Covid-19: Broadband

Lord Knight of Weymouth Excerpts
Monday 5th July 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government are working in different areas to address affordability, and I am sure that the noble Lord has seen the recent Ofcom report on this issue. Some 99% of households can access an affordable tariff, but the take-up of that is much lower than we would hope, and Ofcom has recommended more proactive marketing of those tariffs.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the pandemic has accelerated the embedded use of broadband for work, learning and leisure, and yet 9 million people are still on the wrong side of the digital divide. It is estimated that 3% of schoolchildren were prevented from accessing learning during lockdowns. Many of these people live in social housing. What efforts are being made to ensure that all registered social landlords include broadband access in the rent and that such an element is then included in housing benefit?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The issues relating to being on the wrong side of the digital divide, as the noble Lord described it, are more complex than simply the tariff or how rent might be set up: they include digital skills and confidence, on which this Government are working very actively, as set out in our tech-savvy nation report.

Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Lord Knight of Weymouth Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(7 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I want to speak relatively briefly in support of my noble friend Lord Blunkett’s Amendment 56A. I find the procedure slightly odd—I am still trying to influence the Minister after she has asked for it to be withdrawn—but I will give it a good go.

The importance of financial education and financial literacy in primary education does not need too much arguing. I recall a friend of mine, Emily, who finished secondary with four A-levels about three or four years ago. She chose to become a successful actress rather than go to university. About six months after she started work—she got work very quickly—she was furious that her education system had not told her about taxation and that suddenly she had to put money aside to pay her taxes as a self-employed actress.

That reinforced for me that we have an education system that is really passive on this. I was delighted a couple of years ago, when I was working for a company called TES, to be involved with the Bank of England and the Beano on producing some financial literacy resources for primary schools, which were very well received. I also endorse the work of KickStart Money.

It has become particularly acute that we must do more in primary education because of the cashless nature of our transactions. According to a survey this month published by, I think, Yahoo, fewer than a quarter of transactions in this country are now paid with cash. Children no longer see and feel money exchanging hands. They are no longer adding it up and making sense of 1p, 2p, 5p, 20p, 50p, £1, £10 and so on because it is not part of what most of us handle any more. There are apps. My stepdaughter will be 10 tomorrow. We use an app for her called RoosterMoney, which helps her with some of these things. But there has been an impact for primary schoolchildren on their numeracy, their understanding of debt, and of how their school is paid for and how their teachers are paid, because it is taxation and public money. These are really important parts of citizenship.

While the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, was talking I thought that, although the amendment is about resourcing financial literacy in primary schools, I had better quickly check the primary curriculum to see what is in it. There are two mentions of “financial”. One is in respect of what the curriculum requires years 5 and 6 to do in terms of spelling. The noble Baroness asked whether there is something horribly wrong in the Department for Education. It is so obsessed with things such as spelling in English that you have to learn how endings that sound like “shall” are spelled, as in “official”, “artificial” and “financial”. The only other mention is in the context of maths. It says that studying maths is a good idea and “necessary for financial literacy”, so it gets a slight mention but that is it. There is no real requirement, but there is a little bit of a nudge that there is a good reason for studying maths. We have to do better.

This amendment, and putting something in statute, would give some priority and send a positive signal from government that we should do more on this. It would be able to fund some of the teacher training that is important to give primary school teachers better confidence and competence around how to link this in to various parts of the curriculum, because it is not just in maths that you can teach financial literacy. Of course, it could fund more of those resources so that it is not just down to the Beano, the Bank of England, KickStart and others and we have some properly evidence-based resources that help teachers to link across the curriculum in an engaging and interesting way for primary school students.

I urge the Minister to reflect and perhaps have a chat with some of her colleagues in the Department for Education—particularly the Schools Minister, who is obsessed with spelling, punctuation, grammar and maths but, frankly, is not really that interested in very much else in terms of what is specified in the national curriculum. We could do better.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. I absolutely do not deny in any way the importance of financial education, but the issue here is not the importance of any individual cause. The challenge we are faced with—or the privilege that we will all have—is to contribute to a conversation about the right cause for this particular stream of money, with its unique features, and that includes the existing causes that are funded. We will be putting the cart before the horse if we focus too much on causes to go into the Bill; rather, we should put the combined intellect of your Lordships and others into making sure that we spend future moneys in the best way possible.

English Football: Project Big Picture

Lord Knight of Weymouth Excerpts
Wednesday 14th October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I would guess that the prospects for promotion depend a little on who you support—but I leave it to each noble Lord individually to decide on that. We are clear that the principles of fair competition must prevail as we move forward with the review.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the way in which the owners of the big six clubs are behaving is, frankly, a disgrace. They are exploiting the catastrophic impact of the pandemic on the Football League clubs to make a massive power grab. At no point have they consulted fans during this shocking episode, despite these proposals being three years in the making. The Government’s proposed supporter-led review of football governance is now urgently needed, as others have said. The Minister did not answer my noble friend Lord Bassam’s question as to when the Government will commence the review. Will she consult supporters’ groups now on the terms of reference and scope and structure that she mentioned earlier?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Lord is right about the lack of inclusion of supporters’ groups in the proposal that has been discussed widely in the media. On timing, we do not have a firm date, but we are committed to consulting all stakeholders as we prepare that review and, clearly, fans are an important part of that.

Covid-19: Artificial Intelligence

Lord Knight of Weymouth Excerpts
Wednesday 9th September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right to focus on the importance of trust: it is a vital underpinning in the development of AI. I imagine he is aware that we have just published our National Data Strategy, which sets out very clearly the importance of public understanding of both government and non-government data within an ethical framework.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab) (V)
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My Lords, back in April my noble friend Lord Darzi told the BBC in respect of Covid-19 that

“AI remains one of our strongest paths to achieve a perceptible solution but there is a fundamental need for high quality, large and clean data sets.”


Much of this data gets siloed in individual companies and universities, so what are the Government doing to unify these data sources to allow researchers to apply machine learning to new solutions for vaccines, monitoring and personalising care within an ethical context?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right, although I am sure he would acknowledge that the quality, size and integration of those datasets vary considerably, as the recent report highlights, between different sectors of the economy. Again, the National Data Strategy and the consultation on it will be important mechanisms for addressing the issues that the noble Lord raised, as well as the open data initiatives and pilots that we are already running.

Cairncross Review

Lord Knight of Weymouth Excerpts
Thursday 6th February 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, on securing the debate and her introduction to it. I must begin by reminding your Lordships that I am also a member of the Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies, and of my entry in the register as a chief officer of Tes Global, which publishes the TES magazine, a specialist education publication.

At Tes, we continue to see the value of print, but we have had to build a vibrant digital business behind a great media brand because, of course, journalism has changed. Our journalists see the traffic numbers; they are trained in search engine optimisation; they need video and audio skills. It is no longer enough to be great questioners and writers. While the last big Google algorithm change helpfully puts a premium on authority and trust, our readers are less likely to bother with long-form journalism: 80% of our news traffic is from mobile. Migrating from a print business to a digital one has been costly in investment and revenue. We have had to rapidly evolve. A year ago, we sold the Times Higher Education, which had substantially become a data insights business behind its great journalism. Tes is now largely a school software and training business behind a brand of leading education journalism.

This is all fine, but the need to resource costly investigative journalism is a cornerstone of democracy. The Select Committee that I am on would probably not have been formed by your Lordships if it was not for the Guardian investing in Carole Cadwalladr’s time to investigate Cambridge Analytica. This is at the heart of why the Secretary of State—I very much welcome her to the House—should act more substantially on the excellent Cairncross report.

This was vividly brought home to me last night when looking—I was at home—at the Lords Library briefing on the coronavirus. I will read one paragraph towards the end:

“Since the outbreak of the disease, various organisations and commentators have raised concerns about the spread of disinformation relating to 2019-nCoV. In general, much of the disinformation on the topic has focused on: false cures (for example, drinking bleach); the spread of the disease (that it is a bioweapon); and speculation as to its origin (one suggested cause is 5G). The scale of the problem is such that the WHO has labelled it an ‘infodemic’: an over-abundance of information that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance.”


The lack of authoritative information and the disinformation online is distracting public health officials, to the extent that in Malaysia a Minister has said that it has become a bigger problem than the virus itself. He had to go out and tell people that it did not cause others to walk undead in the streets.

The Minister needs to ask herself: what happens as and when we face a real health emergency here? What of an impoverished BBC, and what happens when the value of the news media shifts in Government? It would then no longer be about malleability in winning elections and referenda but about suddenly needing to win back trust—the lost trust, which becomes something we need as a matter of life and death. We urgently need a national media literacy campaign, like that in Finland, and credible government action on this critical issue.