HC Deb 01 May 1959 vol 604 cc1705-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. I. E. B. Hill.]

4.2 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak about the Cultural Fund of the Council of Europe so soon after my return from Strasbourg, where last week we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the Council. The ceremonies held to mark the anniversary were greatly enhanced, the delegates from all the Members States were encouraged and the members of the British delegation, in particular. were delighted by the presence, among other distinguished visitors, of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

I am very grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary of State who agreed at such very short notice to listen to my remarks on this subject, and I hope that he will be able to reply to me.

When I originally applied for this Adjournment debate I had intended to raise a subject which is now closed. Therefore. I sought, and obtained, the permission of Mr. Speaker and the agreement of the Foreign Office to raise the question of the Cultural Fund of the Council of Europe.

The Cultural Fund was established early this year by the Committee of Ministers. That is the Committee of those Ministers whose Parliaments are represented at the Council of Europe and the Ministers of other countries which, thought not members of the Council, accede to the European Cultural Convention. The Fund will not be administered by the Council or by any of its committees, but by a separate Administrative Board consisting of one representative each from the States which signed the Statute. Those representatives will be nominated by the Ministers concerned. The Administrative Board has the right, provided that there is unanimous agreement among the Committee of Ministers, to co-opt up to five other members. It has done this. Three of the five co-opted members come from the Cultural Committee of the Council of Europe. They are its chairman and two vice-chairmen. One of them, however, is there merely as an observer with no right to vote.

I mention this so that it may be understood that the Fund is stricly under Ministerial control. The Administrative Board is not responsible to the Council of Europe, or at least not to the Consultative Assembly. It is responsible solely to the Committee of Ministers. The purpose of the Fund, as laid down in the Statute, is …to promote and prosecute cultural activities in accordance with the Statute of the Council of Europe. These activities are many and varied. I have with me a cultural programme for this year which lists no fewer than seventeen different items or endeavours. In this short debate it is impossible to read them all out, interesting though they may be. In fact, there is no need to read the list to the Under-Secretary, as he has his own copy, if not with him, at least in his files.

In order to give the House some idea of the work being done I will mention only three or four of the items. There is the interchange of teachers between various European universities. In 1957, fifteen teachers were able to travel in this way, and we hope that the number will soon be increased. There are research fellowships for the study of European civilisation—that is, the philosophy, history, literature and arts of Europe; and also the political, social, economic, educational and other problems connected with European integration. There is also the translation of books from the lesser-known European languages, and there are European art exhibitions. of which the next will shortly be held, we hope, in London.

In addition to this programme, the Consultative Assembly agreed last Saturday to the suggestion that two other undertakings might be considered, of which one is the provision of books and the establishment of travelling scholarships for those European students who reside behind the Iron Curtain.

This is a subject on which I feel rather deeply. A few years ago I paid a visit to the Polish university of Lublin, and the memory of that visit remains vividly with me. From the moment I entered the main hall I was surrounded by students who were studying English. They asked many questions. They were excited and enthusiastic—enthusiastic about England, the English, and English literature.

At one time, their professor said he hoped that all these questions were not tiring me too much, adding that I was probably the first Englishman they had ever seen and that they were listening very carefully to my accent. I told him, by the way, that it would be a very bad thing for them if they listened too carefully to my accent, which is strictly provincial. It would be very comic indeed if, in the few years' time, young men and women from the university were running round Poland speaking English in the accents of Lancashire.

Later, they showed me their English library. They were very proud of it — so proud, indeed, that it was pathetic, because it was not a good library by university standards, and it was years out of date. I remember seeing pinned to the wall of the library a list of contemporary British authors with their date of birth and, in some cases, date of death, but there were some distinguished English writers listed there as still alive who had been dead for years. These poor students were unaware of that.

These are the sort of person we want to help through the Cultural Fund, and we want to help them, not only for their own sakes but for ours as well, and for the sake of Western Europe to which, traditionally and culturally, these people belong. In present circumstances, however, we cannot give them very much help. The moneys of the Fund are provided from Government sources, and from some private sources. For the last three years the total Government grant has been fixed at 35 million French francs and, now, at 40 million French francs. I do not think that it was very wise to state the amount in French francs because, of the factors of European life, the value of the French franc is not the most constant. However, there it is—40 million French francs, which is about £32,000 in English currency.

I hasten to tell the House, no doubt to its great surprise, that this £32,000 is not the individual grant of one Government. It is the total grant given by all eighteen of them. Therefore, when it is broken down, the contribution of the British Government to the Cultural Fund is scarcely more than the salary of one back bench Member of Parliament. The £32,000 is the global sum. We are not going to spread very much light and learning throughout Europe with £32,000.

How can that amount be increased? If the sum has already been fixed, as it has been for the next three years by the Statute, how may it be altered? It can he altered very simply. It can be altered in strict accordance with all the rules of law and procedure. It can be altered by giving full implementation to Article IV of the Statute of the Cultural Fund. In Section 1 (b) of that Article provision is made whereby Voluntary contributions from Members of the Council of Europe or non-Member States acceding to the European Cultural Convention may be made.

My sole purpose in speaking is to draw the attention of the Joint Under-Secretary to that paragraph. I know the hon. Gentleman will probably say that the allocation of moneys is not part of his responsibility and that this comes under the jurisdiction of his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am aware of that, but I hope that he will bring this matter to the notice of his right hon. Friend that over and above the fixed Government sum an additional voluntary contribution can be made.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, as everybody will agree, that the present fixed sum is pitifully inadequate. In fact, it is derisory. It would be an excellent thing to increase this sum by a voluntary contribution of the sort to which I have referred. I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that the work which is being done by the Cultural Fund is not only good, but is about the best thing undertaken by the Council of Europe. Surely it would be excellent if Britain in this respect were to set a lead to all the other member States.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I am glad to have an opportunity to say a few words on this subject which has been raised so ably and in so interesting a way by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). I do so because I, too, am one of the members of the United Kingdom delegation to the Council of Europe, although I was not able to attend the recent session owing to a family bereavement. I did, however, attend a meeting of the Cultural Committee in Nice on 6th and 7th April. Indeed, the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall) and I had to miss the Budget speech in order to do so.

The hon. Member for Thurrock has outlined so well the objects of the Cultural Fund that I cannot improve on his efforts. I should like to stress one object that he mentioned, and that is the need to help universities and students behind the Iron Curtain. We shall be doing a good turn not only to them but to ourselves as well if we can spend some of this money from the Cultural Fund on that purpose.

In that connection I know that it is the object of the Cultural Committee to help in the publication of lectures given by members of the College of Europe at Bruges and which go out from Radio Free Europe. The only way in which I would not go as far as the hon. Gentleman is in his suggestion that the Government should make another contribution. There are three ways in which the Fund can be increased. One is by Government contributions through the Council of Europe budget, as has already been done. The second is by means of voluntary contributions from Governments, and the third is by contributions from nongovernmental sources. It is the latter source, I would suggest, that would possibly be the most appropriate in this country.

During the recent year, the Cultural Committee has passed a recommendation with a view to carrying this out. That recommendation urged that the individual members of the various delegations should set up committees in their own countries to finance voluntary contributions. We on our part, and this includes the delegation from both sides of the House of Commons, thought that that method was not appropriate to this country, but we said that we would do our best to try to raise contributions in voluntary ways by other means. I certainly have had that in mind ever since it was suggested, and I welcome the suggestion which other Members have made to me that we should meet to decide what organisations we could approach to do something about the matter.

Mr. Delargy

I am in full agreement with the hon. Gentleman about raising money from non-governmental sources, but, at this moment, and in this Chamber, the only persons I can hope to influence are the Government. While I am in favour of his suggestion, I am still more in favour of my own.

Mr. Russell

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point of view, and perhaps I had better restrict myself to the other point. I agree with him that the figure of 40 million French francs is quite inadequate for the task which the Council of Europe hoped the Fund would fulfil. Therefore, I think that the more money we can raise by voluntary means, the better it will be. The Germans have set a very good example. I understand that they have already raised a contribution of 50,000 marks, which is quite a good start. I hope we shall be able to do something on these lines, and that is why I give my support to what the hon. Gentleman said.

4.17 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Robert Allan)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) has been able to raise this subject this afternoon, and I am grateful for the way he has done so. We all know the interest which he takes in the activities of the Council of Europe. I am also glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), who always shows an equal interest, has been able to support him.

I have also had the advantage of a talk with my noble Friend, who has recently returned from Strasbourg, who confirmed very much what the hon. Gentleman has said. European culture is something real—something which we can and do, in fact, share with our European neighbours. It is not just a synthetic peg on which we can try to hang some trade or political agreement. It is something real and deeper, and is and should be of great consequence in our relations with Europe, and not Western Europe only, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out.

Indeed, the new proposal to try to extend cultural activities behind the Iron Curtain is welcomed by Her Majesty's Government and will be supported by them. So will the second new undertaking mentioned by my hon. Friend on the radio. That also will be supported by the Government. Although the amount of money spent on cultural matters by the Council of Europe has been relatively small, what has been achieved, however, has had a much wider impact and greater influence than the figures of cost alone show. This is because of the type of work which has been carried out.

The hon. Gentleman listed the sort of things which are done. Those things themselves are important, but the people who attend the various courses which he mentioned are more important still. By and large, the students at the Strasbourg course, for instance, are drawn from university teachers, trade union leaders, youth leaders—people who exert influence in their home countries. It looks as though the Research Fellowships also will prove valuable in an influential field. The same can be said of the meetings of educational experts which have been taking place from time to time, to which my hon. Friend referred.

In this connection, one of the more interesting developments, to me at least, is the examination of history textbooks with a view to spotting and ultimately, perhaps, removing prejudices and misapprehensions. I understand that the findings of this Group are to be published shortly. If this leads to the preparation of objective history textbooks, k will in itself make a very powerful contribution to European understanding.

The United Kingdom has been playing its full part in the cultural programme of the Council. As the hon. Member for Thurrock knows, this year, the Edinburgh Festival has been chosen as the occasion on which an international jury will award two Council of Europe film prizes. As the hon. Gentleman said also, Her Majesty's Government have been asked to arrange this year's European art exhibition. The Arts Council has been invited by the Government to organise the exhibition in co-operation with a committee of European art experts. It will be held in the Tate Gallery and in the Arts Council's own premises during July.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South explained the methods by which the Fund can be financed. There is, first, the fixed Government contribution. The hon. Member for Thurrock got his figures slightly wrong, I am afraid. I am sure that he and I, as Members of Parliament, would be delighted to receive £6,000 a year, which is, in fact, the United Kingdom Government's contribution. The hon. Gentleman was quite right in the total figure which he gave, but it is not divided equally between the fifteen Governments, as I think he probably realises. The contribution made by the United Kingdom Government is £6,000. Admittedly, it is not a large sum. The second method of finance is through voluntary contributions by Governments themselves. Lastly, there are contributions from private sources. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the Federal German people have contributed an additional £4,000 from private sources.

Over and above those three methods of contribution, there is much work done by member Governments on behalf of the Council programme. The art exhibition is a case in point. Although there will be a contribution from the Council towards this, it is most unlikely to cover the whole cost.

From what I have said and from what hon. Members know, it will be understood that Her Majesty's Government are playing their part in the cultural work of the Council of Europe, and we are anxious to take it further. We do not rule out the possibility of making an additional voluntary governmental contribution, hut, before considering such additional governmental contribution, we should like to see what can be done from private sources, as suggested by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend has said that he is getting together with others who might be interested in raising funds in this way, and I know that my right hon. and learned Friend would wish to encourage this as much as he could.

Finally, I am very ready personally to help both hon. Members and their friends in any way I can in this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Four o'clock.