My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate on the occasion of his excellent maiden speech. He describes himself as a late arrival in this House, but we greet him with eagerness and look forward to further contributions. His speech emphasised calm thoughtfulness and scrutiny, and his approach epitomised what he advocated. We have much to look forward to. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, on securing this debate. His speech, like his broadcasts, epitomised all that is best in the BBC.
I declare an interest. My father worked for the BBC throughout his life, albeit in a humble capacity, away from the cameras and microphones. However, he instilled in me a reverence for the institution, and I still have a great affection for the BBC, even though that sentiment is not reciprocated. I admire the quality and breadth of its output and I have no desire to end the licence fee, although it may become more vulnerable through technological change, as my noble friend Lord Hannan pointed out.
None the less, the BBC should not be exempt from criticism, as the right reverend Prelate has just said. It is not perfect. Despite its tedious obsession with gender and racial diversity, the BBC suffers from a lack of diversity of opinion and an overwhelming liberal metropolitan bias. That manifests itself less in what is said than what is not said, the voices not heard, the questions not asked, the issues not addressed.
The three areas in which this bias and censorship are most blatant are the EU/Brexit, energy/climate change and immigration/skills. Time permits only brief examples of these. As far as the EU is concerned, last week on “Today”, Nick Robinson, who can be one of the most perceptive and rigorous of interviewers, interviewed the Irish Foreign Minister, who claimed that the EU’s proposals on Northern Ireland were far-reaching and would reduce checks on goods from GB to Northern Ireland by 80%. Nick Robinson could have asked whether the EU was offering to reduce existing checks by 80% or to reduce the demanded additional checks by 80%. Instead, he argued that the EU should not be making any concessions to the UK at all:
“Isn’t the problem with the concessions that the EU have made that they feed a sense in Downing Street that the EU only responds to threats? What those around Boris Johnson believe is that the EU blinks if you’re tough.”
I cannot imagine any other state broadcaster urging the Minister of a foreign country not to make any concessions towards his own country’s position, but that was the approach taken by Nick Robinson, without comment or subsequent apology.
On climate change, anyone who argues that there is a trade-off between the costs to poor people in current generations of achieving net zero and the benefits to future, far richer generations, is labelled a denier—even though the very existence of a trade-off means that you accept the science of global warming—and is banned from Broadcasting House, as I am. By contrast, claims that global warming will lead to the extinction of the human race are never challenged, even though the Government have confirmed that no peer-reviewed studies predict the end of the human race as a result of climate change. Alarmist claims about the supposedly catastrophic impact of climate change, which have no basis in the IPCC report, are never challenged. The IPCC says:
“For most economic sectors, the impact of climate change will be small relative to the impacts of other drivers … Changes in population, age, income, technology, relative prices, lifestyle, regulation, governance, and many other aspects of socioeconomic development will have an impact on the supply and demand of economic goods and services that is large relative to the impact of climate change.”
Could you possibly reach that conclusion from listening to the BBC’s output on the subject?
On migration, the BBC invokes shortages of nurses and doctors as totemic reasons why we need a continued inflow of skilled workers, but it never reports—and it challenged and rebuked me when I said it—that, annually, we turn away over 20,000 British applicants for nursing courses in this country and the majority of the applicants for medical schools. I recently asked a politically literate audience who got most of their information from the BBC whether they were aware of this, and they were astonished to learn that it is true.
These three issues are immensely important to most people outside the metropolitan bubble. If the BBC fails to cover them in an informed and balanced way, if it believes its job is to convince and censor rather than to educate and inform, it will not secure the support that this Motion calls for.