HC Deb 09 March 1944 vol 397 cc2187-90
50. Sir Stanley Reed

asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to announce the decisions of His Majesty's Government on the Report of the Committee of Ministers on Basic English.

The Prime Minister

As the answer to this Question is, I regret to say, rather lengthy, I propose, with the permission of the House, to make a statement at the end of Questions.

Mr. Gallacher

Could not the Prime Minister shorten the answer by putting it in Basic English?


The Prime Minister

The Committee of Ministers on Basic English, after hearing a considerable volume of evidence, have submitted a Report which has been approved in principle by His Majesty's Government. The Committee, in their report, distinguish between the use of a system such as Basic English as an auxiliary international language, and as a method for the teaching of ordinary English. In this latter field, several very promising methods, other than Basic, have been developed in recent years, which make use of progressively increasing vocabularies based on analysis of the words most frequently used in conversational and literary English. In foreign countries, the method used in the teaching of English will naturally be a matter for the decision of the Departments of Education of those countries, and, where teaching is conducted in British Institutes, it will be a matter for the free decision of those who direct the teaching of English whether they employ any of these methods or the Basic method. There is no reason why His Majesty's Government should support one method rather than another. So far, however, as concerns the use of Basic English as an auxiliary international language, His Majesty's Government are impressed with the great advantages which would ensue from its development not in substitution for established literary languages, but as a supplement thereto. The usefulness of such an auxiliary language will, of course, be greatly increased by its progressive diffusion.

His Majesty's Government have, therefore, decided on the following steps to develop Basic English as an auxiliary international and administrative language:—

  1. (1) The British Council will include among its activities the teaching of Basic English, so far as may be practicable, in any area where there may be a demand for instruction in Basic for its specific purpose as an auxiliary medium of international communication. This will be in addition to, and not in substitution for, the Council's more general activities in promoting the teaching of English for its own sake.
  2. (2) Diplomatic and commercial representatives in foreign countries will be asked to do all they can to encourage the spread of Basic English as an auxiliary language.
  3. (3) It is also intended to arrange for the translation into Basic English of a wider range than is at present available of literature—scientific, technical and general—both from ordinary English and from foreign languages and also to increase the supply of manuals of instruction in Basic English.
  4. (4) Some Colonial Governments will be invited to experiment by the issue in Basic English of handbooks for colonial peoples on agriculture, hygiene, etc. and by the use of this simplified language as the medium for some administrative instructions issued by the Government.
  5. (5) The British Broadcasting Corporation has been asked to consider a recommendation to include the use and teaching of Basic English in appropriate overseas programmes. The Corporation has already expressed its willingness to make experiments on these lines within the limits imposed by special war-time responsibilities and conditions. It is re-cognised that such developments as may be practicable must proceed in parallel with the steps to be taken by other agencies.
It will be seen that several Departments are concerned in these measures. It has been decided, however, that primary responsibility for questions affecting Basic English, and for giving effect to the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers, should rest with the Foreign Office, through the British Council. The British Council will, of course, keep in close contact with the Foreign Office and with the other Departments concerned, and an inter-Departmental committee has been established for this purpose, under a chairman who will be nominated by the British Council.

Sir H. Williams

Will the Prime Minister arrange for that statement to be translated into Basic English?

Mr. Petherick

I put this question quite seriously. Will my right hon. Friend have the statement which he has now given translated into Basic English, so that we may get some idea, by comparison of the two, whether it is possible for a foreigner to express himself in Basic English in a manner which is both precise and easily understood?

The Prime Minister

I think that that is a very good suggestion. I will ask some of my friends in the Basic English movement to see how it goes. I would like to see how it works out before I commit myself.

Sir Alfred Beit

Have the Government been able to agree on these proposals with the promoters of Esperanto?

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the importance of Basic English as an auxiliary language, will the Prime Minister ensure that when it is being taught, the clear Scottish pronunciation is used, thereby avoiding the fluctuating and irritating noises that are generally made by the English?

Sir S. Reed

Will the Prime Minister direct the attention of those officials whose duties lie in countries not covered by the activities of the British Council, to undertake the work which in other areas is being carried through by the British Council?

Earl Winterton

What about winning the war?

The Prime Minister

This is in connection with winning the peace.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Have any discussions taken place with the United States Government, with a view to obtaining their co-operation?

The Prime Minister

I have had considerable discussion with the President of the United States, and, as my hon. Friend probably knows, the teaching of Basic English plays a very considerable part in the United States in respect of teaching citizenship to foreigners who have not completely mastered the English language. Therefore, the matter is of great interest to both countries. But I have not yet obtained any formal, or official, policy from the Government of the United States.

Mr. Mander

Will my right hon. Friend consider asking the B.B.C. to broadcast statements in Basic English, so that the people of this country, and not only foreigners, may have an opportunity of judging whether they like it or not?

Mr. Maxton

This is, for many, an opportunity for humour, but I agree with the Prime Minister that it is a matter of first-class importance. Has he considered that perhaps the picture-house would be a good medium for acquainting people with Basic English, perhaps even more valuable than the air?

The Prime Minister

That is a valuable suggestion.

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