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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 7 May 2014

[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

S4C and Welsh Identity

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Vaizey.)

9.30 am

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): As always, wherever we are, it is a pleasure for me to speak under your always fair chairmanship, Mr Brady.

S4C and its link with cultural identity are hugely important and a matter on which there is a large measure of agreement across all parties and among all Welsh MPs, so I would have liked to have had a lot of Members from other parties present for the debate and a good audience. Unfortunately, however, we clash with the Welsh Grand Committee, which Members must attend because it is an important meeting to discuss the recent Budget, so I fear that we may be short of the sort of numbers that I might have expected. That is not a reflection of the interest of Welsh MPs in the future of S4C, because interest is strong.

My personal interest became much more exaggerated in the 1960s and 1970s, when I became much more aware of my identity and of the person I was, as we do when we get older. That was when I realised I was Welsh to the core; first and foremost, I would always say that I was Welsh. I have looked through lists of my ancestors, and I do not have a single one who was not born in Montgomeryshire, Sir Drefaldwyn. Every single one was a first-language Welsh speaker—I have gone through books that people have written.

In the 1960s, my generation—my five sisters and I—was the first not to speak Welsh; we spoke only English. When I became a Member of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, the sense of identity was such that I felt that I had to learn to speak Welsh. Since then I have become bilingual, and if anyone were to ask me what I was proudest of doing in my life, one of those things would be becoming bilingual in the language of my nation.

People have asked me why I sought today’s debate. It stemmed from a meeting I had with the chief executive of S4C, in which we talked about the budget and programme development—I will come on to that. It was a chance conversation, three years on from the trauma that we experienced when we broke the inflationary link, in terms of guaranteed funding for S4C. We also changed the arrangements for the funding, so that it came via the BBC Trust, from the licence fee. That change was huge, and it was a sensitive issue, causing a huge amount of trauma in Wales.

Another factor in the timing of the debate is that we have a new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. There must be something of an induction course for the new Secretary of State, because he will see that the S4C issue is not a quiet one. When it raises its head, it might well be on his desk more than he expects. The issue is important, and he needs to be aware of just how important S4C, the Welsh language and the cultural link between them is to the Welsh people.

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S4C is inextricably linked to the language and Welsh identity. More than anything else, it is the Welsh language that makes Wales special. If we look at a nation, we wonder what it is that makes it distinct or special, and the Welsh language is what makes Wales special. As I said, my first interest in Welsh identity, including in the language, developed in the 1960s. At that time—this might come as a shock to my colleagues—I won a bardic chair. I wrote a 20,000-word essay on the future of the Welsh language. It might cause some amusement to hear that my pseudonym was Taurus ap Tomos; make of that what you will.

The conclusion of my essay was pessimistic, although not an unusual one in the 1960s: it was that the Welsh language would disappear as a used language in the long run. We have made a huge advance since then, because that is not something that people would say today. It is easy to forget just how negative we were.

Before 1982, there was a lead-up to the establishment of S4C. Some Welsh language programmes appeared in the 1960s and 1970s on other platforms, such as the BBC and HTV Cymru. Before the 1979 general election, there was a big debate about whether a new Welsh language channel would be created. It was created, although there was a bit of a hoo-hah after the election. The Government of the day were facing a lot of economic and budgetary pressures. There was a lot of support for a new channel; the Welsh community came together and applied pressure as well, as they did three years ago, too. The then Government, led by Mrs Thatcher, created S4C in November 1982, and that was a huge stepping-stone.

Despite the hoo-hah leading up to it, the creation of S4C under a Conservative Government is something that I can look back on as a huge step forward for the language. If we look at the record of the Conservative party, creating S4C was not the only thing it did: the Welsh Language Act 1993 was another huge step forward, and the creation of the Welsh Language Board was another Conservative initiative.

I am therefore proud, not only of the 1982 creation of S4C—there can be debate about how that happened; there was the influence of Gwynfor Evans’s threat to fast to death, and Opposition criticism of the prevarication in introducing the necessary Bill—but of its budget. Ever since the beginning, there has been a good and adequate budget. S4C has been good value. In 1991, the guaranteed link with inflation was introduced, and that funded the channel on a confident basis right up until 2010, when the incoming Government faced a similar position to that of the Government who came to power in 1979: there were huge threats to the economy and a need to cut back on public expenditure, which lead to substantial debate.

There is room for much debate on the impact of the inflationary link. I was pretty nervous about breaking that link, as all of us probably were. In the end, I accepted it. There has been a positive element to the inflation link: S4C had a guaranteed income in a business in which forward commitments need to be made, and independence from Government interference. However, being a statutory link, an element of complacency arose, as it does when there is a guaranteed income. That guaranteed income meant that S4C had to keep thinking not about its market, but about satisfying the people in control of paying it. Breaking the link was important.

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It was quite an experience being involved in breaking the link. I served on the Committee that examined the Public Bodies Bill. I had 1,200 e-mails on the issue, which is four times more than on any other subject since I became an MP. After I had spoken—or it might have been my vote that did it—I became something of a target. We even had someone carted out of the Public Gallery, because they were disturbing a debate. There was a huge rumpus in Wales. I was being doorstepped all over the building by various people lobbying. That showed me that the people of Wales really cared about their channel. They were worried that changes would damage it, although over the past three years, things have worked out okay.

There was a second big change: rather than being funded directly from Westminster, the channel is now funded from the licence fee through the BBC Trust, an issue that has raised its head this morning. A lot of people worried about that change at the time, and have been worried since. Their worry is that we need an independent S4C that is not influenced by a paymaster—that is, not influenced by the BBC. I must say that the relationship between S4C and the BBC in Wales is terrific—better than anybody could have expected.

The comments we have heard today are a bit overblown. The director of BBC Cymru Wales has made comments about viewing figures at peak hours, which might be perceived to be about wanting to influence the managerial side of S4C, but I am not sure that that is right. It is crucial that S4C is free and independent—editorially, operationally and managerially. The slightest suggestion that there might be some interference in that has caused a huge hoo-hah. In a sense, I welcome that, as it emphasises just how important that independence is.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): As an Ulster Scot, I am very aware of the need to preserve and encourage identity. In Northern Ireland, 35% of the population see themselves as Ulster Scots—that is 250,000 people from a population of 1.7 million—so I understand the identity that the hon. Gentleman is trying to preserve. The issue is important for us as well. In Northern Ireland, we have BBC channels and programmes that promote our identity. Does the hon. Gentleman see S4C and also the BBC as conduits to enable others to have input into the Welsh identity and language?

Glyn Davies: Indeed I do. S4C is particularly important because it is a Welsh language channel, but of course BBC Wales is hugely influential. It is a discrete part of the BBC and is committed to the language. It works closely with S4C, providing programmes, and the relationship is very good. That was not always the case, but it certainly is at the moment.

There is one aspect of the Public Bodies Act 2011 on which I would like a reassurance from the Minister—I am sure he will be happy to give it. Section 31 states that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport must ensure “sufficient funding” to deliver a Welsh language channel in Wales. That is rather imprecise. However, it is important that it is stated in the Act that the Secretary of State should do that.

My focus today is on the link between S4C and the language, because that is what I think is most important, but to a lot of people, the importance of S4C is about

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not just the language but the contribution that it makes to the economy. I was involved in economic development for the whole of Wales around the time that S4C was created. There was a blossoming of the creative industries. A huge number of small businesses set up in parts of Wales where there had been depopulation, and to which it was difficult to attract other forms of business. S4C does not produce its own work but commissions it, and a large proportion of those commissions go not to the BBC but to independent companies. Today we have four major companies that produce work for S4C. Those include: Boom Pictures, a successful international company; Tinopolis, a major company that produces “Question Time”; Rondo; and Cwmni Da, a company that has sold programmes to China.

We should not forget, however, that the last thing we want is for S4C to drop into a comfort zone. We need to make certain that it is not just the four established companies with good relationships with S4C that continue to get all the work, and that there is still that blossoming of new, small companies in the more remote parts of Wales where it is still more difficult to develop the economy.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): My hon. Friend makes an important point about S4C’s contribution in commissioning work from smaller companies. Remarkably, since the reduction in funding, the variety of companies supplying work for S4C has increased, whereas before the reduction, companies—especially those from the north-west—saw a significant contraction in the number of programmes that they supplied to S4C.

Glyn Davies: Indeed. I was not aware of the precise way in which the creative industries had developed in Wales, but it is generally known that over the period leading up to the break in the funding link, there was a real fall-off, with too much concentration on Cardiff-based companies. Members for Cardiff might feel cross about that remark, but the key thing about S4C is that small companies can operate in areas where the language has traditionally been strong. We must not forget that. We do not want to return to complacency—a comfort zone in which we have what we have and S4C does not look to continue to develop new companies that can become the big successes of tomorrow.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): My hon. Friend will have heard that S4C is moving its headquarters to Carmarthen. The economic contribution that that will make across west Wales is profound. His point is a good one, and one that S4C is beginning to realise itself.

Glyn Davies: I agree with my hon. Friend. There will obviously be views on whether S4C should move from the capital, where political activity is mainly based and the creative industries are concentrated, but the move is the right one. Where the language is under most threat is in what I term the heartlands, where Welsh is still the language of the street—Carmarthen is one of those places. Those are the areas where we have seen the biggest loss in Welsh speakers and where S4C can play a role in helping to stabilise any decline in the language.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I am hugely impressed by his prize-winning background—

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I had not heard about that until today. He is making an important point about the Cardiff-centric nature of institutions in Wales, which is a real danger. Does he agree that over the past few years one issue has been that Welsh-speaking people have been drawn to Cardiff and have settled in the Cardiff area, which has had an impact on the Welsh language in communities throughout Wales, in particular in north-west Wales?

Glyn Davies: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point—I can only agree. It is inevitable, and in mid-Wales, where I live, it happened in a huge way—the population was disappearing completely. That is what developed my interest in public affairs. When I left school, I was the only person in the academic stream who stayed in the area; everybody else had to leave to find a job of any value of to them. But that trend has reversed to a large extent, as the numbers show: in Montgomeryshire, the numbers fell from 50,000 at the start of the last century to about 36,000 mid-century, but are back up to 50,000, so they went down but have come back up again. That is partly to do with the regional development policies of the Conservative Government of the 1980s, who invested greatly in the rural part of mid-Wales with great success.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. To return to education and the importance of the language, does he agree that an essential role of S4C has been to buttress education policy in schools? It is not a tool of Government policy but has meant that children from an anglicised background have had the Welsh language made familiar in their homes in a natural way. Does he also agree that evidence for the fact that S4C is in no way complacent is the international success of many of its commissions, not least “Hinterland”, which was filmed in Ceredigion?

Glyn Davies: Indeed. The only difficulty I had with the programme was that it rained pretty much throughout the whole first episode and was probably not particularly helpful to attracting tourists to Ceredigion. However, I have watched the later episodes, and I must say that it is a hugely successful programme.

My request for today’s debate was instigated by my meeting with S4C to discuss future funding. Decisions on programming have to be made two or three years ahead, and those making the decisions need to have an idea of what their budget will be. Although most of S4C’s budget comes from the licence fee, which is fairly certain, a certain amount comes from the Westminster Government—from DCMS—and is guaranteed for only a limited period. Programmes such as “Hinterland” take more than two years to deliver, from first discussions to delivery, so to commit to a programme such as that, which is hugely successful and will be internationally successful, a fair degree of certainty is needed. That is one of the main reasons I requested today’s debate, in the lead-up to consideration of how S4C will be funded. The licence fee we know about, and the Minister may have already started discussions on its future. Officially, they will probably start after the next election.

I know that S4C will deliver a document later this month to start the process of discussing what S4C will be from 2018 onwards. The agreement is that that will be considered. The issue is long-term funding in the creative industry. If we are going to have good and internationally successful programmes such as “Hinterland”,

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we need to have a period in which the board and chief executive of S4C can commit to delivering programmes in two years’ time, and that requires some certainty about the budget.

The next point I was going to make was the move to Carmarthen; I will make it again to satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart). I have said what I was going to say, but I just thought that I would say it twice to make him happy.

Very soon now—or perhaps it has already started—the Secretary of State will be starting the long process of reviewing the BBC’s charter, and part of that will be its relationship with S4C and the continuation of the funding stream. There will also be discussions, which I hope hon. Members will be part of, about S4C deciding what sort of organisation it wants to be. There will be big changes—nothing stands still, particularly in the fast-moving world of the creative industries. There has to be a serious look at how much money comes in from advertising: if that is part of S4C’s funding, that has to be taken into account, because it relates to audience figures. When I see headline audience figures, I never really trust them, because we have to look at the whole picture and what is behind the figures. S4C produces a lot of children’s programmes, which do not count in the measurement although it has been incredibly successful in that field, exporting all over the world. Also, there is a big move by all television channels to online programming, which inevitably leads to a reduction in audience figures. We have to look at the issue in the round before we make a judgment about viewing figures. There will be a significant debate about the sort of S4C we want. As I said, I think S4C is producing a document later this month. That will be a chance for us to start engaging with it.

The United Kingdom has been a hugely successful entity for centuries. A key part of that is that each nation in it, whether Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, has to feel a sense that it is belonging to a team and that its differences and uniqueness are properly recognised right across the UK; that the whole team recognises its special features. In Wales, we have a special language, which about 20% of people speak; it is hugely successful. We have probably stopped its decline, but there has to be a constant and continuous battle. It is a minority language—I am not sure that Welsh is absolutely a minority language; it is probably just classed as such, and it does not seem to be a minority language any more in Wales—and it is under threat. There is a constant battle to protect and boost it. That has to be respected throughout the United Kingdom, not just in Wales, where we all know about it, but in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is why it is important that we have a debate about S4C, the language and the identity of Wales here in the UK Parliament. That is why I have secured today’s debate and why I have enjoyed sharing my views on the issue with hon. Members.

9.55 am

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) in congratulating the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing this important debate.

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Only last year, we were here to celebrate the 30th anniversary of S4C as the world’s only publicly broadcast Welsh language channel. Although at times the existence of the channel has been taken for granted, its importance to the people of Wales has not diminished in the slightest. As I said in the anniversary debate, the existence of S4C is a reminder of a diverse history of people—some of them famous, some of them pretty much establishment figures, and some of them definitely not establishment figures—all of whom came together to campaign for the Welsh language at a time when it was not fashionable to do so. That is important for us to remember. For some, it was a campaign that came from our universities and from this place; for others, it was a different campaign that involved refusing to pay their television licence; but for all those people, from wherever they came, we can never say too many times that we—that next generation of people active in Welsh political life—are in their debt, because without them, the channel would not have been created.

As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, we often have very personal reasons why we are so supportive of S4C. He took us through his own journey in the 1960s—one wonders whether he was long-haired and hippyish in those days, or merely a prize winner at cultural festivals. My personal experience was that of growing up in a bilingual community, where English was the language of the home, so for me S4C was not only a nice way to have a bit of extra Welsh, but a way of enabling me to study Welsh at first-language level at school. It was also the mechanism that normalised the use of Welsh for me, and I know that that is true for many other people. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) mentioned earlier the crucial importance of S4C in education. For people like me, it was the station that I could listen to when most of the Welsh speakers I knew were people who dealt in Welsh almost 24/7.

I know that that is even truer today. Many children who go to Welshmedium schools are without the advantage that I had of being in a bilingual community. It is an advantage, too, for non-Welsh-speaking parents who are trying to learn the language; for the wider community of people who are unable to speak Welsh themselves, but who are determined, as my father was, that it should be passed to the next generation; and for families with only one Welsh-speaking parent in London, Liverpool or even outside the United Kingdom who are trying to bring up their children to speak Welsh—no easy task and a tough challenge for families living outside Wales in an increasingly globalised world.

I do not propose to tread over old ground in this debate. The Minister remembers many of us from a few years ago. We remember that he watched “Fireman Sam”; I am sure that he has watched a lot more than that now. Many of us had real fears for S4C’s independence and funding when we tried unsuccessfully to get it removed from the Public Bodies Bill. We saw disproportionate cuts that meant S4C’s grant was reduced from £101 million in 2010 to £83 million in 2012. We saw it being chucked away. We have seen reductions of 1% in 2013-14 and 2% more in 2014-15, which clearly places stress on a channel that has already had to cut costs wherever it goes. The hon. Member for

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Montgomeryshire described the experience as traumatic and talked about the difficulties of breaking the inflationary link. We must not forget, whenever we discuss the subject, that UNESCO classified the Welsh language as “vulnerable” and that S4C is the only television channel in the world that broadcasts in that language. To protect the language and not to allow it to disappear, we must support institutions such as S4C that use and promote the language successfully.

That is why I am asking the Minister today for a cast-iron assurance. Given the way the governance and funding of S4C were changed by this Government in 2011, the commitment to funding S4C needs to be included, and indeed, spelt out in the next BBC charter and in the negotiations. There can be no ambiguity about that. If S4C is to invest and thrive, a proper, costed commitment needs to be in there. I very much take on board what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said about its importance for the channel in planning ahead, and I would be grateful for a response from the Minister on that point.

However, if I want to make a challenge to the Government, I also want to make one to S4C. I know that S4C has decided to move its headquarters from Cardiff to Carmarthenshire. The hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) rightly spoke of the benefits to west Wales, and of course if I had been a west Walian I would have welcomed that. An often quoted figure is that £1 of investment into S4C brings about £2 into the Welsh economy, and the siting of the S4C headquarters in Carmarthen will bring undoubted benefits to that part of Wales.

Of course I realise that, realistically, the headquarters of S4C cannot be everywhere, but I want a commitment from S4C that its partnership working will be in all parts of Wales. A huge proportion—more than three quarters, I think—of S4C’s programmes are made by the independent sector, and we need a commitment from the channel that those companies will be chosen from right across Wales. That should not stop with direct commissioning; I want the institutions with which S4C does partnership working to be Wales-wide, too. That is critical.

S4C is very important to people all over Wales. It is important to people who speak Welsh, to those who are learning and to those who wish to learn. It brings people together and makes the Welsh language accessible in an age when modern media force us sometimes to question the nature of our cultural identity. I have no doubt that as long as Welsh people live and breathe, which, of course, will be for ever, the debates about Welsh cultural identity and the Welsh language will increase, not diminish. However, it is my hope that as the debate develops, we will not all sit in our respective partisan or ideological silos, but we will be open to good ideas from wherever they come. I hope that we will not only debate the channel directly, but look at other things connected with the Welsh language—for instance, the whole system of teaching Welsh as a second language. Last summer, I joined Ann Jones, the Labour Assembly Member for the Vale of Clwyd, and many other people in the letter campaign organised by the veteran Welsh language campaigner Ffred Ffransis, arguing that it is time for a thorough look at the system of second language Welsh education.

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We also need to begin the debate again about distinctive policies for our heartland Welsh-speaking communities. I do not say that in any trite fashion: if we do not do this now, in 30 years’ time we are simply not going to have any. It is time that we at least consider models such as the Irish model of the Gaeltacht as one way of revitalising Welsh-speaking heartland communities. Wherever our debate on the Welsh language takes us—I believe that we have to very open and refreshed in our thinking on that—I am confident that S4C and its partnerships with Welsh creative industries will always be a vital part of it.

10.4 am

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady, and I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing the debate.

As I look at the Minister, I think he has probably participated in more debates on S4C than many other parliamentarians before him. He will remember the turbulent time that ensued after the 2010 general election, with the financial crisis that needed to be acted on. I was going to say that this is the first debate we have had while S4C is in a settled form, but the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) reminded me of last year’s debate on the 30th anniversary of S4C. That was an important marker to underline the significance of the channel and the cross-party support that exists and remains for it.

I want to go back over a couple of points in history. The Conservative record on S4C is extremely proud, having established the channel in 1982 with all-party support—it is important to recognise that—and it has had fantastic success over that period. It has received a number of Oscar nominations and several awards that we could cite. Animation, particularly, was a great success. It could be used across the globe in local languages and provided a major income earner for the channel, as well as the development of a skills base and the economic support generated through the work in the creative industries in those communities.

It is fair to say—I do not mean this in a party political way—that over the 10 years leading up to 2010, S4C might have been neglected by politicians, in that it was secure in the RPI link to its funding and it avoided a lot of parliamentary scrutiny, which led to it having a false sense of security that money would come, whatever the output, performance and measures we chose to use. Viewing figures were falling, which was a concern, and it simply could not carry on like that. Therefore, when it came to 2010, there was an extremely turbulent time when clearly, we had to look long and hard at all budgets, and S4C obviously could not escape the reality of the financial position. That led to resignations of board members and the sacking of chief executives. It was an extremely turbulent time shortly after the change of Government, from four years ago until today.

It is therefore worth pointing out the stability that has been delivered. The Minister has been constant throughout that period and has played a significant part in delivering the channel’s security. A delegation went to see him and the then Secretary of State for Culture, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), to underline the importance of

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the channel to all the issues my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire discussed—be it culture, language, economic development or celebrating the distinctiveness of Wales as a nation, because it is about not only broadcasting but nationhood and so on. I have no doubt that the Minister and the then Secretary of State absolutely understood that, after considering the matter not only in the budget round but following representations from Members of all political parties as to why S4C could not be treated lightly and had to be given the respect it deserved.

At the time, there were serious questions about the management and editorial independence that the new settlement and the new arrangements with the BBC would provide. Board members of S4C were questioning and criticising that, saying that the future of the channel would be in doubt if the current arrangements were allowed to ensue. I think that has been proven to be wrong. The relationship with the BBC is effective. The BBC provides a large part of its funding but it does—this is extremely important—continue to receive some funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That needs to be maintained to show that it is not a subsidiary of the BBC. The BBC can raise questions about its performance, just like every other member of the public, and celebrate its great success when it performs as it has in the past and looks as though it will in future, and the way it has turned itself around. I pay tribute to the new chairman, the chief executive and the senior appointments made by them. That has secured the stability of the channel following the turbulent time I have talked about.

I want to continue with the theme of stability. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), again under the guidance of the Minister with us today, protected S4C from the budget cuts that could have resulted from the last comprehensive spending review. Again, that was a significant moment, because unlike almost every other part of Government expenditure, S4C was absolutely protected despite the need to make financial cuts and to address the financial reality. That was important, but we need to admit that at the time there was a tense debate about whether it could be secured. The Minister responded admirably and protected the budget, but I remember several people saying at the time that we should not be in that position in the future and that we needed to develop a system that would secure departmental funding for the channel and secure certainty, to allow it to budget and plan. Although only £7 million comes from the DCMS, that is a significant proportion of S4C’s reduced funding from the BBC. Therefore, it is exceptionally important that we consider that and provide S4C with the opportunity to plan over the short, medium and longer term. Many of the contracts that S4C needs to enter into need to be made now, but will last several years. Without some guarantee or commitment, it is difficult for it to plan in an efficient way that will result in the best use of public money. I hope the Minister can look positively and constructively at that issue. Clearly, there are no guarantees for ever, but the longer any guarantee can last, the better it is for any operator.

I want to make some points about the channel’s future. Comments have been made and questions asked about the viewing figures. They are important, but they are not all of the debate or all of the argument. S4C

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does need to broaden its appeal, and significant progress has been made in that regard in the last couple of years. Reference has been made to the importance of children’s programmes in the Welsh language, and the part that plays in enabling people to understand Welsh culture at an early age is, without question, vital.

In addition, S4C can be and is a major exporter. It plays a significant role in the creative industries. Mention has already been made of Boom, a company based in my constituency, and other companies that I know very well, such as Tinopolis, Cwmni Da and Rondo. They were based on the initiative that was about making programmes for S4C at the outset. Some of them are now global players in programme making and they deserve the credit for that. The wealth that that generates for the economy is extremely important. The seeds of that were obviously planted by the entrepreneurs, but thanks to the opportunities that S4C created. I am delighted that “Hinterland” is such a great success. That flagship programme is extremely important in demonstrating that programmes of the highest quality can be made and sold and exported all over the world. I hope there can be further Oscar nominations, but of course, that will depend on the quality. That would show those who do not live in Wales or view the channel regularly that, with a relatively small amount of public money, S4C can punch well above its weight through its output and attract further investment thereafter, as many other quality programmes have been able to do so far.

Finally, I want to talk about the multiplier effect. The argument could be made that of course, if we make £80 million or £100 million available to any region or nation of the UK, it can create a business and start exporting. However, for S4C the multiplier effect is without question at the forefront of any form of economic regeneration package. I have talked about the quality of the output and the export income that that can provide. Thanks to the stability that the current Administration have given the channel, for the benefit of all the people of Wales, that income will be greatly extended as S4C continues to develop output that can be exported, and the multiplier effect continues to grow.

10.16 am

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. In the past couple of days, Welsh MPs might have thought that all their birthdays and Christmases had come at once. We discussed the Wales Bill yesterday; we have the Welsh Grand Committee today; and the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) has the debate following this one. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies)—I think I can call him that—on securing this important debate.

My constituency has some bearing on the debate, because it is the home of many of the small companies that have produced output for S4C and have provided additional services. That has led to great economic progress in my constituency. I sometimes introduce myself as the Member for Arfon, “where the main industries are tourism, agriculture and TV production.” That sometimes raises a few eyebrows, but it is true, because the TV sector in Arfon is extremely important.

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I want to take a small step back into the history of S4C—Sianel Pedwar Cymru as I call it. Forgive me, Mr Brady, if I sometimes slip into calling it Sianel Pedwar Cymru, as that is how I see it, rather than S4C. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan referred to the establishment of the channel in the 1980s. Perhaps I can be the first to pay tribute to Sir Wyn Roberts for his titanic struggle to establish it. As a figure who did so much for the Welsh language, he is still underrated, and I am very glad to pay tribute to him today.

My history of the channel starts rather earlier, at a time when I had long hair, a checked shirt, jeans and clogs. [Interruption.] I know that that is difficult to believe, but there we are. Actually, I can see myself, sometime in the early ’70s, at Hyde Park corner, at a rally called by Cymdeithas yr laith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society, listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and being inspired by him. He is as sprightly as ever of course, but he made a speech that Sunday morning and I thought, “Well, if we can get an MP here to talk, there must be something to this.” It rather persuaded me not to pursue my studies in psychology and sociology and instead to pursue a political course, I am afraid, so I have named the guilty man—guilty to a certain extent—here today.

I would like to say a little first about the function of Sianel Pedwar Cymru. As has already been mentioned, it is a provider of programmes, a publisher and an employer, and it also provides a very useful economic stimulus in parts of Wales that in the past have not received the proper amount of attention in the media. As a provider, it is important that S4C produces popular programmes. Reference has been made to children’s programming, and speaking as a new father, my little son is obsessed with “Cyw” and the children’s programmes, as are children throughout Wales. S4C fulfils a hugely valuable function there. Reference has been made to “Y Gwyll”, or “Hinterland”, as it is called in English. Not only is that a very good programme—in Welsh and English—but, as the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan mentioned, it shows the world that we are out there with the best. It is an important stiffener to the spine and a bit of an inspiration.

Seeing as I am reminiscing, I remember being in a sociology conference at some point in the mid-’80s. Late at night—after, as they say, drink had been taken—I was discussing minority language broadcasting with people from the university of Hawaii. We eventually came to the conclusion that most TV was trash, but my contention was that if there was any trash going, it should be also available in Welsh. At that point, we decided to retire. That is a significant point, because the Welsh language has been seen over the centuries as the language of the chapel or of high literature, but S4C has an important function in providing popular material that will appeal to a wide audience.

I will not tarry to talk about S4C as an employer. It is an important economic stimulator. I was glad some weeks ago to be present at the opening in my constituency of the building for Cwmni Da, a hugely important production company run by local people who are now not quite so young. For those who judge companies by the way the people there dress, Cwmni Da is not a tie-and-shirt outfit but a jeans-and-sneakers one, and long may that continue. It is a challenging company.

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That leads me on to one of my main points, which is a plea for stability of funding for S4C. As has been said, the planning cycle for programmes is long, and producers need to know that the money is there. I do not want to say that we are coming into another difficult period, because things have seemed difficult for rather a long time. I was part of the discussions on the Public Bodies Act 2011, and there was an existential threat to the channel. The money was going to disappear, and I was glad to work with people from across the House to ensure the channel’s future. It operates under an unusual model, and it needs public money. It shares the model of public service broadcaster with Channel 4 and, peculiarly, it has advertisements, even though it is a public service broadcaster. People outside Wales might not know that we have BBC programmes with adverts on either side, which some people find very strange indeed. It is a creative model that actually works, but it needs certainty to continue.

I want to talk briefly about the cultural importance of S4C, which is what we are discussing this morning. The channel is a means of cultural production and cultural reproduction—that is, of passing culture on to other people—and it defines the culture as well as being symbolic of it. We have everything on S4C from cartoons and rock and roll to religion and opera, and even, in the past, Oscar-nominated films. Television has a supremely important function in that respect.

People from England and the other parts of the UK know the reverence with which the BBC is viewed as the repository of all that is good about culture through the medium of English. S4C has something of that function, but it is even more important in Wales. The BBC is only one producer of programmes through the medium of English among hundreds of thousands across the world, but S4C is the only one that does it in Welsh. In that respect, its fragility is both hugely dangerous to the language and a huge opportunity. It literally makes Welshness.

A historian that I am fond of, Gwyn Alf Williams—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West knew of him when he was alive—said tellingly that Welshness is what Welsh people make. It is a function of our will to continue to be Welsh, and it is something that we create anew every day. Whenever we talk about identity, people make appeals to their ancestry. They say, “I have a grandfather who is Irish, a grandmother who is Scottish, and a second cousin through marriage who comes from Poland.” I have Irish ancestry, although that is by the bye. The important thing about S4C is that every day it makes Welshness apparent anew in a creative and radical way.

When I was preparing for the debate, I had a look at the definition of “radical”. S4C is the establishment embodied, because it is Welshness and it has all sorts of programmes including opera, but it is also a radical channel that breaks new ground all the time. The definition in, I think, “Webster’s Dictionary” said that “radical” meant changing and from the root, and was also a term of approbation among skateboarders. That shows how malleable meaning can be. S4C is radical, and long may it remain so, because it is at its best when it is most challenging, radical and creative. The Welsh word for that, to my mind, is “beiddgar”, which means not only challenging, but challenging the very heights when

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the chances of success are slim—pushing the boundaries. S4C has been beiddgar in such a way. I think it lost its way slightly, but it is going back in that direction.

Reference has been made to the importance of audience, and it is important, but I simply want to say that all channels are now minority channels. Long gone are the days when the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show could pull in 28 million viewers, or half the population of the UK. It is right for critics of S4C from other channels and from the media in general to recall that all channels are minority channels.

I want to finish with one point. S4C has been important in defining and symbolising the Welsh language over many decades, but we must always bear in mind—I wish there was equivalent action on this point—that we need broadcasting about Wales through the medium of English. I remember surprising one of my Labour colleagues some time ago in a debate about the language by saying that English is a Welsh language. That is literally true for 80% of the population in Wales. I finish with an appeal for broadcasting through the medium of English to be better funded, better resourced and better received in Wales.

Mr Graham Brady (in the Chair): Order. I have avoided setting a time limit, but we should start the wind-ups in about 10 minutes’ time. There are two hon. Gentlemen seeking to catch my eye, and I leave it to them to try to make sure that they both get called.

10.29 am

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Brady, and I will be brief because I want to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has to say. I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing the debate. Its title is “S4C and Welsh Identity”, and since many hon. Members have talked about the settlement and the past, current and future financing of the channel, I will talk predominantly about the importance of Welsh identity and S4C to me and to many of my constituents and fellow citizens in Wales.

I want to put on the record my praise for the pioneers who set up S4C. The issue is cross-party—the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire mentioned pride in his party, and we hear a lot about Gwynfor Evans and the role of Plaid Cymru—but I want to praise one of my predecessors, Lord Cledwyn Hughes, for the role he played as the Leader of the House of Lords at the time. That body was important in helping to push for the establishment of S4C.

I will just break the consensus with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire for a moment, because he mentioned this issue. Prior to the early 1980s, Welsh society felt that the Conservative Government of the time had broken their promise and that, as he said, they were prevaricating. A grand coalition of people within the Conservative party and from other parties came together to put pressure on the Government to honour their commitment to the people of Wales. It is important to put that on the record. Nevertheless, the language, culture and identity of the Welsh nation are far too important to belong to any one political party; they belong to the people of Wales, and we have seen that demonstrated today on a cross-party basis.

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I was born in Wales to a family whose language in the home was English. My mother was from Liverpool, and I was brought up on the Beatles and Everton football club. I am still proud to support Everton and listen to the music of the Beatles. My father was Welsh speaking, but, in the 1960s, they spoke English in front of me out of courtesy, and I ended up being a non-Welsh speaker throughout my educational life.

Glyn Davies: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Albert Owen: I certainly will, but I am conscious of the time.

Glyn Davies: A point that I did not make in my contribution was about what was happening when I was young—I am sure it was also happening in Ynys Môn. My parents were both first-language Welsh speakers, and they had a policy of never speaking Welsh in front of the children, because the language of failure was Welsh and the language of success was English.

Albert Owen: It is fair to make that point, as I made one about the language of my home. Indeed, people in the village in which I was brought up and still live used to speak English to me. They are very surprised when they now see me on S4C speaking Welsh, because I have learned the language. I wanted to learn it in order to play a full role in Welsh society: I belong to a bilingual society, so I wanted to be bilingual. I would like Wales to be trilingual, with people learning three, four or more languages. But we must never forget the Welsh language, which S4C has portrayed brilliantly.

We have heard today about S4C’s ability to put on classy productions. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) spoke before me about opera and religion, but I think everyone has missed something out: sport. S4C is very good at showing sport. The Welsh national football team does not always qualify for the World Cup finals—in fact, it has not done so since 1958—but sport is important, because more young people in Wales watch it than many other TV programmes. They aspire to be the Olympian Colin Jackson, or the greatest footballer in the world, Gareth Bale, who also happens to be Welsh, so sport is important.

I watch football on S4C in the Welsh language, but we have the opportunity to use the little red button to listen to the commentary in either Welsh or English. That is hugely important, because it reaches a massive audience of our football and rugby fans—Wales has one of the best rugby teams in the world and people want to watch them. It is important that we break out of the perception that S4C is a minority channel in a minority language covering minority subjects. It is not; it covers sport and culture, as well as many other things that we aspire to do in Wales.

I learned the Welsh language by watching S4C. I listened to programmes and watched the subtitles on 888. Do people remember the old Teletext system? We would have to explain what that was to young people now, but we had subtitles, and we also had the service on 889—I think—which explained sentences when a new word was brought up for the first time. That way, people who were competent and had some knowledge

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of the Welsh language were able to follow the programme. Language is a live issue and S4C does cover the big issues of the day.

I want to finish my speech by touching on identity, which is important. I gave some brief background but do not have much time to go into other elements of S4C because I want to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West, as I promised. I do not think there is any contradiction between the Welsh and British identities. I am proud to be both Welsh and British—and, indeed, European—and see no contradiction there. British and Welsh society must move forward on that, because a person is not any less Welsh or inhibited from being so by being pro-British; nor is anyone any less British for being pro-Welsh.

The Minister will understand that we are discussing the British isles and a language in Britain that is thriving and moving forward. There are creative people in Wales and they want to express themselves through the medium of their own language. I am also pleased that the Cornish identity and language are taking new steps forward. I want these British isles to express themselves through their mother tongues. People should be proud to be Welsh and proud to be British. I am very proud that S4C has played a part in my life, and in the lives of constituents in Wales whom I represent.

10.35 am

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The Conservatives deserve great credit for their work for the Welsh language—there is no question of that—but the summit of their achievements and the work of Wyn Roberts was in education rather than S4C.

I had a ringside seat at the genesis of S4C. In 1973, with a colleague, I wrote a document called “Television in Wales” that became Labour party policy. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) used the word “fragility”; when one looks at how the campaign for a Welsh channel could have gone wrong in many ways, one sees that it had great luck. The main way that the campaign got the support of almost the entire Welsh population was through a conference in Cardiff called by the lord mayor in 1973. Everyone was saying, “Yes, we want a fourth channel.” The monoglots wanted one not because of their love of the Welsh language but because they wanted an all-English channel. That was a coincidence.

John Davies’s marvellous record of the history of broadcasting contains details about the Broadcasting Council for Wales that I thought would always remain confidential. He records that in 1978 only two voices on the Broadcasting Council for Wales were fourth-channellers. The idea was dead, impractical and was not going to happen. Again, there was a coincidence: Margaret Thatcher happened to be reading about Irish history at the time and saw the audience in Sophia Gardens pavilion in Cardiff chanting “Gwynfor! Gwynfor!” because such a majestic figure in Welsh politics was going to starve himself to death if there was no fourth channel. She read about the effect on Irish nationalism of the deaths—the martyrs—in the Easter rising; about how Irish nationalism multiplied and grew strong. Although the great and the good came up from Wales to change her mind, that was the real reason, and to our great good luck we now have a Welsh language channel.

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I think of why we bother to go on. There is a great poem by T. H. Parry-Williams that I recorded from S4C being read beautifully by John Ogwen, about Wales as an untidy part of the world for people who believe in order, a bit of a nuisance, and a tiny place where they speak in a strange way. It is difficult to get across the value of a wonderful, beautiful ancient language. The Hungarian litterateur István Széchenyi asked where he could find the Hungarian nation if he left it. He came up with the phrase, “The nation lives in her language”; not through a language, but in her language, as a place where all the wisdom of a nation—the proverbs, the humour—has come rolling down the centuries and is there enshrined as a living medium. That is the feeling we have for the language.

That lovely poem by T. H. Parry-Williams ends by saying:

“Duw a’m gwaredo, ni allaf ddianc rhag hon”.

We cannot escape from that; it is part of us. It is the great treasure of the language. It is marvellous that none of us who, in 1973, had such an impossible dream that we were told was hopelessly impractical would have believed that a day could come when there was universal approval in this House for the marvellous achievements—beyond our wildest dreams—of S4C.

10.39 am

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this morning, Mr Brady. I congratulate the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing the debate and introducing it with characteristic charm. He is right that we have a lot of Welsh business this week. I bring apologies from my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), who is attending the Welsh Grand Committee this morning. Obviously I am not Welsh, but I do remember the introduction of the Broadcasting Act 1981. In my first job when I left university, I worked for a man called Phillip Whitehead, then the MP for Derby North. He was a former television producer and he was on the Broadcasting Bill Committee, so we did a great deal of work to set up both Channel 4 and S4C. One of the people also working on that was a researcher for Plaid Cymru, Aled Eirug, who I am pleased to see is now on the board of S4C. That demonstrates how a not just bipartisan but multipartisan consensus was built, which has been so important for S4C.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is absolutely right to point to the importance—indeed, the centrality—of the Welsh language to Welsh identity. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) said that identity is about more than ancestry. I think he put it very well when he said that S4C is in the business of cultural production and reproduction. That is an extremely important point, because it is no good if the language is unchanging; it must be a living language, central to people’s lives, developing and changing all the time. Given that television is the medium that most people use to get entertainment, news and information, it is essential to continue support for S4C.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire also said that—I am borrowing his words—after the election in 2010 there was a funding trauma. It is clear that the changes and the big cut—20%—made by the coalition Government posed significant challenges to S4C. Many

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hon. Members have spoken about the importance of moving to a more stable situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and the hon. Members for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) and for Arfon all made that point. Although we do not anticipate a review of the royal charter after the next general election, it is important that we achieve greater stability so that S4C can make intelligent plans for its programme production. It works on a two to three-year time scale and will not be able to maintain the high standard of programming that has been developed without funding certainty, so whatever structure is chosen, we must be able to be confident that it can be sustained in the medium term.

Hon. Members have pointed out the many good and enjoyable programmes being made by the indie sector for S4C, from sport and religion to drama. Selling noir drama back to the Scandinavians is a triumph. It is clear that these high-quality programmes are strongly appreciated in Wales: 92% of people think that S4C is the best channel for Wales, and 97% say that S4C keeps the language alive. Everybody very much hopes that we can establish a system to maintain that excellent track record.

10.45 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on securing this important debate. I immensely enjoyed his lyrical contribution, as well as the outstanding contributions from other Members this morning, including my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) and the hon. Members for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), for Arfon (Hywel Williams), for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), for Newport West (Paul Flynn), and, of course, for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman).

My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire started by saying that as he got older, he had a yearning to be bilingual. Perhaps it is a sign of my now rampant middle age that I always enjoy a bit of bipartisanship, and I always think we have the best debates in this House when, broadly speaking, there is a great deal of common ground in the landscape. I too pay tribute to Lord Roberts, about whom many of the contributors spoke so eloquently this morning.

Glyn Davies: I rise to add my voice to the appreciation for the work of Lord Roberts. I omitted to do so during my speech. One of the dangers in not preparing notes for a speech is that we sometimes forget one of the most important things that we wanted to say.

Mr Vaizey: I am pleased to have given way to my hon. Friend to allow him to make that tribute, although I feel people would have understood that his entire paean to S4C was a tribute to Lord Roberts.

Albert Owen: I join in the tributes to Lord Roberts, who lived in the constituency that I represent and was brought up there. He was a pioneer of broadcasting, not only in the Welsh language but in English as well. As for bipartisanship, I was always told that a cigarette paper could not be put between Gwynfor Evans, Wyn

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Roberts, Cledwyn Hughes and Geraint Howells. It was impossible to do it, because all came from the same mould: the Welsh mould.

Mr Vaizey: Hear, hear to that. May I add my tribute to all the Welsh titans mentioned by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn? Of course, Lord Roberts was the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who is widely acknowledged as a great mover in this debate.

Before I move on to the meat of my speech—the debate is becoming an extended tribute session—I should also pay tribute to Dylan Thomas. This year is the 100thanniversary of the birth of one of Wales’s most celebrated sons, so it is appropriate, as we debate the importance of the Welsh language, the Welsh language broadcaster and Welsh culture in general, to acknowledge that very important anniversary, which is being commemorated in Wales, and, indeed, around the world.

The main subject of the debate is S4C, which is a long-standing and significant part of the UK’s rich public service broadcasting landscape and a stalwart of Welsh language services. Only last year, we gathered in this Chamber to celebrate the 30th anniversary of S4C. I said earlier that it was a privilege to hear the speeches made this morning, but such debates are always a pleasure, because of the deep understanding shown by the Members participating. They have clearly been involved for many years in S4C and the campaigns and debates about the Welsh language. Some have served in the House for many years, but those who have come to the House recently have been involved in the issue for many years. There can be no doubt that for me and my successors, from whichever party they come, the channel and its content make a tremendously important contribution to the cultural life of Wales, as well as economic impacts, and those deserve to be celebrated.

Dylan Thomas, grew up when an English-only education system was the norm in Wales—hon. Members have mentioned that the same was true when they were growing up—and the mother tongue was pushed to the margins. Thankfully, as acknowledged in many speeches, times have changed. The number of children in Welsh-medium primary schools has seen a steady increase over recent years, but we must not be complacent. We must be mindful of the importance of preserving the Welsh language and the important role played by S4C. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire has said previously in the House that, although not brought up a Welsh-speaker, the existence of S4C was critical to his learning and mastering the language.

The media, particularly the broadcast media, are vital to language and to the preservation of culture. Culture and identity are bound up in shared experiences, and TV clearly has an important role to play, whether in sport—we all know how central the game of rugby is to Welsh culture—drama, such as “Pobol y Cwm”, or key cultural events such as the Eisteddfod and the royal Welsh show. It is no coincidence that all those examples are broadcast to the Welsh-speaking public and the Welsh public in general by S4C.

To return to my earlier theme, I pay tribute, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan, to the chief executive of S4C, Ian Jones, and the chairman of

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the S4C authority, Huw Jones, for their outstanding work in ensuring that S4C has in difficult times not only kept on an even keel, but thrived.

The hon. Member for Clwyd South demonstrated her legendary recall of detail by remembering that in 2010 I was keen to share my experience of “Fireman Sam”, but S4C is obviously much more than “Fireman Sam”. As my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire and others pointed out, S4C is currently enjoying national prominence with the murder drama, “Hinterland”, which shows Welsh television and TV in general at their best. The mean and moody DCI Mathias and the equally mean and moody landscapes around Ceredigion have given us the latest water-cooler TV. The programme was shown on S4C last year entirely in Welsh, migrated to BBC 1 Wales in a bilingual version and is now showing on BBC 4. It has also been sold to Denmark, among other countries, which is perhaps an example of coals to Newcastle and which shows that anything they can do, the Welsh can do—in the spirit of bipartisanship, I should perhaps say “equally as well”. Hopefully, if hon. Members will pardon the pun, the Welsh can make a “Killing” with Welsh drama. Better still, I understand that the show has now been picked up by Netflix and that more episodes have been commissioned. “Hinterland” is not S4C’s only contribution to the genre, either. “35 Days”, which has only recently hit screens in Wales, is another example of great murder drama and is entirely in Welsh.

Guto Bebb: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. A key development in the partnership between S4C and the BBC will be the availability of S4C programmes on iPlayer, with my daughters, for example, looking forward to downloading “35 Days”. This innovation will bring S4C to an audience who are no longer willing to sit down at a certain time to watch a television programme.

Mr Vaizey: That is an extremely important point, which takes me back to the debate, beginning in 2010, about the future of S4C, because S4C’s current success has taken place against the background of significant challenges, but those challenges have also brought opportunities. S4C was not alone in facing challenges.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): By “challenges”, does the Minister mean cuts?

Mr Vaizey: It is always good to have someone come late to the debate and destroy the good will and general bonhomie that we were hitherto enjoying. I mean challenges. I am always one for a euphemism, but I mean the challenges that have been faced by many fine institutions. I was pleased that the Government were able to protect Department for Culture, Media and Sport funding for S4C during the last autumn statement and to ensure no cuts. It is not possible to offer certainty around Exchequer funding beyond 2015-16—in case anybody wants to try to read between the lines of that statement, that is the case for all publicly funded bodies—but given that the majority of S4C’s funding now comes from the licence fee, it is important that it is guaranteed up to 2017. The Government have as yet made no statement on how they intend to proceed on charter review. Sadly, I may not be the Minister supervising charter review, but common sense would clearly dictate, given the stellar

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speeches and high quality of the hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and given the level of debate that accompanied the changes to S4C in 2010, that S4C and other language channels will be a prominent part in such a review.

Today, we have focused on the culture as well as the cash, but it is important to understand the contribution made by S4C to the creative economy in Wales, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Arfon. Thousands of Welsh jobs are supported by S4C-related activity, and research published by S4C last year showed that each pound of funding returned nearly twice that amount for the Welsh economy, which is perhaps unsurprising but nevertheless important to acknowledge. It is also encouraging to see that formats developed in Wales, and in Welsh, are selling internationally. We have mentioned “Hinterland”, but there is also the recent sale of “Fferm Factor” to China, taking farming to a country with 300 million farmers.

As we look to the future, a key challenge for all traditional broadcasters will be to continue to reach their audiences. That challenge is more acute for public service broadcasters, and particularly for S4C, which faces the challenge of reaching an increasingly fragmented audience with such a wealth of content, and means of accessing content, on the market. In a world where the internet is largely in English, that is no small challenge, which is why the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) is so telling. The partnership with the BBC not only saves money in overheads and encourages a shared approach to programming and news, but gives S4C the opportunity to showcase its excellent content on BBC iPlayer.

I am delighted that S4C is reaching out and continues to strive to meet children’s needs with two dedicated channels, Cyw, broadcasting to pre-schoolers on TV and online, and Stwnsh, aimed at slightly older children and young people. Although age need not be a barrier to learning a new language, as shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire, it is important to reach people and potential Welsh speakers when they are young. I hope that S4C will continue to push forward plans to reach young people in a multi-channel, multi-device world. It is also important to reach the 16 to 24-year-old audience. Among Welsh speakers in that age group, only half consider themselves fluent, so it important that such content continues to be pushed through, which is why S4C programmes being on iPlayer and S4C’s own online offering, Clic, are so important. It is entirely in line with the Government’s objective that public service content should be available to as many people as possible, and maintaining a presence on such platforms will be increasingly central to that objective as viewing habits change.

Finally, I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have contributed today. There may have been some disagreement or concern about the changes made to S4C’s funding structure a few years ago, but no one in the Government and no one in the House with an interest in such matters would deny S4C’s importance to the Welsh language, to Welsh identity, to culture more broadly and to the Welsh economy. I salute S4C on its success and wish it great success in the future.

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Financial Services Authority and Connaught Income Fund

11 am

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the second time today, Mr Brady. I welcome the Minister to her role, and welcome her involvement in this important issue.

As you can see, Mr Brady, this debate has drawn much attention from colleagues and investors alike. Naturally, investors want explanations of what went wrong and why. Colleagues who have looked into the case recognise the scale of the wrongdoing, and want to know how it happened and about any recourse available to their constituents.

This issue has developed over some time, but this is the first time we have had the opportunity to raise concerns about it and ask questions on the record. The Connaught Income Fund was launched in April 2008. It was promoted and operated by Capita Financial Managers Ltd, which was also the custodian of investors’ assets. Its original name was the Guaranteed Low Risk Income Fund, series 1—something that proved not to be the case. It was a UK-based unregulated collective investment scheme. By definition, these funds are not subject to direct regulation. However, elements of the process and funds were regulated, which means that the regulatory framework and responsibilities are not necessarily straightforward—in fact, they are complex—and that there is a responsibility on the Financial Services Authority.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Both he and I have fought Capita for more than three years following the Arch Cru disaster, which entailed similar losses, and several constituents of mine lost money through Connaught. Does he agree that it is appropriate to invite the Minister to seek the police’s involvement and to find out whether an investigation should take place?

Alun Cairns: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on Arch Cru as secretary of the all-party group on the Arch Cru investment scheme, and on his involvement in issues relating to Capita. He raises pertinent points that I will come on to, so I am grateful for his contribution.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me so early. I have to leave, having been in the previous debate with him for an hour and a half.

Is the hon. Gentleman as concerned as I am that so little information is available on Capita, and particularly on the signing-off of the information memorandum? That is a matter of great concern to a number of my constituents and, I am sure, to constituents of hon. Members of all parties.

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising important points about Capita that I will come on to. A central factor is what knowledge it had at various stages.

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Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Is this the same Capita that won the personal independence payments contract with the Government, for Wales and the west of England?

Alun Cairns: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, but of course Capita Financial Managers Ltd is different from other subsidiaries of Capita. The parent company will be the same; there are several subsidiaries. The point was well made, and I accept it in the way that it was intended.

I should like to pursue the matter a bit further before accepting any other interventions, to provide some background. The proposition was that investors’ money would be loaned to borrowers requiring short-term residential bridging loans. Loans would not exceed modest loan-to-value guidelines, no sub-prime lenders or properties would be financed, and all loans would be secured by first charges against those properties. Specifically, there was to be an average loan-to-value rate of 56%. People were told that it would seldom be above 70% and that anything above 80% would have guaranteed exits. All interest and fees would be taken up front, and there was a guarantee from Tiuta, a company that I will mention shortly, to meet any shortfalls.

The borrowers would pay an interest rate of 17.9%, while investors would receive quarterly distributions of between 8.15% to 8.5%. Capita appointed Tiuta plc and Connaught Asset Management Ltd, both UK companies, to identify suitable borrowers and approve the loans. However, investors’ funds were used differently. Money was transferred to Tiuta, rather than being released directly to the borrowers’ solicitors. It is even suggested that there was no differentiation between the firm’s funds and those of the investors; investors’ money was used to meet the working capital needs of Tiuta, and to pay directors’ salaries, bonuses and pension contributions.

In many cases, where bridging loans were made, the borrowers, properties or loan-to-value ratios were not as committed to in the promotional literature. It is believed that Tiuta proposed loans and drew down the money, but did not proceed with the lending. It is suggested that Connaught provided a monthly statement to Tiuta’s management accountant, switching the true loan book and the approved one.

In March 2009, Capita became aware that the original information memorandum was misleading. The fund should not have been described as low-risk, the guarantee from Tiuta was of no value, the money was used largely for purposes other than bridging loans, and the auditors of the fund were not engaged. In addition, the loans that had been made were not as described and were being rolled over.

In August 2009, after Capita met Connaught’s senior management, investors were informed by Capita that it was resigning as operator of the fund. It was to be replaced by Mourant Fund Services Ltd, but for some unknown reason Mourant did not complete the transaction. Perhaps it became aware of the problems with the fund.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Is it not a significant concern for all of us who have been looking at this issue that, in 2009, it became apparent that Capita had significant

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concerns about the way that the fund was being operated, but those concerns were not conveyed to those who had invested in the fund?

Alun Cairns: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his support in investigating this matter. He raises an important point. There is a serious question about what Capita did and did not know, and what it should have communicated to the investors, to whom it had a responsibility.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. My constituent, Mr Sudworth, who is a victim of this fraud, asked me a question; I wonder whether my hon. Friend knows the answer. Does the Financial Conduct Authority outsource some of its work to Capita?

Alun Cairns: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. I do not have the answer, but he points to a general defensive approach that has been taken by the FSA and the FCA. We are seeking greater transparency to get the answer to many such questions, so that we can identify where the responsibility lies.

Perhaps Mourant became aware of some of the issues that have now become apparent. Instead, Capita passed responsibility on to Blue Gate Capital Ltd, which agreed to the appointment in September 2009.

George Patellis was appointed chief executive of Tiuta in April 2010. He became concerned about the quality of the financial reporting at the company. In January 2011, a shortfall of at least £20 million was identified, suggesting insolvency. He also became aware that Tiuta had retained the proceeds when some loans had been redeemed, and of Land Registry DS1 inconsistencies.

Mr Patellis appointed BDO to investigate in January 2011, and it confirmed his initial concerns. He then resigned and alerted the FSA to the situation, to report financial irregularities at Tiuta. As a result, a case was opened by the FSA and supervisory engagement with Tiuta began. The FSA required Tiuta to engage investigative accountants to monitor its financial performance. That may relate to what my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) mentioned. Tiuta was responsible for reporting to the FSA monthly. However, instead of undertaking independent investigations, BDO, which had secured the role, relied on information supplied by directors of Tiuta, which then produced a series of reports that persuaded the FSA that the firm should be allowed to continue to trade.

In May 2011, the FSA issued a consumer alert because marketing materials indicated that the fund was low risk, and that returns were guaranteed. The marketing material was amended for independent financial advisers, and Blue Gate was made aware of the issues with the security of the loans. In March 2012, Blue Gate notified the 1,200 investors that the fund had been suspended due to an inability to pay quarterly interest payments to investors. Tiuta was placed in administration in September 2012.

It is suggested that investors face losses of at least 70% of the £106 million that was invested. In addition, investors have to date lost up to £20 million in unpaid quarterly distributions. Since then, a number of MPs have written to the FSA—and now the Financial Conduct Authority—and the Treasury to establish whether there

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is a regulatory responsibility to investigate the fund, and whether there is any potential for compensating investors.

Having considered the background, I will make a number of points and ask a few questions of the Minister. Although I recognise that the Connaught fund was an unregulated investment scheme, various elements were regulated, as I mentioned at the outset. The advice process was regulated. I am not suggesting for a minute that advisers were responsible for the failings and misappropriation of funds. There is a need, however, to clarify where their responsibility ends.

In fairness to IFAs, they depend on the key financial documents, which were not accurate or adhered to, yet questions should be asked about why unregulated funds were recommended to investors in the first instance. The time for advice on such funds is clearly very limited. What did Capita know in August 2009 when it sought to pass on its responsibilities? What action did Capita take to ensure proper management of the fund at earlier stages? If Capita had doubts or questions, why was that not communicated to investors? Was Capita’s letter to investors misleading, or did Capita withhold information indicating there was unsecured and unauthorised lending from the fund?

Guy Opperman: Is it not incumbent on the Minister to clarify the legal position of investors on that specific point? If investors are to sue for their loss, they need to know the date of the knowledge of the fund’s decline. Secondly, they need to know the state of the assets at that time and the extent to which the FCA will assist in the recovery.

Alun Cairns: There could clearly be a statute of limitations that affects investors, on which I hope the Minister can offer advice.

There was obviously a gap between Capita’s original letter of 20 August 2009 advising investors of its intention to pass responsibility to Mourant and the letter of 24 September advising that Blue Gate would become responsible. Should Capita have suspended the fund when it realised that it was not being managed in accordance with the financial information documents?

As we have discussed, this is not the first time that Capita has needed to answer questions about its role. As the authorised corporate director of Arch Cru, Capita was forced to compensate investors to the tune of £32 million. Terms, how that sum was reached and Capita’s responsibilities and failings have still not been disclosed, but a sum of that size suggests some form of culpability.

Questions should be asked about the actions taken by the FSA, and now the FCA. Some investors believe that the FSA and FCA have taken little action, but the Minister’s predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), advised me in general terms of some of the work they undertook. That needs to be published to reassure people and to allow further questions to be raised about what could have happened.

Chris Ruane: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the FSA has let down Connaught investors? Is he aware of the case of Burges Salmon, which was a similar scam of which the FCA has washed its hands and for which it has taken no responsibility? Does he think that the FCA needs to be looked at?

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Alun Cairns: I am not familiar with that case, but greater transparency on the FCA, into which the FSA has now evolved, would be helpful and may dispel the criticisms. We simply do not know the specific actions that it took, if indeed it took any at any point. I hope that there has been more than evolution; there needs to be a different culture at the FCA to ensure that the failings of the past are not repeated.

What about the FSA’s actions following the intervention of George Patellis? The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 gave the FSA a statutory duty to maintain market confidence, ensure public awareness, reduce financial crime and protect consumers. We can also ask questions of the police. Surely there are sufficient grounds for the police to investigate the matter, given the misappropriation of funds.

Finally, is the Minister able to advise us of any statute of limitations that falls on investors? That is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman). Ultimately, is any recourse available? In closing, I underline that although the saga has gone on for an awfully long time for investors, this is our first opportunity to discuss it in Parliament. I would like to think that this is the start of parliamentary scrutiny, and certainly not the end of the matter. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

11.16 am

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrea Leadsom): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for my second outing in Westminster Hall, Mr Brady. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) on organising this debate on an incredibly important subject. I also have constituents who have lost a huge amount of money as a result of the devastating investment they made. It is important that we get to the bottom of the matter and try to ensure that, if possible, investors can be compensated in some way. Those who are responsible should face the maximum justice available.

This is an important issue not just for my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine. I see many Members in Westminster Hall today whose constituents have also suffered as a result of investing in the fund, so it is important that the FSA, as was, and now the FCA take the matter extremely seriously. I reassure him and all other Members here today that that is indeed the case.

Many investors have lost their life savings as a result of the events involving the Connaught funds, which has caused real hardship for people across the country. As my hon. Friend made clear, the Connaught funds comprise three separate funds: the Connaught Income Fund series 1, series 2 and series 3. In total, approximately £145 million was invested in the funds, which, as we know, were unregulated collective investment schemes. By definition, such schemes are not subject to direct regulation by the FCA or, previously, the FSA.

Guto Bebb: I visited the FCA with my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) to look at the issue in question. We were shown a flowchart identifying the selling process for this investment. The number of elements that were regulated and the number not regulated implied that there was significant confusion about the way the regulatory process actually works in the UK.

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Andrea Leadsom: My hon. Friend makes an extremely relevant point. As I was looking into the matter in some detail yesterday, I was struck by exactly the same thing. There were regulated elements and unregulated elements, and of course we have ended up with a disastrous scenario in which people have lost a lot of money and it has become difficult to get to the bottom of everything. I will try to unravel that a bit.

As I said, because of the unregulated nature of some of the entities involved, many of the usual protections and safeguards that protect investors in regulated funds were absent. That is why the promotion and distribution of such schemes are subject to strict controls. Unfortunately, it seems that in this instance even those controls did not prevent a large number of individuals from investing in the fund. In addition to the questions that have been raised, to which I will return in a moment, I would like to address two main issues: first, the actions taken by the FCA to try to protect consumers, despite most of the entities involved being unregulated; and secondly, the ongoing work for the benefit of consumers and investors to secure a fair and proper outcome.

First, despite the schemes being unregulated, the FCA has taken a number of steps to try to protect consumers. In May 2011, the FSA altered Tiuta’s permission so that it could no longer carry out any new regulated mortgage lending and issued an alert to consumers telling them what they should do if they thought they had been mis-sold the fund. In June 2011, the FSA wrote to all financial advisers who sold the fund, asking them to review the sales and to contact consumers where there might be risk of unsuitable advice. It also set up a page on its website for consumers and firms to receive information on the fund. In August 2011, it required Tiuta to instruct Connaught Asset Management Ltd to change its marketing materials so that they no longer described the fund as “low risk” and “guaranteed”. The FSA took the view that those descriptions were misleading. Finally, in June 2012, it altered Tiuta’s permission to ensure funds from redeemed loans returned to the series 1 fund.

Chris Ruane: In August 2012, Capita, the parent body of the Connaught fund, was given a contract by the Department for Work and Pensions worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Who should pay for the losses? Should it be Capita, or should it be the 1,200 individuals who were falsely sold the investment? Will the Minister use her position with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ensure that Capita does the right thing and compensates those individuals?

Andrea Leadsom: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which I will certainly look into further. Those two organisations belong to the same parent company, but are in fact different subsidiaries. As he might be aware, Government contracts are awarded in line with EU procurement rules.

In addition to the work by the FCA, I can also confirm that other law enforcement agencies are looking into this matter. I will urge the police to consider the case very carefully. I know that Members are interested to hear whether the police are looking at this matter, and I can confirm that they are. The FCA has been working closely with law enforcement agencies to identify and pursue avenues that will yield the best outcome for

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investors. It continues to look into the matter, and its work is very much ongoing. In the meantime, it is encouraging any investors who believe they might have been mis-sold a product to contact their independent financial adviser. It has disclosed information to the police and the administrators of the firms involved to help them with their inquiries.

A number of points were made during the debate, and I will try to address them. I was asked whether Capita Financial Managers Ltd was negligent in its operation of the fund and whether it breached its obligations under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, the operator agreement or its duty of care to consumers. The Government and the FCA take those allegations very seriously, and the FCA is carrying out its own inquiries, but the requirements on the operator of an unregulated fund are limited under FCA rules. I was asked whether the FCA has made a restitution order against Capita. I stress that the FCA is considering all the different avenues by which those who have suffered could obtain compensation. I was asked about the information provided by George Patellis.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): In a number of these cases, some involving Capita and some involving others, it has been clear that the financial structure of the company has been set up with limited liability subsidiaries to prevent the compensation demands from going back to the parent. Will she ask the FCA to look at the acceptability of that approach, with a view to future concerns like these? It seems to me that it is a way for the company to get the benefit from a reputation, without meeting the liability that goes with it.

Andrea Leadsom: I completely agree. There are questions to be asked about how this apparent ability to avoid culpability has been allowed, whether steps can be taken to ensure it cannot happen again and whether there are compensation issues. The FCA is looking into all those matters, but I will take up the point my right hon. Friend makes.

I was just talking about the action the FSA took when it received information from George Patellis. The FSA met with other parties to discuss his concerns, and as a result of those discussions, it became seriously concerned about the financial position of Tiuta plc. Having considered the regulatory options in respect of Tiuta plc, in May 2011 a requirement was added to the permission of the firm that it should cease any further regulated mortgage lending. In the same month, the FSA issued the consumer alert on the fund. A further alert was issued to financial advisers asking them to consider the suitability of advice they had given to consumers who had invested in the fund and to take action accordingly. In light of the fact that very little of Tiuta’s business was regulated, the FSA considered those steps to be appropriate and proportionate at the time. I certainly take on board the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) about whether that was, with hindsight, acceptable.

On the other questions I was asked, Capita issued an information memorandum that consumers believe to be fraudulent, as the fund did not operate as it said it would. I was asked what action the FCA is taking against Capita. As I said, the FCA is considering all

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avenues by which investors might be compensated. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on that further at this time. One point I make, because the question has been implied, is that IFAs are not supposed to sell unregulated investment schemes to retail investors. The circumstances in which unregulated schemes can be promoted to consumers are generally restricted to certain types of consumers, such as sophisticated investors and high net worth individuals, for whom the products are likely to be suitable. The FCA has brought in new rules, banning the promotion of unregulated collective investment schemes to ordinary retail consumers. IFAs have the responsibility to promote the fund only to eligible individuals. That is an important point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) asked whether the police are involved. I confirm that they are. A question was asked about the deadlines for issuing complaints. The fund was incepted in June and July 2008 and suspended in March 2012. Action can be taken either six years from the cause of action, which will start to expire from June 2014—all those investors who invested in the early days of the fund need to take careful advice if they wish to make a complaint about that product, because the deadline is fast approaching—or three years from the date of knowledge of the cause of action, which is likely to expire in March 2015 or, at the latest, September 2015. I urge those consumers who feel that they were mis-sold the fund to look carefully at these deadlines. If the case goes to court, it depends on those courses of action. Insolvency reviews of those companies will be reporting in the near future. We do not have a more specific date for that.

Once again, I would like to thank sincerely my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan for instigating this debate on this important case, which is upsetting for many investors. I hope I have reassured him that the Government are fully aware of his concerns and that we take this issue seriously. We are absolutely determined that our financial services sector serves consumers in a right and fair way, and that investors receive the protections they need.

11.28 am

Sitting suspended.

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Electoral Conduct (Discrimination)

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): I am delighted to have secured this debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. The debate follows an all-party parliamentary inquiry into electoral conduct, which reported only a couple of months ago, and the inquiry itself came about following another inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, which found that anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination were still quite alive and well during UK elections. We set up the all-party parliamentary inquiry, which includes not only all parties across this House, but also some Members from the other place, to investigate whether there actually was a problem. When we found that there was, we tried to consider some constructive ways of addressing the issues to ensure that elections in this country are as free and fair as possible and that there is a level playing field for all people who want to put their names forward as candidates.

On the whole, elections in the UK have always been free, just and fair. We live in a mature democracy that values fairness and understands the importance of democracy and elections. Tensions do exist in some areas, however, and they vary between areas and over time. We know exactly where they are and they may be few, but they are a serious problem. The tensions can be ethnic, religious, sectarian or based on gender or sexuality and exist in small pockets around the country, where things can flare up during local council or general elections or by-elections.

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. On that point, does she recognise the debate’s importance given an incident just last week in which a candidate in a local election made seriously offensive remarks about Islam and subsequently stood down?

Natascha Engel: Absolutely. As we move towards a general election in precisely a year’s time, we increasingly have to deal with offensive comments. From the outset, the inquiry made it clear that we prize above all else freedom of speech and people’s ability to say even offensive things, but also that we wanted to identify the line between speaking freely and being not just offensive but discriminatory.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on her fine chairmanship of the inquiry, on which I was proud to serve. On local elections, there is so much more to do. A candidate in Enfield made appalling racist comments, for example. He resigned, but things nevertheless got to that stage and appropriate action was taken. The strongest words in the report focused on the Equality and Human Rights Commission for dereliction of duty in preventing discrimination during election campaigns. What does the hon. Lady have to say about more needing to be done, particularly by the EHRC?

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Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I ask that interventions be brief. If hon. Members want to speak, there are opportunities, so they can rise if they want.

Natascha Engel: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come on to discuss the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which, as he said, featured greatly in the inquiry’s deliberations when writing the report. We are, however, keeping an eye on local elections.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Before my hon. Friend moves on to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, does she agree that political parties have a fundamental role to play and that, following the inquiry’s brilliant work, they should all sign up to what this cross-party group of MPs has wisely recommended?

Natascha Engel: Absolutely. At top and bottom of our recommendations was the role of political parties. In fact, my hon. Friend and I have been busy speaking to people within political parties to ensure that they sign up not only in principle but in practice to some kind of code of conduct that allows individuals, be they candidates, members of the public or political party workers, to know where to go when there is not just a complaint, but a serious concern. Even though we have some recommendations for different agencies, it is the political parties that really need to work together. Having said that, we had good representations from all political parties, especially the smaller parties that compete against the large, mainstream political machines. They really co-operated with the inquiry and were looking forward to being given help to do better, so we were impressed by them.

I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott) present. One thing that came out strongly from the inquiry was that some of the examples that we heard, some of which we could not publish in our report, were very extreme. Even though they are few and far between, I was shocked by some of the things that happen. I wish that they did not, and hope that we can work towards making them less likely to happen. Although we would like to wipe the problem out, it will always occur, so we need to ensure that people are less likely to behave in a discriminatory way in order to gain an electoral advantage. Our inquiry found that people in some areas were not putting their names forward as candidates out of fear for their lives, which happened across the board. Whether the tensions were religious, ethnic or based on their sexuality or gender, we found that people who would have been good candidates for elected office at any level were not putting their names forward. Everyone on the inquiry felt that that was unacceptable. We were impressed by the hon. Member for Ilford North and the former Member for Gloucester, Parmjit Dhanda, and understood how brave it was for them to give oral evidence in public, for which we were grateful.

A problem that we highlight in the report and would like a wider discussion about is that the offence, which can be intimidating and secretive in nature, is difficult to combat. A racist sitting in their garage printing vile leaflets will not put their name and address in an imprint on the bottom to enable the police to knock on their door and say, “This is unacceptable.” By its nature, the offence can be difficult to trace. The often tight-knit

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communities where smearing propaganda is being put out are closed by their nature and it can be difficult to get hold of the evidence in order to prove anything. That does not mean, however, that we should not try, or should not try to ensure that people are educated properly to make it less likely that this vile rubbish goes out in the first place.

In our report, we quoted at great length the 11—we thought that there were 10—self-evident and basic principles outlined by Lord Lester in his pamphlet from the 1990s, “Political Speech and Race Relations in a Liberal Democracy”. They are basic principles, but excellent ones. I will not read all of them, but an important one is:

“The right to free and unfettered political speech and debate is fundamental to democracy.”

We tried to achieve balance in our report, because where does robust political campaigning end and discrimination begin? On the one hand, we were all clear that we knew where the line was. On the other hand, we did not want an environment in which no one can come out and say things, even if they are sometimes offensive. Let people be judged at the ballot box; if they make rude, hurtful or nasty remarks, they tend to stand down because of public pressure or pressure from within their political party—that is the best pressure—or they are voted down in elections.

I, for one, was therefore delighted to see the end of the British National party, pretty much, at the last election. That demonstrates my point: once BNP members got elected to office, people saw how they behaved, did not like it and voted them out. That is how things should be. What we are trying to tackle is behaviour on the extremes that is not only unacceptable but intimidating and threatening, putting people in fear and stopping them putting their names forward as candidates.

I will go through some of our recommendations. In our call for evidence, we received some 50 responses from different organisations, including not only political parties but the election agencies—there was also a lot of interest from international election agencies—the police, who were very engaged with the inquiry; a lot of academics; trade unions; local councils, which gave some excellent evidence; and non-governmental organisations and Government agencies. We held two oral evidence sessions, which were well attended and very interesting, and some surprising things came out of them. I thank all those who put in written evidence and who took the time to come along to our sessions. Our inquiry was very rich in evidence and, as a result, we could produce a strong report at the end of it.

The report focused on a number of policy concerns, primarily policing and the law. The police who attended were engaged with electoral conduct—they have special units to deal with it—but the people who really impressed us were former members of the Commission for Racial Equality. They gave some excellent evidence on past best practice that had worked well and was being developed. It involved going out into communities that had already been identified, working with them and their leaders and the local councils, keeping information and developing databases, and focusing on the positive educational side. One of our recommendations to the Equality and Human Rights Commission is to look at the toolkit

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that the CRE had produced, dust it down, update it and see whether we can use it in the run-up to the next general election.

Mr Lammy: Reflecting on where the EHRC finds itself, does my hon. Friend share the view of many members of the committee? We could not quite understand why there has been that stepping back from good activity by the leadership of the EHRC. Should that not be what an Equality and Human Rights Commission is for in a democracy?

Natascha Engel: Absolutely. All of us on the committee were surprised at the attitude of the EHRC, especially as their evidence was initially positive and constructive.

Mr Burrowes: I hope that the Minister will make at least one point clear to us. The EHRC says that it wants an instruction from the Government, and the Government say that it is properly a matter for the EHRC. We need clarity to ensure that we do not drop the ball and that previous good work is carried forward. We must be able at least to sort that out today.

Natascha Engel: Yes. I am going to skip around a bit and get hopelessly lost, so I might end up not doing all the bits that I wanted to, but I want to clarify that point. After the publication of the report, we had meetings with each of the different agencies that had given evidence and that we felt could do something to help. We have already mentioned the political parties, which must be the driving force, but all the other agencies were keen to help and open to recognising that there was a problem—that things were not working as well as they might once have done and certainly could work in the future.

Our issue with the EHRC was that it is the only organisation out of all those that came to give evidence to have one of those overarching umbrella roles. Obviously, the Commission for Racial Equality morphed into the EHRC, and we were sad to see that a lot of the excellent work that had been done in the CRE had got lost, shelved or was not carried forward. Our meetings with the EHRC were all focused on its budget cuts, on how it could no longer be as proactive as it might like and on how it was far more focused on providing policy research or legal help for those bringing cases of discrimination; it did not see its role as being anything to do with ensuring that conduct during election time was free, fair and not discriminatory. That kind of umbrella organisation is needed to lead the way, and we felt that leadership was lacking. All the other organisations can do what they like, but they do it in silos; we need the EHRC to knit everything together, so that we can all work together harmoniously to ensure that elections are more fairly conducted. Both of the points made by my right hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman are enormously important.

We have a meeting with the Minister planned for June, and it would be enormously helpful if a senior member of the EHRC were present. We recognise what the EHRC was keen to point out—that it is independent of Government and it has a board that sets strategy and decides on what its budget is spent on; and, moreover, that the strategy has been set and the money allocated, and not for the work that we are doing—but if someone from the EHRC was present at our meeting in June and

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the problem is a lack of resourcing, we as parliamentarians might be able to help with that.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I was going to ask the Minister about this, but my understanding is that the EHRC has programme funding that is held back and can be bid for. Perhaps it could put in a bid for the very work that my hon. Friend is calling for.

Natascha Engel: That is a helpful intervention and we are discussing that. The issue, however, is one of attitude. What we were so surprised by was the “No” response, when everyone else was saying, “Yes, we really want to help, what can we do? How can we most constructively go about doing it?” The EHRC response was, instantly, “No.” It is a question of changing attitudes and seeing what each of us can do in our own capacity to make sure that the work can go ahead.

I have already mentioned the police; I should mention the Association of Chief Police Officers and specifically two people who have been enormously helpful and positive. Gary Cann and John Askew recognised that we can do a lot more and made constructive proposals about how we can go about doing so, as well as giving us the benefit of their experience, which was invaluable to our work.

The Electoral Commission was also extremely co-operative—we met with Jenny Watson after our report was published. The commission was willing to do anything within its remit and said that as long as political parties could agree on this step, it would be more than happy to be the signposting organisation. Lots of people already go to the Electoral Commission for advice and information, and it would be more than happy to signpost people—be they candidates or individuals with issues or complaints—to the available information. The Electoral Commission was keen to work not just with us but with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the police and ACPO.

The political parties are key. The next election will be even tighter than before, and tensions are often higher in the run-up to tight elections than they would otherwise be. It is therefore important that all the political parties are signed up. Those of us here today represent different political parties; we should all act from within to make sure that our own party does everything it can. One helpful suggestion was the idea of having a named and prominent person within each political party to whom a complaint can be referred.

It is important that complaints are referred quickly, but one issue came up again and again. Often when some appalling behaviour occurs, whoever is responsible can be identified, and although people are sometimes reluctant to name names, they want the situation resolved quickly, before it gets out of hand. Sometimes candidates in general election campaigns behave in ways that their own political parties are not necessarily aware of, and would be shocked by if they were. It is a question of speed and of making sure that people—candidates and the electorate—are confident that political parties are dealing with problems quickly and that there will be an outcome. We will need safety nets to make sure there are not a million malicious and mischievous complaints, but if we are all committed, we can find a way to identify a threshold for such a process. Political parties are absolutely key.

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The big problem we identified was third parties or non-parties—we are back to our racist in the garage printing nasty leaflets, who will not necessarily belong to any organised grouping and could simply be acting as an individual. Dealing with those people is going to be a big problem. Although we identified education as key to everything, we need to find ways to clamp down on that sort of non-party, third party organisation.

In summary—I want to allow others to speak—we would like the Minister not to interfere with the independence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission but to encourage it to work far more proactively with us and to show leadership. That will be key. We made a lot of progress with all the other agencies, so we want to encourage the EHRC to work more proactively with us. I have already mentioned our meeting with the Minister in June to make sure that she can encourage somebody from the EHRC to attend.

We also identified the press as a key area, but feel that there are some legislative weaknesses. Although we know that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is not the Department dealing with the press code, we hope that in its work with the Press Complaints Commission, it can highlight that there is a problem. People complaining to the Press Complaints Commission have to do so on the grounds of inaccuracy—that is what they have to prove. We want the Press Complaints Commission specifically to look at discrimination and some of the appalling behaviour during elections. Inaccuracy to us means something completely different from discrimination.

Our final point is outside the Minister’s remit, but it would be useful if she passed it on to colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government. Local government has a massive role to play in how candidates behave during election campaigns. Much of the relevant training is conducted through local authorities, and democratic services and electoral services at local authority level have to deal with a lot of the complaints in the first place. A lot more training is needed; that training ended with the Commission for Racial Equality and we would like it to be picked up again, so there can be training in areas where there are local tensions. There is legal provision for local authorities to correct false or misleading information, but that is falling by the wayside a little at the moment, so will the Minister encourage her colleagues to highlight that with the Department to make sure that that provision is used properly?

Finally, I thank all the members of the committee, who gave long service to our inquiry—one of the oral evidence sessions lasted an entire day. Our members were the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew); Lord Alderdice; Lord Beecham; the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), who also acted as vice-chair and took on a lot of the chairman’s role; the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes); my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy); my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) and for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra); the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell); and the hon. Members for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford). I thank each and every one of them for all their service.

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Our debate today is timely. There is exactly a year to go until the next general election, so the clock is ticking. If all of us—the agencies, the political parties and ourselves as parliamentarians— work together, we can make a difference and make sure that the next general election is cleaner, fairer, better and more just than previous elections. I hope we can foster an atmosphere of fairness so that we fight elections on policy, not on personality or people’s sexual orientation or religious or ethnic background.

2.58 pm

Sir Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, in a debate that is very timely indeed. I thank the all-party group against anti-Semitism, which sponsored the inquiry, and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who in many ways was the driving force in setting it up. I served on the inquiry; it was a useful process, and it brought to the attention of the House and others the fact that we have a problem, but that there are opportunities to tackle it.

The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) has set out the range of evidence that we took and the recommendations we brought forward. There has to be a balance. While British elections are seen to be fair and run by decent-minded people in a decent way, if we look through any century of our democratic procedures—the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and, no doubt, 21st—we can see that our elections have been pretty bloodthirsty and robust. We are well aware that, in an open democratic society, there has to be robust debate that will sometimes be challenging and offensive. However, it must not descend to discrimination, violence, bullying, or a climate in which legitimate candidates are deterred from even participating because of the risks they could face if they did. I hope—indeed, I believe—that our recommendations will tackle that and provide the right balance. I hope that the Minister agrees.

It is good to have had excellent responses from the agencies that we have called on to take action—the police, via the Association of Chief Police Officers; the Equalities Office; the Electoral Commission; and political parties. I was pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister responded to the report, from the Front Bench, in an open and constructive way. I note that not all the political parties have yet found time to respond officially. Although it is customary to pose questions to Ministers, I hope that it is not completely out of place to pose a question to the shadow Minister: does the Labour party feel able to put forward a response? I know that the intention is there, but it would be good if we could say that there had been a full-hearted response from all the political parties.

When we produced our report, the so-called lobbying Bill was going through the House. There were some interesting side-discussions on what should be done about non-party and third-party campaigning. The Bill is now an Act, and we will see in due course how it works in practice. Personally, I think that it provides the right level of oversight and supervision of third-party campaigns. We took evidence that showed that some of the worst and most egregious examples of bad behaviour came from those sources—not, of course, from charities and mainstream campaigning groups, but from others who travel in their shadow.

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That raises a point that came out clearly in the evidence that we took from all the political parties—we took evidence from a wide spectrum of them. All shared with us the ways in which they sought to tackle discriminatory behaviour in their parties; how they sought to ensure that their candidates were aware of their obligations as potential public representatives and servants; and their good intentions for the future. It is therefore unfortunate that we have to report that, since our recommendations were published, we have seen further examples of what might be characterised as bad behaviour. The front page of at least one Sunday newspaper had a whole string of examples, one of which was of a candidate from a political party seeking office in my constituency.

That clearly shows that the issue is not just about vision statements or good intentions, but about ensuring that the good intentions expressed to the inquiry reach down from party headquarters to the selection, training and preparation of candidates and their campaign organisers in the grass roots, where nomination forms are filled in, election leaflets are circulated and, in these days, stuff is put on Facebook and Twitter. We know that there is a way to go.

I want to focus the remainder of my remarks on the constructive role that I think the Equality and Human Rights Commission can play. I understand that the EHRC might struggle to deal with situations in the hurly-burly of an election campaign, after nominations have been submitted and once leaflets had been circulated. Perhaps it might reasonably say that the issue was a little bit out of its depth. However, what is not out of its depth is all the preparatory work that has to go on beforehand to ensure that candidates, political parties and civic society more generally are fully aware of the responsibilities someone takes on when they sign a nomination paper and put their name on a ballot paper. If the commission can play an active and constructive role in that—I believe that it can—then it is in by far the best position of all the bodies available to achieve that.

The chair of our inquiry told the House just a few minutes ago that the Commission for Racial Equality, the predecessor of the EHRC, has developed a toolkit. The CRE held discussions with local authorities, and there was a framework for action. There might be some discussion about how thorough that was and whether it went far enough, but one thing we can say about it is that we certainly did not want it switched off. It needs to be maintained and possibly enhanced, not cut back. It is unfortunate that the EHRC, having given positive evidence to the inquiry about its wishes and aspirations, has drawn back from that.

To pick up the point made in an intervention, the EHRC’s programme fund appears to be a suitable vehicle for promoting training and awareness in the way that I have sketched out. I hope that the Minister will agree to meet the EHRC and members of the inquiry to discuss how we can take the matter forward. Of course the EHRC is and should remain independent of Government —it should take its own decisions—but it is open both to members of the inquiry and the Government to point out to the EHRC that it has in its hands the capacity to take the matter forward. It has, in its charter and constitution, an obligation to ensure that discrimination is tackled in all its forms. Perhaps we can encourage it to move forward.

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The commission seems to have come to the view that in an age of austerity, this is one thing it cannot afford. I would say that was a mistaken judgment. An age of austerity—when the potential for community tension is higher, not lower; when the world of politics is much more fluid than ever before; and when people who have previously been in the shadows are being attracted to put their names on ballot papers—is exactly the time when the EHRC should be invited to step forward, fulfil its role and play an active part in tackling the abuses and concerns that we have identified.

I can understand it if the Minister feels lukewarm or hesitant about my proposal. Having sat in her corner of the Chamber as a Minister with some responsibility for social cohesion in the Department for Communities and Local Government, I know that she will have some double-spaced typed sheets that tell her just what she can say and how far she can go. I would not want her to break free from those sheets of paper, but perhaps she can at least take away from this debate a clear understanding that with one year to go, there are real opportunities to get it right and real consequences of getting it wrong. She and her Department can do something to encourage good behaviour by the EHRC and other institutions in the public service to deliver results.

However, I do not want to focus only and entirely on the EHRC; I want to be right up-front and say it is a matter for the parties. Every responsible political party has to take that responsibility seriously when it comes to the training and selection of their candidates, and the training, selection and delivery of their campaigners and campaigns. They also have to create a climate inside their political parties that shows the wide respect that we all expect to see and all promote here in the House. I hope very much that the debate will be an opportunity to open a door, rather than leading to anybody shutting any doors to fair, strong, democratic election campaigning in the next 12 months.

3.11 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) both on chairing the inquiry on electoral conduct and on securing today’s important debate, which, as a number of Members have pointed out, is happening precisely one year before the next general election; I am sure that all of us were very aware of that.

I only want to say a few words, because I know that other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate—in particular, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott), who will bring great insight to these proceedings. I was pleased to serve as a member of the inquiry and was heartened when the general secretary of the Labour party said that he welcomed the report’s publication, but I am speaking in a personal capacity today.

All hon. Members will know from their campaigning experience that there is a kernel of truth behind the report’s key conclusion that

“there are insufficient support networks or referral systems in place for candidates suffering discrimination.”

Indeed, there is worrying evidence that reporting of such incidents may have declined in recent years.

The report contains compelling evidence that the law and regulations governing elections do not provide adequate protection for some candidates. We should remember

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that, as the report states, we do not compare unfavourably with many European countries, but there is a strong case for a wider review, and I hope that the Minister will study the report’s recommendations carefully—I am sure she already has—and respond positively to them.

We must always be vigilant in protecting our freedom of speech, but we also need to make sure that all sections of society feel able to take part in the democratic process, and that protections are in place to ensure that candidates are not dissuaded from standing for election. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire said, some Members, former Members and candidates have been subject to truly dreadful incidents and/or experiences. Their bravery in speaking out about those experiences is both welcome and necessary, particularly as we would all share the view, I believe, that Parliament needs to be as diverse as the country that we live in and seek to represent. The report represents an important step towards achieving the balance between freedom of speech and protection of potential candidates.

I finish by putting on record my thanks to everyone who contributed to the report, and particularly to the director of the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism Foundation, Danny Stone, for his outstanding work and for making publication of the report possible.

3.14 pm

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): I start by thanking the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and her committee for all the work they have done, and I thank her for securing today’s debate. Originally, I was not going to speak in this debate—I know that many people say in debates that it was not their intention to speak, but it genuinely was not. However, I would like briefly to touch on what happened, the consequences of that, and on what is still happening because of the events that took place before the 2010 general election.

At that election, I remember very clearly that on a Friday, I was walking back to my car when two gentlemen—I use the word “gentlemen” very loosely—approached me, called me a dirty Jew and said they were going to kill me. I thought that was a bit extreme—not voting for me would have sufficed, but killing me seemed a little extreme—and I did what I normally do when I am particularly scared, and that is to use humour. I said, “I will put you down as a possible. You haven’t decided how you’re voting, have you?” They were as shocked by that as I was, and we ran off in separate directions.

Consequently, a week later, somebody gave me a leaflet that had been distributed in the area saying that I was an enemy of Islam, with a picture of me wearing a skull cap—it could only have been taken in a synagogue, which I felt was a bit wrong—and had statements on there that were totally wrong. It put words into my mouth that I had never said; none the less, it was given out and as the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire said, there was no imprint on the bottom. I was quite surprised when some of the authorities asked me, “Was there an imprint on the bottom?” I said, “When people are threatening to kill you, they do not usually say who they are.” None the less, the leaflet went out with quite a wide circulation.

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That was some four years ago, so you would have thought, Mrs Main, that that has all died down, that it is history, that I won at the election and it is finished, but sadly it is not. I still regularly get e-mails saying that I should be stoned to death. Again, I am not quite sure why; none the less, I get them. After speaking in January at the Holocaust memorial day debate that we had in the Chamber, I also received a letter—again, there was no address on it—calling me a dirty Jew and saying that I should be killed for speaking up against people killing Jews. I found the whole thing ironic and stupid and said to the police that I did not want it taken any further, because it would have wasted valuable time on somebody who is not worthy of wasting any time on.

However, the consequences of what is stirred up at a general election—whether, in my case, because I am Jewish, or in somebody else’s case, because of their sexuality, or maybe other religions, or the colour of their skin—goes on for years afterwards. Sadly, anyone can google my name and the names of other hon. Members of the House and see some of the vile things that are on the net today.

I agree totally with the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Sir Andrew Stunell) that political parties and the authorities have a responsibility, but I think it goes beyond that. At some stage, somebody, somewhere, needs to be prosecuted, found guilty and punished for it, because of the distress that they cause. I am talking not about hon. Members—I say openly that when we put ourselves up for election we have to have a pretty thick skin; I am not a shrinking violet—but about their families. My family should not have had to go through what they had to go through and have panic buttons, or come with me to meetings where I had two police officers with me, which made it look like I was out on bail, not attending hustings. It is ridiculous that it is allowed to happen.

With the rise of not only anti-Semitism but homophobia and any other thing we could mention, I fear that the problem is not going to go away or get better. We could see it get a lot worse. As the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire rightly said, we are told that the next election will be very close, which will mean that sometimes, people might get carried away. Going beyond the main parties—or even the smaller of the main parties—I saw a leaflet for the council elections in my borough in the past three weeks. I will not name who sent it; the name was on there, but I do not want to give them the publicity. It was disgraceful—absolutely vile and disgraceful. It included pictures—I am not saying for one second it is illegal, but it does incite hatred and contain lies. The consequences of that—we will find out; we will face them. In some cases, it may well be somebody in their back garage printing leaflets, but the leaflet that was put out about me was not printed in a back garage. It was printed professionally. It was glossy and it was handed out.

We have a lot of ongoing problems. The work of the committee, Danny Stone and everyone involved in highlighting those is tremendous. I commend all the political parties for taking it on board. I pay tribute to the leader of the Liberal Democrat party for engaging with what is said, and I know that other political parties will do likewise. The Minister—I am honoured to call

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her my hon. Friend, and we have been friends for quite a long while—knows those problems and will also take them on board.

I fear that this is going to go way beyond the present position, because some of the organisations that perpetrate such behaviour are vile: we can read their websites and find out what they are saying about each and every one of us. What is happening is just vile.

As I said, it was not my intention to speak today. I am not ashamed to say—I have said it publicly before—that on the evening of the last election, I went home and did something I had not done since the birth of my child, who is 25: I actually cried. I said, “What the hell am I doing this to myself for? Do I really want to do this, and do I want to be an MP? Is it worth it for my family?” As it happens, I believe that it is, because the good work of every Member of Parliament, irrespective of their party and where they are, who tries to help their constituents to the best of their ability, is worth the pain. However, it has gone on for five years and I have no expectation that it will stop; it will carry on through to the next general election and—forgive me—for the next five years as well, I hope. The electorate will decide that next year, of course. None the less, it is a horrible thing to go through; I say that for my family rather than myself.

3.20 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) for securing this important debate and opening it so well. She and her colleagues should be congratulated for their stewardship of the inquiry on electoral conduct and the quality of the excellent report they produced, which we are discussing today. I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who is not in his place at the moment, and who chairs the all-party group on anti-Semitism, for its tireless work in tackling discrimination at all levels.

The report has plugged a big gap in the study of the democratic process in the UK and I hope that it will become compulsory reading for everyone, from political parties and candidates to local authority officials, and particularly for the Electoral Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It contains examples of the worst of human behaviour, some of which we heard about from the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott). He was brave to talk about it, and even braver to live with it day in, day out. I commend him for his determination to carry on doing so. It is all the more horrendous, reading the report, to realise that such things have been perpetrated against people we know and consider friends. For instance, there is discussion of the pig’s head left outside the family home of Parmjit Dhanda, a former Minister who was an excellent colleague. The report also highlights things written in his local newspaper. Colleagues yesterday reminded me of the anti-Semitic campaign waged against my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) by his Lib Dem opponent at the last election.

One of the issues I am looking at, at the moment, is how we can increase the representation of people from black and minority ethnic communities at all levels of the political system, not in a spirit of box-ticking or

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tokenism, but because our political system and the decisions that it makes are better if they more accurately reflect the country and the communities they affect. I am sure that for many candidates the threat of their skin colour, background or faith—not to mention their children’s or relatives’—being turned into smears or innuendo or leading to harassment or abuse such as we have heard about today is a real consideration. Of course, that applies to gender as well.

I am sure that the Minister and other hon. Members will be aware that the all-party group on women in Parliament is doing significant work on the issue, and I am pleased to be on the panel for that. I worry that the fear I have described will mean that many excellent candidates never seek their local party’s nomination or get the chance to be elected. None of us goes into politics without the fear of attack, and none of us is immune from attack on some level; but we should always expect any attacks on us to be based on choices or decisions that we have made, the things we have said, the way we have voted, or what we have done. We should never accept attacks based on the things we cannot change about ourselves, such as race, gender, sexual orientation or disabilities. Neither should we attack others, or allow them to be attacked by our supporters or others, in that vein.

Every talented and enthusiastic potential candidate who shrinks away from seeking office because of the fear, perceived or real, that they will be the victim of discrimination, is a loss to their community and the country. Those people are also a loss to the political party that they might have represented. Political parties owe their survival to the continual need to bring through new talent and come up with new ideas. They cannot afford to exclude people from that, and neither can they afford people excluding themselves because of a fear of discrimination.

If for no other reason than that, all the major political parties should pay close heed to the recommendations in the report—particularly on how they support candidates in withstanding such attacks. I am happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire in my role as Labour’s spokesperson on equalities. She and our colleagues will know that there are some support networks out there. For example, I am a mentor for the Fabian women’s network candidates programme, and have been paired with our prospective parliamentary candidate for Brighton, Kemptown. The party has its own future candidates programme, and I am sure that other parties do similar things. I am certainly keen to discuss with my hon. Friend what more we can do.

The debate is timely, in the sense that we are well into an electoral period in which there has rightly been a particular focus on the views of certain candidates—and particularly those of a certain party. However, as the report makes clear, the problems are not exclusive to an individual party or to far-right groups. Nor are they confined to a certain election or historical period. They are persistent, cyclical problems that will continue unless we do something meaningful about them.

Natascha Engel: One of the big problems we found was that the mainstream political parties feel that they already have processes in place; they do not want people to see them as not working as well as they should on the issue. Will my hon. Friend work within the Labour

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party to ensure that we are committed to signing up to something with all the other political parties, rather than working with them in a conflictual manner, so that we can achieve the greater aim? I just want to get her commitment to work within the Labour party so that we can do that from our side.

Mrs Hodgson: I can definitely give that commitment today to work with my hon. Friend to see what we can do within our party.

The central thing that I took from the report was the need for a statutory body to take a lead. There is much that political parties can do and agree on, especially at this time in the electoral cycle, but we should not be under any illusion: come 2015, all political parties will be primarily and almost myopically focused on the campaign and on winning every vote they can. It will simply not be possible for national or even regional officers to vet or review every single leaflet, YouTube clip or tweet from their candidates or their opponents, or anyone else who seeks to influence votes, as in the kind of non-party campaigning outlined in the report. Nor is it possible for political parties to issue guidance to public bodies on their duties to promote equality and good relations between communities.

We have an Electoral Commission and an Equality and Human Rights Commission; and we also have the police for when things really cross over into illegality, such as in the incident described by the hon. Member for Ilford North. The EHRC has had serious budget and staff cuts during this Parliament, but I cannot believe that it no longer has the capacity to play a role. After all, what could be more damaging to equality and good relations between communities than influential people such as local or national politicians using discriminatory language, producing discriminatory campaign literature, or being seen to condone such discrimination?

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The hon. Lady is making an important point. One issue that we identified when compiling the report was that it is very difficult for any authority to take timely action, because often, by the time an investigation has taken place, the election is over and done with and in some cases there has been an impact on the outcome. That is one of the most serious and difficult issues for us to grapple with.

Mrs Hodgson: The hon. Lady makes a very good point. There was a case in which action was taken and a Member of Parliament was forced to step down because of something that had happened. However, the hon. Lady is right: the delay can sometimes mean that it is very difficult to follow things up.

I understand that the Government now hold a programme budget back from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, for which it has to bid in relation to specific pieces of work. I believe that a portion of that fund may have been allocated since the report was published, but that some remains. The Minister may be able to tell us whether the EHRC has bid, or is bidding, for some of the fund to do this work ahead of next year’s general election, or whether she would like to recommend that it do so following the report.