HC Deb 26 October 1990 vol 178 cc695-706

2.8 pm

Mr. Dudley Fishburn (Kensington)

The purpose of this second Adjournment debate is to focus on the British Council—in particular on its turn of speed in the past year. Earlier this month, the British Council held its annual general meeting and produced its report and accounts for the year, so this is a good moment at which to have a look at its activities in the round.

The subject is worthy of an Adjournment debate because the British Council spends about £320 million a year, most—though not all—of which comes directly from the British taxpayer. In scrutinising the council's expenditure, we have a difficulty, because the majority of the money is spent on activities that cannot easily be assessed within the United Kingdom. After all, the money is spent on overseas projects or to bring people to the United Kingdom from overseas. For those reasons, it is perhaps harder to judge how the £320 million is spent than it would be to assess the equivalent sum spent on a capital project within the United Kingdom.

Another reason for having this debate is that the British Council is one of the four ways in which the British Government can play upon the world stage. The first leg of the chair is the Foreign Office, which is the Government's official voice overseas. The second leg is the Overseas Development Administration, which is the method by which we give some assistance—although never enough—to the developing world and those countries poorer than us. The third leg is the World Service, which needs no supporters from this place and lacks for no audience in the world at large. It is a tremendously successful service and, perhaps more than anything else, is the official voice of Britain and the way in which British views are transmitted to the world. But the fourth leg of the chair is the British Council, which presents the range of British culture of our 56 million people to a world population of 5,000 million.

We must remember that just as the Foreign Office competes with the policies of other Governments abroad, just as the World Service competes with a huge amount of propaganda spewed out on to the airways by other countries, most of which are totalitarian, just as the aid programme competes quite rightly with the massive aid given by other more prosperous countries, so the British Council has real, healthy competition from the equivalent organisations in other prosperous, wealthy and mostly democratic countries. I am thinking, in that regard, of the activities of Alliance Francaise, the Goethe institute and the United States Information Service, all of which keep the British Council on its toes.

Over the past year, those toes have indeed been exercised. The results have been dramatic. Some £325 million has been spent. I am not one of those who argues that the more money that is spent, the better, but the £325 million, which is an increase on recent years, has been better spent than ever before. The number of student awards supervised by the British Council has never been higher. Some 15,000 students now come here for technical training and through Foreign Office programmes. The British Council was responsible for 38,000 foreign visitors to the United Kingdom over the past year. They came to study British ways and to take back not just an affection for this country, but a knowledge of how from their own countries they can tap into British resources.

The surest sign of growth within the British Council can be seen in the many new offices that have opened up, particularly in eastern Europe, where people have reached out over the past 12 dramatic months to sources of culture, literature and ideas. Those are precisely the things that the British Council is best placed to provide. The increased activity in eastern Europe has, of itself, given the British Council a year second to none.

The British Council has not only expanded its offices in eastern Europe. I am delighted to say that over the past year it has reopened an office in Argentina—a country that has always had a close, but complicated relationship with British culture.

It was not always thus. There were many years when the British Council was a rather whining institution, forever holding out the begging bowl for more money and then almost parodying itself by staging Shakespeare in Swahili in half empty halls in Africa. It was sliding down as an organisation. It slid down so far that, a few years ago, it even entertained my application to become director-general, but it had not slid far enough, I am pleased to say, to accept me. It is good to see that, under the present director-general, Sir Richard Francis, it has taken on that turn of speed that I hope to celebrate in this short Adjournment debate.

What was the turning point? It was in 1988 when the British Council belatedly took upon itself the disciplines of a corporate plan, looked at itself as a business organisation, and set itself targets that it had to meet. It is a subject of criticism that an organisation that was giving away £250 million a year did not have such a plan until 1988, but it has now and it is operating within that framework. It has targets to reach and a clear idea of what it is trying to do, which has made it become a vastly better organisation in the past year, with a sense of momentum that will carry it in the years ahead.

We must look at the way in which the organisation is getting its act together. It is going out to raise private money to top up the money that the Government, the Overseas Development Administration and the Foreign Office give it. That is exactly the right course of action. A large number of institutions that feed off the Government have recently been doing that, and, in each and every case, doing so to their own advantage. I am a governor of the English National Ballet and a trustee of the Open university. Both institutions feed from the hand of Government but, in the past few years, they too have got their act together. Like the British Council, they have understood that an organisation cannot survive on Government funds alone and that it is degrading to do so. The seeking of private money and sponsorship not merely tops up the amount available but gives an intellectual discipline to make what is produced better, more germane and more productive. That is just what the British Council has belatedly begun to do.

It is very good, looking through the council's accounts, to see the number of its English language schools. It runs about 55 English language teaching centres throughout the world. They are profit-oriented and they produce £31 million revenue, the profit element of which goes to allowing the British Council to do things that it could not otherwise have done.

The British Council also seeks industrial sponsors. Since the purpose of the British Council is to present a British image abroad, this is entirely right. After all, Britain exports a larger percentage of its GNP than even Japan does. We are known as a trading nation. That is part of British life. So it is completely right that the British Council should have teamed up with many of the great multinational corporations based in Britain and entered into common projects that not only benefit the British Council but make the Council target its activities more productively. I welcome these changes.

The clearest signal that the British Council has got its act together in terms of management is that it has reduced its overheads. In any organisation, overheads are the most wasteful way of spending money. For example, money should be spent on productions, in the case of a ballet company, or on an academic programme, in the case of the Open university, and not on the organisation itself. The British Council has realised that, has made a considerable effort to reduce its costs and is moving many of its staff out of London. By reducing costs, it will have more money available where it is needed—at the sharp end, presenting the range of British culture and education overseas.

One can see from the British Council's accounts that it is improving, albeit from a relatively undistinguished past. There is, of course, greater joy in heaven over a sinner that repenteth, but one is still aware of the British Council's sins, such as the fact that it still spends 29 per cent. of its money in Africa and only 7 per cent. in the Americas and the western hemisphere taken as a whole. That is completely disproportionate to the populations of those two continents, to British trade with those two continents or to our political and cultural ties with them. I am delighted that that will shortly be addressed and balanced.

In the past year the British Council has rightly undertaken a large number of partnerships with other international organisations. It is not setting out to reinvent the wheel. It has been working with the World bank, the international monetary fund and the European Commission on, for example, exchanging academics to bring them up to date with the 1992 regulations. It has also worked with the Goethe institute, one of its rivals, to present a pattern of European culture in the world as a whole. The more that the British Council can do such things, the further its money will spread and the more good it will do in the world.

I do not believe that of itself, co-operation necessarily produces, those good things. However, the British Council will be made more active, modern and effective by entering, after hard negotiations, into joint ventures with other countries and with multinational institutions that know their way around the world and have resources that are greater than those that the British taxpayer alone is willing to provide.

The British Council is continuing its proper classical activity of supporting British arts organisations in their travels around the world. I should declare an interest-—and delight—that the British Council supported the English National Ballet's tour to Jordan earlier this year. As long as the British Council continues to support the English National Ballet, I shall continue to make speeches in its favour, but that may bring about a conflict of interest, which I should not dream of causing.

The need for the British Council can be demonstrated most clearly in our own continent—in eastern Europe. A sudden thirst sprang up in eastern Europe for knowledge about Britain, British education, literature and language, when the Berlin wall collapsed in November last year, which has continued during the past 12 months. One can see that most clearly in the report from the British Council's office in East Berlin, which shows that in one day after the wall began to fall, it received more calls from Germans living in what was then East Germany than it had received in the previous six months. That is the clearest sign that education and culture, and a desire to enjoy and to celebrate the finer things of the mind, march hand in hand with the overthrow of tyranny, the embracing of democracy and with the values of a truly liberal society. For that reason, I recommend to the House the report of the British Council and place on record my delight at being able to initiate this Adjournment debate.

2.23 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am delighted to be able to say a few words on a subject which we rarely have an opportunity to debate in the House. We have been fortunate today in the way in which things have turned out. Instead of passing rather boringly large numbers of amendments from the Lords on the Broadcasting Bill with which no one disagreed—late night habitues of this place will know that we did all that yesterday—we are able to debate subjects which are dear to the hearts of Members. The previous debate on Cambodia was one of those unique parliamentary occasions which one is privileged to witness.

The opportunity to say something about the British Council is welcome. As the hon. Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) said, institutions such as the British Council and the foreign language services of the BBC are of crucial significance to Britain and its image and culture. It has always worried me that Governments of all colours have never really given the British Council and the BBC external services the level of resources that they merit on the basis of their achievements and their potential. I have always found it depressing to witness the way in which the Foreign Office has always cut back—it has happened under Labour Governments—on the foreign language output of Bush house, usually at the most inappropriate moment. Indeed, I remember under the last Labour Government when the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) as our Foreign Secretary cut back on Farsi just when the Shah of Iran fell from office. What wonderful information he must have been receiving from the Foreign Office about world developments.

Clearly, events in eastern Europe make it essential that we should encourage the British Council and the foreign language services of the BBC to increase their activities and output. As luck would have it, I have tabled several questions, to which I await replies, on those matters. What is happening in eastern Europe is so exciting and there is so much potential there that we cannot allow those opportunities to slip through our grasp. But I fear that unless the Government are prepared to look at and respond imaginatively to events in eastern Europe, others will fill the gaps that we leave. We have enormous opportunities there.

The hon. Member for Kensington was absolutely right to point to the enormous pressure that has suddenly been put on the British Council because of events in eastern Europe. There is a great thirst and a great appetite for English language material, which can be obtained through the British Council if it is given the resources to meet the demand.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)


Mr. Banks

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, who does not seem to welcome events in Europe quite as much as I do these days.

Mr. Cash

I welcome them every bit as much as the hon. Gentleman. What worries me is his conversion to the idea of a hard core, federal Europe. I am sure that he would agree that the consequence of that policy, which he advocates on the basis of his socialist credentials, would lead to the very difficulty that he wants to avoid for the people of eastern Europe. In other words, the so-called springtime of nations would rapidly turn into a silent spring.

Mr. Banks

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can agree that what is happening in eastern Europe offers great opportunities. How we take them and shape them is undoubtedly a matter on which we differ greatly. The hon. Gentleman's question takes me away from the nature of the subject. I should not have allowed the hon. Gentleman, who came hot foot into the Chamber, to take me into such interesting disgressions. He knows, as I do, that he and several of his hon. Friends who share his views are absolutely correct. I see the events in Europe as a possibility of creating a socialist federation of Europe. That is exactly what I want; the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He fears it and I desperately want it to happen. I hope that we are both correct. He will then be the mourner of the news and the developments and I shall be the person who rejoices. However, as I have said many times in the Chamber, I should not ask anyone to rely entirely on my judgment, given my track record. As the hon. Member will know, I am one of the few supporters of the Trabant in this country and that is not perhaps the best qualification either for selling second-hand cars or for exercising political judgment.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Kensington saw an article in The Independent on Sunday last week. It is opportune that I tore out this article, which is headed, "Germany's new European war." The right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) might be interested in this, though it is not about the war about which he is thinking, because language is the battleground.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kirkhope.]

Mr. Banks

We cannot afford to lose this battle. The article tells us how much the French are putting into spreading knowledge of French language and culture. A Minister is specifically charged with promoting the two. They have a large budget, scholarships and schools throughout eastern Europe and they are arranging thousands of exchange visits with the Soviet Union. They are seizing the opportunity that has been presented by what is going on in Europe. Some £20 million has been allocated to training French teachers in Europe.

The lingua franca of the new Europe will be English, provided that we are not complacent about the advantages that we already have and are prepared to put in as many resources as both the French and the Germans are putting into the propagation of their languages and culture. We have an advantage, because English is the language of the United States, which means that most young people believe it to be the most desirable second language that they can have. We must meet that demand and satisfy it. That will mean considerably more resources going into the British Council. The Minister cannot expect us to be able to take advantage of these opportunities without changing our priorities and spending patterns. The French and Germans have recognised that. They have so often shown us a clean pair of heels in social and economic issues that we should be most unwise and neglectful were we to ignore the lessons that they can teach us here. They are setting us an example which we must be prepared to follow.

British Council offices are being inundated by people anxious for help, material and advice. They must be able to get all those things as quickly as possible. It is not only the French who have acted. The Germans are spending an estimated £800 million on foreign cultural policy. I am no crude cultural nationalist, but I believe that spreading knowledge of British artistic achievements, encouraging greater knowledge of the English language, and opening up the treasury of English literature to so many people in eastern Europe and beyond is one of the most noble causes that we can espouse. However, we must not be complacent and say, "Well it's there. If they want to learn it, they can, and they can always borrow books from libraries." We must be positive in our thinking.

If there is to be anything like a conflict in Europe, let it be a conflict of different cultures, not a destructive conflict. Let there be a constructive dialogue between cultures. Let us see whether we can propagate more knowledge and awareness of the British way of life and the finest of it—the achievements that we have been and shall be able to obtain from our culture in the past, present and future. Every hon. Member should be able to agree to that.

I do not want to reduce this argument to crude monetary terms, but the thing that worries me is that there is a price to pay—even for hon. Members there is no such thing as a free lunch. The hon. Member for Kensington, who has studied the recent British Council report, will be able to tell me where it stands regarding its recent application for additional funding. It has asked for an extra £10 million from central Government to meet some of the challenges that I have outlined briefly. I hope that the Minister can tell us that he will respond favourably to that request from the British Council.

Many people from eastern Europe want to visit this country to obtain a greater knowledge of our cultural achievements and our cultural way of life. I would not advertise much of worth in our economic way of life and I do not think that we can teach the Europeans many lessons about that. Why is it so difficult for people from Poland to visit this country? Recently the Minister told me that, from October 1989 to September 1990, a total of 2,484 visa applications from Poland were refused. Why? Surely we want to encourage as many eastern Europeans, for example Poles and Romanians, to visit our country. They should be given the opportunity to expand their knowledge of another part of Europe, access to which was probably previously denied to them. I know that visas were abolished for Czechoslovakia and Hungary on 1 October 1990, so why do we still require visa applications from Poland and Romania? Why are so many Polish applications refused?

I also think that it is rather mean of us to charge people £20 for visa applications. We should remember that Polish and Romanian people live in low-wage economies. The fee might be paid in zlotys, but even in local currency it is still a lot of money. The money is not refunded even if the visa application is refused. That is mean and unnecessary and I believe that our practice is unique.

In the light of recent events in eastern Europe, the British Government should make far more grand gestures and display understanding, sensitivity, imagination and verve. We should respond to the people of eastern Europe in the manner that they expect from a wealthy, historically strong and affluent country, notwithstanding 11 years of Thatcherism.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

Oh, come on.

Mr. Banks

Well, in comparison to some other countries, we are still one of the most affluent and powerful in the world. I hope that we use that affluence and power constructively to take full advantage, in a broad sweeping manner rather than a narrow nationalist one, of our cultural heritage. We must offer to the people of eastern Europe those of our national assets of which it is still worth taking note.

2.40 pm
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

It is a pleasure to speak following my almost neighbour, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). Today he was wearing the label of clean-cut designer socialism, whereas normally he sports the role of the deputy court jester of the Labour party. It is nice today to see him doing something different.

I have pleasure in contributing to the debate. The British Council has been in existence for over 50 years, during which time it has built up a formidable network of contacts, and contacts make the world go round. The only advice I would offer is that it should consider a change of name. "British Council" is not a sexy name. It does not mean much to many people. Ask people "What is the British Council and what does it do?" and the majority will probably think that one is referring to the local council and they will talk about the community charge. Perhaps the British Council could be called "British Tentacles", or something giving the idea that it can spread itself, can spread the word.

I have been examining the council's annual report, on the front cover of which is a splendid photograph of two characters who appear to be wearing the same carpet. Doubtless on looking inside one would discover that it is some wonderful art form of a far-flung country, and that is what the British Council is all about. It is about bringing British influence and culture to other countries.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) said, there is a tremendous opportunity now for the British Council in eastern Europe. But there is a difficulty in that the council, in extending its activities there, will almost inevitably have to cut its activities elsewhere. That is a pity because, as my hon. Friend said, already about 29 per cent. of its work is done in Africa and only about 7 per cent. in the Americas.

I take a great interest in Latin America. I firmly believe that British influence there, built up over the centuries, should be built on. The Latin American people have great warmth and affection for this country, going back to the time when Canning sent help to Simon Bolivar, the great liberator, to help him with his revolution, which threw out the Spaniards.

It is not fashionable these days to praise British influence, The reason is probably that British influence stems from the days of empire, and today the idea of the British empire is extremely unfashionable. That may be why the British Council is too chary of making its presence known. It is too British in the way in which it goes about things. It understates itself, with the result that its voice is in danger of being lost. That is a shame because we have much to say and we have the prospect of enormous influence, especially in the countries of eastern Europe.

We recently debated European Community aid to eastern Europe. In a brief contribution, I complained strongly about the debate being held at an unreasonable hour. It started after midnight and was confined to an hour and a half. That will send the wrong message to countries that are looking to us for help. That help must come largely from the British Council, which must explain British culture and democracy. This is, after all, the mother of Parliaments. Those countries are looking to us to give a lead in how to develop democratic institutions, and those institutions spread culture. One day, I shall write a monograph on democracy and culture. I shall seek to explain how one springs from the other and how they can help each other. I shall seek the advice and assistance of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. He has been doing his best to give me advice from a sedentary position. We shall talk about the matter later, and I might even give him an acknowlegement in one of the footnotes.

I praise the British Council for the marvellous work that it is doing. I urge it on in its endeavours to spread the word throughout the world, especially in eastern Europe. I relaise that it will need more funds to do that work. I congratulate it, for that reason, on obtaining more and more money from sponsorship as well as from the Government.

2.45 pm
Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)

I find myself much in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). We should not assume that much that we hold dear about our culture, which we believe is a positive force in the world in terms of our longstanding democratic traditions, as well as artistic and cultural traditions, will automatically be taken for granted in other countries far afield.

Before becoming a Member of this place I travelled quite extensively in north Africa, especially in Algeria. At that time Algeria had much stronger links with the Soviet bloc than with the western bloc. It was noticeable at every level of administration among the nomenclatura, the members of which were guiding policy, that there was tremendous sympathy for eastern bloc aspirations. That derived almost exclusively from the fact that although we are now talking of the eastern bloc coming to us through the British Council, eastern bloc countries, fuelled by Moscow, were drawing all the young people to them. The cultural experiences that ensued left a hallmark or a stamp on those young people for the rest of their lives. Whether that meant that they looked to the east for technology or they judged political developments by eastern standards, or whether it merely meant that they had been made aware of a culture of which they would otherwise have been unaware, the result was that we in the west had missed out substantially.

My experience as a traveller, both before and since becoming a Member of this place, is that the British Council is doing a superb job on our behalf. Irrespective of whether additional funds are appropriate, we get tremendously good value from the council. I know that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is familiar with central America. Following the Nicaraguan elections, which I went to monitor on behalf of an international monitoring organisation, it was remarkable how many people came to me and said, "I hope that one of the consequences of our new democracy is that we can have the British Council. We have felt genuinely starved of what we know the council can offer us."

As I have said, we get tremendously good value from the British Council. The traditions of which my hon. Friend the Minister for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) spoke are so valuable and so important that we should not assume that they will be absorbed automatically by those who are involved in other cultures. We must do everything that we can actively to promote them.

2.48 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) on initiating the debate. I thank the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) for their contributions. I say to each and every one of my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman that if they desire to visit any of the operations of the British Council during their travels, they have only to ask and my officials and I will be delighted to do anything we can to assist them. Such visits are extremely welcome. We know that hon. Members generally travel a great deal. Any visits to British Council operations that they care to make would be widely welcomed by the officials concerned.

I am pleased to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, because we too rarely debate subjects such as the British Council, whose activities are significant. Its total budget for the year 1990–91 is about £348 million. Half of that reflects the programmes that it undertakes on an agency basis, especially for bodies such as the Overseas Development Administration; about £56 million of the total is earned by the British Council; about £34 million is earned from its English teaching. In addition to that, the council gets £98 million as a direct grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so it is a significant operation which we should debate more often.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington made the point that the British Council still spends 29 per cent. of its budget in Africa as against only 7 per cent. in Latin America, but I believe that he made a small slip and that the percentage is for the Americas. That reflects the balance of aid expenditure, mostly in technical training, handled by the council for the ODA on an agency basis, and it does not affect decisions on priorities of the council's own. This can be confusing because so much work is undertaken by the council on an agency basis for the ODA and that somewhat distorts the figures, but it does not have the same effect on cultural activities as my hon. Friend might have feared.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West talked about visa applications from Poland and the large refusal rate from Warsaw about which I informed him in answer to his question. But it must be seen in the context of the total number of applications—a number that was not included in my answer because it was not sought. It puts a wholly different gloss on the matter.

In the first nine months of this year in Poland—the figures that I gave earlier were for October 1989 to September 1990–36,191 applications were received, of which 1,703 were refused. That is not such a bad rate of refusal, and there were only 350 appeals against those refusals.

Mr. Tony Banks

I am not attempting to catch the Minister out. I should just like to know why the Government still insist on visas from Poland and Romania, whereas they appear to have abolished them in respect of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It is the desire of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to abolish visa regimes when that is possible, but we have to consider wider national interests, and when we are advised that we need a visa regime for security reasons we have to take that into account. We still have to maintain such a regime in respect of Poland even though we have managed to abolish visas for Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West made a point about costs. Anyone can appreciate that for the hard-pressed Poles, who are extremely poor, as for the poor people in Romania and other east European countries, £20 is a considerable sum, but it is rightly our policy to make the visa regime almost self-financing. It is perhaps not self-financing in strict accountancy terminology such as might be used in a commercial venture, but the idea is to cover the costs on a non-discriminatory basis throughout the world. We cannot charge one area of the world more than another. Of course, we are also considering visa applications from all over the world—from countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Whatever view one takes about the desirability of enabling people from eastern Europe to come here, and of course I share such a desire, that policy must be right. We cannot engage in public expenditure as we wish in every possible area. This is one way in which visa costs can provide funds.

Mr. Tony Banks

Would not it be somewhat more generous if the £20 received from successful visa applicants were reimbursed to unsuccessful applicants who have a double disappointment?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The cost of processing the visa is the same whether the application is successful or not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said that the British Council should change its name. I think he said that it was not very sexy. The council's name is not as well known in Britain as it deserves to be, but it is very well known abroad. I have just been to India where the British library system, an institution paid for by India but run by the British Council, is extremely well known. In such countries the British Council is as well known as any national institution.

India is a fine example of the success of the British Council's work and there is no doubt about the importance of the council's role there. I was especially struck by the libraries which are full of British books and materials. My visit to the British Council library in Calcutta was a truly remarkable experience. It was neat and sparkling clean and had an alert and enthusiastic staff. It sounds almost absurd to say it, but it was so smart and clean that one could hardly believe that one was in Calcutta. I saw nothing else as impressive in any of the hotels or other places that I visited in the city. It was wonderful and a haven of peace and quiet. It is enormously popular and a terrific feature of Britain's diplomatic and cultural presence in the city.

Hon. Members have spoken about our activities in the European Community and, more importantly, in eastern Europe. The astonishing events of the past year or so in eastern Europe have brought to prominence, and in many cases to high office, an impressive roll of former British Council scholars, study fellows and others whom the council has been quietly cultivating and keeping in touch with through difficult times. As hon. Members will recall, one of the first images that President Havel evoked in his discussion with us about our relations with the new Czechoslovakia was that of the British Council's presence in the old Kaunitz palace in Prague just after the war. That underlines what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, that the presence of the British Council is as much a living feature in all the countries in eastern Europe as it is in the rest of the world. It was reported and emphasised in a memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1987 that: Britain has a great deal to offer the world. It is right that we should share a culture which enriches the human spirit, enhances international understanding and expands the horizons of men and women throughout the world. Our cultural achievements serve to enhance our position in a world in which we would be unwise to take recognition and respect for granted. The exchange of academic and cultural experience with other nations enriches us at the same time.

It is important that British excellence in the arts—so regularly attested by awards in international competition—should be more widely known. The council's role in these aspects of cultural diplomacy is paramount and has won it tributes throughout the world. In the past year, the council was represented in more countries than ever before, received more money from the Government, earned more fees from teaching English, and raised more commercial sponsorship than ever before. It was a very good year and one on which the council deserves our congratulations and thanks for a job well done.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Three o'clock.

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