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Speech: Tougher sentences are needed for dangerous driving involving death



Dangerous Driving involving Death: Sentencing
17 October 2017
Volume 629

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered sentencing in cases of dangerous driving involving death.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your wise chairmanship as ever, Mr Hollobone. As hon. Members and the Minister will know, this debate is timely, given the publication on 16 October of the response to the Government’s consultation on maximum sentences for particular driving offences. Our debate today is inevitably and rightly informed by the changes that the Government announced yesterday, but like many other Members, I sought this debate in response to a case in my constituency in which the perpetrator was convicted after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. As a former Minister, I understand and sympathise with the fact that the Minister will not be able to comment on individual cases, but my aim is to use this tragic case as an example to question whether the current sentencing regime is fit for purpose, to discuss some of the Government’s proposals and changes, and to discuss how this case and ones like it need to lead to a change in policy.

Ms Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab): I am sure that many will know of the sad case of four-year-old Violet-Grace Youens, who was killed this year and whose grandmother was left seriously injured when they were returning from their nursery. A stolen car crashed into them at 80 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone in St Helens. Two young men were in the car, one driving and one not. One of them ran past dying Violet-Grace laughing, making his getaway. The other posted a video from his prison cell celebrating his birthday; it depicts drug-taking and misbehaviour in prison. One will understand why Violet-Grace’s parents are deeply distressed and have no faith in our justice system. The boy who was celebrating his birthday received a 10-day extension to his sentence for posting the video. I have read these proposals with interest and welcome them, but please consider those who may not have been on drugs and drink at the time.

Kevin Brennan: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Obviously, that is a horrendous case and a great deal needs to be done on our prisons policy. It is not for us to debate that here today, but there is much to be done to improve the current state of affairs in our prisons, and I sympathise with her constituents and their families.

I want to talk about Sophie Taylor, a 22-year-old constituent of mine; she was a young woman in the prime of her life, with much to look forward to. She was described by her distraught mother, Jackie, as a loving and caring individual. I pay tribute to Jackie for somehow finding the strength to come and talk to me about the case, and to talk to the media about her horrific loss and her subsequent experience of the criminal justice and court system.

During the early hours of the morning of 22 August 2016, Sophie and her friend, Joshua Deguara, were chased through the streets of Cardiff by her ex-boyfriend, ​Michael Wheeler, and another driver. I will not comment on the case of the second driver, because elements of that case might still be sub judice, but I will focus on the actions and sentencing of Michael Wheeler, who entered a guilty plea and whose case is not subject to appeal.

During the chase, Sophie called 999 because she was scared and felt unsafe. She was on the phone, talking to an operator for 24 minutes. As that duration shows, the chase was a sustained and deliberate action by Mr Wheeler. During that time, his car reached speeds of up to 56 mph as he chased Sophie and Joshua into narrow residential streets. Then, he turned his car to the left into Sophie’s, causing her car to crash into a block of flats. The collision caused Sophie a catastrophic brain injury, which led to her death. Joshua suffered life-changing injuries, including a brain bleed, a shattered pelvis and an injury to his leg that has since led to its amputation. News reports stated that Mr Wheeler drove away after the crash before parking nearby, where he was arrested.

The judge who heard the case at Cardiff Crown court described what happened that night as

“nothing more than a pack chasing its prey”.

He added:

“You were trying to ram her off the road and you did”.

It is also worth noting that Sophie had made several reports to the police and visited the police station in the weeks leading up to her death about the problems she was experiencing with Mr Wheeler. The chase was an act of decisive, prolonged and co-ordinated aggression, and in my view, one which should have led to an even more serious charge than causing death by dangerous driving, but the judge was clear, saying

“you were consumed by a self-righteous and jealous rage, chasing her down to frighten her and teach her a lesson”.

We can only imagine Sophie’s family’s loss and the stress and torment that they have endured throughout the legal process. As I said, I met her mother, Jackie. Understandably, she is absolutely devastated by what happened, but she is equally determined to do what she can to prevent other families having to go through what her family has suffered.

As I said, I completely understand that the Minister cannot comment on individual cases. However, the details of the case that I have outlined are extremely pertinent in discussing the sentencing of cases of death by dangerous driving.

Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Members might know of an incident that happened in Penge last year, when two of my constituents, Makayah McDermott—a 10-year old boy and aspiring young actor—and his aunt, Rozanne Cooper, were killed when a stolen vehicle was travelling at 55 miles per hour in a residential area just opposite a playpark. That case is particularly close to my heart because I was at school with the mother of the boy and his aunt, both of whom died. Does my hon. Friend agree that the disparity between sentences for manslaughter and sentences for death by dangerous driving has long been unjust?

Kevin Brennan: Yes I do, as a matter of fact, and I extend my sympathies to my hon. Friend and her constituents in relation to that tragic case. The case I will try to develop in my argument is that it is not enough just to get parity of sentence. We need to look at ​what sentences are being handed out and why, and whether justice is being served by the system, whatever ultimate maximum tariff the Government decide is appropriate for this offence.

The details of this case are pertinent. As hon. Members know, the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving has been raised in recent years to 14 years in custody. I note that in its guidelines, the Sentencing Council characterises a level 1 conviction for causing death by dangerous driving as

“a deliberate decision to ignore (or a flagrant disregard for) the rules of the road and an apparent disregard for the great danger being caused to others.”

Given that Sophie was deliberately and persistently chased through the streets of Cardiff and forced off the road in a way that ultimately led to her death, it seems to me that a level 1 sentence would have to apply in this case. However, although the starting point for a level 1 conviction is eight years in custody, Wheeler was sentenced to seven and a half years, which is just over half the maximum sentence available. My constituent Jackie Taylor’s understanding is that the guidelines available to the judge did not allow for the maximum sentence to be given, despite the obvious aggressive and aggravating factors in this particular case.

The Justice Secretary said in reply to a letter that I sent to him about this case that the courts must follow sentencing guidelines

“unless it is not in the interest of justice to do so”.

That leads to an obvious question: how could it be in the interests of justice to opt for a shorter sentence in a case such as the one that I have outlined? The sentence following Sophie Taylor’s death poses questions about the current frequency and circumstances of use of the maximum sentence that are particularly timely, given the Government’s announcement that they intend to increase the maximum sentence from 14 years to life in cases of death by dangerous driving.

The first issue is how often the maximum sentence is used. In my previous correspondence on the matter with the Justice Secretary, I asked how many maximum sentences for causing death by dangerous driving had been handed out in recent years. I noted that the Government press release yesterday containing the announcement on the maximum sentence said that 157 people were sentenced in 2016 for causing death by dangerous driving. In his response to the question I asked in my letter, the Justice Secretary—it is not like him not to respond to my direct question—simply said that the maximum sentence was rarely used. When the Minister responds, can he give us that figure? I looked carefully at the Government’s press release to see whether it was there, but it was not.

I say gently to him that such sensitive matters should be carefully proofread. The final point of the notes to editors in the press release says:

“The government will give further consideration to increasing minimum driving bans for those convicted of causing serious death.”

I know that that is an error, but an error so crass is not really acceptable in something so sensitive.

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is getting to the fundamental point. This week, Merseyside Road Safety Partnership announced a strategy to reduce road deaths dramatically by 2020, but I am ​sure he will agree that preventive measures are useful and good only if those who cause death by dangerous driving know that they will be dealt with harshly by the law.

Kevin Brennan: Justice should be served by the right sentence being given for the offence. There should also be an anticipation that offenders are likely to be caught and justice served upon them. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: if that is not clear, such offences will continue.

I hope that the Minister can at least give us that figure. The public are entitled to know. When my constituent, Jackie Taylor, read the Justice Secretary’s response, she said:

“I note that the right hon. David Lidington, CBE, MP mentions about the government in consultation on driving offences and penalties relating to causing death and serious injury, possibly increasing to life imprisonment. This will only deem as a deterrent, not deal with the offence committed. If 14 years has never been passed down to any individual for this charge, why would life imprisonment ever be used? If the Sentencing Council control what the judges can serve, and are recommending low guidelines in the criteria that the judges work with, then what difference would it make if it’s life?”

That is a reasonable question for my constituent, as a victim of this crime, to pose to the Government. I hope that the Minister can deal with it in his response to this debate.

Obviously, I am interested in how often the maximum sentence is given, as the Government’s consultation showed that 70% of respondents did not feel that the current maximum of 14 years was long enough. The Minister will understand that if the sentence of 14 years is hardly ever used, it raises the question how a new increased maximum would be used and why it was found to be necessary. Have the Government estimated how often they estimate the new maximum sentence is likely to be given, based on current experience and their consultation? Likewise, what effect does he think the new maximum will have on the average sentence for causing death by dangerous driving? If there is no answer to those questions, the obvious next question is what is the point of the proposed change.

In 2015, with a maximum sentence of 14 years, the average custodial sentence length was 57.1 months. Is it projected, as the Government anticipated, that that will increase in line with the new maximum? The second issue is the circumstances in which the maximum penalty is used. Maximum sentences and sentences of a similarly lengthy duration are rightly reserved for the most heinous crimes. I have outlined the horrible circumstances of my constituent’s death. Given that Wheeler was sentenced to just over half the maximum time in custody, the victim’s mother’s question is what someone would have to do for the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to be available, if it was not available in this case. How will that change as the Government change the maximum sentence?

As I mentioned, my constituent understands that the sentencing guidelines prevented the judge from giving Wheeler the maximum sentence; indeed, it was reduced by six months from the eight-year starting point. Sophie’s mother is concerned about how the sentencing guidelines operate. What assessment has the Minister made of how accountable the Sentencing Council is? I know that it is independent, but it should still be accountable for how it draws up its guidelines.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kevin Brennan: I will give way briefly, but I want to give the Minister a chance to respond.

Alex Chalk: The Sentencing Council does important and valuable work, but does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that in some of its guidelines—for the sake of argument, let us say assault occasioning actual bodily harm, for which the maximum is five years—the range that the Sentencing Council imposes for the most heinous offence stops well short of the maximum, effectively sending a steer to the judges that says, “Don’t ever sentence for the maximum”? Does he agree that that is a concern?

Kevin Brennan: I do, and I think that there are similar concerns in relation to the offence of causing death by dangerous driving. I do not advocate not having proper guidelines—we want consistency in sentencing—but it sometimes seems to victims that the sentence they are told the perpetrator is likely to get is a bit of a fiction, and that the tariff actually served is nothing like the maximum, even in a case such as the one I have discussed, in which there are horrific aggravating factors. Can the Minister address the questions posed by Sophie Taylor’s case about the frequency and circumstances in which a maximum sentence is given?

I want to make it clear that this is not about revenge; it is about justice. In the case that I am discussing, sentencing guidelines led to an outcome that outraged not only the victims’ families but the wider community. The Government need to be clearer about what they are doing to deter such crime. Knowing that a life sentence is a real possibility would be a start, as would increasing the likelihood of getting caught by funding the police properly; that is a vital part of it. The prospect that sentences could be increased on appeal when judges are too lenient is also important. I understand that out of 713 such requests in recent years, 136 have resulted in longer sentences, but not one has been for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

Sophie Taylor’s death was a horrible tragedy. Nothing will relieve her family’s loss. However, the perception that justice was not done because the maximum sentence is unreachable adds another burden for them to bear.

‘Another burden to bear’

An unreachable maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving does nothing to deter crime – and adds insult to injury for grieving families, argues Kevin Brennan MP

Sophie Taylor was a 22 year old constituent of mine. She was a loving and caring young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

During the early hours of the morning of August 22nd, 2016, Sophie and her friend Joshua Deguara, were chased through the streets of Cardiff by her ex-boyfriend, Michael Wheeler and another driver.

During the chase, Sophie called 999. She was scared and felt unsafe. She was on the phone, talking to an operator for 24 minutes. Then, Wheeler he turned his car to the left, into Sophie’s, causing her car to crash into a block of flats. The collision caused Sophie a catastrophic brain injury which led to her death. Joshua suffered life-changing injuries.

Wheeler pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving though many thought the charge should have been manslaughter. The judge who heard the case at Cardiff Crown Court described what happened that night as ‘nothing more than a pack chasing its prey’.

He added: ‘You were trying to ram her off the road and you did’. Sophie had made several reports to the police and visited the police station in the weeks leading up to her death in relation to problems she was experiencing with Wheeler. We can only imagine Sophie’s family’s loss, and the stress and torment they have endured throughout the legal process.

The maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving at the time of the event was 14 years in custody and the government now say they want to increase it to life. But Michael Wheeler was only sentenced to seven and a half years.

The sentencing following Sophie Taylor’s death poses questions about the frequency and circumstances of the use of a maximum sentence.

The first issue is around how often the maximum sentence is used.

I wrote to the justice secretary to ask how many maximum sentences for causing death by dangerous driving had been handed out in recent years but he did not answer my question. I hope my debate will persuade the government to be more forthcoming.

I am particularly interested in how often this sentence has been given considering that the government’s consultation found that 70 per cent of respondents did not feel that 14 years was long enough.

If the sentence of 14 years is hardly ever used how often would a new increased maximum be used? Would the new maximum have any effect on the average sentence for causing death by dangerous driving? In 2015, with a maximum sentence of 14 years, the average custodial sentence length was 57.1 months.

The second issue is around the circumstances in which the maximum penalty is used.

Given the horrible circumstances of Sophie Taylor’s death and the aggressive actions that led up to it, it is very difficult for her family, or any lay person, to understand why Wheeler was sentenced to roughly half the maximum time in custody. What would someone have to do in relation to causing death by dangerous driving for the maximum sentence to be available if it was not available in this case?

Sentencing guidelines in this case led to an outcome that has not only outraged the victims, families but the wider community. The government needs to be clearer on what it is doing to deter this kind of crime.

Knowing that a life sentence is a real possibility would be a start. Also ensuring that the likelihood of getting caught is increased by properly funding the police is vital.

And the prospect of sentences being increased on appeal when judges are too lenient is very important. Out of 713 such requests in recent years, 136 have resulted in longer sentences but not one has been for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

Sophie Taylor’s death was a horrible tragedy, and nothing will relieve her family’s loss. However, the perception that justice was not done because the maximum sentence is unreachable adds another burden to bear.

Blog: Labour will bring back Library Standards

Today is the first day of Libraries Week, and as shadow culture minister I hope as many people as possible will take the time to visit a library, borrow a book, or tweet and tell their friends about the services libraries offer.

Supporting and promoting our local libraries is crucial at a time when the Government is failing to appreciate their value and importance. Public libraries have been badly hit by policies of austerity.  Since 2010, 478 libraries have closed across the UK. Last year, library visits fell by 5.5% and total library expenditure was reduced by £25 million. And yet, in the face of these figures, this Government is still refusing to put an end to the Local Authority cuts that are pressuring Councils into cutting important services.

I believe that at the root of this apparent indifference is a fundamental misunderstanding within DCMS, the Government Department with responsibility for libraries. Ministers seem to see the cultural sector in a binary way, divided into institutions that make money, and those that cost money. According to their logic, libraries fall into the second category. This can lead to the perception of libraries as subsidised niceties that can be trimmed away in times of austerity, rather than institutions which give a return on investment by helping to create better informed citizens.

This view is blinkered and ultimately unhelpful. Arts Council research shows that libraries have a 5 to 1 benefit-cost ratio. Through libraries, members of the public can become more informed, literate, and confident, and this can lead to savings in other Government services. That is, to understand the crucial work that libraries do, we need to look at people, not just financial profit. We need to move away from the language of subsidy and towards a language of investment.

For me, public libraries were crucial in shaping the person I am today. I grew up in Cwmbran, a small town in South Wales, in a home which wasn’t full of books, but where education was valued. As a youngster, I spent many hours in the local public library conducting my own research, reading about the topics that interested me the most, doing my homework and revising for exams. If it hadn’t been for my access to that library, I am certain I wouldn’t have done as well in school or gone on to become a Member of Parliament. Public libraries are crucial to achievement and social mobility. Now, I hold my constituency advice surgeries in Cardiff West in the local Hub, which contains the public library. It is the obvious place to meet the public because libraries are places where everyone is welcome and supported to reach their potential.

In the Labour Party, we understand the value of libraries and the challenges they currently face. We would put an end to the local government cuts that have led to such widespread library closures, and will reintroduce library standards, which were done away with by the Tory-led Coalition, so that Government can guide and assess local authorities in providing the best possible service. A Labour Government would modernise libraries to help improve digital access and literacy. This Libraries Week, we’re promoting the importance of our public libraries because we want them to be accessible to as many people as possible, all year round and into the future.

Call for disability equality training for taxi and minicab drivers

Kevin Brennan MP is supporting Guide Dogs’ call for all taxi and minicab drivers to undertake disability equality training so they understand the rights and needs of disabled passengers and feel confident to offer assistance.

The campaign is supported by more than 30 organisations, including trade bodies, local government representatives and disability groups.

Kevin Brennan MP tested his taxi hailing skills this week at Labour Party Conference in a football-themed game with Guide Dogs. While trying to get a taxi to take guide dog owner Jacqueline to her local football match, the MP for Cardiff West heard about the real problems assistance dog owners face when being illegally refused by taxis and minicabs. Kevin is pictured with Jo Stevens MP after taking part in the game.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for a taxi or minicab driver to refuse to take an assistance dog or to charge extra for carrying it. However, Guide Dogs research found that 42% of assistance dog owners have been turned away by a taxi or minicab in a one-year period because of their dog. The research also uncovered that 38% of assistance dog owners have been asked to pay an extra fare for carrying their dog.

Kevin Brennan MP said, "People with sight problems often rely on taxi and minicab services to help get from place to place, while most taxi drivers are aware of the rights and needs of disabled passengers, many are not. This is why I'm supporting the campaign and want to raise awareness."

James White, Senior Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs, commented: “Imagine you were turned away by a taxi driver for no reason. This happens to people living with sight loss with shocking regularity just because they are travelling with their guide dog. It’s not only illegal, it knocks people’s confidence and stops them doing the everyday things that most people take for granted – going to a cafĂ©, meeting friends, going to the doctor’s or to their local football match.

We are urging the Government to require disability equality training for all drivers to help reduce the number of access refusals.”

Meeting with the Charities Aid Foundation on giving more effectively

Cardiff West MP, Kevin Brennan, recently spoke with the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) whose mission is to motivate society to give more effectively, helping to transform lives and communities around the world.

CAF recently published a report which explores the potential impact that the UK Government could generate by investing in civil society infrastructure across the world as part of their international development work.

Their report highlighted that if people in the growing global middle class – set to increase by 2.4 billion by 2030 - give 0.5% of their income to charity it could generate $319 billion in donations towards civil society organisations annually.

Campaigns Manager Steve Clapperton at CAF, said “Investing in global civil society infrastructure could unleash a culture of giving across the world that unlocks billions to tackle the challenges that we face. We want the Government to make growing civil society infrastructure a core part of our international engagement and were delighted to talk to Kevin about how we can use our soft power to create a groundwork for growing giving across the globe”

For more information about the work of the Charities Aid Foundation, please contact Ashleigh Milson on 03000123292 or amilson@cafonline.org

It was 20 years ago today: My recollection of the dramatic night Wales voted ‘Yes’

On September 18th 1997 Wales voted ‘Yes’ to devolution by less than 7,000 votes out of over a million cast.

As an enthusiastic Labour Cardiff Councillor I had set up and chaired the Cardiff cross-party ‘Yes For Wales’ campaign after Labour won our landslide in May of that year.

It was clear to me from the outset that the voters of Cardiff were at best lukewarm to the idea. Many traditional Labour voters couldn’t see why we needed a new body when they had just voted massively for a Labour UK Government.

Our campaign in Cardiff was energetic, imaginative and colourful. One of our keenest volunteers, Sally Davies, designed green and red ribbons which became ubiquitous across Wales during the campaign. The late Geoff Mungham, the Labour Councillor for Splott, even persuaded the proprietors of Splott Market to put up an enormous banner to persuade shoppers to vote ‘Yes’.

In the end our most effective argument on the doorstep and at our street stalls was that devolution was an insurance policy against a rebirth of Thatcherism affecting Wales, rather than appeals for national autonomy.

I knew that Cardiff would vote no, but I also knew that if we could run a vigorous campaign and maximise the losing Yes vote in Cardiff, it could help the overall Yes vote across the finishing line.

On the night the exit polls seemed to suggest my pessimism was misplaced, but then the early results pointed to a victory for the ‘No’ campaign. The atmosphere was subdued at the official count at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and tense at the ‘Yes’ campaign party at the Park Hotel.

I even gave an interview to my old acquaintance Michael Crick of the BBC where I all but conceded we had lost.
 
Then as the wee hours wore on news started to trickle down that they were deliberately holding back the result in Carmarthen because it was good enough to deliver a last gasp win by a short head for ‘Yes’.

When the result was officially announced there was a spontaneous explosion of joy in the Park Hotel which included a number of us climbing on a table that collapsed under the strain.

A special post referendum fundraiser was held a few weeks later in Ystradgynlais to help pay the bill for the broken table.

The heavens opened that night and I got thoroughly soaked as I walked the mile home to Canton at dawn but I didn’t care. We had done it, and even though Cardiff had voted no overall, our campaign had brought out enough yes voters in the Capital city to play our part in the narrowest of victories.

The BBC is envied and admired, and has a huge reputation across the world



Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage): At times this afternoon, the debate has felt like a reunion of former BBC employees. There have been certain complaints about BBC journalism, and at one point I thought we were going to hear the accusation that it was responsible for turning off the sound system and stopping our comments being broadcast to the nation—or the dozens of people following us on the BBC Parliament channel as we speak. Perhaps it is not dozens of people.

As many hon. Members have said, transparency is extremely important. Since I know Mr Campbell is digging deep on this issue, I should reveal my interest in the matter, which is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have received payments over the last year or so for my work as a musician from the TV channel Dave, which is owned by UKTV, which in turn is 50% owned by the BBC as part of its attempts to raise money from sources other than the licence fee, which of course it does in considerably greater amounts than it originally did. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He raised a lot of issues that I know he feels strongly about in relation to BBC journalism, and in particular the coverage of the issue that, as he pointed out, brought down the Administration in Northern Ireland, which we all hope will be up and running again soon. He raised points about transparency and salary, declarations of interest and other matters, including the vague answers he got to his questions from the BBC.

I will go on to make some positive remarks about the BBC as well, but I think it is better to give clear answers to Members of Parliament—they should be directed to the management, by the way—rather than the sort of vague answers that the Government routinely give to parliamentary questions. I would much rather the BBC answered questions directly, because a lot of the answers the hon. Gentleman gave from the BBC sounded like the sorts of answers I get when I table parliamentary questions. I do not know whether other hon. Members have had that experience when tabling questions to the Government, but I certainly have, and it necessitates further questions, freedom of information inquiries and so on.

Mims Davies spoke very well, as always, and said that—rather like the Government—the BBC’s left hand sometimes did not know what the right hand was doing. She rightly explained the importance of the BBC ensuring pay equality. One thing that came out in the recent publication of BBC staff’s salaries was the issue of gender inequality, and indeed other forms of inequality. It is absolutely right that that information should be published and made transparent, and that the BBC should take urgent steps to address the issue—as should other broadcasters that are not subject to freedom of information requests, and do not have to make an annual report to Parliament in the way that the BBC does. All those in the private sector should also be looking to ensure gender equality, and other forms of equality, when it comes to pay and personnel.

I have known my hon. Friend John Grogan for 37 years, and he has been top talent himself all that time. He made a good point about the exposure that high-profile BBC presenters get, and the fact that that has huge value, beyond the salary that they are paid. I completely agree. He also rightly pointed out the difficult job that journalists have had to do in Northern Ireland, and that we should remember that at all times.

Rebecca Pow told us that she could not reveal her age to us, despite this being a debate about transparency. I intervened on her, because we should be careful about the language we use when we talk about Government “holding to account” the BBC. It is worth reminding ourselves that the BBC is an independent organisation, established by royal charter. If we think for a moment, it is vital that it is not ultimately the Government’s role to hold the BBC to account for its journalism and impartiality, for example, because the Government are extremely partial themselves.

It is a dangerous thing in those countries where the state broadcaster is in effect controlled by the Government. We know the implications of that in countries such as Russia. We want a publicly funded, transparent BBC that is accountable. The proper ways for it to be accountable are: to us as politicians via Parliament and the Select Committee, which is ably chaired by a member of the hon. Lady’s party and has a number of my hon. Friends as members; and through, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley pointed out, an independent regulator, whose job is to make sure that the BBC fulfils its role under the charter, which is negotiated and in partnership with Government, and sets out that broad scope. That is the point I was making: it is a fundamental principle that we should not lose sight of.

Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane: Perhaps I did not express it well, but my point was that clearly that system was not working well enough, hence the Government had to step in to require more transparency, which is now having an effect.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage): We do not have time to rehearse exactly what happened and how all this came about, but I wanted to make that point with force.

Patricia Gibson said something that caused me concern; it was about whether the BBC’s reporting was perceived to be biased. She said—I think I quote her accurately; I am sure she will tell me if I do not—that it does not really matter whether it is true that the BBC’s reporting is fair and unbiased; all that matters is the perception. In other words, if she is saying that it is not about fake news but false perception, that is fine, but she seemed to imply that the perception is right, and that the BBC does not report impartially on politics in Scotland.

Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer affairs): For clarification, my point is that it is a problem if the BBC’s paying customers do not have any faith in the way that it reflects their reality.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage): Of course, the hon. Lady provided no evidence that that was a problem.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage): Of course, the hon. Lady provided no evidence that that was a problem.

Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer affairs): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage): I do not have time to give way. Surveys of the public perception of BBC impartiality over time suggest the exact opposite. It is important that we stand up to the Donald Trump-like approach to media when it comes to the reporting of the news.

My hon. Friend Justin Madders made some fair and responsible points about the importance of transparency and accountability. Time is short, and there is so much more that one could say; I am sure that the Minister will say some of it. On this occasion, we might even agree on a few things relating to the BBC, much though it would pain him to admit it.

I make a general point about the BBC. We all have our criticisms of it, and we have all been victims of its vigorous journalism from time to time. It once named me on “Panorama” for accepting hospitality at an event that it had invited me to. When I pointed out to the BBC that its right hand literally did not know what its left hand was doing, I felt the pain that other hon. Members have in being taken to task in their role from time to time.

The BBC will make mistakes, but it is important that we remember that it is still genuinely envied and admired, and has a huge reputation across the world. In the words of Joni Mitchell, from “Big Yellow Taxi”:

“you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

In our quite appropriate debate about the transparency that is absolutely necessary for the BBC and the accountability it should have as a publicly funded organisation, let us not lose sight of the fact that it is an extraordinary British institution.