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Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:44 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench 7:44 pm, 22nd October 2019

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. I will concentrate largely but not exclusively on two subjects in the gracious Speech: education and culture. In many ways, these are intertwined, synonymous and mutually dependent on each other. Well, that at least should be the case. However, despite the huge success of the creative industries in this country and their significant economic contribution to the Treasury, I fear that there is real slippage in terms of investing in the next generation of creative artists.

During a recent Oral Question about government preparation for the future of subsequent generations, asked by my noble friend Lord Bird, I asked the Minister about reported financial threats to music hubs. These hubs have been deservedly lauded by the Government but have also been used as their “get out of jail” card when they have been tackled on the very real lack of music in schools and its disappearance from syllabuses such as the Ebacc. Concern over the funding of music hubs has been highlighted by widely reported comments from, for example, Sir Simon Rattle and the mother of the brilliant young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. She said that his success would never have happened in today’s schools—a pretty sobering thought—and that the lack of state-school funding for the creative arts is creating a “two-tier culture”. Sheku, the winner of BBCYoung Musician of the Year”, was educated at a state school in Nottingham and his mother has expressed deep concern for the future of succeeding generations of children. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, graciously promised me a response on the financial security of music hubs from the Department for Education and I would be most grateful if the Minister could chase up this much-needed reassurance.

Exposure to the creative arts is not only a good financial investment. It also has a profound social dividend and should be the right of every child, not just the privileged. Being given the means to express joy, anger or frustration through the arts is cathartic. It helps to reduce friction and, potentially, violence. Playing in an orchestra or singing in a choir teaches children how to listen to each other and work as a team.

I move on to another concern widely held in the musical and arts world, which has already been voiced in this Chamber: that of the difficulty of travel post Brexit—especially when accompanied by a cello. Artists visiting this country already accept much lower fees than those offered on the continent. Promoters and orchestral managers really worry that, if increasingly stressful visa and travel arrangements are added to that, these artists, who contribute to the vibrant exchange of ideas, simply will not bother coming. For much the same reason, foreign students, who bring in cross-cultural ideas as well as vital funds, will no longer come to our colleges and academies. I know that the Government are looking at this and I would be grateful for any update on progress.

Finally, I move on to health—a drum I have frequently beaten. I think the only Private Member’s Bill to start in the Lords and make its way onto the statute book in the last Session was an amendment to the Children Act 1989. It related to FGM and strengthened the protection for young girls at risk from this barbaric practice, which has absolutely no foundation in either religion or medicine. I do not suppose that there is a single noble Lord in this Chamber who is not appalled by this and who does not think that mutilating a young girl’s genitals is an utterly abhorrent, and of course criminal, act. But the most recent figures from NHS Digital, where FGM must be reported if it is seen, show that, every quarter, between 1,000 and 2,000 cases are seen by health workers. So, despite enormous efforts by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health—I know how seriously they take this—we cannot and must not be complacent. We must continue to educate. I, for one, will continue to agitate until this loathsome practice is entirely eradicated from what we surely all like to think of as our civilised society.