HC Deb 26 March 1959 vol 602 cc1521-39

12 noon.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

The subject that I wish to raise this morning concerns the supply of British books, films and other information material to overseas countries. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has recently issued a White Paper on the subject of British Overseas Information Services, and I hope that at a later date the House will have an opportunity of discussing all the extremely important matters contained in that White Paper. But an Adjournment debate of this brevity is not an occasion for going into the whole question of Overseas Information Services, and I therefore propose to confine myself to certain aspects of the matter, more particularly the supply of British books.

For quite a long time past this has been a subject of great concern both to the book trade in this country and to members of the public and Members of the House who are interested in these matters. If we may take The Times as a barometer of public interest, we find that nearly two years ago it published a considerable correspondence on this matter, and we have had a number of letters during the past four or five months urging that much more effective action should be taken. Further, we had a notable speech by Lord Chandos, at the beginning of October, when he addressed the Publishers' Association, and we had a statement by the right hon. Gentleman himself at the beginning of November.

I am well aware that the Chancellor of the Duchy has been doing a great deal of work personally on this matter. I believe that he has a working party—an honourable designation inherited from our Administration—and I hope that that working party is nearing the conclusion of its labours. In this subject, time is of the essence of the matter. The mills of God do not grind more slowly than Departmental committees. We are anxious that we shall have from the right hon. Gentleman, today if possible, some indication of when he thinks that positive action is likely to ensue.

Paragraphs 2 and 13 of the White Paper which the right hon. Gentleman has just issued refer to books and it will be noted that although action is being taken immediately to increase the facilities of the British Council, which is a most welcome step, the Government have not yet found a method of dealing with the very much larger and exceedingly important question of the commercial sale of books in a number of countries in which we are finding it extremely difficult to sell any books at all, or are able to sell them only in very restricted numbers.

The problem has to be divided into several parts. A separate problem, with which I do not intend to deal this morning, and which I mention only in passing because I have had some correspondence about it. concerns books, printed in English, in Czechoslovakia and other places, which are brought to this country. The trade feels that it has a grievance in this matter, but that is a question concerning the dumping regulations and the Board of Trade rather than for the right hon. Member. As I say, I mention it only out of courtesy to those who have corresponded with me about it. I do not propose to follow the matter further, nor to say very much about the Information Service aspect, which is primarily of interest to the British Council.

I would, however, like to pay a very warm tribute to the British Council for the work it does. I only wish that Lord Beaverbrook would pay some attention to the details of what it does, instead of attacking it in and out of season. If we look into the record of the British Council, not merely in book supplies to its libraries and reading rooms, but also in relation to the action it takes to ensure that people overseas, in Commonwealth and other countries, shall have information about the books which are published, we cannot but be extremely grateful to it. I need hardly say that its "British Book News" which gives a book selection guide, and reviews about 200 titles each month, is of inestimable value to librarians all over the world.

It has other periodicals ranging from English language teaching to a British medical bulletin, and so on, which help specialists in different fields to keep up to date. We are, therefore, delighted to know that further funds are to be made available to the Council to increase its work in this direction. My only reason for not wishing to pursue the matter further is that, as far as I can judge, the steps already announced in the White Paper are reasonably satisfactory at the moment.

I therefore turn to the really difficult aspects of the problem. There are two quite separate ones, but it may be necessary to solve both if British books and other cultural material are to be supplied in adequate quantities to many countries overseas. There is one group of countries whose people wish to buy our books and are not themselves without means to do so, but which are quite unable to permit them to use sterling for this purpose owing to balance of payments difficulties. I have a long list of countries—with which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is only too familiar—in which we are unable to sell books, in part at least because of currency difficulties.

During the war, and for a few years afterwards, we had a scheme known as the British Book Export Scheme. Sir Stanley Unwin, the doyen of British publishers, was responsible for working out the details of that scheme initially and, as I understand, it worked very satisfactorily. Unfortunately, it was allowed to lapse a few years ago and has not been revived. In the meantime, however, the United States Government, seeing how successful our scheme had been, copied and extended it, and they now have in operation their Information Media Guarantee Scheme, which provides currency not only for books but for periodicals, films and other miscellaneous cultural material, including maps, picture reproductions, and so on. This I.M.G. scheme has grown to quite stupendous proportions in the last few years. I understand that roughly two-thirds of the amount is allocated to books; about 20 per cent, to periodicals; 15 per cent. to films, and about 5 per cent. to other miscellaneous materials.

The scheme works in this way. The currency of the country which cannot afford dollars is blocked. In a few instances it can be used to meet the costs of embassy and similar United States services in that country. For the most part, I understand, it is either genuine blocked currency, in other words not spent at all, or else used on projects agreed by the respective Governments to be expenditure not otherwise likely to be undertaken by the American Government. That has meant that in a number of countries the United States have used this blocked currency to provide amenities of one sort or another which, presumably, bring credit to them in that country, so that they not only sell their books but bestow other benefits as well. They are, in fact, making the best of both worlds.

This is happening, for example, in Pakistan which, I think, is one of the crucial countries in this respect. I understand that the American sale of books has increased tenfold in Pakistan in the years since the scheme started. Turkey is another country in which similar work is being done, and also in Israel and a number of other countries, where the Americans, by this method copied from us, are making tremendous headway whereas the British book trade is finding it exceedingly difficult, almost impossible, to sell books in any quantity at all.

I urge the Government to tell us—I hope today—what they intend to do to meet this position. This is not, I think, an insoluble problem. We have, in fact, done it before with considerable success, up to about 1952, I think, and in Yugoslavia it went on for several years longer. Therefore, there is nothing new in this. We have had experience of its administration, so that there is nothing to be frightened of. It is simply a matter of deciding how far we are prepared to meet the financial arrangements.

It is most lamentable that we should have had this gap of several years when it is perfectly clear that we have been steadily losing ground in a number of countries where the trade in British books has been shrinking. I do not want to weary the House with a whole list of countries, but in a number of other places, where conditions of this kind are not so acute as in Pakistan, Turkey and Israel, conditions are, nevertheless, difficult. Spain, Indonesia and Poland are among the countries which have been mentioned to me. There are some Latin American countries as well as other countries formerly in the Commonwealth, Burma, the Sudan and also Ceylon, where there may be some difficulties but where the conditions are not so acute as in other places like, for example, Vietnam.

I could give further details of what has been happening, but I will mention Israel, a country which has had a long tradition of association with the United Kingdom and whose scholars would be only too happy to be able to get supplies of books printed and published in this country. Incidentally, the sale of our books in Israel is worth at most about £25,000 a year, whereas the United States is selling books to the value of about £500,000 a year. This is something which is really of the utmost importance.

The cash value of books as part of our national export trade is not, of course, as great as all that, and I will not pretend that it is. But it takes very little imagination or intelligence to see that if one sells books one will not only build up good relations between the respective countries and people, but, as Sir Stanley Unwin has always said, if I may quote him once again, "trade follows the book." It is quite clear that if textbooks, medical books, and so on, emanate from one country rather than from another, it is very likely that the engineers and the other technicians of that country will turn to the country from which the textbooks have come for plant, machinery, and so on, and similarly for medical supplies and other things.

I do not think that one need elaborate on that, but I passionately urge the Government to take action in this matter of currency difficulties. We have done it before, and I do not believe that there is any insuperable problem. We simply need the will to act.

I now turn to another matter which, I confess, I think is somewhat more complex because, apart from the American I.M.G. scheme and similar schemes, there is the other matter of books supplied to various countries where the difficulty is not that the country has a balance of payments problem but where the individual students and readers are themselves people with low incomes who find it difficult to pay high prices for our books. They are only too happy to buy the hundreds of thousands of very cheaply printed books which are being sent into those countries primarily by the United States, Russia and China, and to some extent, apparently, from other Iron Curtain countries, of which Czechoslovakia seems to be the principal one.

We know that in the United States the books are subsidised directly by the Government, and we assume that they are similarly subsidised in the Iron Curtain countries, by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, in Moscow, and by the equivalent organisation in China. I have complete details of the United States low cost book scheme which makes it quite plain that the American Government pay the publisher his out of pocket costs, including something for overheads and for manufacturing and royalties. The Government also agree to buy back any unsold copies, so that it is really on a sale or return basis.

The books are specially printed, generally on less good quality paper with poor bindings, and so on. They are often printed from the plates used for the ordinary editions in the United States. I understand that about 25 titles a year are being given this special concession by the United States, with about another 25 specially written "easy reading books," as they are called. The arrangements are made in such a way that the United States publisher is completely safeguarded. So also is the retailer in the country where the books are sold, usually through ordinary bookshops. The whole difference is made up by the United States Government. I presume that something similar must happen regarding the Russian and Chinese books.

The difference in the price of these books is really quite stupendous. One of our ordinary well-known cheap editions printed in this country would in India or Burma probably cost about 4s. or 4s. 6d. I am told that one can get the Russian equivalent of the same book for about 8d. or 10d., so that the inducement to buy the Russian book is clearly colossal. It is not only humiliating for us to see our classics, of which, needless to say, Dickens is one of the favourites, having been printed in the Soviet Union and then sold in these countries at prices much lower than we can supply them.

The books are sold in People's Bookshops. Though the books themselves are usually quite straightforward reprints, there is, of course, in the shops a supply of other literature. The cheap reprints are an inducement to people to go into the shops and the booksellers naturally hope that the customer will purchase the other literature on view. The problem of subsidised books is difficult, but it is also extremely important. There is no doubt that we are losing thousands of potential readers who, naturally enough, are buying other books.

I wish, in this connection, to emphasise the importance of children's books. If one sees the Russian and Chinese children's books which are circulated, particularly in India, one is struck by the great attractiveness of them and their good quality and extremely good value. So far as one can judge, the books are perfectly straightforward. There is nothing particularly subversive about them, or anything of that sort, but presumably they are again the bait to catch potential purchasers of other material.

I recognise that this is not an easy problem, but if we are to deal with the matter we must face a great many practical difficulties. It is necessary to decide where the books should be printed, whether in this country or the country of sale, where it might be much cheaper to do so, how many books should be printed and how the titles should be chosen, and so on. I do not think that such problems are insuperable, but I know that, compared with the relatively straightforward currency problem, these are matters with which it will not be easy to deal.

I cannot conclude without saying a word about films. I have a long-standing connection with the film industry and what one has said about books is true mutatis mutandis also of films. I do not suggest that films are of the same importance as books which are far more comprehensive in their interest. I do not suggest, either, that every feature film produced in the United Kingdom is worthy of Government support. But there are films of great distinction which it would be much in our interest to have shown in a number of countries to which we cannot at present obtain reasonable access.

I am thinking not in terms of subsidy, but of currency problems. I have here a list of the countries and they are the usual ones—Pakistan, Turkey, Israel, and so on, including some of the Latin American countries, Indonesia, Poland, Spain, Vietnam—into which our films cannot normally be taken, or if at all, only in small quantities.

I feel that, here again, there is a strong case for examining this problem, in conjunction with the representatives of the film industry in this country, to see whether a scheme could be worked out to enable some of our films to have a better chance of being shown in those countries. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to examine the question of children's films. That is not just a matter of currency. It may also be a matter of paying something to the Children's Film Foundation to make more children's feature films. In India especially, Russia and other Iron Curtain countries are putting in children's films.

I have raised this matter before in the House, but, unfortunately, no one seems to have done anything about it. Not only are children's films provided, but projectors are supplied free of charge, so that film clubs can be organised. If we are serious in our belief that in this country we stand for certain values which we wish to share with our friends in our countries, surely it is for the Government to take action as soon as possible to deal with this difficult situation. Because I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been trying to face these problems I wish to assure him that in anything he can do he will have the full support of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

12.25 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I am pleased that the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) has taken the opportunity to raise this subject, which she did with great clarity. I wish also to congratulate my right hon. Friend on producing an excellent White Paper which has proved of interest to many hon. Members. I think that he realises the great difficulties and will do everything possible to overcome them.

I wish to say a word about the British Council. I have a great admiration for and interest in the work it does and I hope that it may be possible for the Council to concentrate more on its work in the Far East. It is essential that we get a better understanding with the peoples of the Far East. I have been impressed by the number of students coming to this country recently, from countries other than those of the Commonwealth, who are particularly anxious to secure more knowledge of our way of life. I should like particularly to refer to Indonesia, where English is the second language. There we have no information services which would assist those anxious to continue their education and to come to our universities, and so on. It would be of great benefit to them if they could obtain more help through the British Council and through information services.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend that we might have a greater exchange of books between various parts of the Commonwealth. Not enough knowledge is available about places like Ceylon and Africa. If my right hon. Friend could arrange such an exchange it would be of great benefit, and it might not prove too difficult to do so, as the majority of these countries have the same currency. This is an important subject. It was stressed in Questions before this debate. I myself have raised the matter of the frustration experienced by people who have been educated and then cannot find the right books to read subsequently. One's attention is drawn to this difficulty particularly by the East Africa Commission and to the fact of not having sufficient money to supply the necessary books.

The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East did not refer to broadcasting to any great extent. That is another important matter mentioned in the White Paper. I was particularly interested in the educational services in Tanganyika. They were not of a very high standard, but I think that there has been an improvement. It might be possible to have a book review broadcast as we have in this country, so that people could be encouraged to inquire about books. In this country a number of people listen to books which are read during programmes like "Women's Hour", and so on, and I am sure that many people would benefit from hearing books read in broadcast programmes if they cannot actually obtain the books. We do not want other countries mimicking all our ideas, but we want the best ideas to be adopted by these various territories and that is one way in which a knowledge of books might be widely disseminated.

There is great competition from Russia, China and America. It is interesting to note what Vice-President Nixon said after visiting Africa: A knowledge of American culture, technology, history and aspirations can best be spread by means of books and periodicals. If the American people find it possible to put over their ideas in these countries, it is all the more important that we should do the same. They are able to spend dollars on this matter and also subsidise sales.

I realise that we are faced with a great deal of difficulty regarding the distribution of books, particularly in a country like Africa, and that is also true of a great many parts of India, where the books are sold only in small shops. Often the bookseller has no knowledge of English and does not know the kind of books his customers wish to buy. I wonder whether a system could be devised so that a selection of books could be provided for these people. Then they would be able to provide the type of books their customers wanted. That might be done on a sale or return basis. I realise that it would not be profitable at the beginning, but it would be a way of bringing such knowledge to small villages and towns up-country. I mention this particularly because books are perishable and can get eaten by white ants. It is not practicable to suggest that there should be a large selection.

I would also suggest to my right hon. Friend that more local libraries might be set up. When I was working in Malaya we distributed a lot of literature to small local libraries; we also used the mobile medical dispensaries and got them to take books around to the villages. I am concentrating my remarks upon distribution, because that is one of the greatest difficulties. A further method of distribution would be to use more frequently the women's clubs.

I hope that this matter will be further considered by the Government in the light of what we have said and that they will, in general, do everything to press forward with action.

12.31 p.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

I would like to support briefly what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). Both sides of the House are undoubtedly grateful to her for raising the matter and we all await with interest what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will say.

I visited India and Pakistan last year and was struck to find that one could buy English classics published by the Moscow Foreign Languages Publishing House frequently more easily and always more cheaply than those published by English publishing firms. In Asia, and particularly in uncommitted neutral countries like India, the cold war is very much a war of ideas. The rôle that books can play in that conflict is vital. The Russians take this matter tremendously seriously and they have launched a formidable book offensive. Lord Chandos has said that they are sending 4 million English books into India every year, while Sir Charles Snow, in the Annual Report of the British Council, said that the Russians are spending between ten times and twenty times more than we are in doing this kind of propaganda work in our own language.

It is not simply that the Russians are spreading crude propaganda, but that they are publishing English and Russian classics. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East mentioned children's books. I brought back the story of the "Three Bears" for my children in a Foreign Languages version. It was a beautifully produced book written in English, in a text which was a pleasure to read aloud, and it cost 6d. I tried to buy English-produced children's books, but they were not only tawdry and shoddy, which was the fault of the publisher, but expensive, which was not the fault of the publisher.

It is important to realise the kind of influence that non-political books can have in bringing Indians and Asians generally into contact with direct Communist literature. These books are used not only to encourage the sale of Communist literature, but also to finance local Communist organisations. Instead of the melodramatic smuggling of Moscow gold, you have the import quite openly of the novels of Galsworthy, Dickens and Chekhov. They are sold at a very low price to the Communist publishing organisations in the countries concerned and the profits go into the party funds. This is an additional reason why Her Majesty's Government should be particularly active in providing British books.

The most striking consolation for us is that the Russians do all this in what is for them the foreign language of English. The language of Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw is still, in practice, the national language of India, in spite of controversies to the contrary. It is, moreover, a language whose culture is deeply loved in India. I attended an international seminar at Delhi University, in India, and I congratulate the British Council very much on the work that it is doing in that direction. It was touching to see the hunger for our books during that seminar of people who wanted to get into contact with the liberalising influences of British literature.

I asked some of the students whether they would prefer a scholarship at a Chinese or Russian university, or an English university. They all answered that they wanted to come to this country. There is tremendous good will towards us and I hope that we can make use of it. It may be dissipated gradually if we do not provide adequate supplies of the books they need.

No doubt the Chancellor of the Duchy is meeting a certain amount of opposition from publishers in the efforts that he is making, but I hope that the publishers will not be too short-sighted in the attitude they take on this matter. Asians and Africans are, in their development of public education, very much at the stage we were in early in the nineteenth century. All over those continents there is a tremendous upsurge of desire for Victorian self-improvement which already makes itself felt as an insatiable demand for books. But as mass literacy spreads there will be a vastly increased demand for all forms of literature and we should be ensuring now that we are ready to meet this popular demand when it develops.

I would say, finally, a word about Israel. I searched Israel for cheap British editions a few months ago, but I found such books very difficult to get, whereas there is an absolute deluge of American paperbacks. I hope that something can be done about currency on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East. It may provoke the Chancellor of the Duchy to action if I say that as far as I could see the main contact of the Israel public with the printed word from Britain is through the New Statesman and Nation, which seems to be the only regular piece of printed literature that gets through from Britain on a big scale.

I hope that the Government will be able to announce, at the conclusion of the debate; that they will try to make more progress in getting our books much more generally available throughout the world.

12.38 p.m.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I do not propose to take up very much time in presenting a limited number of points to the Minister.

I go to Israel fairly often and I find there a very great desire for English books. A very large number of American books are being sold and American culture is thus being spread through those books. They are no doubt intended to create a desire to visit America and to study in American colleges and universities. That is partly behind the great flow of books into Israel from America. On the other hand, there is a very close attachment between the people of Israel and of this country. I find in the houses of all classes there numbers of volumes of such classics as the works of Shakespeare and of other poets and writers. The people are anxious to buy English books.

Many Israelis have asked me why they could get Russian and American books at reasonable prices, while they could not get the books that they particularly wanted to read, those which brought to them more of the British way of life and British ideas, with which many of them were conversant. This does not come only from people who have studied, or who have learned, English in England, but from a large number of the people of Israel who have come there from other countries. They have learned to read and speak English and are desirous of knowing more about our way of life, and about our classical and scientific works.

There is a difficulty over the question of currency, but the Americans have overcome that. Time after time Questions have been put in this House about the position and I believe that we ought to make a concession in this matter, it would pay large dividends. We ought to see to it that as many English books as possible are supplied in Israel and that any currency arrangements and concessions necessary for the purpose should be made. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman would be in favour of that policy. It may be that there is a hitch at the Treasury. I do not know, but I assure him and all concerned that this great cultural people from the humblest person upwards, who have a great admiration for the classics of the world, would considerably appreciate having our books made available to them.

I look on Israel in a sense as an oasis in the vast desert of the Middle East in so far as culture and the understanding of the democratic way of life is concerned. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take that into consideration and do what he can, with reference to Israel and also in the direction indicated by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

May I add my hope that among the things the right hon. Gentleman will consider, in addition to the very powerful case which has been made, will be the teaching of English to teachers in Asian and African countries through the British Council? That seems to be one of the most important things we could do.

12.41 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Dr. Charles Hill)

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) for raising this subject, which is one in which I am intensely interested. She has described fairly and fully the problem with which we are confronted.

Obviously, there are many strong arguments why we should secure the maximum distribution of our books throughout the world. Many countries have built their educational systems on ours and we want them to continue to do so. The best way of understanding our ideas. Our background and our policies is through a reading of our books. Our books convey our achievements, also.

As the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said, the subject is related to that of the teaching of English. We have greatly increased the resources for that purpose. In the next financial year they will be approaching £½ million; indeed, we are increasing the resources at the rate at which we can engage staff to do the work. I agree with him absolutely that an important part of our teaching of English is the teaching of the teachers of English. As perhaps he knows, a great deal of linguistic research is going on in India and Pakistan on that subject.

The hon. Lady made a generous reference to the work of the British Council and I want most warmly to welcome and support what she said. Too little is known of the work it does. There cannot be any hon. Members who go abroad, and see that work, who fail to admire what is being done. As the hon. Lady pointed out, in the White Paper there is a reference to the augmentation of existing methods in relation to books. I want to tell the House something about that augmentation. First, there are 99 British Council libraries and help is given to maintain about 40 others. In the current 'financial year, the amount spent on new books for those libraries totals £60,000 and next year it will be £171,000. That gives a measure of the increased resources, and there is also an increase in expenditure on periodicals.

Secondly, there is to be an increase in the presentation of libraries to universities and to individuals. Thirdly, something to which I am particularly attached, is an experiment with a new kind of library. That is the kind of library which lends a book for the duration of a university course, be it for a term or a year, the limit being not on the time for which the book can be borrowed, but on the number of books which are out at any one time. There are to be two pilot libraries of this kind starting next year. If the experiment is a success, it may lead to the recasting of the library system generally.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about the expenditure envisaged in the presentation of libraries?

Dr. Hill

The figure I gave of the growth covers both the increase in books on library shelves and books for presentation.

A big problem remains, as the hon. Lady said. To get it into perspective, I should like the House to have the figures for book exports from this country generally. In 1937, the total value of books sold was £10½ million and 30 per cent. of those books were exported. By 1946, the total value of books sold was nearly £27 million and 24 per cent. were exported, but in 1957 the total value of books sold was just over £60 million, and 37 per cent., in terms of value, were exported. In terms of individual books, it is probably true that about half the production of this country is exported today. We produce a terrifying number of books. There are 300,000 titles today and 20,000 a year are being added, so the number of books available is large enough.

I want to draw the attention of the House to these figures, for the publishers have done remarkably well in themselves searching out commercial opportunities for selling books, but, of course, the problem of import restrictions remains. The hon. Lady suggested that British book export schemes have been allowed to lapse. Of the countries which used to have book export schemes, only Yugoslavia and Poland would need them today. I ought, in fairness, to say that the reasons for closing down those two schemes were not on our side. They were political reasons in the countries concerned. Even so, we have the problem of India. Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, Poland, Turkey, Spain, and so on.

That problem is being studied intensively and the study is almost complete. I cannot give an indication today of its conclusion, but I can tell the House that it will be concluded as soon as possible. The first part of the study, as the hon. Lady said very fairly, is not a really difficult matter. The second part, the problem of low-priced books, involves a great deal more work than the first.

I shall not go into the problem of distribution, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers), except to say that I know it to be a real problem, particularly in retail distribution. In parenthesis, I inform my hon. Friend that there is a British Council post and a Government information post as well in Indonesia.

There is a problem of blocked currency. I shall not repeat what has been said, except to say that the Information Media Scheme, the I.M.G. scheme, is based on the conception of blocked currency. One can see no other solution of the problem than blocked currency of some kind or other, preferably related to our own expenditure, diplomatic or informational.

The import restrictions in respect of Israel are restrictions which Israel herself has felt it necessary to impose. There is every desire to sell books to Israel, and she is one of the countries which is the subject of study. May I make a comment to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), in view of his close association with a number of bodies connected with Israel? To the extent to which other money findnig its way into Israel could be related to a block currency scheme, such money could be used for the importation of books. I will say no more but merely offer a gentle hint that it need not be Government money which is blocked. It is not necessarily restricted to an official operation and could be undertaken in relation to an unofficial operation, too.

Mr. Janner

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take into consideration the great burden which lies on Israel in respect of the large number of people who are given shelter there. The provision of books may sometimes have to take second place in Israel's currency arrangements.

Dr. Hill

I accept that, but the hon. Member's remarks gave me an opportunity to point out that there are other ways of dealing with the problem than that of direct Government action.

The second problem has been well deployed and I agree with everything which has been said. In a sense it is a compliment to the status of the English language that so many books from Moscow and Peking are finding their way in. As the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) said, these include children's books—excellent children's books. As yet, there is no obvious selection of literature for propaganda purposes and a concentration, for example, on Charles Dickens and Galsworthy, but, clearly, the propaganda potentialities are enormous. I need say no more than that. There are also signs that this kind of thing may extend to other parts of the world, particularly to countries which are emerging into independence.

I am fully alive to the problem, and a very careful study is being made of it. When I was in the United States in January I saw the people who are responsible for the I.M.G. scheme and they were good enough to answer all my questions on it. I can assure the House that a very careful study is being made of these problems and that in due course the House will be informed of the outcome. I regard the teaching of English and the provision of books, directly or through libraries, as the most important part of our long-term information work, and I am sure that every hon. Member will join with me in that view.

May I comment briefly on films? As the hon. Lady said, the same problem of import restrictions also arises, but there is, in addition, the problem of the restrictions which are imposed for the protection of the domestic film industry. I will not hold out hope of an early solution of that problem, but I will study what the hon. Lady said. The present work is related only to books, but I will consider whether we cannot go on from books to make a study of the film problem. There are some other aspects of it in which I am particularly interested, such as the acquisition of feature films for our information services, and I hope that a more forthcoming attitude will be seen in the film industry. Negotiations are opening for next year, and I hope that we may achieve better results.

There are other problems, but they have not been raised and, if I may, I will leave the subject, saying only that I do not dissent from what has been said in the debate. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for deploying the problem in general. She has urged me to tackle a problem which I am already tackling with vigour and genuine enthusiasm in an attempt to find a solution. I hope that before long we may have a more general discussion on our Overseas Information Services as a whole. In the meantime, this has been a useful airing of the subject, for which I am grateful to the hon. Lady.

Mrs. White

May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to make it plain that he realises that time is important? Publishers cannot indefinitely keep staffs, agents and offices in countries in which they have little opportunity of selling books. This is an extremely acute point which I hope he will put before his colleagues and before the Treasury to ensure that they do not take too long to make up their minds.

Dr. Hill

I recognise that point. There has been no delay in the scrutiny of the problem, which is now complete. I cannot anticipate what may lie ahead in the way of other considerations, but I recognise the urgency of the problem and the need to find a swift solution or solutions.