HL Deb 07 April 1954 vol 186 cc1057-60

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are their reasons for their decision to close down the British Council offices in New Zealand and Ceylon.]


My Lords, the decision by Her Majesty's Government that the British Council should cease to be represented in New Zealand, and also in Australia, was taken partly as the result of my investigation on the spot during my recent tour. I came to the conclusion that, in view of the amount of money available for information work generally, the position would be met most efficiently and economically by strengthening in Australia and New Zealand the local information services of the Commonwealth Relations Office. This is now being done. In Ceylon, I was convinced that the primary need was for the promotion of English studies and that this, and liaison in the educational sphere generally, could be more cheaply and effectively achieved by the appointment of an education officer on the staff of the United Kingdom High Commissioner. I am sure the House will appreciate that it is necessary to make economies wherever possible and that we must we to the best advantage the limited amount of money available.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Viscount for that Answer, I should like to ask whether, before arriving at a decision, he had prior consultation with the Government of Ceylon and the British Council. May I also ask whether it is true that he is expanding the work of the British Council in India and Pakistan, and, if so, why there is this difference between those two countries and Ceylon.


My Lords, I had a great deal of talk with a great many people—it would not be right for me to mention everybody I talked to. The decision is entirely the decision of Her Majesty's Government, who take full responsibility for it. This is, of course; quite right, because the whole of the money expended on these services is provided by Her Majesty's taxpayers in this country. As regards the second part of the noble Lord's question, I did go carefully into the work of the British Council in India and Pakistan and I came to the conclusion, quite definitely, that the British Council were doing admirable work in those two countries. I recommended that there should be no curtailment of their activities, and that, if it were possible to find any more money, they should be increased. The reason why I came to a different conclusion in regard to India and Pakistan from my conclusion in relation to the other country was that I found that in India and Pakistan the work was quite admirable and of the most valuable character; but I found, I regret to say, that I could not attribute the same value to the work being carried on by the British Council in the other country. Efficiency and value of work varies from place to place. I am sure that if the noble Lord had had the advantage of investigating the whole position on the spot—I am not sure whether he has had—he would have come to the same conclusion.


My Lords. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his courtesy in giving that full reply, which provides a good deal of information to your Lordships. As I understand it, he is going to close down the Ceylon British Council work because it is not efficient. If it is not efficient, should we not make it efficient? Is that not a reason, not for closing down the work but rather for continuing and expanding it? Secondly, is the noble Viscount aware that this decision, without consultation with the Government of Ceylon, has caused considerable dissatisfaction in Ceylon, and, I understand, in the realms of the British Council?


My Lords, I do not know about the realms of the British Council, though I did take the trouble to have a meeting, for a couple of hours with the Chairman of the British Council, at which I explained to him the whole of the reasons and everything I had found. If he did not pass that on to his colleagues on the British Council, that is not my responsibility. I do not think there is any great trouble about this in Ceylon, although I know there is a little misunderstanding, for which, I may say, I was not responsible. I feel that the people in Ceylon fully understand what the position is. There is only a limited amount of money available.

I will be quite frank with your Lordships. I did not think the work which was being done in Ceylon was being well done. I did not think it was a question of changing personnel—it does not rest with us to change the personnel of the British Council, because, although we find the whole of the money for them, they run their own affairs. I was satis- fied that there was important educational liaison work to be done. I also found that it was not being done in a way that satisfied me, or, I believe, others in Ceylon, and I came to the conclusion that the right way of doing it was to get the right kind of education officer. I hope to have the closest liaison with the British Council here, and that that work will go forward. But I have discussed that matter fully with the British Council; and indeed, I may say that General Adam gave me an assurance that they would do their best to co-operate fully.