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House of Lords

Tuesday, 8 December 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.

BBC Trust


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Fowler

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has said that he has concerns about the corporation's regulatory structure and he is clear that this must be a key issue for the next charter review.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, does he not have rather more than concerns, given that the BBC Trust was forced through against strong advice that it would provide a fatally divided structure at the top of the BBC? Has not the Secretary of State, Mr Bradshaw, said that the trust is not,

So, is it the Government's policy now that the BBC Trust is not sustainable?

Lord Davies of Oldham: No, it is not, my Lords. The Secretary of State was indicating that the next charter review should look at the regulatory structure, but the trust is the product of a very extensive consultation on the charter and provision for the BBC. Every model of governance had both proponents and opponents, but the trust received greater favour than other possible solutions. After just over two years of the trust, which has a destined life of 10 years, we should give it time to settle in and to prove that it is fit for purpose.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, is it not the case that the trust is there to champion the views of the licence payer and leaves the BBC management to speak up for itself?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the trust certainly has a major obligation to the licence payer. Any other model of supervision of the BBC would either not serve the interests of the licence payer as effectively or would so closely regulate the BBC that it would be subject to political interference, thereby destroying the independence which it has enjoyed for 80 years.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, as regards the future of the BBC, will the Minister assure the House that the Government do not intend

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to top-slice the BBC licence fee in order to pay for the independently-funded media consortia once the pilots are over?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a marginal consideration as far as the future of the BBC is concerned. After all, we are talking about potential savings from the necessary moneys devoted to the transfer to digital. Therefore, it is an absolutely minor amount for the BBC and is not part of its regular budget. However, the Government have not reached a decision on whether this specific part should be devoted to the independent news consortia. We are considering the matter, but that is one possibility.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in response to my noble friend Lord Fowler, the Minister explained that the BBC Trust was not sustainable. Yet in his subsequent remarks, he said that it should be allowed to settle in, in order to become fit for purpose. It cannot do both. Which is the Government's preferred option?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it can do both because, as I am sure the noble Lord appreciates, we are not talking about an institution which is subject annually to a change of government, but a structure which has to be created to preserve the crucial independence of the BBC. That is why the charter has a 10-year span and why the licence fee has a number of years attached to its regulation. That is the position of the BBC, which is valued across the world in terms of its independence from government. All that the Secretary of State was indicating was that the trust might be looked at in the fullness of time when it comes to a review of the charter.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, given the degree of self-regulation built into the Communications Act 2003, can the Minister expand a little on what the trust does that Ofcom or a similar regulator could not do? I am thinking about the future rather than the present.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Baroness is quite right to indicate that in future discussions the role of Ofcom would almost certainly feature as a possible solution to the issue. But of course that position was considered in the review of the charter which we carried out prior to the decisions in 2006 and 2007. There are problems with the position of Ofcom; it might look as if it was, in fact, there solely to look after the structure of the BBC on a day-to-day basis, when the essence of the trust is to give reassurance to the licence fee payer that the BBC will be properly controlled and governed, while preserving a degree of BBC independence from direct political interference.

Lord Soley: Is it not true that the threat to the BBC comes not from problems with the trust, which everyone acknowledges can be changed from time to time, but from the threat to hive off bits of it at the request of other self-serving interests? News International and the Daily Mail spring to mind. In fact, the BBC provides one of the great services not just to this

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country but to the world in terms of the protection and enhancement of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. We should be proud of that and be very wary of those organisations that want to get their hands on little bits of the BBC in order to emasculate it.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to my noble friend for emphasising the virtues of the BBC in our debate last Thursday. Every single contributor recognised the value of the BBC as a very significant institution in Britain. Therefore, we ought to look with some care at those who threaten the BBC from a perspective that may be self-serving of their interests, but not in the interests of the wider community.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, will the Minister accept that for certain bystanders, who cannot remember what the purpose of the BBC World Service Trust is, the mere name of this trust is a further complication and confusion?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, in all the discussions on the BBC to which I have been a party in recent months and years, I have not identified an issue of confusion. I have identified criticism of the trust. Any BBC governing body is subject to criticism, because the BBC, given the sheer range of its programmes and the service it provides, is bound to attract criticism from time to time. Whoever is responsible for answering questions on those criticisms will themselves be subject to scrutiny. The trust simply fits into that pattern.

Anti-social Behaviour: Family Intervention Projects


2.44 pm

Asked By Baroness Massey of Darwen

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, since 2007, DCSF has collected detailed monitoring information on progress made by every family supported by a family intervention project. We are strengthening the evidence base for FIPs and have recently begun to monitor whether the impact on families is sustained nine to 14 months after they leave the project. Evaluation published in November this year shows significant improvements in outcomes for the families involved.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive Answer. Can she say what the cost of these projects is and whether there is an estimate of how much they might save in the prevention of anti-social behaviour?

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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, we know that the families targeted to be part of this project are often in receipt of significant investment from public services. The average cost of running a family intervention project can be around £8,000 to £20,000 per family, but the overall cost of the different statutory interventions for families such as those involved in a FIP can be anything between £250,000 and £350,000 per year. Therefore, we can see that the family intervention project is very cost-effective.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, the Minister seems to be indicating that this is a successful project, even though we are at the beginning of the evaluation. If it proves to be the success that she is indicating, will she consider encouraging other groups to use this holistic social work approach with other families? I think particularly of those families where there is a likelihood of breakdown and of children being received into care. Bearing in mind that the number of children before the courts has risen by 50 per cent this year compared with last year-I declare an interest as the chair of CAFCASS-does she not feel that this might save substantial funds and give those children a better life?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness. It is important to remember that such significant cost benefits come about in part because the families that we target through family intervention projects have an extremely intense need. They may be very chaotic and in receipt of a wide range of services and they may be having quite a detrimental impact on their communities, so we can make a big difference by bringing in the family intervention project. The noble Baroness is right that one of the real success factors of the project is the approach of looking at the whole family-the extended family-and not trying to address the needs of an individual family member. The project looks at how the family works together and wraps around services in a coherent and determined way.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, can the Minister confirm my hope that this project has absolutely nothing to do with brainwashing little girls who wish to wear pink and disallowing them from ever wearing such colours?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, that is a very interesting question. I think that I can fairly say that family intervention projects do not concern themselves with the colour of the attire of the children involved but are much more concerned about getting kids up and dressed and back to school. They make sure that parents are capable of parenting their children and can address the support needs of, say, a teenager who might be going off the rails. Family intervention projects are about ensuring that families can do the best for themselves.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, among families where there have been substantial anti-social behaviour problems,

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the evaluation shows a reduction from 40 per cent to 6 per cent in those problems? Given the dedication of this Government to joined-up thinking, can she also tell me why they did not think about putting this holistic programme together very much earlier?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: The noble Baroness is helpfully highlighting the successful outcome of the family intervention project. I shall add some further background. For example, we found that cases of domestic violence involving families who had been through the project fell from 22 per cent to 9 per cent. That is an important impact. The family intervention project is specific intervention involving a determined key worker-in some cases, an ex-police officer-who embraces the family, gets services to work together and drives forward behavioural change. This specific intervention has been developed by Action for Children since 1995. We are very pleased that the results have been well evaluated and we can see a read-across into such things as the family nurse partnership and specialist drug and alcohol courts.

The Earl of Listowel: If a grandparent is involved, what extra support might they expect? More generally, where grandparents are having to take on the parenting role, what support is there for them? For example, is there support if there are immediate costs in adapting a house to take in children?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: The family intervention project embraces the whole family, which includes grandparents and extended family members. Often the grandparents provide the kind of stability and support that sometimes is not present in chaotic families. It is essential that the "think family" approach is adopted locally and across the board. There is much more that we can do as a society and a Government to support grandparents in that role and I hope that we will be able to say more about that in the coming weeks.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I shall return to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, if I may. Does the Minister agree that her friend Harriet Harman was talking absolute rubbish when she said that girls should not be brought up in pink clothes and boys in blue clothes? I say that because it is only when they get older that boys wear pink clothes-as I do with my pink shirt-with equanimity.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl looks very dashing in his pink shirt or pink tie. The right honourable Harriet Harman was making a serious point about how to ensure that we as parents give girls the best possible opportunities and do not stereotype them into for ever taking a passive and pink role in life. Having brought up a daughter, I think that it is extremely important that we make sure that girls have a chance to play with trucks and trains and to wear blue if they look pretty in blue. We should not define how young people are looked after by the colour of their toys.

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Finance: Fiscal Deficit


2.54 pm

Asked By Lord Renton of Mount Harry

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, the Government are delivering significant fiscal support to the economy, helping to reduce the risk of a deeper and more prolonged recession. The Government have set out a clear plan to reduce borrowing once the recovery is secured. This will see the deficit halved over four years, ensuring that public finances remain on a sustainable footing. The Queen's Speech announced the Government's intention to bring forward a fiscal responsibility Bill in the fifth Session, enshrining this plan in legislation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will set out full details tomorrow in the Pre-Budget Report, alongside his forecast for the public finances.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: I thank the noble Lord for his reply, although I anticipated it. I did not expect to hear the details of the Pre-Budget Report today. Perhaps it will be repentance on the scaffold tomorrow for the Chancellor.

I shall try another tack. Was the Guardian newspaper correct when it reported the other day that the cost of quangos-those much maligned, non-departmental and non-ministerial bodies-is now £10 billion a year, but that 123 of them are to be abolished at a saving of £800 million? Is that correct? If so, it would be interesting to have the names of the quangos that are to be abolished. Why were they established in the first place, and why are they going now? Some of us might like to have a few words on the matter.

Lord Myners: My Lords, I believe that that may well have been covered in a Statement read to the House yesterday afternoon by my noble friend Lord Davies. I will not speak to the veracity of the Guardian newspaper report, but there is clearly scope to reduce the number of quangos and secure significant savings. As part of the move towards sustainable public finances, once the recovery is firmly established, clearly each and every aspect of public expenditure will need to come under very critical examination.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the timing and pace of the reduction of the fiscal deficit should be determined by what is happening in the real economy, such as sustained growth, growing employment and availability of finance to businesses, rather than some arbitrary and unenforceable target, whether set out in legislation or not?

Lord Myners: We are very clear that we want a reduction in the deficit of public expenditure and are committed to halving it over a period of four years,

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once the recovery is well established. It would clearly be most unwise to contemplate any significant change in fiscal policy or support for the economy until the recovery is firmly established. Indeed, that would be irresponsible in its impact on the economy. The IMF has made clear in its recent publication that it believes that the public sector borrowing requirement as a percentage of the deficit will remain below average for the G7 countries throughout the forecast period to 2014.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Can the Minister tell me whether the abolition of quangos will involve redundancy costs, or whether you can simply chop a quango for nothing?

Lord Myners: We will approach this in a responsible way. People who work in and support quangos are loyal and dedicated public servants, and we would wish to avoid redundancies if at all possible.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, is the Minister of the view that it will tend to help to reduce the budget deficit that one of the major investments of the Government in the banks is being run, according to him, by people who are not living in the real world?

Lord Myners: I think that we can rest assured that the shareholders of the major banks, including the two banks in which the taxpayer has a significant interest, will take due and proper care to ensure that those banks are being run properly. My observation about whether people were in the real world was very much limited to the issue of bonuses.

Lord Peston: My Lords, bearing in mind that it is pretty foolhardy to discuss a Bill that we have not seen yet, the fiscal responsibility Bill, I ask my noble friend a sensible question: are we clear how we should measure the fiscal deficit? As far as I know, what counts in the deficit is a very tricky question. When the time comes, I hope that he will ask our right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get some expert advice on the correct way of measuring the deficit.

Lord Myners: One of the advantages of the fiscal responsibility Bill which the Chancellor will be announcing tomorrow is that it will allow Parliament to look at multi-year fiscal plans and challenge them. That will include a discriminating eye as to the difference between recurrent expenditure and investment, which is a critical aspect in calculating the deficit-expressing the deficit not so much in absolute terms but in the ability to pay in terms of percentage of GDP.

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