HC Deb 02 May 1972 vol 836 cc349-58

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has the Adjournment. Will hon. Members kindly withdraw as quietly as possible.

Mr. Lomas

I am grateful to you Mr. Speaker. I am glad to have this opportunity to raise what to me is an important matter. On Sunday I fly to Brussels as Rapporteur to the Education, Cultural Affairs and Information Committee of the North Atlantic Assembly to take part in the committee meetings prior to the plenary sessions to be held in Bonn in November of this year. One subject with which my committee will be dealing is the educational and cultural implications that could arise from a successful European security conference. I feel that the British Government should have a firm view on this subject and should now be in the process of preparing a paper on the issues which will be involved and which could at some future date be presented to the House for discussion.

The political and military aspects of the proposed European security conference and the associated proposal for discussions on mutual and balanced force reductions have been discussed in some detail, and discussion has taken place on the implications of a successful conference for economic co-operation between Eastern and Western Europe. However, the more long-term but equally interesting proposals by both the Warsaw Pact and the NATO countries for cultural and educational co-operation have received very little attention.

In its agenda items for a possible European security conference, NATO proposed in a North Atlantic Council Ministerial communiqué of May, 1970. the development of international relations with a view to contributing to the freer move- ment of people, ideas and information and to developing co-operation in the cultural, economic, technical and scientific fields as well as in the field of human environment. On their side the Warsaw Pact countries have suggested, according to the Warsaw Pact Ministerial communiqué in Prague dated October, 1969, The expansion of commercial, economic, scientific, technical and cultural relations on a basis of equal rights for the purpose of developing political co-operation between European States. In many ways, closer cultural links between Eastern and Western Europe will provide the greatest test of the sincerity of both sides in saying that they wish to move towards a more satisfactory relationship with each other, because culture in its broadest sense is that area of potential co-operation which brings into prominence the most central issue between Eastern and Western Europe, and that is the nature of society and the difference in the perception of it by both halves of Europe.

I believe that it will be in the economic and cultural spheres that the really basic ideological differences between Eastern European communism and Western European social democracy or social capitalism will become apparent. Therefore it is in these spheres that the greatest long-term challenge to the future growing together of Eastern and Western Europe will occur.

I believe that it is in the cultural and educational areas of future co-operation that much more could be done. A situation in which Eastern European newspapers are on sale in London and Paris but not vice versa and in which Western European tourists travel to Romania and Bulgaria but not vice versa is not co-operation and will nit help in the process of increasing interdependence between Eastern and Western European countries. After all, this is surely the main purpose of the current efforts being made towards some kind of détente in Europe.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves and perhaps the Foreign Office should ask itself what is meant by "culture ". I believe that culture should be defined in its broadest sense as the reflection of the whole of society and it is this definition which should be adopted by Western Europe in its approach to the Eastern European countries. It cannot be emphasised sufficiently that culture is not just the exchange of symphony orchestras and art exhibitions. It is far more than that.

Other forms of co-operation that we in this House should be thinking about are in mass communications in terms of the exchange of television programmes. Some Eastern European television documentaries already have a showing on BBC2's weekly programme "Europa ". Programmes similar to this, suitably translated into the appropriate languages, should be shown in Eastern Europe as well as in the West.

The extent to which television and radio govern the attitude of the Western and Eastern European public has begun to be appreciated in Western Europe. The occasional Eastern European or Soviet television documentary when shown on a Western European television network reveals how dangerously wide is the gulf between the perceptions of each half of Europe by the public in the other half. This is a matter which the British Government should note and about which they should try to do something.

The same kind of co-operation should be attempted for radio, and a further area of co-operation should be in the reciprocal availability of books and periodicals originating in Eastern and Western Europe to the public of the whole of Europe.

A further means which is extremely important in contributing towards greater cultural co-operation in its widest sense could be built up through what has been called the "functional means ". By that, I mean joint projects working on problems of a specific nature which concern European society as a whole. This may include such items as conditions of employment, housing and housing standards, joint sporting activities, alignment in academic qualifications and work on what have come to be called social problems, such as those with which we have become familiar in the West like drugs, abortion and the future structure of the family.

Working groups such as those I have mentioned on specific subjects would ideally, in my opinion, be best and most efficiently organised through a committee of cultural contacts which, working perhaps in liaison with UNESCO, in itself would be part of the structure of a European security commission. A further project could well be the creation of book, journal, newspaper and film libraries which would be stocked from and available equally to people in Eastern and Western Europe.

However, and I must stress this to the Minister, there is an important distinction that we must make in seeking progress in comparatively non-controversial areas, such as the freer exchange of films and television programmes, and in trying to achieve progress in what could be called the controversial areas, such as broadcasting and newspapers.

Whereas with films and television programmes the State or a commercial company could buy the right to use the material it wants, with books, newspapers and broadcasting the problem is really that of freer dissemination where ideological and political sensitivity is greater. In practice, therefore, I submit that it may be easier to make progress with films and television than with radio and newspapers.

The discussion of radio will, further almost inevitably give rise—it has been raised in the House already—at a European security conference to the question of broadcasting by Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to Eastern Europe. The Eastern European Governments will no doubt claim that broadcasts of this kind constitute an intervention across their frontiers and in their internal affairs. That is something that we must face and be prepared to answer and deal with.

Co-operation should also be further developed in fields which are traditionally regarded as cultural in Western Europe. By that I mean visits and tours, symphony orchestras, ballet and opera companies, theatre companies, art exhibitions, and so on.

A further area of co-operation which the Government should be stressing and which should be developed is in reciprocal tourism. Already many Western European tourists visit Eastern countries, such as the Black Sea coasts of Bulgaria and Romania. Reciprocal tourism by Eastern European tourists of Western European countries is rare, and it should be encouraged, but I accept at once the difficulty there because of the lack of hard currency in the Eastern European countries.

On the educational aspect—which I stress again is of vital importance—what we should be trying to do initially is to concentrate on matters such as the interchange of students and young people, organised tours, the exchange of university facilities and their availability to academics and students. Equally, the arrangement of conferences and meetings of people in all walks of life about matters which affect Europe as a whole, such as pollution, conservation, human environment, transport and so on, would be a useful activity in beginning the process of binding the two halves of Europe closer together.

As to the means of co-operation, the agreements on co-operation could and should be reached through the European security conference. However, the agreements and the principle of co-operation will best be safeguarded by the creation of a permanent all-European security institution or commission. Such machinery could become a familiar landmark on the European scene. It would allow the open-ended discussion of difficult problems, and there can be no doubt that cultural co-operation is bound to involve problems of extreme complexity, but these are matters that we must face and try to deal with.

It is important, therefore, that the principles of co-operation are clearly established because, unless that is done, any other form of agreement could be worse than useless. The sharing of the common European culture by all European countries will, in the long term, provide a means towards a genuine reunification of Europe and its peoples.

I hope that the British Government, whichever party is in power, will accept that the North Atlantic Assembly is performing a necessary and useful job and that my committee in particular, small though it is, is seeking a way, through the assembly, to build bridges and establish links between East and West which we hope will one day bring peace and stability to the whole of Europe. I therefore ask the Minister to bring for- ward a paper for early discussion in the House.

I regret that the British Government have decided not to pay their full share of the expenses of the North Atlantic Assembly. This puts Britain in a poor light compared with the other NATO countries. I ask the Minister to urge his right hon. Friends to reconsider their decision in this matter, but above all to bring forward a paper for debate on the cultural and social implications of a European security conference.

10.31 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Royle)

We have taken tonight a dramatic decision which will ensure the passing of legislation which will enable Britain to enter the European Economic Community. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) for having given us, entirely appropriately tonight after the debate we have had, an opportunity to debate an important aspect of our relations not only with the EEC but with Europe as a whole. This is valuable and the hon. Gentleman's speech bears witness to the careful study which he has clearly made of this subject. He produced many excellent ideas, about some of which I shall comment.

First, however, I must correct a point the hon. Member made towards the end of his speech. It is not right to say that the British Government will not be continuing their payment to the North Atlantic Parliamentary Organisation. We shall, of course, continue to pay our subscription. It is right and proper that we should and I am certain that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to receive this assurance.

It is certainly useful to emphasise the cultural and human relations aspect of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe. Security matters are obviously vital, and we attach great importance to economic co-operation and trade. But the aim of détente between East and West is also to improve the quality of life of all the peoples of Europe.

The division of Europe into military blocs is often criticised. The North Atlantic Alliance is essential to our security and must remain, and this is agreed in all quarters of the House. But it is in no sense a bloc as far as the free movement of people, ideas and information is concerned. We want to promote such exchanges in both directions, and we hope the conference will contribute to this.

We welcome the recent rapid growth in the number of tourists visiting the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. We hope that more people from these countries will come to visit us. To the extent that practical obstacles exist, we must work to remove or reduce them.

Exchanges of businessmen and scientists and cultural exchanges of all kinds also contribute greatly to our knowledge of other countries and should be encouraged. But apart from travel on business or holiday, we should ensure that the individual is allowed to travel from one country to another with a minimum of restriction.

What are our views on the exchange of information? We believe that the widest possible exchange of information and ideas contributes an essential element to security and co-operation and to the enrichment of human life, which the hon. Gentleman underlined.

In Western Europe we are free to listen to other countries' broadcasts; journalists and other visitors travel freely across frontiers; and we exchange books, magazines and periodicals. We wish to develop these exchanges also with the countries of Eastern Europe.

Unfortunately, some Governments in Eastern Europe have hitherto taken a different view of such exchanges. But this does not alter the fact that we must try to expand the exchanges which have been so successful in Western Europe. Over and above exchanges on the initiative of the individual, Governments have done much through multilateral and bilaterial negotiations to promote professional and cultural exchanges on a scale which requires a degree of organisation. The hon. Gentleman rightly concentrated on these aspects.

In our relations with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe we already work on the basis that culture is to be regarded in its widest sense. It can include almost any activity not already covered by such headings as politics, trade or technology. But how can we improve our contacts as such? That is the important thing. As I have indicated, we wish to do more with the countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Where money from Governments is required, our resources are obviously not unlimited. But we shall look sympathetically at any proposals to develop cooperation. Television and radio were particularly mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, and this is certainly an area to which we shall give careful consideration. UNESCO, as has been mentioned, has already done much useful work in this respect. A conference of European Ministers responsible for cultural affairs is to take place this June in Helsinki. The United Kingdom delegation will be led by my noble Friend Lord Eccles. We shall play a full and constructive part in the proceedings.

The reason for considering these subjects also at the conference on security and co-operation is not to duplicate the work of UNESCO, still less to replace it. We hope that the conference will give further impetus to work in this general field, and UNESCO may well have an important role to play in the follow-up.

I do not wish to detain the House for much longer, although few of us are present, but I would make these few final remarks. How best can I make our general attitude clear? We and our NATO allies have made plain the importance that we attach to the freer movement of people, ideas and information in the context of the conference on security and co-operation. If the conference is to be successful, it must do something to reduce the obstacles which exist in this particular field. It is a fact that practice in Western Europe under all these heads is more liberal than that in the Soviet Union or in Eastern Europe. Our purpose in raising the matter, however, is not to make propaganda but to secure practical improvements. That is what all of us on both sides of the House want.

There have been great changes in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe since the Stalinist era. I saw this myself on a visit I paid to Eastern Europe last year when I visited Bulgaria and Hungary.

It is most important and encouraging to hear the emphasis which all these countries now place in their speeches on détente. This is also Her Majesty's Government's objective. We in Western Europe have shown by our example that we are not afraid of the peaceful competition which allows a free exchange of ideas and information and which lets people see for themselves how people live in other countries and in other societies. We hope that in Eastern Europe too it will come to be recognised that such free exchanges can only strengthen the human links on which both lasting security and the development of co-operation must depend.

The Government much welcome the hon. Member's contribution. We are grateful to him for raising this important subject tonight. I hope that my few words have led to some enlightenment of the Government's views on this important matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o'clock.