of interest or if any decision of the council had been taken that was in conflict with the hall’s charitable purposes, I would not only have resigned but publicised the reasons for doing so. However, I have not found that up to now.