HC Deb 23 April 1968 vol 763 cc49-52

4.1 p.m.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a Foundation to promote the exchange of young persons between Great Britain and Europe; and for connected purposes. Obviously, the House is impatient to get on with what it rightly regards as more important and serious business, but it is, nevertheless, a strange coincidence that this afternoon I should be asking leave to introduce this Bill, for it is at least equally concerned with the involved legacies of race, nationality and religion which have vexed the peoples and statesmen of Europe for centuries and will doubtless continue to do so, quite apart from the novel complications of colour. They will continue to do so unless we do something about it, and what my Bill does is to propose what a small part of that something might be. All I can hope to do today is to convince the House that it is essential, constructive and nonpolitical. Inevitably, it would cost some money, and it must be part of my purpose to justify that cost. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House decided some time ago that Bills coming forward under the Ten Minute Rule should be introduced at this time. It must listen to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Lloyd

It is my belief that the cost also can be justified.

I hope that, after the Easter disturbances, the House will not be totally unsympathetic in its mood towards youth. Youth is concerned, passionate and often irresponsible; and it is the view of many that those qualities apply to this House, too. But, whatever our views of modern youth or Parliament may be, the legislators of tomorrow must be drawn from the youth of today, and both parties are under notice that they must improve on their present performance. Hounded as we are by dogma and stereotyped thinking, the victims of historical and political prejudice built into our education systems, it is surprising that we succeed in governing at all.

We succeed, I suppose, in the great Parliamentary democracies because truth and common sense have managed to maintain survival courses and have, therefore, survived. But there is a profound and widespread feeling that some of the problems which we consider in this Chamber ought never to reach us here at all if only Governments would act with courage and conviction and permit others to do so as well.

Two extremely promising new weapons will shortly be making their contribution to the battle against national and racial prejudice, prejudice which was, as I think the Prime Minister will agree, largely responsible for our present exclusion from Europe. These are the non-nationalist history textbooks and the language translating computer which may be in general use by the year 1980. But we must do something before then.

The reason I am bringing this problem before the House today is that in 1963—I emphasise the date—the Governments of France and Germany jointly adopted a policy which has had and will have the most profound and far-reaching effects on relationships between their peoples and their Governments. The order is important, for, in the last resort, it is the broad pattern of relationships between peoples which determines and sets limits to what Governments can do.

What those Governments did was to set up an international foundation to promote the movement of French and German youth across their frontiers and to endow this foundation with a joint income of about£4 million equivalent a year. In no more than three years, it has arranged for nearly 1½million young French and Germans to visit Germany and France. It has been an outstanding success, and the identical Act passed by both the French and German Parliaments is the direct inspiration of my Bill.

What I propose is that we should pass a similar Measure which will enable Great Britain, first, to link directly on a reciprocal basis into the French and German scheme, since, however important all the other facets of European co-operation may be, these two countries, France and Germany, must always play a central rôle in the development of Europe, as we intend and deserve to do. Here is an opportunity to make our intention plain.

I cannot believe that there are any conceivable grounds on which such a move could be opposed either here or on the Continent, since the object must surely be to make us better Europeans by almost any acceptable standards on which that term is judged. But we must demonstrate at the outset that we take a wide view of Europe and of our obligations to all its peoples. I have, therefore, suggested that the Bill should include—while not in any way limiting us to it—the promotion of youth exchange between Britain, France and Germany. Europe is an elastic term, and, since one object of the Bill is to render geographical frontiers unimportant, I can see no point in a limiting geographical definition.

We already have in this country several organisations which are doing splendid work in this field, in particular, the Central Bureau for Educational Visits—a largely Government organisation—the British Council and innumerable voluntary organisations operating on a local, professional or special interest front. The first question which hon. Members may rightly ask is: are not these enough? Would we not be merely duplicating their work? There are three short answers. First, these organisations themselves would argue that they are barely scratching the surface of the problem, and, further, that they are missing untold opportunities. Second, they would point to the vast gaps in the whole field of youth exchange where we are being left behind seriously by developments in Europe, particularly in the exchange of young workers as opposed to those in the academic sphere. Third, we cannot possibly hope, with a national expenditure in this field which certainly does not exceed£100,000, to achieve a fraction of what France and Germany each considers to justify a budget equivalent to£2 million.

May I attempt to dramatise the problem by placing it briefly in the context of the city which I have the honour to represent. Young representatives of two Portsmouth schools have been involved in this project from the outset and are here in this building this afternoon. The City of Portsmouth has a population of about 250,000. Its Youth Organisation Committee attempted last year to promote educational and exchange visits on a total budget which could not have exceeded—for a city of 250,000££1,300, including a British Council per capita grant of£1 to£2 per person. This works out at the staggering sum of 1½d. per person per annum. Other cities may do better than this, but the evidence suggests that financial support from both central and local government is piteously inadequate.

As Mr. McNamara once told his interrogators, "enough" is a function of what else is important. Doubtless, the Government will tell the House that for every£1 which they save on the defence budget, on E.L.D.O. or otherwise, there are at least five claimants. I have no hesitation in becoming the sixth, for, if Her Majesty's Government were to decide that they would spend 1 per cent. of what they save in that direction on promoting the exchange of young people, this would be one of the best investments or insurance premiums which this or any other Government ever made.

A widening perspective of European achievement is the best guarantee we have that the young people of this island will respond in a fitting and constructive manner to the challenge which lies ahead of us all.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ian Lloyd, Dame Irene Ward, Sir Geoffrey de Freitas, Mr. Dodds-Parker, Mr. William Hamling, Mr. Peter Bessell, and Mr. Gwynfor Evans.