HC Deb 01 July 1987 vol 118 cc476-8
2. Mr. Key

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his policy on cultural diplomacy.

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

Cultural diplomacy is a valuable part of our continuing promotion of British interests and values worldwide. Our policy was set out in some detail in a memorandum to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, a copy of which is in the Library of the House.

Mr. Key

I thank my hon. Friend. Does he agree that our language and culture should be encouraged overseas for their own sake? As the Select Committee report recommends, does he agree that an enhanced cultural diplomacy budget should specifically be set aside, especially for the BBC external services and the British Council?

Mr. Eggar

I agree with my hon. Friend that the promotion of our culture plays an important part in our general diplomatic effort overseas. I prefer not to be drawn into commenting at this stage on the Select Committee report. We shall study and respond to it in the normal course of events.

Mr. Tony Banks

Has the Minister studied the speech made by Sir John Burgh, the retiring director general of the British Council, who said that the Conservative Government had completely let down British culture by making a 21 per cent. cut in the budget of the British Council? Why have the Government betrayed British culture abroad, and what do they intend to do about it?

Mr. Eggar

I was present when Sir John Burgh was making that lecture, and I am sure that he will not thank the hon. Gentleman for that crude caricature of what was an interesting speech.

Sir Peter Blaker

Does my hon. Friend recall the wide support in the previous Parliament for the proposal for a British world television news service? Is he in a position to state the Government's view on the matter?

Mr. Eggar

We are aware of the opportunities that are offered by satellite television broadcasting, and British television enterprises are actively involved in this. I think especially of the ITN service. My right hon. Friend's question raises several fundamental issues which we are continuing to study carefully.

Mr. Canavan

Does the Minister agree that international sporting links should be an integral part of the Government's policy on cultural diplomacy? Bearing in mind the Government's attempted boycott of the Moscow Olympics, why is there a deafening silence on the need to find an alternative venue for the next Olympics, since the puppet regime in South Korea has one of the worst records in the world on the deprivation of human rights?

Mr. Eggar

The hon. Gentleman has the most extraordinary set of priorities. I should have thought that he would welcome the movement towards democracy that has been promised by the President of Korea.

Mr. Hayes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the BBC external service is often the only source of truth and hope in many countries where people have been deprived of their liberties? Will he do all that he can to thwart attempts by the Treasury to impose financial restraints?

Mr. Eggar

The BBC external service has done very well in recent years. Since 1979–80 there has been a real increase of more than 50 per cent. in grant in aid.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Minister stop blustering about the remarks made by Sir John Burgh, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) repeated? Will he confirm that the budget of the British Council has been reduced by 21 per cent. in real terms since the Conservatives took office? Will he also confirm that Sir John Burgh said that that may mean, if it continues, that the British Council will have to pull out of nine countries by 1991 unless the cuts are reversed? What will the Minister do to reverse that trend and support the work of the British Council overseas?

Mr. Eggar

Again I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am sorry that he was not present when Sir John Burgh made his interesting speech.—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman's points are different from those made in Sir John Burgh's speech. The British Council's requirements are considered along with other requirements in the context of the annual public expenditure survey. We cannot prejudge the outcome of that survey.

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