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The Government recognise the value of languages and are doing a huge amount to support language learning. We have a national languages strategy, which is about increasing the number of people learning languages from primary through to postgraduate level,

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and from 2011 we are introducing a languages and international communications diploma. We are also developing a communications campaign aimed at young people to point out what a difference language can make to their future and their lives. We have classified languages as strategically important in terms of higher education and we are investing in them through the Routes into Languages programme.

Since I became involved in this, I have been genuinely disappointed at the take-up of ERASMUS. When you look at the number of students going out internationally, you see that we have around 5.6 per cent of the market share, while around a 10 per cent share of the students are coming into the UK-we have around 10,000 students going out internationally and 20,000 coming in. We need to fix that. It is something that I need to do with the vice-chancellors. We also need to look into the issue of European interpreters. I will take that away.

The demand for degrees in some languages is growing, even if overall numbers are down. Language degrees in England fell from 3.2 per cent in 2003 to 2.7 per cent in 2008, but the numbers enrolled on joint language degree courses were up 5 per cent. What is also interesting is that the numbers for world languages have risen. Spanish degrees have risen by 13 per cent, Chinese by 36 per cent and Japanese by 43 per cent. Many students are opting to learn languages alongside their other specialisations. Some 30,000 students are taking a language module as part of their degree and more than 25,000 are doing language courses in their spare time.

We need to inspire young people to study languages in higher education. The £8 million Routes into Languages programme, funded by the DCSF and HEFCE, has created a consortium of schools, colleges and universities to work together in order to stimulate demand for language learning in secondary and higher education. Some 67 universities and more than 1,200 schools are involved, with over 27,000 school pupils taking part in activities. UCL's policy was also mentioned. It is obviously for each university to decide on its admission policy, but what I would say is that UCL is showing strong support for language learning and I commend it for that.

Both today and on other occasions there has been criticism that languages are not compulsory at key stage 4. We do not believe that compulsion is the right approach. As Lord Dearing noted in his 2007 review of languages, a one-size-fits-all approach is not right for all pupils, and forcing 14 to 16 year-olds to study languages will not in itself raise standards or motivate pupils. We are considering a range of options for boosting take-up at key stage 4, including making the benchmark mandatory. It is interesting that Lord Dearing thought that the priority was to make language learning more exciting. I think that the decision in 2004 was made really to increase flexibility in the curriculum for vocational opportunities. We are already taking action to incentivise learning at key stage 4, such as the revised key stage 3 curriculum, the online Open School for Languages and, as I said, our communications campaign.

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I was struck by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, on Youthbridge, which I will take away, and I agree to meet with the organisation. But it is not all down to the Government. The corporate sector needs to step up to provide more language learning for its employees. It makes good business sense and will make firms more competitive. My noble friend Lord Harrison mentioned that some companies admit that they are losing out. A Europe-wide study of 195 SMEs found that 115 of them had lost a contract through lack of language skills, with an average loss of business over a three-year period of £325,000. We need to join the chambers of commerce, the CBI and trade associations, together with some of the major corporations, to put in place a significant push and drive on this. As the Minister, I will take that forward and look at the scale of the language sector and its importance to British industry, and we will work with UKTI on the issue. Coupled with that, mention has been made in the debate of scholarships, and I will also take that away as an issue.

Language increases cultural awareness. One of the great benefits of language learning is the insight that it gives to other cultures, which can be vital when doing business overseas. Employers want people who can multitask and who are multiskilled. They want people who are numerate and literate, have IT skills, can work well in a team and are results-focused. Also, research shows that learning a foreign language early aids literacy and the learning of English. Employers want people who have foreign language skills and an international mindset. The great thing about studying languages is that it helps to build many of these skills.

In the Government, we realise the huge importance of the subject. We need partnership with universities, with business and with a variety of associations and we need to give a prod to the corporate sector. But the key is to get youngsters excited about language and to start them on the journey early. We have a series of actions in place, one of which is a response to the Worton report. David Lammy has said that he is willing to chair a new forum consisting of universities, schools and employers to develop a clearer communications strategy on languages.

Finally, on Skills for Growth, the whole document is built to be demand-led. Only yesterday I chaired a meeting with 16 of the major corporations in the UK at which we were discussing what skills they require to be competitive. It was very clear that language learning is something that they need and therefore we need to respond to. I thank all noble Lords.

1.59 pm

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and who have made such excellent contributions. The debate has been wide-ranging and has touched on all education sectors from primary up to university research level. We have talked about business, the Diplomatic Service and even the Olympic Games. What is striking is the degree of interconnectedness between the different sectors; when it comes to languages, that interconnectedness has an impact on our economy and the quality of our competitiveness as a nation.

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I thank the Minister for his encouraging response. I hope that he will feel free to draw on the extensive expertise that has been demonstrated by all the speakers in the debate as we go forward. He made commitments to look further into a number of issues and I look forward to monitoring progress. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Equality Bill

First Reading

2 pm

The Bill was read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Future of the BBC


2 pm

Moved By Lord Fowler

Lord Fowler: My Lords, you can go for months in this House without there being a debate on the media and then, rather like buses, two come along at the same time-the digital economy yesterday and the future of the BBC today. As the House knows, I am chairman of the Select Committee on Communications and, before that, I was the chairman of the BBC Royal Charter Select Committee. However, in this balloted debate for Back-Benchers I speak only for myself, although I concede that I pay tribute to the wisdom of the Select Committees that I chaired.

I start on a sour but important note. The Secretary of State, Ben Bradshaw, in an interview in the MediaGuardian on 23 November, said that it was his duty to point out that there were real dangers of a Tory Government in their policies towards the BBC. He added:

"Like the National Health Service, the BBC reflects Labour values".

That was a fairly crass statement. Historically, of course, it is entire rubbish. Labour can certainly claim to have started the National Health Service, although it does not really justify a claim of ownership, but the BBC was started not by a Labour Government but by a Conservative Government. In the same way, public service broadcaster Channel 4 was also started by a Conservative Government, as too, of course, was independent television generally. So my party does not need to establish its credentials so far as broadcasting is concerned.

More fundamentally, the Secretary of State's comments lead us in entirely the wrong direction. The characteristic over the years has been the way that there has been all-party support for the BBC. That does not mean that there cannot be disagreements on particular issues, but such disagreements are against a background when

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all the major parties in this country support the concept of the BBC and its major role in public service broadcasting. There is obviously a debate to be had on the future of the corporation-hence this debate today-but much of it is with some of the BBC's powerful commercial competitors, not least with News International, which has at least been frank about its ambitions.

In his MacTaggart lecture in the autumn, James Murdoch was quite explicit in his attack. He said the BBC produced "state sponsored journalism"; that impartiality in news was impossible to achieve because it always depended upon choices that editors have to make; and that the only real guarantee of broadcasting independence is profit. I disagree with all three assertions. It is absurd to draw parallels with the real state sponsored journalism of countries such as the old East Germany and, regrettably, the many other countries that still suffer from it today.

As to impartiality, what matters is what the organisation aims for. It is never going to be perfect but the question is: what are the standards? When I worked for the Times in the 1960s, my first editor was William Haley, former director general of the BBC. There was no question what the standards were: you were required to be fair and accurate. The BBC come nearer to achieving that than, for example, Fox News, which reported the Iraq invasion to the accompaniment of martial music and the stars and stripes fluttering in the corner of the screen.

As for profit, I do not believe that that is the only criterion. I will say a word later on BBC profit. The central concept of the BBC is that it should provide not only impartial news but also good drama, good entertainment and good children's programmes on television, on radio and, of course, now on the net, in return for the licence fee. Rightly, the BBC has rejected the argument of some of its competitors that it should simply make programmes that the commercial companies find unprofitable to make. That is not the agreement with the licence-fee payer.

The BBC has achieved a great deal. In the provision of news, for example, it provides more world news than any other media company in this country and, arguably, in the rest of the world. At a time when newspapers have been forced to close their foreign bureaux and rely on journalists being flown in as firemen to report particular crises, the licence fee has enabled the BBC to retain year round foreign coverage; while the World Service, funded differently, continues to provide excellent journalism. The country has been well served by the BBC and anyone who doubts that should cross the Atlantic and talk, as the Select Committee did, to some of the big media companies there. The reputation of the BBC is high and the British concept of public service broadcasting is much admired. The challenge now is to ensure that, at a time of unprecedented change in the media, the BBC retains its high position. That is vital for the BBC.

This brings me to a fundamental defect in the BBC's organisation. Although it has a total revenue of over £4 billion, more than 20,000 staff and offices throughout the world, it has no chairman and no proper board. Instead, it has a curious, divided structure

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unlike anything else in corporate Britain. It has an executive committee headed by the director general and then, in a separate building, it has what is called the BBC Trust headed by Sir Michael Lyons, who can call himself BBC chairman, but only as an honorary title.

At this point, Government Ministers tend to shrug. "What does it matter?", they say; "It is only a matter of organisation". If it does not matter, they should ask themselves why was there so much concern when ITV seemed to be failing to find a new chairman; why there was so much interest in the new chairman for Channel 4 and how he would lead the organisation; why there is always speculation and comment when a chairmanship becomes vacant in any big company? The answer, of course, is that having the right chairman is crucial to the health of any big organisation or company.

The Minister will agree that this is not a recent criticism of mine or of my colleagues. In the BBC you do not have the normal process of co-decision that you have in virtually every other company. You do not have a chairman and a chief executive standing side by side in joint decisions. It too often appears to be the case that the trust, in its regulatory role, is standing to one side from the corporation. At the time, we strongly proposed what had been proposed but were told it was non negotiable. The Government said that it was a unique arrangement but the BBC was a unique organisation, and that was that. The truth, of course, is that this is a shambolic compromise as a direct result of the Government's dispute with the BBC on its early coverage of the Iraq war-a questioning which, frankly, looks nearer the mark with every witness that appears before the Iraq inquiry.

I was critical of the Secretary of State at the beginning of my remarks but I certainly give him credit for having recognised the truth. His view was given in a speech to the Royal Television Society in September. He said that he was concerned about the regulatory structure of the BBC and that the trust was,

He added:

So, there we have it: four or five years after the Government introduced this eccentric system, they admit that it does not work. But the question for the Government now is what they propose instead. They have a corporate organisation in which they have no confidence. It would be utterly wrong for them to allow it to struggle on in this way; the BBC is too important for that.

I accept that making changes is difficult under the royal charter process that the Government have chosen to follow. Again, I have to say that it was not the process that the Select Committee advised them to follow. We said that the BBC should be set up on a statutory basis, allowing changes to be made in it, but that was overridden again by the Government.

Therefore, as far as the incoming Government after the election are concerned, this is unfinished business. We should not be overinfluenced by Michael Grade's opposition to any change, as set out in his article in the Financial Times yesterday. He of course was responsible

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for negotiating this defective arrangement. He may want to go down saluting at the mast, but that is no reason why the rest of us should be dragged down at the same time.

My final major point is about the wider role of the BBC. It is a massive media player in the United Kingdom. By partnerships with other players, such as in sharing costs, it can make a big contribution. However, it is very good at talking the talk about partnership. I am struck by the number of witnesses who say in evidence to the Select Committee that, in practice, it is nothing like as successful as that. As a big media company, it must be careful not to crowd out the efforts of smaller companies in the United Kingdom-that is important, too.

However, the argument does not go all one way. It is often not the smaller companies which complain but some very big competitors. We should recognise that there are some very determined opponents of the BBC out there who would like nothing better than a diminished corporation, which may not be in the public interest.

The future of the BBC also affects many other people who are not employed on the permanent payroll: directors, actors, writers, musicians and entertainers. If dramas, for example, can be sold overseas, that is good for the BBC and for the companies which have made them.

That is the role of BBC Worldwide, one of the corporation's undoubtedly successful companies. It sells around the world, and its aim is to create value from BBC content. Its values are BBC values, and it provides very good value for licence-fee payers. It has an annual revenue of more than £1 billion and it makes profits for the BBC of more than £150 million. How far do we want this BBC company to go? Your Lordships may have seen a press release from the BBC Trust last week on future policy here. The flavour is given by its headline:

"Trust announces new limits to Worldwide activity".

What other corporation would take pride in being able to boast that its highly successful commercial subsidiary was aiming to limit profit and activity?

I would put it rather differently from the trust. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The British film industry's prosperity was much limited by distribution being in the hands of the big United States studios. With television, BBC Worldwide is already there; it is established; its reputation is well known. It needs the resources to grow further. Licence-fee money is limited and, in any event, this is a commercial activity best done with private sector resources. The opportunity is for a new company to be formed-a public/private partnership. There is no reason why other broadcasters should not take shareholdings in it. The BBC should be able to earn better profits from such a company and be a substantial beneficiary of any sale.

The BBC should remember the opinion poll organised by the Department for Culture a few years ago which showed that 90 per cent of the public agreed with the proposition that the BBC should raise as much money as it could from selling its products and programmes overseas. That is the case particularly when that action would be to the direct benefit of the broadcasting industry generally and those who work in it.

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The opportunity here is to create a leading global media brand. The question is whether, in its international operations, BBC Worldwide can be freed to carry out even more entrepreneurial action. I know what its competitors would do given the same opportunity. It is something of an acid test for the BBC. Those of us who are supporters of it want to preserve its standards, but we also want it to take its chances. Here is a very big chance, and I very much hope that it takes it. I beg to move.

2.16 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I shall not be the first today to thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for this opportunity to discuss the future of the BBC, but I do so very warmly. Your Lordships' House is lucky to have had him, with his distinguished media as well as parliamentary career, as chairman of its Select Committee on Communications, since this was first established after a little battle with the powers that be earlier this century. It has been a great privilege to be part of his team.

I am glad to say that research shows clearly the importance and value of the BBC to this country. Eighty-five per cent of UK citizens would miss it if it were not there, and the level of trust in all that it does continues to grow. Above all, our citizens want a strong, confident and high-quality BBC. Its "jewel in the crown" image is as accurate today as when that phrase was first coined. It is also agreed that there needs to be a competitive range of public service broadcastingprogrammes from the commercial media, particularly to provide independent, high-quality, impartial news of the kind currently provided by ITN and Channel 4. This House, as we know from yesterday, will shortly have an opportunity to discuss in detail the Government's DE Bill's proposals about how this might be provided in future, but it must be said that there are doubts about what is proposed.

As your Lordships know, debate continues about the BBC's governance, the licence fee arrangements and even whether in today's multimedia/internet world such a privileged organisation should continue to exist. The BBC's current governance has been criticised in our Select Committee reports. It is said that the Communications Act 2003's two-tiered self-regulatory structure, with the BBC Trust at arm's length from the day-to-day responsibilities of the main board, does not really work. Ofcom has some regulatory responsibilities for the BBC, but a consensus is said to be developing that an altogether different structure is needed.

However, if change is needed, there is a differentdanger to be avoided. We should certainly ensure a greater degree of transparency about how the licence fee settlement is reached between government and BBC through proper parliamentary scrutiny, as our Select Committee has suggested. Equally, the independenceof the BBC from undue parliamentary as well as government influence must be maintained once a settlement has been reached. It is well known that every Government have tried to put pressure on the BBC at some stage in their relationship. The very existence of the royal charter, despite these kinds of

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pressures, allows the BBC to continue asking the right questions at the right time-and, thankfully, it still does. For that reason alone, it is also reassuring to learn that a recent press report that the Conservatives might be planning to get rid of the BBC charter altogether was denied.

There are increasingly difficult challenges for the media as a whole. Digital switchover is well under way; there has been a huge increase in the number of internationally accessible competing worldwide channels and multiplexes; and a growing internet attraction for the advertising industry has led to a rapid decline in TV advertising. Hence, ITV's decision that it can broadcast public service programmes in future only if they are fully funded from elsewhere. Likewise, Channel 4's situation, as it, too, has been funded previously out of advertising revenue, is equally problematic. On top of that sits the appalling economic situation, together with uncertainty about when the recession will end. It is therefore entirely right that the BBC look for economies within its own situation, as well as ways of supporting other PSB initiatives. It looks, and we look to it, to do so.

We need to put into perspective the normal situation that existed in this country about salaries and bonuses before the crash. High salaries, based on what the market showed one had to pay to attract or retain the best people, were the norm for remuneration, as were bonuses. I can remember thinking that the proposed salaries for Ofcom's top management were very high indeed when it was set up, but I was told that that was the media market price. It is hardly surprising, if we take that into account, that BBC top salaries and talent costs are high. Therefore, it is commendable that the director-general, Mark Thompson, has decided to publish a range of salaries paid to top BBC personnel together with plans to contain them in future.

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