My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young, on introducing this debate. I must declare an interest: throughout his working life, my father worked for the BBC in a humble administrative capacity, so I was brought up with a filial affection for the corporation—unfortunately, one not reciprocated by it.
My affection persists but does not blind me to the BBC’s faults. Nor do those faults, which I shall discuss, make me want to end the licence fee, either to punish it or to try to remedy those faults, which I do not think it would not do—although I fear that the licence fee may be eroded by technology. The aims of the BBC, as has been said, are to inform, educate and entertain. At its best, it does all those superbly. In the current coronavirus situation, the information role of the BBC has been invaluable. On education, “In Our Time”, presented by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, is always superb; we heard this morning about Paul Dirac. To me, as a physicist, that was wonderful to hear. On entertainment, it produces some unmatched comedies and dramas.
Sadly, however, we should admit—although I think I will be the only person in this debate to do so—that people in the BBC have a certain groupthink on some key issues, notably immigration, climate change and Europe. Instead of informing on those issues, it censors; instead of educating, it seeks to indoctrinate; and instead of entertaining, it seeks to preach. I will give concrete examples from my own experience, not because that experience is important but because I can be sure that the examples are factual rather than vague allegations.
People in the BBC, typical of the metropolitan elites, see migration as a key issue for virtue signalling, as well as it being in their own economic interest to oppose any controls on migration. Invariably, they cite the need for nurses, because insufficient people in this country want to train as nurses, so we have to import them from abroad. That has been sustained by the BBC, but it is untrue. When I appeared on the BBC three years ago and pointed out that 40,000 applicants that year had been turned away from nursing courses in this country, the BBC expressed scorn and subsequently phoned me up to demand that I prove it—clearly intending to challenge me. I was able to prove it in 10 minutes with figures from the Royal College of Nursing and UCAS, but the BBC has never used that information since. As a result, I doubt whether there is a Member in this House who knows that last year, 24,000 applicants for nursing courses in this country were turned away because those courses are still rationed.
The second issue is climate change. I was asked by Quentin Letts to appear on a witty programme, “What’s the Point Of…?”, about the Met Office. They invited the only two members of the Climate Change Committee in the other place who had been scientifically trained, of whom I was one. I explained that, while obviously I believe in the science of global warming—I studied physics at Cambridge—the sensitivity of the climate to a given amount of CO2 is likely to be at the lower end of the spectrum spelled out by the IPCC, rather than the higher end which the Met Office always assumed. To illustrate my point, I pointed out that the Met Office produced a glossy pamphlet in 2004 saying that with its new computer, it could forecast accurately the future warming of the planet and that over the next decade—by 2014—it would have increased by 0.3 degrees. But 2014 had passed and we knew that it had in fact increased by between nothing and a tiny proportion of that amount.
Following this, there was an eruption from all the eco-fascists and within the BBC. The BBC referred itself to the BBC Trust for, in its words, “Giving voice to people like Peter Lilley”. This is the organisation that was proud to give voice to the IRA—but it was anxious not to give voice to me. It then removed the whole programme from the website and published an apology for ever having allowed me to utter this simple truth: the Met Office had got its long-term forecast wrong.
I am sorry if I am overrunning, but I am the only spokesman for the opposition in this debate and it is normal to give the opposition a little more space. The third issue I want to raise is the EU. The debate over the last three years has focused on attempts by remainers to keep the UK in the customs union, rather than just a free-trade association.
Viscount Younger of Leckie: I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but the time limit is four minutes and I am afraid that applies to him.
Lord Lilley: Censorship persists, even in this House—but of course I give way to my noble friend. I shall put my views online. Those who are interested in fact rather than its suppression may read them there.
Lord Lilley: Does my noble friend not think it odd that the BBC puts such emphasis on diversity of race, sex and sexuality but no emphasis on diversity of opinion? I am sad that today no noble Lords have addressed whether there is a single mindset that deals with certain issues such as immigration, climate change and Europe—what the French call “la pensée unique”—and which forbids other views to be expressed on the BBC.
Lord Lilley: It is not for the Government to put it right, but this House should be more critical than it has been today.
I thank my noble friend. I have now found the Secretary of State’s speech. As he knows, the Secretary of State said this morning that we need to ensure that there is
“genuine diversity of thought and experience” and to be able to raise that in an open and balanced way. Indeed, in his memoirs, John Humphrys touched on some of the points about bias within the BBC. We do not have to agree with him but it is a valid view.