HC Deb 27 June 1984 vol 62 cc975-6
2. Mr. Leigh

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement concerning the public funding of British Youth Council activities abroad in the last financial year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Raymond Whitney)

The funding of the international activities of the British Youth Council is the responsibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In the last financial year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office grant to the British Youth Council was just short of £40,000, which enabled the council to undertake 12 overseas projects in 11 countries.

Mr. Leigh

Is my hon. Friend aware that the two largest political membership organisations of the council—the Federation of Conservative Students and the Young Conservatives—have withdrawn their membership because of Left-wing bias in the council? Does he think it right that the taxpayer, in the shape of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, should finance junkets to visit east European and Soviet countries, and, in one instance, to visit Havana to meet the youth wing of the World Peace Council, which has been described by the Foreign Office as a disguised arm of Soviet foreign policy?

Mr. Whitney

We shall certainly continue to monitor the activities of the British Youth Council. I should say to my hon. Friend that, in addition to visits to Communist countries, the British Youth Council visits a number of non-Communist countries, but that is very much an issue that we shall keep under careful review. I should also point out that 40 non-political youth organisations continue to be in membership.

Mr. Deakins

Is it not a fact—and will the Minister confirm — that the British Youth Council is in the forefront of activity designed to foster and improve the interests of young people in this country in international contacts with young people throughout the world? Will he therefore reject the allegations made by his hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), and back the work that the British Youth Council is undertaking on behalf of all the young people of this country?

Mr. Whitney

Certainly an important function is to coordinate youth activities in this country domestically and internationally, which is, of course, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's particular area of concern, but all those activities should be centred on genuine international co-operation. The British Youth Council should be careful to eschew political activities which are more appropriately the function of political parties than of this youth organisation.

Ms. Clare Short

Is the Minister aware that the general secretary of the British Youth Council is a boy scout, that the previous general secretary was also a boy scout and that virtually every youth organisation in Britain is affiliated to the British Youth Council, including organisations such as the scouts, the guides, the girls' brigade and so on, and that it would be absolutely wrong for the Young Conservatives to have the veto on the work of this important youth organisation?

Mr. Whitney

I am aware of the facts which the hon. Lady draws to the attention of the House, but I repeat that it is important that the British Youth Council conducts its activities in those affairs which are appropriate to an international youth organisation. I assure the hon. Lady that the monitoring of those activities will remain the province of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. George Robertson

As the Secretary of State is about to embark on a Foreign Office-sponsored junket to Moscow, will it be borne in mind that in present times of tension there is much to be said for continuing a dialogue with both East and West? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that most of the work done by the BYC is designed to foster a community of interest between East and West, which can only be in the interests of us all?

Mr. Whitney

The Government certainly recognise the value of establishing a dialogue between East and West. I much hope that the response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary in Moscow will reflect the value of that effort.

Mr. Terlezki

I am in full agreement with establishing a dialogue between East and West, especially among young people, but should it not be a two-way traffic, and should not the Soviet Union respect, observe and practice—rather than only preach—the Helsinki agreement?

Mr. Whitney

I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend.

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