S4C

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Thursday 8th February 2024

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Capital Law into the working environment and atmosphere at S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster, and what discussions they have had with that broadcaster in response.

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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My Lords, His Majesty’s Government are committed to supporting S4C, which plays a vital role in the UK’s broadcasting sector. The recent events at the channel raise serious concerns; significant work is required to rebuild trust at S4C and to bring a fresh start. The Secretary of State has therefore written to S4C encouraging its current leadership swiftly to agree a programme of work to address the issues it has faced.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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My Lords, we all want to see Sianel Pedwar Cymru succeed and to continue to make its vital contribution to Welsh culture and a vibrant creative economy, but recent events have raised serious concerns about governance, leadership and culture. Can the Minister be a bit more detailed about when the recruitment process for a new chair will begin? Can he tell noble Lords what conversations his department has had with Sianel Pedwar Cymru to ensure that the organisation stays on track while, inevitably, it has an interim chair and interim joint CEO for at least a short period?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Secretary of State and the whole department are treating this issue with the utmost seriousness. The department has been in regular contact with S4C and will remain so. An interim appointment of a chairman will be announced in due course, following consultation with the board; that is consistent with the board’s standing orders. We will move swiftly to launch the process to appoint a new chairman of the channel. That will be a fair and open process run in accordance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, the Capital Law report makes quite concerning reading. Were anti-bullying and harassment policies in place, and if so, why were they not acted on? My worry is this: with the leadership of an important organisation such as S4C, to whom do the rest of the staff make their complaints? If they feel that the leadership are not acting properly, where do they go to raise their concerns? Is there a whistleblowing policy that could have been used, for example?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Serious concerns have been raised, including in the report from Capital Law, which the noble Lord mentions. It is clear that a significant amount of work is now required to rebuild trust in and at the channel. All members of the board of S4C are required to comply with the code of conduct for board members of public bodies, as well as the seven Nolan principles of public life. We are very clear about that expectation, and on the need for the channel to act under its new leadership on the concerns which have been raised.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD)
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My Lords, the Secretary of State for Wales has explained that he has to take an arms-length approach to HR issues at S4C, as we appointed the board. If the relationship between the chair, CEO and senior management becomes toxic again in the future, who would actually have the power to intervene?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Like all public service broadcasters, S4C is independent of the Government, but as its sponsor department, DCMS regularly engages with the channel on a range of issues, including governance, as it has done since these allegations were first made. It is right that the board has said that it intends to address the concerns which have been raised, and we expect it to do so as a matter of priority.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, this may seem quite a niche subject for some Members of your Lordships’ House, but on behalf of those of us in the Welsh diaspora who use S4C as a Welsh learning instrument—dwi dal yn dysgu Cymraeg: I am still learning Welsh—I urge my noble friend to make every effort to expedite putting S4C back on to a good footing. I also take this opportunity to ask my noble friend to join me in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on her appointment this week as one of the four commissioners for the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. She has a big job to do, and we wish her well in doing it.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I certainly join my noble friend in extending our congratulations to the noble Baroness. I also agree with her on the hugely important contribution that Sianel Pedwar Cymru makes to the lives and well-being of Welsh speakers and learners. We remain committed to helping it adapt to the changing media landscape. There are important provisions in the Media Bill—which will have its Second Reading in your Lordships’ House later this month—which will update its public service remit and remove the current geographical broadcasting restrictions on the channel, allowing it to broaden its reach and offer its content on a range of new platforms across the UK and beyond.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, will the decision to ratify the 2003 UNESCO convention on intangible cultural heritage help strengthen the traditions that mean so much to Welsh speakers?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes. The convention is currently before Parliament and, subject to the approval of your Lordships and Members in another place, I look forward to going to UNESCO to sign and ratify it. It will help us champion living heritage across these isles, including traditions beloved of Welsh speakers such as eisteddfodau, Mari Lwyd, male voice choirs and much more. It is very exciting to think about the living heritage we can compile in an inventory in order to share these traditions with future generations.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, would it not help if Welsh-speaking Members could ask questions in Welsh in this Chamber?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am afraid I would not be able to provide much of an answer, other than to say “diolch yn fawr”.

Lord Sahota Portrait Lord Sahota (Lab)
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My Lords, the Welsh language received a grant of some £250,000 from the Welsh Government. There are only half a million Welsh language speakers in the UK, so how come other languages such as Polish, Punjabi, Bengali and Gujarati never receive any grant at all, even though they have a much larger number of speakers?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, speaking in minority languages is an important contribution from our broadcasters across the UK. The Government support the Welsh Government’s ambition to reach the target of 1 million people in Wales being able to speak Welsh by 2050, and S4C clearly plays an important part in that. On the broader question of other languages, I look forward to the debates we will be having on the Media Bill about the support our public service broadcasters can give.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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Given that Welsh is indigenous to one of the peoples of this country and has been since time began—indeed, probably before time began—would it not be sensible to take an investment in the ambition of the Welsh Government to boost the number of Welsh speakers, which is already considerable, as a template from which the other people referred to can make their own appeal: a kind of sounding board through which other dreams may be dreamed and hopes may be nourished?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord speaks with the poeticism and lyricism of the Welsh language, even in the English tongue. He is right about the lessons that S4C can provide to other broadcasters on promoting minority languages and the indigenous languages of this isle. As I say, there are provisions in the Media Bill which I look forward to debating, so we can make sure that those lessons are learned.