HC Deb 19 December 1969 vol 793 cc1740-68

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

I am very grateful that this subject has been selected. Before I continue, Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up what the Minister of Technology has said and wish you a happy Christmas and a well-earned rest from your very arduous duties.

The subject of this debate is only a small point, and a smallish amount of money is involved, but the principle is on that the House should certainly discuss.

I had better start with the facts, which are that the Government grants £7,500 a year to an organisation called the British Council of the European Movement which was, until it was, as the Foreign Office says, "subsumed", the Britain in Europe Movement. The objects of this subsidy or grant are set out in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 17th December, 1969, when the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in reply to a Question by me: The grant is made to assist Britain in Europe, which has now been subsumed into this organisation"— the new one— in promoting a proper understanding in Europe of the British point of view on European affairs. It was agreed because the Government considered it desirable to assist certain of the activities proposed by Britain in Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1969; Vol. 793, c. 358.] I confess that the subsidy was started in 1963–64 under a Conservative Administration, which thought it worth while donating £1,250. Perhaps that kept it in a better perspective under the Conservative side. But since the Labour Party came into power that figure has not just doubled or trebled but multiplied six times.

In columns 359 and 360 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 17th December, we can see that additional money has also gone to the College of Europe in Bruges, European Schools Day, the Committee of Student European Association and so on. So quite a dollop of money seems to go out on this.

The British Council of the European Movement has an office at 78, Chandos House, Buckingham Gate, London. If we should go along to that office, draw aside the curtains, and peep inside, we would find that that address is also used by the Labour Committee for Europe. This is a party political organisation. I wondered what this Labour Committee for Europe was, and I found out in one of their publications, which says: The Labour Committee for Europe operates a speakers' service in Britain and the Common Market for meetings of the Labour Party, of the trades unions and of the cooperative groups. So I think that we can fairly assume that the Labour Committee for Europe is performing a party political job from the address of the British Council of the European Movement, which receives a Government grant of £7,500.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

To get the whole picture clear, one must also remember that an organisation called the Europe Forum, which exists to promote interest among the Conservative Party and Conservative politicians, also uses that address, so that it is concerned with both parties and not just one. It is important to get that into perspective.

Mr. Marten

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. It reinforces exactly what I am saying, that the Government grant is being used for party political purposes. I was not accusing the Labour Party only. This does not matter; it is still party political purposes. That is the point of the debate that we want to bring home.

I am told by the Foreign Office that none of the £7,500 is used for the rent of the office, so technically perhaps one can say that this is not an improper use of the premises. But, if it is not, it is mighty unwise of any Government to do that sort of thing.

I would like to make it clear that I am not making any suggestion that the British Council of the European Movement itself is misusing public money. What I am saying is that the Government are wrongfully distributing the taxpayers' money to this organisation—£7,500 a year out of its total income in 1967–68 of £26,000. So the Government provided just under one-third of the money it recovered and spent in that year. But it is now estimated that its income has gone shooting up to £50,000 to £65,000 a year, so the proportion of Government support is obviously less.

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

Is it a fact that the Council and the other organitions are, if we put it bluntly, really nothing more or less than propaganda organisations to get Britain into Europe?

Mr. Marten

I am most grateful for that intervention. I would say that that is precisely what it is. I shall come straight on to that point, and quote from its Annual Report what the organisation's aims are. It says that The first was to ensure that the British viewpoint, and our continued desire for British participation in the building of a United Europe, was effectively published and argued on the Continent. The second aim was to maintain interest and support within the United Kingdom for British membership of the European Economic Community, and its development into an effective and democratically controlled Political Community as an instrument for the economic and political union of Europe. I find it curious that the Government can subsidise organisations like that, whose aims are in direct conflict with the official Government policy as enunciated by the Prime Minister on 6th February, 1969, when he said: I made it clear that we did not and do not support any federal or supranational structure for our relations with Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1969; Vol. 777, c. 584.] Yet here are the Government tipping this money into an organisation which is doing exactly the opposite of that, aiming towards just what the Prime Minister said we would not support under any circumstances.

The Annual Report also says: Strong delegations were sent to every suitable European conference to ensure that the British case was put across. One might ask what British case was put across. Was it the case enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was it the case of the British Government, or was it the case of the British people? I suspect that it was not the last.

It also organised tours … for prominent British speakers to address public meetings on the Continent, particularly in France. Special conferences were held. … Documents and pamphlets putting the British"— I wonder which British— viewpoint were widely disseminated on the Continent and many articles placed in the European press. Could the Minister arrange for these widely disseminated articles to be laid in the Library, so that we may study whether they put forward the views of the British Government? If it is the British Government, the money is clearly being misused, because in the answer the Minister gave me he said that it was to put forward the British point of view. There is no word about the British Government's point of view, and the two, as he well knows, are diametrically opposed.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether any hon. Members are engaged in these tours arranged by the organisation referred to receive expenses and perhaps fees—at any rate expenses? In that event, are they not engaged in propaganda on behalf of the Crown, and does that not violate the constitutional principle that no hon. Member should accept fees or expenses of that kind because he is engaged in an office under the Crown?

Mr. Marten

I think that the right hon. Gentleman may well be right on that. I shall come back to these visits. I am glad of his intervention.

Continuing with its general point, the Annual Report states: Our campaign in Britain has extended to every parliamentary constituency in the Kingdom and numerous party political meetings have been addressed by our speakers throughout the country. Since when has Government money been used for addressing party political meetings? It goes on: We have also sent speakers to universities, schools, rotary clubs, women's organisations and others … substantial publicity has been given in the national and local press for our views and activities. This money, or part of it—I do not say all or even most of it—seems to be spent on work in Britain when it was given, not for work in Britain, but for work in Europe.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Evan Luard) indicated dissent.

Mr. Marten

It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. His own answer is in HANSARD. The Annual Report goes on to say that the organisation is starting a political campaign. It states: …major new initiative is needed to get European construction going again.…They suggest a British initiative calling for the formation of a European Political Community with the task of evolving common policies for technology, currency, defence and foreign affairs. Here again we come to the almost inevitable road to supranationality. Then the Report refers to the distinguished personalities who would take part. They include the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown), the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) and others. These are the high priests of the European religion. Among them there is a freemasonry in which they never fail to support each other. They live in the European clouds, so far above this earth that they have lost touch with the mass of the ordinary people of Britain.

As I have said, the organisation was to start this great campaign over the coming months. The Report stated: …a major campaign is planned to promote these ideas in Britain and within the Six with the object of creating a favourable climate of opinion…". The Report was published at the turn of this year, so that the campaign must have got going, let us say, at the beginning of the year. As we here involved in politics know, campaigns take time to generate and get across. So let us say that this one began to be effective in about mid summer—this campaign, subsidised by the Government to the tune of £7,500. I want to examine the effect which this campaign, supported by all these high priests of the European religion, is having.

According to the National Opinion Poll, the percentage of people in favour of British entry into the E.E.C. in July, when the first impact of the campaign started, was 33 per cent.; in September this had fallen to 29 per cent., and in November to 26 per cent. Is it not clear that the campaign is not exactly succeeding? Let us look at it the other way round and examine the effect on those against entry. In July, the percentage against British entry was 47; in September it was 51, and in November, a crescendo of success for the campaign, 59 per cent. were against it.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The hon. Gentleman is making a very strong point and is showing that this is a waste as well as a misuse of public money. Can he say whether the British Council of the European Movement or any other of the front organisations are explaining to our friends in Western Europe that the vast majority of the British people are against the application?

Mr. Marten

I welcome that intervention because I have searched through all the literature and I have not seen these opinion poll figures referred to once. It is rather dishonest of this organisation not to be frank with our European friends. If the Government would give the money to me, I could go to Europe and spend it in making this point to our European friends if this organisation cannot do so. I do not think, however, that the Government should give the money to anyone.

The fact is that this organisation is shouting against the wind. All its propaganda efforts are having the adverse effect. It all amounts to the fact that the Government are chucking good money away on an organisation whose propaganda is so discredited before it even starts that it is rejected by the people of Britain. That is the only conclusion one can come to.

I come now to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) about the activities. Every year, a list of activities financed out of Foreign Office grant is published. I have the 1967–68 list, but the list for the year ending April, 1969, has not yet been filed in the Library as it should have been. I inquired at 10.45 this morning and it was not there. The organisation ought to be kept up to scratch. The list of activities is agreed with the Foreign Office—it is shown in HANSARD of 17th December, in column 358—and it sets out who visited where and on what date. Most of them concern the high priests of the Common Market I give one example of the folly of this.

Money has been spent to send six unnamed delegates to attend a joint Fabian-S.F.I.O. conference in Paris. That is surely political. I am not complaining about the specific fact that it involved the Labour Party because the next such meeting could well involve the Conservative Party. It is, nevertheless, party political in purpose.

In the year from July, 1967, to July, 1968, a total of 101 people were sent abroad with these moneys. Let us take April, 1969, as a sample month. It is very interesting. For 6th to 9th April, there was a travelling grant to seven continental participants at the C.S.E.A. Conference in Edinburgh. So we are paying to bring foreigners to this country out of the grant. From 7th to 11th April, delegates attended a French conference of U.N.E.S.C.O. clubs at Avallon. How many delegates went, we are not told. Why they should go to visit U.N.E.S.C.O. clubs, whatever they are, I do not know.

On the same day, an undefined number of delegates visited the Institutions of Western Co-operation in Brussels, Strasbourg and Paris. Are they shy about how many went? What was the cost? This is public money. What were the expenses paid to these people for their paté in Strasbourg? On 19th April, delegates attended an A.E.F.-M.F.E. meeting in Paris. What all these initials mean I have no idea, but I would like to know how many delegates went and what was the cost.

On 24th April, delegates attended a convention of the Y.E.M.A. in Geneva. How agreeable to be in Geneva in the springtime. On 24th April, also the organisation entertained M. Pierre Abelin during a visit he paid for a lecture in London. Again, on 25th April, an unknown quantity of delegates attended the European Security Youth Conference in Rome. What youth has to do with security in this context beats me. On 25th April, the Secretary of the Britain in Europe Movement, a Mr. Wistrich, addressed a conference of La Federation in Nice. That must have been very nice. I wish I could go there in springtime. On 26th April, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, addressed the Conference of French Chemical Workers in Grenoble.

A very good day is 27th April. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell) addressed the conference of Young German Federalists in Bad Godesberg. That must have been quite something. On the same day, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) addressed a meeting of the Maison de l'Europe at Toulon. On the same day, an unspecified number of delegates attended a conference, which must have been fascinating, called "European Realities" in Luxembourg. I hope that did them some good.

Two days later the honorary secretary attended a conference of the French council of the European movement in Paris. That is not bad for one month's travelling and junketing at the expense of the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "At the expense of the taxpayer."] At the expense of the taxpayer; I stand corrected.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Marten

If the hon. Member wishes to put his foot in it, yes.

Mr. Heffer

I do not know about putting my foot in it. I have never been on any of these delegations and I do not belong to the movement. How does the hon. Member assume that because one goes on a lecture tour and works in the process that that is junketing? People go all over the world on various conferences and work very hard, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does, giving lectures to universities and so on against the Common Market.

Mr. Marten

I am perfectly prepared to withdraw the word "junketing" and to use another word, but I will let the hon. Member know later what I have in mind. It was not quite "junketing", but something half way between that and hard work.

On 17th June, delegates attended a trade union conference at Amsterdam. I do not know how many Tories were members of that delegation. On 9th June, a British Parliamentary delegation, led by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) and others, visited industrial centres in Holland, Germany and Italy. How many did they visit and how many of them were there, and for what purpose did they go? We should like to know.

So it goes on. On the 28th of that month delegates attended a conference of young Socialists at Bonn. Why should they attend at the expense of the taxpayer?

Mr. Heffer

Who says it is at the expense of the taxpayer?

Mr. Marten

The hon. Member is muttering and does not seem prepared to stand up to make his intervention, but I heard him ask who said that it was at the expense of the taxpayer. It is, because the Foreign Office publishes a list and I am reading from the list which shows what trips are paid for out of the grant.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Can my hon. Friend tell me what travel agent arranges this? As I have listened to my hon. Friend, I have been at a loss to understand how all this could be managed on £7,500.

Mr. Marten

I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that intervention. Hon. Members are being very helpful today. I went down to Messrs. Thomas Cook this morning and I have calculated the cost of all these trips over a period of 12 months, April to April, and it amounted to less than £5,000. I have included a figure of £1,000 for expenses. This is only a very rough estimate. The point to make is that I do not think that the £7,500 is eaten up by travel and expenses. There is a balance, but what happens to the balance? What I am getting at in part is that that balance may be used quite improperly for propaganda.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) ask, "Who says it is public money?" and then go on to say, "Anyway, it is only £5,000". Would not the hon. Member agree that if it were only £1 it would still be too much if it were paid out of public funds?

Mr. Marten

I agree, because the criticism is that this is for party political purposes.

I think that I have revealed or exposed enough to throw considerable doubt on the activities of this organisation and on the unwisdom of the Government in subscribing £7,500 to them. The right hon. Member for Easington suggested that hon. Members who benefited might be temporarily holding office of profit under the Crown. I do not know whether that is so. However, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who is a lawyer of eminence, will probably be able to comment on that. He is also concerned with the Report from the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declarations). A similar problem arises, because hon. Members were criticised for travelling abroad at the public expense of other governments. If that is turned into reverse, it is precisely what is happening with this organisation.

The main purpose of this grant, as told to me by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, is to promote a proper understanding in Europe of the British point of view on European affairs. I query that very much and I would be grateful if the Foreign Office would conduct a rigorous inquiry into whether in fact the British point of view has been put, or whether it has been the British Government's point of view.

I have with me the speaker's guide from the European Movement, Chandos House, which tells its speakers how to make their speeches and how to answer questions put to them. It is a highly suspicious document in that it does not say what the British people feel or think. It quotes the usual worn-out clichés of any Government trying to get into the Common Market. This is where the Government are making a grave mistake. It is very unwise to do this sort of thing and I hope that the Foreign Office will one day wake up out of its dream and start thinking about where this country ought to be going.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that we have 44 minutes left for this subject and that there are 12 would-be speakers, including two Privy Councillors.

11.46 a.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

The first business of the House, even at Christmas time, is to see that taxpayers' money is not spent for improper purposes. In answer to Questions on 3rd November, this year, Foreign Office Ministers had to admit, as the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) has just pointed out, that they were still using public money to finance private propaganda organisations, including that called "Britain in Europe". These are admittedly bodies which take a partisan view which is repudiated by a large number of hon. Members and a very large section of the electorate, whichever view one may personally take, which is not at issue today.

Whatever the view we individually take, it is nothing short of a public scandal and a fraud on the taxpayer that the Foreign Office should use public money for purposes of this kind. Indeed, if Foreign Office Ministers do not understand, it is time that they learnt the principles of how public life in this country should be conducted and always has been up to now. If they would do that, they would at once abandon, as they ought, this improper practice.

It has always been accepted by all parties in war time and peace time that the taxpayers' money may be used for information purposes which are broadly agreed by all but extreme sections of opinion, for instance, in support of National Savings, safety on the roads, public health, recruitment to the public services and so on. But no Government has the right to use the taxpayers' money to finance private propaganda organisations on either side of issues which are in acute controversy between large sections of opinion, whether political parties or not, for instance, for or against nationalisation, for or against comprehensive schools, for or against joining the Common Market, for or against capital punishment.

Those who hold strong views on either side of any of these issues have a perfect right to put them forward and to finance them at their own expense, but not at the expense of the taxpayer. This was the whole principle on which Mr. Herbert Morrison always insisted, as I well remember, in all information work for which he was responsible in the Government of those days. To depart from that means that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers have money extracted from them and then used to finance propaganda in directions with which they profoundly disagree.

It is perfectly proper for political parties and all sorts of private propaganda organisations to propagate their own views at their own expense. That is the fair, free-for-all method which accords with democratic principles as understood in this country. What is wrong is for any individual to use public money for this purpose, and it is a deplorable decline from the high standards set by Mr. Herbert Morrison in his day, which some hon. Members here will remember. It also shows rather deplorable ignorance of proper constitutional practice. Foreign Office Ministers floundering around to find an excuse for this performance have told us that these grants were given to assist these private bodies in promoting a proper understanding in Europe of the British point of view on European affairs.

All recent public opinion polls, which I will not repeat, show that the British point of view is, by a heavy majority, opposed to British entry of the Common Market. Do Foreign Office Ministers pretend that they are financing organisations which convey that truth to opinion on the Continent? If they do not then they are wilfully financing a direct perversion of the truth. They are concealing the fact of what they are doing from the House of Commons to obtain a Vote of money for which they have really no justification. To raise money by perverting facts in this way would in industry or business be regarded as a form of fraud.

Week by week at present as many of us know, meetings and debates are being held up and down the country on this highly important issue of joining or not joining the E.E.C. On one side Members of this House and other individuals, speak according to their convictions and at their own expense. On the other side, speakers appear, partly financed by the Foreign Office, which means by the taxpayer, expressing views contrary to those of a very large number, if not the majority of the taxpayers concerned. This is really a fraud on the taxpayer and incidentally it is highly discreditable to the Foreign Office. The point has now been reached when this organisation at Chandos House of which the hon. Member for Banbury spoke actually issues pamphlets making scurrilous attacks on hon. Members with whom they happen to disagree.

Mr. Marten

Is it not true that they have made an attack upon the right hon. Gentleman himself?

Mr. Jay

Yes, among others. I would not quote the one dealing with myself because, whoever it is and whatever is the issue, if private organisations want to mount personal attacks on hon. Members of this House, they should do so at their own expense and not at the expense of the taxpayer. In my view it is high time that the Foreign Office abandoned this unsavoury practice and brought its moral and financial standards at least up to the level of other Departments of the Government. The amounts of money are small, I know, but the principle is fundamentally bad. Therefore I hope that, for their reputations and for the reputation of their Department, Foreign Office Ministers will announce to us today that they have decided to terminate this murky business forthwith.

11.55 a.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

I agree with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that although the amount is small the principle is great. After all, hon. Members will have in mind what Burke said in regard to ship money. I quote from memory: The payment of 20s. would not have ruined Mr. Hampden's fortune, but the payment of half that amount on the principle it was demanded would have made him a slave. This House is traditionally concerned with the principle of this matter and it is a very important principle indeed. We should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) for raising this. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will make a better reply than the answer which he gave to my hon. Friend on Wednesday: The grant is made to assist Britain in Europe, which has now been subsumed into this organisation …". It is exhumation I would say we need— in promoting a proper understanding in Europe of the British point of view …". I like the word "proper". What does it mean in this context? It is not an accurate understanding of the British point of view. It was agreed because the Government considered it desirable to assist certain of the activities proposed …". Which did they think were desirable, and which did they think were undesirable? References to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North? Were they desirable? The campaigning in this country? Is that desirable?

Mr. Luard

indicated dissent.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman shakes his head. He will have to look into this a little more closely, because it goes on: A list of activities to be financed from the grant is agreed with us". Who is "us"? It is a strange form of words. It is the Secretary of State, who is responsible constitutionally to this House. I do not like the word "us". It conjures up a cosy coterie, sitting somewhere in the Foreign Office, in cahoots with these distinguished gentlemen in this movement outside. Then the reply goes on: A similar procedure is followed in relation to similar grants to other bodies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1969; Vol. 793, c. 358.] In the language of the law, I shall want further and better particulars of that and if the hon. Gentleman does not give them today I shall table a Question when we resume.

Mr. Shinwell

On this point about conveying a proper understanding to people abroad about the position of this country and entry into the Common Market, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that it is possible to obtain a proper understanding of the Government's point of view, since the Prime Minister is opposed to a federal system, while the Foreign Secretary on the other hand has gone abroad through the medium of this organisation, on one occasion on behalf of the Foreign Office and on another on behalf of the Labour Party—to convey the impression that this country is in favour of a federal system?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend also mentioned this point. The Prime Minister is quite clearly on the record about this matter. If this body is spending money on putting any other view with regard to British participation in a federal Europe, it is in direct contradiction to the Prime Minister's authoritative statement of Government policy.

There are two principles, both of great importance in the context of parliamentary democracy and constitutional propriety. The first is that public money may properly be spent only for Government purposes and not for private purposes, private propaganda or party political purposes. The House knows that every Government in this country has been properly very assiduous to avoid doing what is done, I fear, in some other countries, that is confusing the identity of government and party. Every Government has been very careful not to spend Government money for party purposes.

This Government is composed exclusively of members of the Labour Party but they would not dream of spending Government money for Labour Party purposes. It is just as wrong to spend money on private propaganda. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, it could erode the principle and blur the distinction which we value so much between Government and party. That is one of the dangers that I see.

This movement is none the less a private propaganda body because it is buttressed with the honorific names of highly-placed persons. It is a private organisation composed of private persons putting forward private views, inevitably—and I do not say this by way of reproach—to some extent animated by private interest, and operating in the teeth of public opinion. What conceivable justification could there be for spending public money for such a purpose?

The second principle is that public money must not be used for purposes of Government patronage. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shin-well) asked whether it constituted an office of profit under the Crown. Technically I would think not, but it falls within the closely allied concept of patronage. The non-use of public money for Government patronage is basic to parliamentary democracy and ever since the eighteenth century Parliament has been vigilant in safeguarding this position. The House will remember the Dunning Resolution of 1760 the abuse in this matter by Lord North and the "King's Friends" in the use of public money for Government patronage, resulting in one of the worst Governments in the history of this country. Therefore, let the Government take example from that.

Through this private organisation the Government are giving payments, to Members of Parliament, apparently, among others, or travel expenses, which are conditional on their putting forward one point of view, and one alone, which is that favoured by the Government. The amounts are small and any hon. Members concerned are of the highest integrity, but, again, it is the principle that is wrong. If the practice is uncorrected, it is likely to grow until it becomes an abuse.

I therefore ask the Joint Under-Secretary to go back to his right hon. Friend, to tell him what has been said here today and ask him to revert to the constitutional proprieties, to resign from the Monnet Committee, as we have already requested him to do, and to withdraw public funds from these private propaganda purposes and restore the old and respected practice, which is vital to the proper working of our parliamentary system.

12.1 p.m.

Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)

I find it impossible to follow the arguments that have been put forward so far in this debate by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. It seems to me wholly legitimate that the Government should make grants of this type. One sees this when one looks at the purposes to which the grant is put.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) read out lists of objectives. I should like to read to the House some of the purposes to which this grant is put—for example, to cover travel and subsistence costs for British delegates to international conferences at which the British viewpoint should be expressed and represented.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

What is the British viewpoint?

Mr. Barnes

The British viewpoint is the viewpoint of the Government of this country at any particular time, and it is highly desirable—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have heard today about Hampden and Burke. They believed in free speech for both sides.

Mr. Barnes

It is highly desirable that contacts of that kind between us in this country and between other countries on the Continent should not simply be between Ministers and professional diplomats, but should be between other people as well—between business people, people in the universities and people in the trade unions. [Interruption.] If hon. Members will allow me to get a little further into my argument, it will become clearer. It is very important that there should be these contacts outside official Government and diplomatic circles.

Mr. Marten

Can the hon. Member answer this point? He is saying that these Members of Parliament are invited to go abroad at Government expense, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) complained that only one type of Member of Parliament went—those who were pro-Common Market. I am known as somebody who is deeply interested in the Common Market and I have never been asked. Can the hon. Member explain this?

Mr. Barnes

That is not so. I should like to give an example which disproves what the hon. Member is saying and what his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith said). For example, this month there were two visits by some of my hon. Friends—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—to Brussels. On the first of those visits, about three or four of my hon. Friends went to discuss with people at the E.E.C. Commission in Brussels the policy of the E.E.C. countries towards the developing world. That is an important subject. If hon. Members would care to look at the lists of the Members who went, although I am sure that I do not need to tell them—

Mr. Bessell

Who were they?

Mr. Barnes

My hon. Friends in question were the Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) and Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner). Certainly, some of these Members are very hostile to the whole concept of the Common Market and do not want this country to join, yet they went on the visit.

The second visit was one on which I went with some of my other hon. Friends. We went similarly to discuss with officials at the E.E.C. Commission the situation which now existed as a result of Britain's application to join following the outcome of The Hague summit. It is important that as many Members of Parliament as possible should be properly informed on this question.

The hon. Member for Banbury seems to me to be using this flimsy argument as a hook on which to hang his well-known views about the Common Market, views which are not shared by the vast majority of Members of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "How do you know?"]

Mr. Jay

My hon. Friend has made the astonishing statement that the British Government is able to finance with public money propaganda in accordance with any view that the British Government hold. Would my hon. Friendly really argue that a British Gov- ernment would finance propaganda for or against nationalisation, for example, because that happened to be the view of the Government concerned?

Mr. Barnes

Not at all. The hon. Member for Banbury and the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East have tried to argue that the Government are allocating taxpayers' money for party political purposes.

Sir D. Walker-Smith


Mr. Barnes

That is what is being said—for party propaganda purposes.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

On the contrary, it will be within the recollection of the House that I made it clear that the Government had pursued the honourable tradition of all Governments in keeping quite distinct party and government expenditure. What I said was that it was just as wrong to use it for private propaganda and that that might lead to further abuse.

Mr. Barnes

I am sorry if I have misrepresented the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I still do not accept the argument, because the money is not being spent on private propaganda. It is being spent on promoting relations with other countries which the Government feel to be desirable relations.

If I may say a little more, for example, about those two visits and their financing, the basis of the one on which hon. Members went who are very hostile to the whole idea of the Common Market is that they were invited by the European Communities themselves. They paid—

Mr. Alfred Morris rose

Mr. Barnes

I am not giving way.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member who has the floor does not give way, the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) must sit down.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

Disgraceful, Give way.

Mr. Barnes

The European Communities paid for—[Interruption.]

Mr. Bessell rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have heard the case deployed for one side in complete silence. The whole of this argument is about two points of view. This is the place where two points of view can be expressed.

Mr. Barnes

I have given way on a number of occasions, but I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) before I sit down.

The basis on which they went was that the European Communities paid the costs incurred on the Continent and the travel costs were paid by the British Council for the European Movement.

The policy that Britain should apply for entry to the E.E.C. is Government policy. It was decided and backed by a huge vote of the House two and a half years ago, and, in my view, when the issue has become alive again as a result of The Hague summit, when there is a real prospect that this country will go into the Common Market, it is highly desirable that as many people in the country—not just politicians—should be as well informed as possible.

I hope that these grants will continue to be made and I hope that those responsible for arranging the visits with this money will make sure that hon. Members and people outside who take all points of view, whether they are in favour of going into the Common Market or not, will be selected to go on these visits. This would be an extremely good thing. It is the right way to spend the money and it is entirely legitimate that the Government should do so.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The recent visits to Brussels to which my hon. Friend referred earlier followed very strong criticism from hon. Members in August and September. I recall, for example, the criticism voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths). They made the point strongly that, as far as they knew, there was no one representing the majority of the British people going on any of these visits. Thus the recent visits to Brussels may be explained by that strong criticism. But I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that it is wrong to spend public money—mine as well as his—on propaganda organisations.

Mr. Barnes

It is not clear what the majority of people feel about the Common Market at present. We have a different situation now, following The Hague summit, where Britain's application to join has become a live issue. It is by no means clear.

I reiterate my belief that this is the right way for the Government to proceed, seeking to promote as many contacts outside the official ones between Ministers and professional diplomats as possible. This is the way to get better understanding between nations and a more stable and lasting situation in Western Europe.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this debate ends at half past twelve. The Minister has yet to speak.

12.12 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) are in no way speaking with the support of the majority of the Conservative Party in this House. That should be placed on record lest there be any misunderstanding in Press or B.B.C. reports. They are having an anti-Common Market field day, largely because the majority of hon. Members have departed for their constituencies.

Mr. Roebuck rose

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

No, I will not give way. The case has been deployed at great length, and I propose to see that the other side of it is deployed in the few minutes available to me.

In his beguiling speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury did a great deal of nit picking and "menu peeping" about hon. Members and others who have gone to Europe to expose the British point of view. However, he is wrong in his analysis of these visits. They are useful for the country and for this House.

I want to deal with only two questions. The first is whether this is a proper use of public money. The second is whether it is an efficient use of it.

I think that it is a proper use because it is money spent to demonstrate overseas the view of the British Parliament as it has been expressed overwhelmingly in vote after vote. It is the view of the British Government, made plain by Ministers. It is the view of the loyal Opposition, made plain at its party conference, when my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend had their opportunity to deploy their case and were voted down overwhelmingly. It is also the view of the Liberal Party. I conclude from this that it is national policy and, therefore, it is a proper use of public funds to educate Europeans about British national policy agreed by all parties and voted on in this House.

The second question is whether it is an efficient use. I believe that it is. It is wrong that the education of foreign opinion should be left exclusively to embassies and officials of the British Government. I am not in favour of any Government monopolising the media of political education abroad. On the contrary, I am certain that private organisations and the sector approach of lawyer to lawyer, businessman to businessman and youth to youth, is an efficient way of achieving the national purposes upon which we in this House have agreed. The House operates through its majorities. My right hon. and learned Friend has had his opportunity: why does he not accept the majority? That is the way in which Parliament works and the way in which the constitution of the country works.

There are in any case a large number of agencies which are in receipt of public funds and are doing a useful job for the nation. Among them there are the Royal United Services Institution, the British Eastern European Group and the British Atlantic Group, which promotes N.A.T.O. The granting of moneys to them cannot be regarded as a misuse of public funds. For there is a variety of ways in which the Government and the Opposition parties promote the British cause overseas. One example is the Council of Europe. I am a delegate to that body. When I go to its meetings, I deploy as effectively as I can the state of opinion in this country. Invariably I say that people in Europe should understand that large numbers of our constituents in Britain are opposed to the Common Market. It is important that Europeans should understand that any British Government seeking membership has a difficult political problem at home. Hon. Members can only make this clear, that there is a great deal of opposition to the policy in this country, if they go to Europe and say so. How else can Europeans be made aware of this than by Members of Parliament and other citizens going to Europe to explain it?

I know that the Minister is anxious to intervene in the debate. I sum up by saying that in this case it is a national policy which the Government are pursuing and therefore it is right that public funds should be used to promote it. It is an efficient use of public money, because it will be a sad day if the education of non-British people into the views of this nation becomes exclusively managed by the Government. There is room for voluntary organisations, and this is a first-class way of spending the money

12.17 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Evan Luard)

The subject of this debate is expressed in very broad terms: The use of public money for the propaganda purposes of private organisations. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) will not be altogether surprised to hear that it was not very difficult to guess the exact organisation which he had in mind and the exact issue that he was likely to raise. It is worth pointing out that the subject for the debate is expressed in extremely tendentious terms and does not express the purpose of this grant or the principles on which grants of this kind are given. It is not a new subject. It has been discussed many times before. Contrary to what some hon. Members suggested, there is nothing sinister about grants of this kind and the way in which organisations are chosen for them.

The points which have been made can be answered quite simply, and there are four main ones with which I propose to deal. It is important to do so, because it is clear that there are serious misapprehensions about the way in which money of this kind is given and the kinds of organisations to which it is given.

The first point is an essential one. Hon. Members have spoken as if this was almost the only organisation of this kind to which public funds were given. That is very wide of the mark. Her Majesty's Government provide funds for a large number of organisations of many kinds, mainly for the purposes of exchanges of views, visits, and so on. I mention two which are vaguely comparable. There is an organisation called the Great Britain/East Europe Centre to which Her Majesty's Government provide funds to promote exchanges of views with East Europe. We also provide funds to the British Atlantic Committee, another organisation designed to promote understanding, in this case within the Atlantic Community. The grants about which the hon. Member for Banbury spoke are exactly comparable to these. In other words, we provide funds to an organisation to assist exchanges with East Europe, and other funds to another organisation to promote exchanges within the Atlantic Community. It is scarcely surprising that we also provide funds to promote exchanges of views with our closest neighbours in Western Europe, a group of countries with which our relations are likely, whatever happens about the Common Market itself, to be increasingly close over the coming years.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Wythenshawe)

Can my hon. Friend say whether the Foreign Office is considering the provision of public money to allow those right hon. and hon. Members who represent the majority point of view of the British people on this matter to put that view to our friends in Western Europe, so that they will know, in Brussels and elsewhere, what the British people really think?

Mr. Luard

As is so often the case on these occasions, my hon. Friend has raised a point I was about to come to myself in a moment and I ask him to wait.

That is the first point, that there is a large number of grants which are given to a large number of organisations to promote exchanges of different kinds, and it would be nothing short of extraordinary if the Government were not to provide public money for visits and exchanges of this kind in Western Europe. [Interruption.] I know the hon. Member may say that this is a particular kind of organisation for particular purposes—

Sir D. Walker-Smith rose

Mr. Luard

I am not giving way.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister must be allowed to get a word in.

Mr. Luard

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It is my own view entirely. I have given way already and I shall perhaps be prepared to give way on a future occasion—[Interruption.]—but I do not think the hon. Member encourages a Minister to give way by making remarks of that kind.

I now come to the second point of real importance. There is nothing whatever new about grants of this kind, nor about this particular grant, which has been raised as though it were some sudden sinister move by the Government to promote particular organisations. The hon. Member himself mentioned the fact that this grant went back over five years to the time when the party opposite was in power. In fact this particular grant was approved by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he was in charge of this kind of thing at that time. I know that it may very well be that the hon. Member strongly disapproves of this action by his right hon. Friend, but it is not for me to intervene in the domestic squabbles of the party opposite. It is, however, important for the sake of the record to point out that this is not something suddenly introduced by this Government, but that not only the principle of grants in general but this particular grant to this organisation was authorised a considerable time ago by the party opposite when it was in power.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. I have a very brief question. Can the hon. Gentleman afford any example of another organisation which is actively engaged in putting forward propaganda on a controversial issue and is making that propaganda in this country?

Mr. Luard

I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be patient. I have listened to the debate and it is my intention to reply to the debate and that was a point I was going to reply to. But the brief answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that the grant is not given for the purposes which he has just described, and if he will wait a moment he will see that this is the case.

That is the second point. The first point is that a large number of grants are given to a large number of organisations. The second point is that this grant is not new, but has been going on for a long time and was authorised in the first place by the party opposite when it was in power.

The third point—and this is in reply to the point which has just been raised, and I accept that it is an essential pont in this context—is that the hon. Gentleman's notice of debate uses the words, The use of public money for the propaganda purposes of private organisations. The fact is that this money is not given for propaganda purposes. That is a point which was raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and by others in the debate, and it is a very elementary point on which hon. Members ought to be clear. The point is that no money whatever is given for activities of these organisations in this country; that is to say, public money in this country is not used for this purpose. It is true that on one or two occasions money has been given for meetings which have taken place in this country, but they have always been meetings taking place with representatives of European organisations to discuss European matters in general.

Mr. Jay rose

Mr. Luard

I cannot give way again.

The purposes for which money is given were stated in the reply which I gave, and although that particular form of words was not my invention, because it is a form of words which is used in the Estimates for describing the grant, it is used for promoting better understanding of the British point of view on European affairs.

A number of hon. Members have raised the question, what is meant by "the British point of view". My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) interpreted this as meaning the point of view of the British Government. I must dissociate myself from that point of view. It is certainly not the intention of this grant to allow this organisation to promote the views of the British Government. I think one can reasonably interpret the phrase "the British point of view" to mean the point of view accepted and adopted by the British Parliament. I would not, as I will show in a moment, even go as far as to say that. But it would be a reasonable point of view to hold that, if a clear statement of opinion has been reached by the overwhelming majority of this House—and this could reasonably be taken as representing the British point of view—then it would not be an extreme point of view to hold that public money should be given for promoting such a point of view which has been adopted by the large majority of both parties in this House. However, as I shall show in a moment, we do not even take this line, because I shall be showing that some of the activities of these organisations have encouraged opportunities for Members of this House and other people in this country to express on European affairs a point of view which is very far from that of the Government or of a majority of Members of this House, and a point of view which is, indeed, hostile to the British application for membership of the European Economic Community.

The main purposes and activities for which this money is used are, as has been said in the debate, clearly and specifically agreed with us—as was said in the Answer to which I have referred—with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, before the money is given. It is for a number of activities, primarily conferences and seminars, visits of all kinds, to enable representative people in this country to meet their opposite numbers on the continent to discuss matters of common concern and common interest. They are drawn from a very wide range of professions and activities—members of Parliament, journalists, farmers, trade unionists, students, and others, who have all taken part in conferences of this kind devoted to many aspects of European affairs. For example, a young European leaders' conference was held in London this July, and there was a civil servants' seminar held in Reading this September: hardly sinister activities, nor, I think, particularly devoted to putting a particular point of view about our application for membership of the European Economic Community.

So it must be very clearly borne in mind that this grant to this organisation is not for the kind of activities which have been described in this debate—general propaganda purposes; certainly not in this country; and abroad, it is used primarily for organising contacts and visits in Europe with European representatives from the countries of the European Communities.

Fourthly—and this is an essential point, especially in reply to some of the things said in this debate—the use of this money is not confined to people adopting a particular point of view on the central issue which we have been discussing today, the British application for membership of the European Economic Community. In fact it must be said that this debate shows what a great misapprehension must still exist among many hon. Members about this grant and the purposes for which it is used. A number of hon. Members of this House who are opposed to the British application to join the Common Market have taken part in these conferences and debates—for instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), who was here just now but who has now left, who has his own personal view of this particular matter; my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon. South (Mr. Winnick), who at meetings—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] During this year, I believe. I will look into that. Furthermore, a number of members of the Conservative Party's back bench committees, I understand, have been invited to take part in activities organised by this group in Europe.

Mr. Marten

As one of the vice-chairmen of the Conservative Party's Foreign and Commonwealth Committee, I have received no such invitation.

Mr. Luard

I cannot say whether the hon. Member himself has been invited—though I think it would be a very wise policy to invite him to take part in one of these particular groups. Members of all the principal Committees of the Conservative Party have been invited to take part.

Finally, may I reply to one or two specific points. It cannot be said that the activities of this group are for party political purposes in any normal sense of the word. As is well known, the leaders of all political parties are united in their view about application for membership of E.E.C., so it would not be particularly sinister or undesirable if we were subsidising an organisation which was putting forward views similar to those of the leadership of the parties. As I have tried to make clear, the purpose of the grant is merely to promote exchanges of view, visits and understanding in Europe, not in this country, of the view of many representative people in this country about Europe.

I hope I have shown that the Motion and many of the speeches which have been made are based on misapprehension about the nature of the grant, the number of widely varying organisations which benefit from similar grants and the activities, which are clearly laid down and specified, for which funds of this kind qualify. I hope I have cleared the mind of hon. Members and relieved them of some of their misapprehensions about the grant.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the next hon. Member, may I remind the House that we must keep absolutely to the time-table; I must protect the last of the Adjournment debates. The next debate will last until 1.15. Already I have the names of eight hon. Members who wish to speak. Hon. Members will realise that speeches must be brief if we are to get them all in.