HC Deb 21 January 1981 vol 997 cc244-5
3. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will make a statement about British information services in North America.

Mr. Blaker

We give the highest priority to ensuring that North American leaders and public opinion are correctly informed of the facts about the United Kingdom and the Government's policies. At this moment I am confident that our information services will ensure that Congress and the people of the United States are made aware of the joy and relief of this House and of the British people that the American hostages have at last arrived safe and sound in the West after their terrible ordeal.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is my hon. Friend aware that I appreciated the quality of the British information services when my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) and I put our Ulster case before Irish America? Is he aware also that I welcome the decision not to let that case go by default across the Atlantic? Is he satisfied that the services have sufficient resources? Why was it thought necessary to downgrade the New York post in favour of Washington?

Mr. Blaker

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of presenting to the United States people the true facts about Northern Ireland, and I congratulate him on the success of his recent tour. The numbers employed by the British information servicces in the United States have been reduced to some extent since 1977. However, we regard the organisation as effective. A total of 81 officers in 13 posts in the United States and Canada are engaged in information work. My hon. Friend asked about the change in staffing in New York. The head of the services in New York has been moved to Washington because we believe that it is right that he should be in close contact with the ambassador and because Washington has become an increasingly important centre for news. A senior officer is still in charge in New York.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Would it not be more effective than constantly chasing deliberate misrepresentations about Northern Ireland if we were to emphasise and document to the American public the overwhelming debt, both quantitative and qualitative, which that country, in its build-up, owes to Ulster?

Mr. Blaker

That is certainly a point that we can consider. The information given to the American people and Congress by our information services covers a wide range of subjects relevant to Northern Ireland. Perhaps that is a topic that we could add.

Dr. Mawhinney

Is my hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and I were most impressed by the officers of the information services in New York and Boston? Is he aware that American journalists to whom we spoke were concerned that by downgrading the senior post in the New York office, which is what has happened in the media centre of the United States, the British Government were giving less support to the information services than previously?

Mr. Blaker

I am grateful for that tribute to the British information services in the United States. We are not downgrading the importance of the activities in New York. The head of the services has been moved to Washington for the reason that I have given. A senior officer will still be in charge in New York and the numbers in New York will not otherwise be reduced.

Mr. McNamara

Have the British information services in North America put out a statement deploring the help given by the American Government to the Right-wing junta in E1 Salvador and its murderous campaign against the people there?

Mr. Blaker

I cannot answer that question without notice.

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