HL Deb 08 March 1967 vol 280 cc1438-501

2.43 p.m.

LORD ALPORT rose to call attention to the increasing importance of the overseas information services available to Great Britain and the desirability, in the national interest, of affording them adequate support for their future operation and development; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. My purpose is to discover the basis of the Government's policy for the future of the information services, and to put certain considerations to your Lordships and to the Government which I hope may be regarded as relevant. The immediate reason for seeking a debate on this subject was the report that the information services were being cut as part of the Government's policy of reducing certain aspects of State expenditure. I shall come to discuss these in detail in a moment, but I should like to begin by making two general points.

The first point is that the Government do not appear to realise that nothing is more damaging to the effectiveness of an information effort than sudden cuts, followed by over-hasty expansion, probably followed by further cuts at a later stage, particularly where none of these cuts is concerned with any reason of policy in the information field, and has nothing to do with the merits of comparative effectiveness of various aspects of our information effort. By all means let us cut out a service, or part of a service, which has proved to be a waste of time or money, provided that that is the criterion of our judgment. But it is, I suggest, wrong to cut a worthwhile information effort, which has taken probably five to ten years to create, simply to get a short-term saving of a few hundred thousand pounds to the Exchequer. Nothing—and many of your Lordships will have had personal experience of this—is more demoralising to the men promoting the information effort overseas, or more wasteful, for it means very often squandering the hard work and success which has taken a long time to achieve.

Secondly, I think that our information services are becoming more important, and in a moment I shall suggest to your Lordships the reasons why I think this is so. Therefore, I believe it is right, in view of the different services which exist at the present time, that there should be a Minister specially responsible for their development, for settling priorities between them and, in the case of the Central Office of Information, for providing that organisation with the support which it undoubtedly needs. I should like to ask the Government how the information services are co-ordinated at the present time, and what arrangements exist under the general supervision of the Government, which we understand from the Leader of the House is the responsibility of the Prime Minister.

Following a recent Question, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was good enough to write me a letter which provides me with the details which I now use of the cuts which have taken place in recent months as a result of Government policy. He said: In the case of the British Information Services abroad there have been small savings in staff in some 40…countries and reductions in such activities as overseas printing, postage and film van operations. I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply whether this means that, instead of British-based personnel being used on the staff of British information service posts overseas, we are having resort to using locally based personnel. If we are, then I think anybody who has experience of this aspect of information organisation will agree that no locally based information officer can properly represent British information interests in the country of his origin.

The second of the summaries which the Minister without Portfolio gave me in his letter was this. He said: Cuts in the C.O.I.'s supporting services involve reductions in most of their activities such as T.V. and film services, exhibitions, photographs and posters, and the programme of official visitors to this country. May I ask the Minister what sum of money is involved in the reductions which have been applied to the C.O.I.? I agree that to some extent the C.O.I. is the least effective of the various information media, but that does not mean that it is not of extreme importance. Can we afford at the present time, when we are reorganising—if I may put it that way—the whole relations of this country with the world, to cut down on the information services and the resources which are available, and which are needed to ensure the proper portrayal of modern Britain overseas?

The third of the summaries which the Minister gave me was this. He said that, so far as the British Council cuts were concerned, these included: the closing of offices in Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados and the South Arabian Federation, Burma and Iceland, as well as reductions in other overseas staff and equivalent reductions in headquarters expenditure and capital expenditure. It strikes me, and it may strike other Members of your Lordships' House, that this is a strange time for one of our information services to be asked to reduce its effort in the South Arabian Federation. What is the Government's basis for that decision, and why was it arrived at?

Finally, in relation to the B.B.C.'s operations, the noble Lord said that cuts would include: savings in expenditure on programmes and operating expenses as well as the reduction in the hours of broadcasting of the Arabic Services—at the time of day when their audience is smallest—and the closing of the Albanian Service. Again, my Lords, why has it been decided to reduce our effort in the Middle East at a time when the Middle East remains as important to us as at any other time in our history?

It seems to me clear that these economies have been carried out without any regard to principle or to thought-out policy; indeed, they appear to be carried out in a sort of alphabetical order. All the A's get cut, and when you have reached the end of the A's then you turn presumably to the B's, C's and D's. Quite clearly, what has happened has been that, so far as these four services are concerned, the Treasury have had resort to the old, hoary expedient, the last resort of tired and disenchanted minds, known as "a cut right across the board". Indeed, there is further evidence that the Government have not thought out their policy for the information services in the appointment of Sir Harold Beeley as what I understand is a one man commissioner to consider the whole effectiveness of our information services and the whole field with which they are concerned. In his letter to me the Minister said this: Your other question related to Sir Harold Beeley's review. This is an official review to provide guidance for departments in future policy and it is not anticipated that it will be published.

My Lords, how is it that at this stage in the evolution of the work of the present Government it is necessary for them to appoint a distinguished civil servant in order to advise the Departments—the Foreign Office, Commonwealth Relations Office, the Colonial Office presumably and other Departments of State—on what their information policy should be? I must say in fairness that, however critical one might feel of the Government's present policy and their handling of the information services, I do not think that any Government since 1945 have given to those information services the support and significance which the deserve, except, if I may make one exception to that, during the period when my noble friend Lord Hill of Luton had particular responsibility for them as, I think, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

It used to be said that trade followed the flag, and this we know was true. The political and military presence of Britain all over the world brought immense advantages to our country. It meant that great populations were familiar with British ideas and institutions, with British methods, standards, trade names, with our educational system, our history, culture, and our language. Our political and military presence in the world reached its greatest extent in 1945. Over a space of less than a generation, and largely as an act of policy, it has now been reduced almost to nothing. Whereas in the past we have been able to summon to our aid political influence and military power, we depend to-day upon the less substantial factors of mutual understanding and good will. It is precisely there, in respect of these two factors of mutual understanding and good will, that the British information services can most effectively be used to promote.

To reduce our political and military presence overseas, and at the same time to cut our information services, seems to me to be folly. I should have thought that the right policy would be, in principle, that for every pound saved in defence overseas, sixpence or something of the sort should be devoted to maintaining the British presence in the shape of the information services, not only in the countries from which our presence is withdrawn militarily and politically, but in those countries which are of concern to us from trade, from future political associations and so on.

Therefore, I ask the Government this first question. Do they accept the principle that as our political and military effort overseas is reduced, our information effort to achieve better understanding of contemporary Britain should be stepped up? If they do accept that, why are they cutting our information services right across the board? What are the savings they are making by doing so? I realise, my Lords, that it is difficult to gauge the value of any particular information effort. To be effective, there must be a careful assessment of material and targets. But one thing is certain. A realistic information policy must look ten years ahead. Secondly, it must not be diffused over too wide a field.

My second question to the Government therefore is this. What are the targets at which the information policy of the Government aims to-day? To guess these correctly is clearly a major test of statesmanship. I hope that the Minister will not reply that this is being left to Sir Harold Beeley. Such a decision is the responsibility of Ministers; not of civil servants, however wise and experienced they may be.

I suggest, rather for the sake of argument than for other reasons, that if I had to choose the primary target, looking ten years ahead, I would choose China and Latin America: China because nobody can foresee how soon or to what volume we shall require an information service, an information effort, in respect of China, and therefore it is necessary for us to be prepared, because surely that time will come. Indeed, it is significant that within a relatively short time past the Chinese Government have turned from the teaching of Russian as a compulsory subject (so I understand) in their schools to the teaching of English and French. This gives us an important entré, an important potential instrument of influence, in relation to whatever sort of China may come out of the present turmoil that exists there. So far as Latin America is concerned I should have thought that it is there that the great economic opportunities of the future lie.

My secondary target would be Western Europe, and also, for obvious reasons, Australasia. So far as media is concerned, we have one asset which, properly used, could offset the loss of our political and military influence abroad. This is our language, English, the lingua-franca of the technological and commercial world.

My third question to the Government, therefore, is this. What is the Government's policy for making the best use of our information services for promoting an understanding of the English language in the world overseas? This is not merely the problem of teaching the English language to people who have never learned English. It is partly a problem of trying to ensure that the standards and intelligibility of English spoken overseas, particularly in Asia and Africa, are maintained. The task is a huge one; the resources required are immense. What is the Government's attitude to this particular problem?

My Lords, I have put to the Minister some questions which I hope he will regard as being relevant to this particular subject which we are discussing. I now turn, if I may, to a different section of what I want to say this afternoon. I believe that no national apparatus of information—even if the B.B.C., for the sake of argument, had twice its present revenue; if the British Council were endowed with ten times its present resources, if the British information services were given every facility its directors could desire, and if the C.O.I. were manned by men of genius—if all this were true, it would still not be possible to sustain the position of Britain in the world unless there existed in Britain itself a feeling of national self-confidence and unity.

Short memoried, casual and good-natured, I think we here tend to forget that in the course of generations of unparalleled power and affluence we have accumulated a grim heritage of jealousy, malice and hatred against us. For every Anglophile there are a dozen Anglophobes, eager to believe the worst of the English, to procure their humiliation and to relegate them, by word and deed, to the ranks of the second-rate. Our trade rivals seize on and broadcast every allegation against the quality of our production, the diligence of our work-people and the standards of our industrial management. Our political rivals seek every chance to reduce our influence and frustrate our policies. It may well be that in a century or two those countries which in the past we have ruled will look back on the Imperial era in their history with the same sort of pride as we regard our place in the Roman system; but for the time being let us make no mistake about it—the antipathies against us are deep-rooted and strong.

I do not record this with any sense of grievance or complaint, but I draw from it two conclusions. The first is that we cannot afford to play into the hands of our enemies and distress our friends by the unbridled self-denigration which has become almost a habit of mind here in Britain. We must remember that there are eavesdroppers all over the world who hear what we say about ourselves—half-jokingly; half-meant; half believed, perhaps—and who repeat it to our disadvantage, broadcasting it to the best of their ability. Secondly, I believe—and I hope I am not alone in this—that not only must there be this self-restraint but there must also be a sense of national unity. We cannot afford to tear ourselves to pieces in the sacred name of fashion.

If your Lordships will allow me to add this comment, I have a vivid recollection of trying to sustain, from what I believed to be a sense of duty, the influence and standing of Britain in a part of Africa, Rhodesia, at a time when public opinion there was powerfully against us—hostile to a degree which I would never have believed. I have memories of trying to do this against a background of disunity, apparent demoralisation and failure here in Britain. Although bitter things were said about the British in Rhodesia, as in all parts of the world, it was what was being said here in Britain by the British about themselves which destroyed the credibility of any claims which our I servants overseas might make on our behalf and on behalf of our nation. It destroyed the confidence of our friends and of loyal British men and women who lived abroad, and it did untold damage to the position of Britain in the world to-day.

I have no doubt that the tremendous social, technical and psychological changes to which we have been subjected have left us here in a mood of bewilderment and uncertainty. This, I think, is inevitable; and it is difficult to see the events of the last twenty years in their proper proportion. Nevertheless, if any of us were really honest we should never admit for one moment that Britain was falling behind other nations. We should believe, and we do believe in our hearts, that we are already half-way through an era of historic transition, through which the other nations will have to pass, and that in the dimension of time we shall find ourselves far ahead of them.

Let us think about this for one moment. What is the image of the United States abroad to-day? What is the focus of the anxieties and emotions of the American people? It is not an astronaut soaring into space on his way to the moon, or the smooth efficiency of a product of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is, my Lords, a sweat-soaked soldier stumbling through the jungle of South Vietnam in search of an enemy he may never see; a picture of muddle and frustration. We can watch, and do watch, the United States resolving that sort of problem which we have had in history, with the difficulties and frustrations which come to a nation of great power. We see them using methods which we used in the process, and we see them suffering as we suffered in the past. We can say to them, as was said by us, if I may paraphrase: Lord God of Hosts, be with them yet Lest they forget—lest they forget".

My Lords, I have tried, perhaps not very clearly, to put the two sides of this problem of the future of our information services. The one side is the technical problem of ensuring that the resources at their disposal for carrying out the policies they are directed to carry out are sound and proper in the national interest; but the other side I believe to be more important; that is, that the morale of the information services depends directly upon the morale of the country which they are representing abroad. Unless we here are able to show the real qualities which are the root and the heart of Britain, no money that we can put into the information services will achieve the results that we want from them. The decision is therefore in our hands, and I only hope that, as a result of this debate, we may do something to help us and the Government to ensure that the decisions they make are the right ones. I beg to move for Papers.

3.7 p.m.


Your Lordships would wish me, I am sure, to express our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for raising this important subject—a subject too rarely debated and one which invites with particular force discussion to-day, following the decisions, yet unannounced, of contraction to take place in the overseas information effort. I will, if I may, concentrate my few remarks on the British Council—and I have a simple reason for this. In the four years or so that I spent, in a previous Administration, in the work of co-ordinating overseas information services I came to regard the British Council as the most important part of our overseas information effort. When I began I knew very little about it—and that was more derisory than informative, for your Lordships will recall that for many years the British Council was the target for some sections of the Press in a campaign which wholly misrepresented its character and its work. But it was when I journeyed overseas and saw at first hand the work of the British Council that my admiration for it began.

As your Lordships know, the British Council, in seeking to promote understanding of this country among those who are or will be leaders of opinion in their own countries, has strategic and not tactical aims. Operating, as it does, apart from Embassies and apart from High Commissions, it is not seen to be, or thought to be, part of the official information services, still less as part of a propaganda effort. Perhaps more important, it can make effective contact with people in countries where contact at the diplomatic level is difficult or impossible. As the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said—indeed, emphasised—in this kind of work stability is more important than rapid expansion: sudden contraction can waste the work of years.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in replying to a Question from Lord Alport, stated that no more will be done than to contain next year's expenditure within this year's level. But this of itself involves a very significant cut. I may take the example of the British Council. In recent years the resources of the British Council have been steadily increased by an average of 8 per cent. In addition, the rising cost of existing activities, which has averaged 4 per cent., has been granted. So there has been an annual increase of the order of 12 per cent.—4 per cent. of which was necessary, as it were, simply in order to stand still. That is the measure of the contraction involved.

I know that we are all in favour of economy in general and of economy in expenditure in particular. I know that it cannot possibly be maintained that every piece of overseas information effort should be continued in the same form or in the same place in perpetuity. Of course, there is a case for periodic review, and I am glad that Sir Harold Beeley is to conduct such a review; and I suspect that the outcome of his review will resemble that of the review which I conducted ten years ago. It will result in a basis for new expansion rather than contraction, for to know those services is to realise the need for them. What is now proposed is that the contraction should come first and that the review should come after the damage has been done.

Of course, it is argued, cogently enough, that overseas expenditure must be cut, defence expenditure must be cut; but when defence commitments and expenditure are reduced, the case for information activities is strengthened, not weakened. The less we can afford of the one, the more we need of the other. The total expenditure on all kinds of information services overseas in the present year is nearly £28½ million; the customary rate of increase is less than £2 million a year. That, my Lords, is the size of the problem.

Why is it that information services overseas, under all Governments, are so often the casualty in times of economy? It has happened again and again under different Governments of different hues. I suspect that it is because some people, well represented in the Treasury, do not really believe in information services. They think there is something a little immodest, even indecent, in telling the world about British life and British virtues. I suppose they believe that our national virtues should be evident for all to see, without the aid of the arts of presentation. I believe that there is still something of that attitude left today in the case of the British Council. I have no doubt there are those who still believe it is too high-brow, too "longhaired" and precious to be of value. Such people should visit Delhi and Santiago, and see the crowds of young people thronging into the British Council premises to learn English, to borrow books, to learn something of the British culture.

Your Lordships will have gathered that I believe that the work of the British Council should be steadily expanded, and expanded with the prospect of continuity; for without this the Council cannot retain its first-class staff. First among the areas of expansion I would put meeting the world-wide demand for the English language. More and more people in the world are speaking English, and speaking it worse and worse. It requires continuous effort to sustain the standard of English in many countries. This is an activity in which, I am afraid, the demand can be met only if the Americans greatly increase their effort. After all, their language is, I suppose, approximately the same as ours.

But the English language as a second language is the key to the door to the knowledge of our life and culture. We need an expansion of educational material for television overseas—and speedily and urgently. We need more British Council Officers who are trained both in teaching and television. In a country like ours television is no substitute for the teacher, but there are parts of the world in which there are no teachers available, and in such places television is an invaluable substitute. We need expansion under the heading of the printed word—and here I must admit to a personal interest, for this was the side of the Council's work which substantially expanded in my day.

I saw in India, as many other noble Lords will have seen, the efforts the Russians were making in the English language, in publications of Dickens, Galsworthy and magnificent children's books—clearly paving the way for a propaganda effort taking advantage of the English language in that country. With this in mind, and because of the appalling lack of textbooks, there was recalled, with the co-operation of the publishers in this country, the subsidised books scheme, which has been a great success, mostly, but not exclusively, with textbooks. Since that scheme got under way in 1961 some 327 titles have been published and over three million textbooks have been sold mostly in India, though a beginning has been made also in West Africa. Trade as well as culture follows the textbook. Among the developments of those days, too, was a new scheme, the so-called multiple-copy textbook library scheme, for the lending of books to students, particularly in India and Pakistan—not for a fortnight or a month but for the length of a university course. My Lords, all these things need a shot in the arm, and not a contraction.

We need, too, to do something about the British Council premises overseas. Although I am not one of those who think that the Council needs to have the best premises in the main street, I do not think it necessary that they should be as shabby and unobtrusive as they sometimes are.

Finally, there are, as the noble Lord, Lord Alport, described, some openings now offering themselves for geographical development. At the present time, four-fifths of the work of the British Council, and four-fifths of its resources, are spent on the developing areas. That, I think, has been wise; but we ought now to be starting to think about some other areas: Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union. Exchanges of persons between us and these countries have made some contribution to the gradual thaw: but there is room, I believe, for much more under this heading. Secondly, as Lord Alport urged, a major opportunity could arise in relation to China. It could well be that it will be British help that will be sought, particularly as American help is likely to be unacceptable. Again, there is room for more cultural manifestations in Western Europe.

I am sorry to weary your Lordships with so long a speech, but I would add one point. The world knows perfectly well, and it would be made plain to your Lordships in travelling round the world, that we no longer have the dominant military strength or economic power that once we had. Yet—and I want if I may to recite this quite calmly—I learnt, as your Lordships will have learnt, that there are few countries in the world in which this country's stock does not stand very high. I do not take the pessimistic view. This is not a case of "beating the drum"; this is recording one's experience.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has said, we do our best to lower our stock overseas by our passion for playing ourselves down at every opportunity. We do not believe what we say, but others perhaps assume that we do. I know of no remedy for the relish with which we indulge in such self-criticism. But, for all that, again and again one finds in countries overseas, as many of your Lordships will have discovered, a profound respect for some British quality which in our diffident way we find difficult to describe—if indeed we are conscious of it. There is the respect for law; the steadfastness, the capacity for making democracy work. There are countries in the world where people would flock to see a film depicting how local government works, the sort of film which would not excite any one of us to go very far to see. Fair-mindedness, toleration, serenity—these are some of the virtues which, believe it or not, others see in us. I venture to suggest to your Lordships—if I may use the hackneyed phrase—that the British way of life will go on being admired only if we keep up a steady stream of information about ourselves, our standards, our attitudes and our life; only if we keep the door open to our life and our culture and, I believe, only if we extend and strengthen the kind of information work which the British Council is doing so magnificently to-day.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, both the noble Lords who have spoken noted that all Governments are apt to "go for" information services when cuts in expenditure have to be faced. As a former Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs I think I can say that I was not entirely guiltless. I am not quite certain about it, but I have a strong suspicion. Much as one disliked it, one had to do it. The point is that there can be no smugness on the part of anyone—it cuts right across Party records. I think that everyone, certainly those who have had experience of this side of life and those who think about it, realise that with the best will in the world, unless you are very careful, you can do disproportionate harm by cutting down on information services overseas.

That part of the exercise to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention for a few minutes concerns the Commonwealth. I have just retired after three years as Chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and it was inevitable when in that office, which I much enjoyed and felt greatly honoured to hold, that I should think of this sort of thing a good deal. As Chairman I visited India and Pakistan at this time last year. The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, referred to India and I also should like to do so.

It is interesting to try to gather exactly how far and how deeply the British presence in India and Pakistan is still desired. Of course one's experience varies, but what struck me very much was that there is not the slightest doubt that the British presence is still most strongly desired at the top, at the universities. They have had, and are having, considerable experience of Americans. I certainly came across no anti-American feeling, anymore than I have ever indulged in it myself. Nevertheless, it is right to say that one gained an overwhelming impression that in the universities they still much prefer the presence of the British, if they can get it, to that of our friends from the United States of America. Certainly I was left in no doubt at all that if we seriously pare down our efforts to help where we are wanted in the sub-continent, inevitably the Americans, for very good reasons of their own, will take our place entirely. They are reasons which go deep into matters of world policy, and one fully understands that. But the fact remains that the United States is getting more and more strongly entrenched in India; and a 300 million dollar grant in the context of culture is no mean contribution. There is no doubt, so quickly does time go by, that already for many Indians—not of course so much the older ones—talking of the West, as they often do, is synonymous with talking about the United States and not Britain at all.

What are we doing, my Lords, at the request of India and Pakistan? I saw little of what is going on in Pakistan, so my remarks really apply to India. As has already been eloquently referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and my noble friend Lord Alport, the answer lies here in the work of the British Council. I do not think that I have ever been more impressed by people—and I say this quite advisedly—than I was by the representatives of the British Council whom I met in India—and I met a great many of them in Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, wisely pointed out, these people are not starry-eyed dreamers; they are sensitive, sensible and highly intelligent men, devoted to their duties. Everywhere the libraries are filled. When you are miles away from your own country it is a very impressive experience to stand and watch people going into a library. You realise what can be done, and there is no doubt that the British Council libraries in India are immensely in demand. If any thing had to be done in terms of a cut in that direction, I think it would be the greatest possible tragedy.

I remember being shown maps which the British Council people kept in their offices. On the maps were pinned flags showing the posts to which teachers of English had been sent. They went to various centres where young Indian teachers were themselves being taught. Just one look at the map of India—and what an enormous sub-continent it is!—and the sight of all these flags everywhere made one realise in a flash what a tremendously important job the British Council are doing. Where I could, I took the trouble to find out from Indians themselves what they thought of it, and the verdict everywhere was in terms of the very highest praise, often, I may say, coupled with earnest requests that we should do nothing to pare down or diminish this contribution.

I have come to the end of what I wanted to say to your Lordships. If I may just add one paragraph, it is this. The Commonwealth is (I almost said by definition) indefinable. It must show its worth and appeal to its members by intangible examples as the years go by. I heard a speech made by Mr. Lester Pearson, the Prime Minister of Canada, in Montreal a few weeks ago, in which he forthrightly begged this country not to hide its head over our contribution to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth will be nothing without Great Britain at the center", the right honourable gentleman said in his speech. This is the kind of thing that Englishmen, probably mistakenly, have tried very hard not to say for the last twenty years, and probably no harm has been done by their failing to say it. That speech made a great impression on the Canadian people.

What we can do in this country lies first and foremost with the machinery, with our information services, the B.B.C. and the British Council. I feel certain that Her Majesty's Government will agree with this and will do nothing to impair our chance of keeping the conception of the Commonwealth on the rails so far as we can in a very difficult time.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to preface my remarks this afternoon with the brief apology. As I have to attend an engagement later on this afternoon which I cannot possibly shirk, I hope that it will not be thought discourteous on my part if I leave your Lordships' House before this debate is over. I shall come back as soon as I can.

I should also like to declare an interest, not a financial interest, but a professional interest, because for two of the 12 years I was a member of the Foreign Service. I was Middle East Regional Adviser of the Information Policy Department of the Foreign Office, which meant effectively that my job was to try to guide and co-ordinate, so far as I could, the total information output to the Middle East—the Arab world, Israel and Iran—from the three principal services of our information effort: the B.B.C. External Service, the British Council and the Governmental Information Services, with their nerve centre at the C.O.I.

I found this job quite enthralling. It meant from the start that I was in day-to-day close contact with those three services, and although the results of all information efforts are, like an iceberg, 80 per cent. below the surface, even what I saw was enough to convince me that a work of immense national importance, and one which was, moreover, extremely successful, was being done with immense efficiency. I was enormously impressed by it; and for that reason I am now all the more horrified to learn that all these three services are going once again to feel the cold steel of the Treasury axe.

When we complain we are told, "What can you expect? The country is in a parlous financial state. The time has come to retrench, to restrict and to tighten our belts." But it is exactly at such time that the British information services are required more than at any other. What is the effect of the reminders that we constantly get from the Government? What is the effect of the import surcharges, travelling allowance restrictions and cutbacks in our forces abroad? Both our friends and our enemies lose faith in Britain. They begin to wonder. Is this the time, when we have in our information services the best possible advocates for our cause—willing, highly skilled, ready and able to put the record straight—to tie their hands behind their backs and gag them?

First of all, let me take the External Service of the B.B.C. In the B.B.C. this country has an asset which is unique among all other broadcasting systems. It has won, among the enemies of this country probably even more than among our friends, a reputation for truth. In Eastern Europe, in Egypt and in Cuba, all places where our reputation in many ways is lowest, people continue to listen to the B.B.C. and believe what they hear. This is a tremendous asset, which is of immense use to us. Moreover, this is a time when the whole pattern of listening throughout the world is going through a radical change owing to the introduction of cheap, light, effective transistor radios. Now, as at no other time in the past, is it possible really to penetrate a country, to reach all its people, give them the British point of view, and tell the truth.

Yet what is the story? It is one of steady decline. In 1950, there was no other broadcasting system in the world which broadcast so many hours overseas as did the B.B.C. We have now fallen to fifth place. We are behind Russia, China, Western Germany and the Voice of America, and if the graph continues at its present rate, it will not be long before we are also behind a good many Eastern European States, Cairo and Havana, all of who are increasing their hours of broadcasting every year at a tremendous speed. They are also putting up new high-powered relay transmitters across the world so that they may be better heard.

The B.B.C. must do this too, because no one is going to listen to a shaky station with a lot of atmospherics and a weak signal if by simply turning a knob they can get a better station. No one is more aware of this than the B.B.C. They have built a new aerial on Ascension which is already working at half strength and will presumably soon go on to full power. But the Treasury say that the B.B.C. will have to find the money, even for a capital outlay of such vital importance as this, from their annual allowance. I will say nothing more about the British Council. I had meant to, but it has been admirably championed, far better than I could have done, by the noble Lords, Lord Hill of Luton and Lord Glendevon, and I should like only to give my support to everything they say.

Since I do not want to make a long speech, I will go on to the Government information services—the C.O.I. and, most important of all, because they are the spearhead of our entire information effort, the information officers in the field. So far as the C.O.I. are concerned, I can only repeat that every time I come into contact with them—and in my time I have come into contact with them a great deal—I never fail to be impressed by their skill, efficiency and sheer professionalism. Here we have a machine which in a remarkably short time can produce a newspaper article, a complete Press service, a photograph, a recorded radio programme on tape, a first-class colour film for television (several have already won international awards) a complete stand for a trade fair or an exhibition—anything you like. You name it, and the C.O.I. will produce it.

It is a superb instrument: but the best instrument in the world is only as effective as the hands of the craftsmen who wield it; and the craftsmen in this case are our information officers in the field. I think they have changed, developed, greatly over the past ten or fifteen years. When I first joined the Foreign Office fifteen years ago they were still in some quarters looked on like the old Press officers, pushing out an enormous quantity of paper which nobody perhaps read very much and which had no very clear object or target. Even ten years ago a great many of our information officers were drawn, not from the senior, but from the junior executive branch of the Foreign Service. This is not to say that many of them did not do their jobs brilliantly; they did. But I think it is indicative of the concept of an information officer as it existed not so long ago. Now I believe that all that has changed, or is changing extremely fast. Nowadays information officers are respected in a way that they were not before. Their duty is seen to be more important. It is seen that an Ambassador himself is really a glorified information officer. He is there to represent his country, in the same way as an information officer represents his country, and I look forward to the day when any British Ambassador will have done his stint as an information officer at some time in his career.

I should like to read to your Lordships a short extract from a careers booklet which was recently published about the work of an information officer to-day: The Information Officer has to know the tools of his trade. He must master the techniques of journalism, radio, television and the cinema, and meet the professionals on their own ground. He must be able to write the article that an editor wants to publish, edit a lively periodical or bulletin, talk on radio or television to the masses, or more privately to the Chamber of Commerce or the daughters of the revolution. In an unfriendly ambiance he must deploy the telling arguments that present the British case in the most favourable light…His success or failure depends upon his ability to make the right friends and influence them with his own convictions. In order to do this he must have the latest facts and figures at his command. He must be fully familiar with the Government's views on every major question, able to explain the line being taken by the British delegation at the United Nations, ready to speak on any aspect of British policy or on the social and cultural life of Britain. That is a tall order, but I think it is one that is being performed now every day of the week; and we should be grateful for it.

That is basically all I want to say to-day. If perhaps I have been rather lavish with my bouquets, it is not because I merely want to fling them around, but because I believe most sincerely that this country has an information machine which is far more streamlined and effective than most of us believe and than the Treasury is allowing it at present to show. It needs a little more money; not much more. The total of about £30 million, as we have heard this afternoon, is "peanuts" when compared with the possible results that can be gained from it. All the information services need is a little more money and continuity. That has been said already twice this afternoon, but I will say it again, because it is of vital importance. You will never get the C.O.I to start producing a new series of the superb short television films which they are now producing, if halfway through the series they find they have no more money with which to continue. You will never get the British Council to open up a new reading room in a university town, only to discover that two years later it has to close it down again. That is why I should like to see the information budgets worked out for the future, not on an annual, but on a five-year basis, and perhaps even longer—because only in this way can the information officers work as we believe they should and as we know they can. Our problem now is no longer to try to get the information services that we deserve; I suggest that it is to deserve the information services that we have.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Alport. I think it would be a disaster to contemplate any cut in the expenditure on our overseas services. So far, no tribute has been paid in this connection to the great services which have been rendered to this country and to the countries overseas by the B.B.C. External Services. I was for 27 years a member of the Colonial Service overseas, and regularly during that time I listened to the B.B.C. Overseas Service, now known as the External Service. I do not know whether any of your Lordships were in a similar position. I feel, most humbly, that a heavy responsibility lies upon me to try to convey to your Lordships the circumstances and con- dition which prevailed in the reception areas to which I wish to refer. I intend, in the course of my speech, to concentrate my remarks mainly on South-East Asia and, in particular, on Malaya where I served.

In present-day circumstances in this country, as we have already heard from speeches of other noble Lords, it is customary to denigrate great traditions and to call into question certain ideals which we have hitherto accepted and endeavoured to live up to. In that connection, having served overseas for the period of time which I have stated, it is a source of distress to me that "colonialism" has become a tarnished word. If this was justified, all I can say to your Lordships is that nobody in South-East Asia, or anywhere abroad, would have listened, in the great numbers they did in those countries, to the Overseas Service broadcasts. Let us examine the facts. When these broadcasts started (and, so far as I can remember, this was in about the year 1932) the impact on these territories, receiving the broadcast from England was tremendous. Malaya is 12,000 miles away from England. In those days it took six weeks to get a letter to Malaya by sea from London. To send a letter from Malaya and to get a reply from England took the best part of three months. In a flash, in an instant, all this was changed, and there was an immediate contact between this country and the country in which we lived.

What were the conditions in Malaya when this was happening? We were at peace. There was no income tax—there was no income tax until after the last war. There was exceptional prosperity. There were roads and hospitals; railways were being modernised and extended. There was tremendous revenue coming in from the export of tin and rubber, and we had the highest standard of living in South-East Asia. So much was this so that it was necessary to bring in a form of immigration control to prevent the large number of Chinese who wanted to come from China to join in the prosperity that was then existing in the tin mines. The native customs and religions were respected. Treaties of the Rulers were honoured. All of us spoke Malay fluently, and many spoke Chinese. These people were our friends, and we were their friends: it was not a one-sided association, but entirely two-sided. There was a Malay phrase prevalent at the time which, with your Lordships' permission, I will repeat in Malay. It was "Kerajaan emak bapo," which meant: "The Government is father and mother." That was the situation: a contented country at peace, and adminstered by the British.

What was the effect on these people who were hearing these broadcasts from England? What was the impact made on them? Malays are normally curious people, and interested in what is going on everywhere. The vast majority of them had never seen our country and had never visited London. We governed, and they wanted to know what everything was like. What sort of a place was Britain? It was not long before wireless sets appeared in every village throughout Malaya. It was customary to hear Big Ben strike out in the Malayan jungle: and to think that you, my Lords, were hearing the same chimes here in this country!

Then, in order to increase the strength of these broadcasts, Radio Malaya was established to retransmit the broadcasts received from London. What does this all mean? It means just this, if I may put it in words which I know are completely inadequate. Ties were strengthened, not by force but by the coming together of peoples who, without certain common ideals, were cut off. May I just give, to the best of my ability, an example of what I mean. We had our King, they had their Rulers; each played a part. All this was immeasurably strengthened by the wonderful Christmas broadcast we had—the link with the Empire—and I well remember when Her Majesty's grandfather, the late King George V, received a loyal Address from both Houses of Parliament. I was 12,000 miles away from this country and I was with a Malay at the time. The King's words seemed to fire us. He seemed to be very tired—it was at the end of a long reign—but he seemed to care for us. This was the deep feeling that both of us had. It made us feel—and I am speaking not only for myself but for those people with whom we were associated—that somehow we wanted to do something better with our own lives.

In all this, in all the pageantry and colour which, to the credit of the B.B.C., they so adequately conveyed over these long distances, there was never any boasting from England that we were a great Power and that we were holding anybody down by force. It was all done in good taste and with the greatest humility. The part played by the B.B.C. and their External Services during that time was of incalculable value. What was the result of this? It was inevitable that a great respect grew up for the transmissions of the B.B.C. People wanted to listen to the news bulletins. The news bulletins from London seemed to be objective and they were believed, and everybody respected their great veracity.

Moving on to 1941, it was about Christmas of that year that the Japanese struck and Malaya was overrun. The Colonial Service disappeared, its members being flung into Changi gaol. I was one of these people, with a large number of others. All contact with the outside world was forbidden; wireless sets were confiscated and the penalty for listening-in was death. In spite of all the propaganda which was exhibited by the occupying Power of that country, we who were inside that gaol and the rest of the population who were outside remained the closest of friends.

Of course, it was obvious that during that period—I say this having, I hope, described to your Lordships the great benefits and the wonderful way in which the B.B.C. broadcasts had been received, and in spite of the fact that now everybody had been cut off—there was this great desire to get news from London again. So the population outside that gaol rallied to our assistance. They were able to listen-in to the news bulletins from this country and the news was smuggled into us inside the gaol. I will not go into all the details of this beyond saying that when men were incarcerated, as we were, and in the circumstances under which we were confined, deprived of news and suffering from excessive malnutrition, and so on, it was the news of what was going on here at home and in the war in general that kept alive men who would otherwise have died. So important was this that an organisation was set up within that gaol to see that every single inmate received the news bulletin which was broadcast every day.

It was inevitable that after a certain time the people who were in this organisation would be discovered. Some of our friends outside died, being executed for the work they did for us, and certain of our own people died as well. I never thought that to-day I should be in this House and sitting on the Bishops' Benches would be the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. I can only pay, humbly and in my own words, my great tribute to him for all he did for us and for the inspiration he was to us during that period. It is said that when we came home at the end of it he told our story to Her Majesty's father, the late King George VI, and the Queen Mother, and I like to think (although I do not know) that every year when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham takes the Armistice Day Service at the Albert Hall—I like to think, with some emotion, that it has something to do with the affairs that went on in those days when we were incarcerated in Changi.

To-day we are not at war, but it seems to me that, with our decolonised territories, and with all the good will that has been built up, and all the admiration for our way of life, there never was a time when it was more important that we should keep our way of life before those people who have come to expect it and to whom, if it were denied to them through any cut in our services, it would be a real tragedy. In this vast area of South-East Asia and beyond these people travel from one country to another; they carry our ideas with them and they remember us as their friends. But, apart from that, I am not one of those who are despondent about the fact that we are having trouble with certain of our former territories to-day. This might well be considered inevitable. What is important is to keep these ideas of ours alive and see that it is possible for people underneath, the indigenous population of the countries concerned, to have that news before them. We hope that in due course they will achieve wise and able leaders, and it seems to me that through the medium of our broadcasting services we shall help them.

May I just read a letter which was given to me by Sir James Robertson from a Sudanese who wrote to him on March 2 this year. Sir James Robertson was the former Governor of Nigeria. This is what was said: I am not in a position to criticise British policy, but it appears to me the more active the Communists the less active the Western Powers. The recent economic measures in Great Britain, which might be justified by the financial difficulties, open the doors very widely for the Communists…Take, for example…the cutting in the excellent and valuable B.B.C. Arabic service. The letter finishes: The ordinary citizen in the Middle East listens to the B.B.C. when it is transmitting, but turns to Sawt Al Arab (Cairo) at other times. I found the B.B.C. Arabic service in Arab countries I visited much respected for its high standard and fair impartial viewpoint. I hope the difficulties which required drastic measures will soon be overcome. As I say, that is a letter from a Sudanese written on March 2 this year.

In conclusion, I am sure that the letter I have just read is representative of thousands of our friends, not by compulsion but by conviction that we stand for the proper ideals and the truth. This is a natural asset exported abroad by the B.B.C. External Services. If we fail to foster this or cut down these services we do so, I think, at our peril.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, may I first adopt what the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said with regard to this habit, which has crept upon us recently, of self-denigration? If we ceased to do this, I believe that it would be the best bonus that any information officer could have. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, and the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, covered a wide canvas which I have no equipment to cover. I have some slight experience of the United States but little elsewhere, so I should like to confine my remarks to that country. I suppose there is no country where it is easier to convey information, because of the language; nor is there any country where it is more important that people should be well informed about ourselves, and our special services there relate to this. It is a vast and varied country and there is greater interest in some areas than in others.

The Consulates General in the cities throughout the United States are in the front line. The public relations requirement vary from State to State. They are excellently served by the British Information Services, with their office in New York. The daily British Information Services news bulletin and the extracts from the British Press are accurate, unbiased and well condensed. There is no doubt that they fulfil the criteria set out in the White Paper of 1959 (Cmnd. 685), at page 6, that overseas information services should be: respected for their accuracy, efficiency and reliability—in that way alone can they achieve full effectiveness. I believe that these bulletins are widely distributed to the Press and others, but my experience is that they are not read and absorbed unless particular matter of current interest has already caught the attention of the recipient; in that event he may well refer to the bulletin for accurate information. In short, these bulletins are used as a source of accurate information but not of news items.

Let me give your Lordships two or three instances which came to my notice over the last year or two across the United States. First, there is our remarkable success in the Indonesian confrontation. There was no general knowledge that at one time we had far more forces committed than the United States had in Vietnam. At the time, I believe that we had 50,000 and they had 25,000. No doubt this was known at the top, but among lawyers, bankers, university teachers and students, and businessmen, as well as editors of newspapers and news programmes on radio and television, this was not known. When they heard of it they were interested, and they appreciated the significance of this commitment in relation to their own anxieties in South-East Asia. It would have been most valuable had this fact been generally known in our relations with the United States.

Secondly, there was the remarkable speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last autumn to American businessmen in which he referred to the nature of our balance-of-payments problems, a substantial increase in our exports to the United States and the nature of so much of them, sophisticated industrial products. To my knowledge, the content of the speech was unknown to the overseas Vice-President of one of the more important American banks, to the editor of an influential and well-disposed newspaper, and generally to the groups to whom I have referred.

Thirdly, and by contrast, I found among those groups considerable know- ledge and great interest in our incomes policy and the problems relating to it. I appreciate that my contact has been with a narrow range of people, but I think the experiences I have had are significant, for they indicate that where we have problems similar to those in the United States there is interest and publicity, and therefore knowledge. The question of how to deal with inflation, wages and incomes is debated currently in the United States, and our own endeavours are looked upon as experiments from which they themselves can draw experience. But our exports and our balance-of-payments problems are not of immediate concern to them in their own lives; they are not, therefore, newsworthy. The Americans' problems in this field are of great concern to them, but they are different in kind and in degree.

The Report of the Committee of Representational Services Overseas (Cmnd. 2276, 1964) stated: The Information Services must not come to regard themselves as purveyors of information as an end in itself. The essential requirement…is to present the facts and the British point of view on issues where some definite and specific interest is at stake. This involves, first, selecting the items we want to publicise and, secondly, seeing that they are publicised notwithstanding that on first impression they may not be newsworthy. This is a highly professional job. There is an excellent team at the British Information Services office in New York, and extremely expert too; but it can operate only to a limited degree in public relations (as opposed to the dissemination of information) outside New York. As I have said, the Consuls General are in the front line elsewhere. They do, as I have seen, an enormous amount of work in the field of public relations, but they have a wide range of duties and the burdens relating to the export drive which in recent years have been increasingly imposed upon them must take more and more of their time.

Support could be provided for them possibly by the appointment of specialist information officers, either for their own area or for a wider area; or possibly even by the appointment of public relations firms, private firms who would act under their directions, or a combination of these ideas. Some support is surely necessary to get what we want publicised in the right way, not only among small groups, but also in the Press, on radio, television, and other publicity media. Above all, however, the objectives of the publicity must be clearly defined, and this definition must come from the top. That, I think, is a Government and not a Civil Service responsibility. Once defined, these objectives must be pursued over the years with a stable, effective and powerful organisation. I do not want to labour the point; it has already been made this afternoon. In difficult times such as we have been experiencing we must make the most of our successes. It is true that success breeds success, but only if our successes are known.

There is one additional point to which I should like to refer; that is, the unification of policy in this field. I was at one of the American universities where I found that they had numbers of students from India to learn the drafting of Statutes. In view of history it struck me as odd that they should be there, and not here. Perhaps it is rather disappointing. Is this not a matter closely related to overseas information? The recent debate on the overseas students' problems is also closely related. I found that the students in American universities whom I met had considerable knowledge of this country because they had colleagues who had come over here and studied. No expenditure on overseas information was required; they knew because they had come here.

I would urge that we should not segregate matters because they happen to come under separate budgetary control. Surely it must be right to put all the subjects and matters which relate to the projection of this country in a proper light overseas, in perspective and together; and that we should not, as some people seem to feel, be frightened that if visitors come here they will be disillusioned. I have never met one visitor from the United States, student or otherwise, who having been here has not been our supporter thereafter.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make a few remarks on this subject, and to ask your Lordships if you ever stood in front of a building which was once occupied by the British Consul in a country which has been suffering turmoil, massacre and murder during these last few years, and to see written on its walls "Britain come back". This was doubly important because we had never been there in occupation. In terms of commerce and plantations and industry, yes. I refer to the area which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, mentioned, namely, Indonesia, and I was provoked to rise to my feet.

There have been some nice things said about the information services, and sometimes we get the bit between our teeth and we run away in praise of something that is good and desire to do all we can to support it. This cause deserves our support. It is not ideology that we are putting over. That was done by the people who normally sat on the Benches opposite in the last century. They were experts in knowing how to do it. In this century it has been the Communist countries who have pushed their ideologies as hard as they know how—and my word! how good they have been at it! The world is sick of this sort of ideological propaganda. What it is waiting for is something solid and good and decent—in fact news, and a portrayal of what ordinary folk do in a struggling society.

That is one side of it. Another side of it is this. We spend millions and millions of money in propaganda about our exports. There are missions overseas, missions coming back, to and fro; and people are sent to the ends of the world. This costs millions of money, and yet our information services, where it is possible to get people to be receptive at the other end, are regarded as something about which we can be cheeseparing. It really does us discredit. To think that we are cheeseparing about an item of this sort when we waste so much money in other directions! There is no question that the benefit which has accrued through the years because of this kind of information is immense, and I think it would be a great mistake if it were withdrawn.

The noble Lord, Lord Alport, mentioned how our enemies were trying to do this, that and the other to us. I do not like to put it in those terms: that we have enemies who are actively engaged in denigrating us as a people. I do not think we should attach too much importance to this. There always were these people. When I was a lad the Americans were good at it, because they were rivals with us for the leadership of the world. It was never more potent than it was then. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, that this country has on enormous amount to offer. The projection of this country abroad is received well. I have been in a number of countries in these last eighteen months, and I have never been in one where they were not pleased to see us, and where the qualities of the British people—and this without "sobstuff"—were not appreciated. They have got over the awkward stage of wanting to be independent, and there is a resurgence of recognising the qualities enumerated by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton.

Finally, I plead with the Minister on this subject not to let us have the sort of departmental reply explaining the need for economy, and all that kind of thing, which will not be sufficient to satisfy those who believe in the projection of Britain abroad.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but having listened to what has been said I should like to put on record my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for putting down his Motion. I should like to contribute one extra point to the debate to support the various remarks which have been made. As a serving soldier one used to employ information services a good deal and, without boring your Lordships with a list of the occasions, I must say that I found information services extremely useful in a place like Burma when the British Army left, and when our Embassy was being set up for the first time. Without the services of the British Council and the information officers, I doubt whether the Embassy could have done its work.

Again during the emergency in Malaya, we had very large information services set up by General Briggs and General Templer, which we used a great deal for propaganda and (shall we say?) warlike purposes. Now that the troops have left that part of the world and these countries are independent, there are the Ambassadors or High Commissioners and their staffs. I agreed with every word uttered by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, who was himself a member of the information services in the Middle East and who was associated with the various functions performed by various parts of the information services.

Since I retired I have travelled in areas which the British Services have left or areas where they are thinning out on the ground, or even in places where they have never been. Whether I have been in the Persian Gulf, in North Africa, in the Far East, or in South America, I have never found an Ambassador who did not rely on his information officer and his information staff—and the British Council, if there was a British Council in that area—as his right hand man who was just as important as his other counsellors on the staff. We are now withdrawing our Armed Forces from very many places overseas, and we have said publicly that we will never stay in an area where we are not friends with the people. We have bases in various places, such as Singapore and Aden, and we should not dream of staying and forcing our attentions on people if they did not reciprocate and remain our friends. It is at this time, when British Forces are being withdrawn, that I believe the overseas information services are performing such a service, a service which has been well described this afternoon. Therefore, I hope that they will not be severely reduced.

One must remember that we are talking about £28 million—about the cost of the Territorial Army which last year we very nearly destroyed, though not quite. At any rate, that is the scale of effort we are talking about. I regard Britain's friendships overseas as extremely important at present, especially when we are withdrawing our Forces. Therefore, I sincerely hope that we shall not reduce our information services, which are professionally experienced as the noble Lord, Lord Norwich, has described. I would heartily support the Motion.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to intervene briefly in order to put to your Lordships another aspect of the value of the British information services overseas; namely, in the commercial field. The British information services do a great deal to publicise British products and British technical development in those countries where we may be able to sell either the products or the techniques, or both. Furthermore, they are able, if they are given the chance, to carry out a great deal of promotional work in respect of visits overseas by representatives of British firms so that they can be well written up in the local Press, and so on, in advance of their arrival.

I should like to take this opportunity to relate a personal experience which occurred last November when I had the honour to lead a mission of the London and Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to Malaysia and South-East Asia. Because we were able to plan it a little in advance, the Central Office of Information got in touch with us beforehand and arranged for the preparation of television scripts and taped material, as well as broadcasting material. This was all prepared in their studio in London and was sent out in advance to the territories concerned, for release a few days before our arrival. The result was that this mission, which was the first British mission to that area for five years, received excellent advance publicity, and we were all well known by the time we got there.

But that was not all. We found on our arrival that, unknown to us, they had used the photographs and biographical material which we had supplied to prepare an on-the-spot booklet for wide distribution giving full details of all members of the mission, so that everybody knew what each man was capable of doing and what his interests were. We had a great deal of coverage in the local newspapers, not only at the time we arrived, but throughout the whole of our visit. This contributed substantially to the success of the mission. I happened to be leading it, but the success of the mission was due to the team spirit of the members and also, in large measure, to the excellent work done by the Central Office of Information here in London and by the information officers in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and in Bangkok. This was all done "for free", so to speak: it was all part of the effort of the information services to help sell British goods abroad. This is an aspect of the British information services which is not well enough known, because they could take on more, and when given a chance, as I found from my own experience, they do a first-class job. I am very glad to have this opportunity to place on record their excellent work.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say one or two words without prolonging the debate unduly in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, and others have been saying. Until recently I was an Ambassador for a good many years abroad, and I must say that without the raw material which was supplied by the British information services and the British Council we should not be nearly so much use. It is essential to provide this material and these staffs in order that we can get the most out of the expenditure which we have already undertaken. Without it, there is no doubt that the existing expenditure would be partly wasted. I should like to support what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, about the essential need for continuity. You can turn your public off like the electric light, but you cannot turn them on again. It is impossible to "turn on" a public in a hurry.

I should like to tell your Lordships a sad story about my experiences in a foreign country not so very far from here. It was decided round about 1950 to give extra weight to the British Council and to abolish the information office there. So the information office was abolished, an extremely busy First Secretary was told to do its work, many of the contacts which the information office had were lost, that side of the work of the Mission obviously began to suffer, and before I arrived my predecessor had arranged that another information officer would be sent. He arrived during my first year. He was not much use for a year because the contacts were not there. He did not know enough people. He did not know where to go, who to see, and nobody did. In addition, the administration in London was unable to provide him with an office desk for about six months, and we had to find some sort of table for the poor fellow to work at. This is the sort of nonsense which occurs when there is not continuity.

That office was built up again, I am glad to say, and is now an essential part of that Embassy. But notwithstanding this sad experience, they decided to reduce the British Council office instead. The people of that country were very alarmed when they heard that the British Institute might close, and it was taken over, I am glad to say, by the local university who have run it with superb efficiency ever since. The Treasury would undoubtedly say, "What a sensible decision it was to cut down the British Council office". But that could not happen everywhere. In this particular friendly country—as a matter of fact, it was Sweden—the Institute has been kept going as a great success. But I think that the example which I have quoted shows the very real dangers of discontinuity.

I should also like to say a word about the overseas services of the B.B.C. I am also one of those people who carry a modern short-wave transistor around, and it was very striking when I was in the Middle East recently how relatively weak the B.B.C.'s services have become in signal strength and in time of transmission, compared to what they were at the end of the war, when also I was in the Middle East; and also, even more so, compared to other countries.

I entirely support the diagnosis which the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, gave to your Lordships. I think it is a pity that we do not use this great invention to even better purpose, especially in view of the transcendent reputation for objectivity and truth telling which the B.B.C. has built up. A lot of nations spend their time broadcasting lies to each other, but you cannot "fool all the public all the time". After a time they discover this, and I am sure it is counter-productive. By contrast, we should do very well to have maintained, and would still do well to maintain, the foreign services and the foreign language services of the B.B.C. I can give many examples of very prominent people in those countries who really listen every day to the B.B.C. and on whom it undoubtedly has quite an influence.

I should like to make one final point. We are living in a time of great change. There are going to be great changes in British policy. It is quite possible that we shall enter Europe. We are withdrawing our troops from many places overseas. There is a tremendous industrial revolution going on. We shall have to have changes at home if we are going to make use of it. I believe that this is no time—but, really, no time at all—to reduce the information services, which enable us to explain abroad what we are doing and why we are doing it. I believe that, if there has ever been a time when these services should be maintained and when continuity should be preserved, it is now.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, gratitude has already been expressed by a number of noble Lords to my noble friend Lord Alport, and I join in those expressions. I congratulate him on setting in motion a wide and well-informed debate, in which the Government have received a lot of chastisement—merited chastisement. I think that every speaker has been critical, and it may be that the noble Lord who is to reply will be fairly numb by this time. I hope for his sake that he is, because I fear that he will have little comfort from me.

There are some issues in which little more than common sense, a touch of imagination and a human feeling for unfortunate fellow men are required of a British Government. This is such an issue; and so, on the face of it, persuasion would seem more appropriate an approach than censure. The House will know how much my colleagues and myself prefer that sort of approach. But since the present Government have totally rejected every effort at persuasion in this context, it seems plain that stronger medicine is called for to-day. A recent reply in another place by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs told us pretty finally that light could no longer break through to the closed minds of Ministers. If the Government continue to ignore the facts and evade the questions put to them, they are bound to draw censure; and if they ignore that censure it will, by a natural process, transform itself into condemnation—a condemnation more lasting and wider than can be voiced by a Parliamentary Opposition.

The Government, through the instrument of the Foreign Office, have decided to cut down the Overseas Information Services of the B.B.C., and their decision was announced regretfully and philosophically by the B.B.C. on January 6, two months ago. The B.B.C. were not philosophical, nor in any way convinced, as to the need for one particular element in these cuts, and to this I shall address myself more specifically a little later. The cause and purpose of these reductions, as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will tell us again, is the need for the Government to contain expenditure.

I shall not be referring to the savings made by deferring or eliminating plans for expansion and development as they stood until the beginning of this year, though censure of such misguided emasculation will, I hope, be inferred from what I have to say about the purpose and potential, built upon achievements of the external services of the B.B.C. But beyond the general frustrating of the services as a whole, the Government have chosen to reduce, quite arbitrarily, one very valuable foreign language service and to abolish another. There is a hideous suspicion that this may be the thin end of a damaging wedge.

It has been providential, and still is, that some of the most brilliant and imaginative men to serve British broadcasting have been engaged over the years in the External Services. Their triumphs and the standards they set are a byword throughout the transmitting world and the listening world.

I recall vividly that in a debate almost exactly six years ago, on March 1, 1961, when I wound up from the Government Dispatch Box, the then Administration was condemned for reducing one or two of the services to Western Europe. I did not resent that criticism, but at least I was able to say that those reductions were compensated by an increase in other services. That was dismissed very roughly, I remember, by the noble Lord, Lord Strang, as "robbing Peter to pay Paul". But what we are attacking to-day is the act of robbing Paul to pocket the proceeds. There is, so far as I know, nothing whatever, no single item to be found, on the credit side of these new changes. There have been ministerial references in both Houses to extending the most important services—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred to it in answer to a Question of mine quite recently. But my information is that nothing is being expanded, and I shall be interested and encouraged to know whether the Minister can contradict this.

It is painful, and even tedious, to parade the obvious, but the present Government evidently need to be brought face to face, eyeball to eyeball, with the obvious. At a time when we are reducing our physical means of influencing world affairs there is an argument, and indeed a very strong argument, for increasing the subtler mediums for affecting the affairs of humanity. The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, spoke most eloquently of what we have always had to offer. It seems to me that only a Government which felt it had nothing worth saying to the world at large, or to particular nations in the world of men, would actually reduce its own ability to explain itself and speak for its country. It may be that such is the gloomy conclusion of the men in power in Britain to-day; and perhaps the noble Lord will say this. It might be the nearest to an explanation available from him and his colleagues. But if only they could realise that even this conclusion need not inhibit them as it appears to do!

It is not propaganda or political philosophy or heroic exhortation which overseas listeners have come to expect and to esteem from the B.B.C. It is news—unbiased, factual, economically stated news. Hard it may be for us in these islands, with freedom of Press and broadcasting, to imagine how precious can be each item of dependable news to those who are starved of such nourishment within their own frontiers. I recall that a few years ago a member of the B.B.C. overseas staff told me, with becoming modesty, that what that service tried to provide (for those behind the Iron Curtain, for instance) was the sort of information which they would read in the news columns of their own papers if those were free to publish the simple truth.

I wish that words of mine could be sufficiently descriptive to convince the noble Lord and his colleagues of the way in which men and women in undeserved adversity and political bondage have come to depend upon the B.B.C.; at least to the same extent as conquered Europe and we ourselves depended upon it during the war years. I have myself been to a country behind the Iron Curtain where the punishment for listening to the B.B.C. was 25 years imprisonment—and still they listened. They could not be stopped, even by sentences of such a savage nature. My noble friend Lord Gridley has recalled war-time conditions, when the penalty was death: and even that was not an effective sanction. It is notable and material, as well as a matter of pride, that the B.B.C. has always been outstanding in its appeal and in its value for those in need of contact with free men. This is not, as I have said, because it has been forged as a conscious weapon of propaganda. It is, in fact, for the opposite reason.

Where my words may easily fail, the words spoken over the Hungarian radio on November 3, 1956, during those few brave days of Hungarian freedom, stand unanswerable. I will quote them as they were monitored in London at the time: We express our appreciation of London's great radio station, the British Broadcasting Corporation, for the objective information given to the world about the struggle of our people. We were particularly gratified to note that there was no incitement to extremism and that the tone of the broadcasts expressed solidarity in our joy over our victories, and sympathy in our sorrow in weeping for our dead". My Lords, those calm though poignant words were spoken while the battle for freedom still continued in the same city, and before the brute weight of the Soviet tanks once again crushed all resistance and liberty and the ability of the Hungarians to speak and hear the truth among themselves, openly and without fear. Thereafter, the voice of the B.B.C. continued to reach them, as it does to-day.

My reason for recounting these tragic events is to remind the noble Lord who is to reply that a week or two before those words were uttered by the announcer in Budapest nobody in London could have assessed the effect of the B.B.C. broadcasts within Communist Hungary. We knew no more and no less than we know to-day of the effect of B.B.C. broadcasts to Albania, from which the people of Albania were cruelly cut off on January 20, after 26 years. My noble friend Lord Alport spoke of the difficulty of building up a service over five or ten years. This was a service which had flourished for 26 years. The Government saw fit to abolish that service because, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, three days later, …there is no real reason to believe that the Albanian Service of the B.B.C. has any significant…effect in Albania."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23/1/67, col. 324.] In the hope that "frivolous" is not an unparliamentary word, I must say that such an unsubstantiated, insupportable statement was frivolous to an almost shameful degree.

I must remind the noble Lord and the House of the exchange which took place between us on that occasion. In response to four distinct and completely apposite supplementary questions, he charged me at the time, I remember, with making a speech, and by inference discharged himself from making a serious reply to any of them. To-day I am entitled to make a speech. I hope the noble Lord will not object that I am asking too many questions. The fabric of the noble Lord's argument on that occasion was indeed so threadbare that there was, forsooth! more hole than whole cloth, but it is possible, in columns 323 to 326 of Hansard, to identify three of the larger holes.

The noble Lord, in the course of his defence on January 23, maintained, in extenuation, that the B.B.C.'s English Language Service would of course continue to be received and to be audible in Albania. When asked by my noble friend Lord Merrivale what percentage of the population of Albania understood English and listened to the B.B.C. broadcasts in English, the noble Lord said that that was "hardly relevant". He had made a great point of the economic reasons for this abolition, but when I asked whether the B.B.C. had not offered—indeed pleaded to be allowed—to make compensating economies in other services rather than abolish the Albanian Service completely, he said that was "not really relevant". When I reminded him that this voice of Britain was being cut off precisely at a time when the Chinese-Soviet rift was threatening the ideological structure of Communism in Albania, giving greater importance than ever to the B.B.C.'s service, then again all the events in China were irrelevant to the noble Lord by his own witness.

Really, my Lords, this degree of diplomatic sang-froid and utter indifference to world events must be something of which even the Foreign Office, with its symbolic and neatly-rolled umbrella, would hardly approve. Lord Chalfont, as he strolls nonchalantly behind world events, reminds me, and perhaps others, of that speech by the right honourable Walter Long made 50 years ago, when he declared, I was never standing by when a revolution was going on. It is plain that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, fastidiously turns his back on similar painful occasions; and since the utterance of Mr. Walter Long provoked G. K. Chesterton into writing that splendid poem which began, When death was on thy drums, Democracy—And in a rush of slaves the world was freed", I shall have the temerity somewhat to bowdlerize one verse of the poem which followed, seeing the noble Lord mirrored so fetchingly in its lines: From his first hours in his protected cot, He never saw a deviationist shot. In deference to his thoughtful parents' whim, The wildest massacres were kept from him. My Lords, I gather they still are.

Let me say, in fairness, that the noble Lord made one observation of far greater significance than those ministerial flippances which I have quoted—one which I think reveals the deep-running misconception or even suspicion which bedevils autocratic government, be it Socialist or Fascist. On the point I have already mentioned—the claim that the B.B.C. had no significant political effect in Albania—the noble Lord said further: It seems unlikely that in the context of what is going on in China the Albanian Service of the B.B.C. will have much influence on the policies, foreign or otherwise, of the Albania Government. There we have it. To those engaged in an autocratic form of government only governments are important, not the governed. The Prime Minister, who regards even his own supporters in Parliament as "dogs", is not likely to pay much attention to the individual voters of his own country—at least in between Elections—still less to those who have no vote whatever in other countries.

I wonder whether the noble Lord has had the opportunity of hearing or reading the remarkable lecture given by Mr. Tangye Lean to the Royal Commonwealth Society on February 9 last, just after his retirement from the directorship of the External Services? It set out most brilliantly the philosophy of broadcasting from Britain to other countries. This philosophy could scarcely be in greater contrast to that of the Government today. It would be unjust for me to attempt to paraphrase that exposition of Mr. Tangye Lean's but the essence of his argument was that nations possessing the technical means of transmitting had a chance of addressing themselves to the "inner circle", the ruling group, or to the "outer circle", those who were ruled. He defined the latter as "broadcasting" and the former as "narrow-casting". It is clear that the Government of our country are "narrow-casters" when it comes to sending this country's views to other peoples. Politically, philosophically and humanly I deplore that this should be so.

In meeting this particular charge the noble Lord may fall back on the defeatist argument that there is no evidence of how many people listened to the Albanian service when it existed. That is a backs-to-the-wall argument—but then the noble Lord's back is against the wall. I do not know what comfort he may take from the knowledge that, by the facts of life in Albania, it is not possible for Albanians to write letters of appreciation to the B.B.C., as do listeners from other countries. It is possible for returning travellers and for escaping Albanians to bring evidence; and this they have done. That which has reached my hands since the first announcement of the closing of the service is pretty conclusive, and there is undoubtedly a great deal more that I have not seen.

There are also some telling comparisons to be made. During the years 1950 to 1955, when we were broadcasting to Soviet Russia, the B.B.C.'s Russian service received only one listener's letter. Interviews with refugees and other sources revealed listening in only half a dozen places; yet we know, from thousands of letters and interviews since 1960 that there was also widespread listening in the earlier period at the height of the cold war. This we know to-day.

Although the Albanian people are now as cut off as were the Soviet people during the Stalin era, there has been more evidence of listening in Albania during the past five years than we had from the Soviet Union during the Stalinist years. There has been evidence, factual evidence, of listening to the Albanian service from a dozen places in Albania. Listeners have included factory workers, university students, broadcasting officials, an hotel manager, an interpreter, restaurant employees, lorry drivers, teachers, a civil servant, an army sergeant, an electrician and a collective farm manager. I am not suggesting that in all these walks of life everybody listens to the B.B.C., but am simply showing that a wide range of people, including those holding official positions, listened while they could to the B.B.C. service.

Unless the Government as an act of policy alone were determined to close down the service because they did not wish it to continue, we have a right to put certain straight questions to them. Did anyone in the Foreign Office sit down and try to assess what would happen if Albania, forced by geography to part company with her only ally, China, estranged already from the enveloping power of Russia, were forced to look Westward? Albania is already slowly opening towards the West in terms of trade and tourism; and politically, however belatedly, she may have to follow other nations. The quiet objective encouragement to do so which she has been receiving from the B.B.C. during 26 years has been silenced exactly when it might have been most crucial. Do the Government argue that Britain will have no possible interest in affecting such a development?

Are the Government perfectly content that, whereas we were first in the league table of overseas broadcasters, to-day we are sixth, having just been passed by West Germany? It is true that others were passing us before the present Government assumed power, but at least we were maintaining or slowly increasing our output. We were losing ground relatively, not absolutely. To-day we are reducing, and this must look to the listening world like the first signs of abdication.

My Lords, I make no apology for dwelling at such length on the tiny, isolated country of Albania, because this is the only case of total closure of a service and the dismembering, dismantling, dispersing of a team which was the envy and admiration of other broadcasting nations. Perhaps I should have declared an interest, although certainly not a commercial interest, in that I am Chairman of the Anglo-Albanian Society and survived some of the most uncomfortable weeks of my life there in the course of the war. But I have one more question to ask the Government on Albania. Have they completely ignored the fact that a large proportion of Albanians are illiterate and that therefore the value of sound radio is multiplied? This is the age of the transistor radio. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, referred to the transistor radio. It has reached Albania in large numbers. It is therefore more important than before that we have a "hot line" to individuals in an isolated country, albeit a one-way hot line. It is valuable to them and should be valuable to us.

My Lords, before closing I shall say a word or two about the Arabic broadcasts which have been, by a sweep of the same axe, reduced from 12 hours to 10 hours a day. Again, the timing of this seems to me completely incomprehensible. Here it has been possible to carry out audience surveys. These have borne out the fact that our Arabic broadcasts are able to compete successfully in the medium-wave area with their only serious rival, the "Voice of the Arabs"; that is to say, the voice of Colonel Nasser. Also, where short-wave reception is good, in Morocco for instance, the audience has grown. Symptomatically, there has been a mounting demand for Huna London, the fortnightly radio magazine of the Arabic services, which began in 1960 with a circulation of 10,000 and which has now had, so far, to be held down to a ceiling of 50,000 despite requests well above that figure. The cuts that I have referred to are made, bewilderingly, at a time when competition from local Arab stations is intensifying as they improve their technical facilities. We may soon be left behind by them as well, providing yet another laurel crown for Colonel Nasser.

I think it fair, in fact I think it imperative, to couple this with the decision to withdraw from Aden precisely when the Egyptians were preparing to pull out their troops from the Yemen—preparations sharply and understandably reversed at the direct cost of Britain's interests and the direct cost of those we were protecting. Taking all this into account, it would not astonish me to learn that Mr. Harold Wilson and President Nasser exchanged Valentines three weeks ago.

My Lords, what worries me, and certainly not me alone, is the apparent lack of grasp by those most closely concerned in Government, as to the nature and importance of broadcasting as a cost effective influence. This is something which can be built up only gradually, though it can be destroyed very suddenly. It cannot be turned on and off like a searchlight. Other noble Lords have drawn attention to this, but I do not believe that it can be said too often. Even in times of economic stringency there is one way for Britain to invest with the minimum of outlay, and that is by investing in the strength and credibility of the B.B.C.'s broadcasting. It is an asset which no other country can rival. To strike at its roots is an act of policy designed to bring despair to many millions of people in other lands, and one which should bring shame on the Government which bears the blame.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for introducing this interesting debate to-day. I had been about to open my remarks by saying that it was a debate of great seriousness and of much intellectual depth, but the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, in a characteristically pugnacious speech, carried us swiftly from the realms of intellectual analysis into the familiar realms of polemics. I can assure the noble Lord that I was not numbed by what happened in your Lordships' House this afternoon, as he suggested—indeed, I was stimulated by much of what was said before the noble Lord contributed to our debate.

The noble Lord suggested that the Government had been chastised. I saw no chastisement, until he rose. Concern was expressed—and even, on some occasions, congratulations—at the quality of the country's information services. But I beg the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, not to be concerned at his failure to comfort me. If ever the noble Lord set out to comfort me in this House, I should really begin to believe that I was in serious trouble; and I am not in serious trouble. My back is not against the wall. I have no need, nor do I propose, to enter into any apologia this afternoon, or make a backs-to-the-wall explanation. What I have to say will, I think, convince your Lordships that we have no intention of abdicating from our duty to make the British voice clearly heard overseas by all the means at our disposal.

As the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, has attacked with such vigour—more vigour, perhaps, than accuracy—on the subject of the Albanian Service, perhaps I might deal with that first. Let me deal with his suggestion that no improvements or increases have been made in our information services which could possibly be said to compensate for the cuts that have been, and are being, made. In this, as in many other respects, the information of the noble Lord is notably unreliable.


My Lords, may I get this straight? The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, started off by talking about Albania. Is he now saying, as he appears to be, that the Albanian Service is being expanded? Because he said that he was going to talk about Albania, and he now seems to have passed to something completely different.


Perhaps if the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, would allow me to finish just one tiny little sentence, I could explain to him what I was about to say. I was about to say that although there have been cuts in services, including the Albanian Service, the noble Lord seemed to suggest in his speech that there had not been compensating increases elsewhere. I am about to point out, if the noble Lord will bear with me, that we have in fact increased broadcasting. And we plan to increase by about 30 hours a week the B.B.C. broadcasts throughout the world—in the World Service, the African Service and the Latin American Services. As the noble Lord will know, this increase will more than outweigh the reductions due to the closing of the Albanian Service, which represented 2½ hours a week, and the reduction in the Arabic Service of 14 hours a week.

Having made that point, I should like to make a point which I consider of even greater importance. This talk of a "league" of broadcasting, and the number of hours of broadcasting, is really a ludicrous over-simplification of the whole of this complicated problem. To talk about broadcasting hours as though they were some sort of grocer's commodity is a totally false way to approach this great problem. We have to take other factors into account as well. Not only the broader factor of the revolution in the whole business of communications (and at the moment none of us can see how it will develop) but also matters like audibility. As other noble Lords have said, it is no good broadcasting for hours if the people on the receiving end cannot hear you.

In all this there is a need for careful examination and planning. We have, of course, to plan for the use of our resources right across the field of policy and all round the world. This has to be done, as I have said, by long and careful examination and by serious and imaginative planning. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, who is so ready to accuse people of frivolity, will not be so frivolous as to suggest that Her Majesty's Government have carried out these measures, or will carry out any decisions in the future, without the long and careful consideration that they demand.

May I now pass from exchanging un-pleasantries to a more serious consideration of some of the factors which have been brought up in the debate this afternoon. As the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, pointed out, it is a long time—it is almost four years—since your Lordships last debated the overseas information services, and of course a great deal has happened since then. It has happened in the field of technical capability; in our picture of this country's place in the world and in the impressions of this country that we want to stress abroad. These things have changed, and consequently there is a need to change the shape and balance of the information services themselves. I therefore welcome this opportunity to reaffirm the importance which the Government attach to the information services; and I was pleased to notice the close interest shown by noble Lords, and in many cases the appreciation which was expressed of our efforts.

In recent months public discussion of the information services—somewhat inevitably, I suppose—has been centred largely on the issue of cuts and reductions. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, and other noble Lords referred to this. I hope that I can do something, in the brief time which I shall allow myself, to correct this picture, to put it into a better context, and I hope that I can satisfy your Lordships that we believe in the projection overseas of an intelligent and imaginative British voice and image just as deeply and profoundly as any Member of your Lordships' House. It was inevitable, I think, that in the last two years some restriction had to be placed on these services, along with public expenditure as a whole; and the House will be aware that these restrictions have necessarily borne very heavily on expenditure overseas, for reasons I need not go into again in this debate.

Just as important, and just as unfortunate, if we look at this thing from the ideal point of view, has been the necessary slowing down of some developments that were already planned. But I should like to emphasise that none of this has prevented change and improvement. In the last two years new programmes have been introduced and old ones have been developed. Above all, we have tried to switch the emphasis to those activities which seemed likely to make the greatest contribution to the country's present needs; which means, first and foremost, the export drive. We have tried to give a harder and a sharper cutting edge to our services, at the expense of what one of your Lordships referred to in the debate four years ago as the, "thatched cottage" image of Britain. Perhaps I might first explain what I believe should be our general objective.

I said—and other noble Lords have made it abundantly clear—that the development of modern communication systems makes our overseas information effort more important every day. That much is obvious and common ground. But I would go further and say that it may well be that we can exert our influence abroad as well—perhaps even better—by the imaginative and dynamic use of communications and information as by the infinitely more expensive method of maintaining defence forces scattered thinly at a few points around the world. This is not a plea for any precipitate withdrawal from our overseas bases or any suggestion that this is what will win. It is simply a suggestion that, for example, a broadcasting service that can reach a dozen countries may, in the coming years of this country's development, be worth a lot more to us than a battalion of troops pent up in a not particularly friendly society, and certainly would be an infinitely cheaper way of going about the job.

It is from this general point of view that I approach the present criticism of our effort. It is for this reason, among others, that the Government have recently set in hand an overall review of the information services under Sir Harold Beeley. But, first of all, let me set out the facts of the information services as they are now and how we plan them to be. What the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has said about the importance of China and of Latin America in the power structure of the world in future is common ground between us. I believe, as he obviously does, that these may be the key to the whole international structure over the next fifteen or twenty years or perhaps for the rest of this century. Of course, in saying that I appreciate that we shall have to ensure that there will be long-term plans for information services over the whole field of foreign policy to take this into account.

Perhaps, before I outline some of the facts and give a few figures about our information services, I may say that I think there is a great deal of force in what a number of noble Lords have said about the appalling effect on our reputation overseas of this habit—I might almost say, programme—of self-denigration that is going on in our society at the moment. We deplore this as much as any noble Lord in the House. This is not to say that there is no room for healthy self-criticism. Indeed, a society that ceases to criticise itself becomes unhealthy and very dangerous. But where much of this self-criticism loses its sense of proportion is in this attitude, this reaction, to the way in which the Government, this Government or any other, decide to allocate their resources.

The resources of this country are limited, as everyone realises, and there has to be a system of priorities for allocating them. Only this afternoon we heard the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, comparing in a not too specific way the cost of the overseas information services and the cost of the Territorial Army. I am not in any way agreeing with the noble Lord in his suggestion that we ruined or tried to ruin, or nearly ruined, the Territorial Army. My point is simply that it may be true that the Territorial Army costs only £28 million and the overseas information services cost only £28 million, but all these "onlies" add up to the fact that we have to cut our coat according to the cloth we have available. If every time the Government propose to bring their effort within our resources by some form of economy someone is going to complain, then of course the attitudes of criticism are bound to overspill into attitudes of self-denigration.

May I deal with the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that it would be wise to have a Minister responsible for co-ordinating our overseas information services? We have not, of course, any such Minister; nor are there any plans to appoint one. But I would point out that Ministers of Departments are charged in the normal course of their departmental duties with the co-ordination of their own information services.


My Lords, when the Minister says that Ministers in Departments are charged with coordination, this begs the whole question. Co-ordinate where, if the Minister co-ordinates inside his own Department?


My Lords, each Minister in his Department has the responsibility for co-ordinating the information activities of that Department. In addition, there is the normal process of co-ordination that goes on inside Government through the Cabinet and the Committees of the Cabinet. I would point out that at the present time the Government see no reason for superimposing any further co-ordinating process upon that.

While the information services overseas are part of our general representational services, as your Lordships will know, information officers attached to our diplomatic posts abroad are normally members of the Diplomatic Service. All the members of the Diplomatic Service are trained to realise that information work is part of their responsibilities and even in small diplomatic posts abroad, where there is no special information officer, one of the staff will usually be assigned to deal with information work as part of his duties, making use of the supporting material supplied by the C.O.I.

Reference has been made to the Report on the representational services prepared in 1964 by the Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, and endorsed by the previous Administration. This Report stressed that information work is essentially an activity designed to further policies. Perhaps I may here say that the reductions so far made and planned in the United Kingdom based staff of the information services overseas are fully in accordance with the recommendations of the Plowden Committee. This Committee commended the principle of using Diplomatic Service officers for information work, after they had been suitably trained in it, with the addition of some specialist staff with special training and knowledge of film work or journalism.

The Committee stressed—and this is a point already made by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan—that information services must not come to regard themselves as purveyors of information as an end in itself. The essential requirement is to present the British point of view on issues where British interests are at stake. This is the crux of the whole problem. The Committee went on to underline this point, if it needed underlining, by saying that our information effort should concentrate on projects which really matter to us. I think that in some of the comments and criticisms made this afternoon the question of British interests and the projects which really matter to us has sometimes been overlooked. The Committee—and this is relevant to the criticisms by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, of the B.B.C.'s action in the case of the Albanian Service—


It was not the B.B.C.'s action.


On the contrary, it was the B.B.C.'s action. The Government informed the B.B.C. that after the end of the present financial year they could not subscribe any further to the Albanian Service. It was the B.B.C.'s decision to end the Albanian Service when they did. The Report went on, as I have said, to endorse the recommendation of the Drogheda Report that the Overseas Information Services should aim at reaching "the influential few", the people who moulded public opinion in most countries. It went on to argue that: Our information effort should be as discriminating in its choice of targets as in its choice of themes. They said—and I am sure the noble Lord will agree with this stricture—that they were: sceptical of the value of information work of a generalised character, such as the 'Projection of Britain' ". Information work is of great importance in connection with our general policy objectives. As I have said, it is the duty of every British diplomat abroad to be fully acquainted with the Government's policies in his particular field, and also to have a wide knowledge of British affairs generally, in order to be able to intervene effectively in discussions or conversations or when he is questioned or challenged about these policies and matters. But it is the particular task of the information officer and his staff not only to be able to present our policies in every field realistically and convincingly to his contacts, but to seek positively for useful outlets for the dissemination of British views through all the media of communication in the country where he is stationed, selecting whichever method seems to him most appropriate in the circumstances. It is his special job to keep the news "professionals", such as the editors of political, social and economic and other journals, and television and radio editors, fully informed of developments and official thinking in this country. There are many cases where the most careful, detailed and painstaking explanation of our policies is required if they are not to be oversimplified or, indeed, distorted.

All this presupposes a very high degree of intelligence, ability and personality in our information officers; and it presupposes, also, a high-powered, selective and imaginative co-ordination at home of these services as a whole. The Government attach great importance to getting the very best men and women into their information work, as indeed they do into all sectors of diplomatic activity. I think it is often forgotten, and sometimes ignored, that our information officers in the field, in particular, are in a very exposed, responsible and often vulnerable position. I suggest that, in the circumstances, they do an extremely good job. Our Diplomatic Service is generally recognised throughout the world to be one of the best, if not the best, informed in the whole of the diplomatic community of any country—certainly any country that I have visited. And I say again that I am most grateful for, and appreciative of, the remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, who has himself a deep and first-hand knowledge of these matters.

I mentioned earlier the question of export promotion. I think it true to say that recently the first priority of our information effort has been assistance to the export drive. Trade promotion and publicity for our industrial effort, designed to help British exporters, now accounts for more than half of C.O.I's. total output. The objective is to create a climate of favourable opinion and respect for British products overseas. We have carried out special campaigns on such issues as Britain's achievement in subjects like scientific techniques of desalination and British developments in atomic energy.

As I said earlier, it is easy to give these examples, but one cannot easily quantify information work. Any statistics of material placed, or hours broadcast, or cuttings removed from the local Press, can be very misleading. I think it is obvious that an article on Britain published prominently in a major newspaper, or a T.V. programme shown at a peak time on a major network, is much more valuable to our work than any number of similar "placings", as they are called, of a less influential character. A good information officer always has to weigh his effort in terms of the real effect he has achieved, and not in terms of the amount of paper he has distributed or the amount of hours of broadcasting he has originated. I should have liked to give some examples of the measures our information services have put in hand, but time does not allow.

I think it is worth mentioning the special participation in the events concerned with the Canadian Centennial celebrations this year. Here, the British Information Service, the C.O.I. and the British Council have co-operated in arranging this at a cost of about £3 million. The main item is, of course, our pavilion at the Montreal Exhibition, which portrays British history, British genius, British industry and, indeed, the whole context of Britain's role in the modern world.

In addition to supporting and giving impetus to our export drive, the information services have also given support for British policies on specific issues, especially in foreign, Commonwealth and Defence questions. One of the specific measures which we have taken recently in this connection has been the development of what we call the 'hot line" radio tape operation. Everything these days seems to be called a "hot line"—I am not sure why. By this means we have arranged for important ministerial statements made by a Minister to be relayed direct to radio stations in the English-speaking world overseas, and especially the United States and Commonwealth countries.

Another development has been the making of special arrangements to ensure that our diplomatic posts overseas get the full text not only of major Government statements but also of important exchanges in Parliament with the least possible delay. As the Hansard reporters type out their Record of any debate a photographic copy of this can be transmitted direct from a machine in the Palace of Westminster to the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office and to C.O.I. headquarters, from which it can be transmitted promptly by radio, Telex and cable services to our diplomatic posts throughout the world. I mention these facts simply to indicate that we have tried to make the British Information Service overseas a more efficient, refined, and elegant instrument of support for British policies on specific issues. At the same time, and in line, as I have said before, with the arguments supported in the Plowden Report, we have cut back, to some extent, on the more general and "soft" publicity of the "Projection of Britain Type".

Alongside this concentration of effort on what we think are the fields of maximum priority, we have been redeploying our resources to take account of the development of new communications media. Perhaps the most striking example of this has been the development of the C.O.I.'s work on material for television and newsreels, which has more than doubled in the last five years, even when allowance is made for increased costs. Money has been found for this development by cutting back somewhat on other activities, such as photographs and magazines. In addition to the material which it gets from the B.B.C. and I.T.V., the Central Office of Information itself now produces 26 weekly 10–15 minute newsreels, news magazines and T.V. programmes, many produced especially for specific audiences. The C.O.I. also produces a service of television news items for 75 countries. The task of the C.O.I. is to make these programmes attractive to station programmers and their audiences, while at the same time getting across the British policies and the trade and industrial factors that lie behind them. The development of colour television has presented the overseas information services with a great challenge and a great opportunity.


My Lords, I feel I must interrupt at this juncture. Last year there was an immense interest in World Cup football, and in South-East Asia the people were desperate to see some of the films which had been made. Sixteen millimetre films were what they wanted, but when I returned home and inquired about them I found that the 16 millimetre film rights had been sold to the Swiss. I do urge that this question of keeping abreast with what is interesting in places like that should be kept in the forefront of our minds.


My Lords, so far as World Cup Football is concerned, of course this was a matter of enormous pervasive interest throughout the world, but although my noble friend has pointed out that there were gaps in the means of making this world-shaking event easily available throughout the world, I should like to point out that I myself was abroad, a long way from London, at the time of the World Cup but I saw the Cup Final live on television, as indeed did one of my colleagues who was even further away than I was. He was in San Francisco but, in the middle of an extremely heavy programme of diplomatic activities, he also managed to see the final of the World Cup. I do not deny that my noble friend has a point when he says that matters of this sort must be kept in the forefront of our minds when we are thinking of the ways in which to plan and produce our information services. I can assure him that they are always kept well in mind.

I should like to mention one other point which has to do with the British Council and English language teaching. This has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and other noble Lords. It is true that, in the case of the British Council, probably its most important activity has remained that of English language teaching. In the early days this was done in British Institutes run by the Council, but the worldwide demand for knowledge of the English language, mentioned earlier in the debate, has now reached such a proportion that new methods have had to be devised. To-day the Council's general policy is to co-operate with Ministries of Education overseas in the training of local teachers of English, and the organisation of training courses for teachers of English in many countries overseas has become one of the Council's main activities.

The Council now has more than sixty English language teaching experts serving in Commonwealth countries alone. During 1965 about 250 British teachers ran training courses and summer schools in countries throughout the world, which were attended by some 4,000 teachers and prospective teachers of English. All these courses are supplemented by further training in the United Kingdom by overseas experts and by advice from the Council on syllabuses, textbooks and so on.

I fully agree that the demand for English language teaching is so great that it is clear we cannot meet it by ourselves. But, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, so often stresses, special efforts must be made if the English spoken in different parts of the world is to remain mutually comprehensible. Therefore, we have taken special steps to promote Anglo-American co-operation in this field. Indeed, since the last Anglo-American Conference on this subject, which was held at Ditchley Park in 1965, there have been some promising developments in such co-operation, such as the inclusion of American teachers alongside Indian and British teaching staff at summer schools for the English language in India.

I should like briefly, in passing, to mention another activity in which the British Council plays a major part. I should have liked to go into it in more depth and detail, but I will mention in passing that a great deal of the activities of the British Council now take account of, and concentrate on, the need for better relations for cultural and other communications with the countries of Eastern Europe as well as the countries with which we are more habitually in contact.

Perhaps I might say a brief word about the field of overseas broadcasting.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me, before he departs from the subject of the British Council, to ask him one question? Is he not going to seek to justify what is in fact an absolute cut in the real resources to be made available to the British Council, which in fact end all development and deny them resources to the tune of 4 per cent.? Is he not going to justify that step?


My Lords, with regard to this question of financing the overseas information services generally, and the activities of the British Council in particular, I think I really must refer again to my remark that the cuts in these services, and the proposed cuts, do not go beyond any of the recommendations made in the last full and comprehensive review of information services that we had by the Plowden Committee. I think that the cuts that have been made were made in consultation with the British Council and with their advice, and perhaps it may be better to concentrate on the future plans for our information services in the round rather than to concentrate too much on single aspects of them.


My Lords, did the Minister say "with their advice", or did I mishear him?


I said "in consultation with the British Council".


I think the noble Lord added "and with their advice".


My Lords, with their advice. I imagine that consulting with anybody of the status of the British Council would involve listening to their advice.

I do not want to detain your Lordships too long, but I should like to say a few words about overseas broadcasting, which is such an important subject and, as I hinted before, one of the most important developments during the last few years has been the steps taken to improve the strength of the B.B.C.'s overseas transmissions, to try to ensure that they can be heard properly by the audiences to which they are directed. It is no good putting out the best programmes in the world if nobody can hear them. This, the modernisation of radio transmitters and the construction of new relay stations, is the most expensive part of our overseas information programme, and the need to find money to press on with this programme at a time when overall expenditure had to be contained was a major factor in the recent cuts in other plans for overseas information work, to which reference has been made.

During 1964, as many of your Lordships will recall, Sir Thomas Rapp was asked to review the work of the B.B.C. External Services, and in August, 1965, the Government welcomed his Report, the most important part of which was concerned with recommendations for capital expenditure on transmitters to improve the audibility of B.B.C. programmes. The most important new relay station to be constructed for many years, that on Ascension Island, has now virtually been completed, and despite particular local difficulties arising from the nature of the soil and the situation, which made the construction of this station unexpectedly expensive, short-wave transmissions from Ascension to West and Central Africa and to Latin America have begun. And new programmes are planned, as I said earlier in reply to Lord St. Oswald's point about robbing Peter to pay Paul.


My Lords, I think I am right in saying that this station is going to work on a lower capacity than was originally intended.


Even within the present Planned capacity of the programme we shall be putting out 30 hours a week more broadcasting in these African and Latin American services. This more than compensates for the cuts and proposed cuts in the Albanian and Arabian services. We confidently expect that the new relay station will make a great difference to the ease with which the B.B.C. can be heard. I ask the noble Lord to accept this point: that the audibility of broadcasts is as important a factor in overseas broadcasting as the number of hours broadcast.


My Lords, I am sorry to be obtuse, but is the noble Lord telling me, if my mathematics are correct, that there are 30 hours or more broadcasting a week going out than there were before, less the two hours reduction in the Arabian broadcasts and the cancellation of the Albanian broadcasts? What he is saying, I understand, is that there are 27½ hours more broadcasting going out than before. Unless he is saying that, I have not followed.


In attempting to clarify the point the noble Lord has notably confused it. What I was saying was this—let me try to explain it again as simply as I can. We plan certain cuts in the Albanian service, something of the order of 2½ hours a week, and in the Arabian service of something of the order of 14 hours a week. That is on the debit side. The noble Lord suggested there was nothing on the credit side. There is something on the credit side. There will be 30 hours more broadcasting a week from Ascension to Latin America and Africa.

Before leaving this matter of the B.B.C.'s External Services, perhaps I might make mention of one other point. This is the action that has been taken to alter the shape and expand the extent of the B.B.C.'s broadcasts to Central and Eastern Europe following the cessation of jamming in 1963 and 1964. As a result, it was possible to abandon the previous concentration on getting the news through and to provide a more elaborate coverage of life in Britain to help meet what has been referred to as the insatiable curiosity of the populations in some of the Communist countries about life in the outside world.

In conclusion, I should like to mention in more detail the review of the overseas information services which Sir Harold Beeley is at present undertaking. It is now nearly five years since the last full-scale review of these services was undertaken. At the present time we are facing a particularly difficult task in reconciling the general need to contain public expenditure with the importance to the national interest of providing adequate support for these information services, which noble Lords have so correctly underlined. The Government, therefore, decided to ask Sir Harold Beeley to carry out a review of the overseas information services, with particular reference to the need to reconcile their effectiveness with the need to contain public expenditure. This is not, as one noble Lord suggested, a derogation of the responsibilities in the policy-making field from the Government to an official. This is a normal exercise in the modern idiom of cost-effectiveness to ensure that we make the best use of our resources in this field. Perhaps I might mention, in a parochial vein, how hard I find it to spare Sir Harold Beeley from our disarmament interests in Geneva. I think the fact that a high-ranking official with an important post can be spared for this examination shows the importance we attach to having a thorough and first-class survey made.

Sir Harold Beeley was not asked to make any assumptions, one way or the other, about our expenditure on the services. The suggestion, made by one noble Lord, that we are proposing cuts first and asking questions after, reminded me (I think it occurs in one of the "Alice" books), of the expression "sentence first and verdict after". This is not the case. Sir Harold Beeley has not been asked to make any assumptions about the size of the service, but has been asked to report on the way our resources can best be deployed.

In view of the need for speed—it will be a departmental review, carried out within the diplomatic departments—Sir Harold has been asked to report by May. He has already held consultations with the B.B.C., the British Council and the Central Office of Information, and he is at present in the middle of a heavy programme of visits to some of our most important diplomatic posts in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. During these visits he will be meeting leading Press people, and anyone else he can find who is relevant and interested to observe the impact of our information services, as well as to confer with our own representatives and officials and the representatives and officials of other Governments; and he will doubtless read with very much interest the Record of your Lordships' comments to-day.

Reference has been made to the transistor revolution and to the fact that we are moving into a new era in communications technology, as, of course, we are. Of this there can be no doubt. It is almost impossible now to go to any country in Africa, Asia or Latin America without being impressed by the enormous pervasiveness of this transistor revolution. One sees peasants with very little of the other material comforts of life, operating very often crude agricultural implements, but always with their little transistor set by their side. This, of course, is an important development, but there is an even more important development looming on the horizon. It is the possibility, which I think will become a fact before too long, that the transistorised television set will be almost as familiar an instrument of communications as the transistor radio set is to-day.

We are moving into an era in which television transmission from and through satellites will enable us to make direct broadcasts from our television transmission stations to domestic sets all over the world. Very soon we shall have removed the need for expensive central relay stations of the Goonhilly Down type, and countries with the technical ability to do so will be able to transmit television programmes direct from their own stations to the domestic television sets of countries all over the world.

Apart from its immense implications for the conduct of political affairs around the world, this is going to need, and in fact is already needing, an entirely new approach to the concept of overseas information. The whole business of communications technology is moving into a new dimension. To those of your Lordships who are familiar with the works and thinking of Marshall MacLuhan and his concept of the global village all this will be familiar: the idea that people's thinking is going to be conditioned in the future not only by the message that we convey but by the medium that we use to convey it.

We are beginning the process of an immense and comprehensive revolution in education and communication, and we are going to face the need for an internationalist view rather than a parochially nationalist view of matters like education. We have to begin to understand how we can break down the more restrictive boundaries of nation States and national sovereignty. This is an enormous challenge. As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne said, there is a military analogy that could be used here. As the strength of your forces diminishes, so the need for your intelligence and information becomes the greater.

As our physical and our military presence around the world diminishes, there will of course be a need for sophisticated, refined and well-found information services. But we must not fall into the fallacy of thinking that it is simply a matter of increasing or keeping at the present level the existing facilities and the existing techniques. Nor is this technically a case of more or less money. This is a matter of active planning, of new ideas and new concepts. This country has been in the forefront of this exciting area of human endeavour and international relations in the past, and we intend to be in the forefront in the future.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships would wish me to thank those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The first of your Lordships to do so was the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. I am sure that it would be the wish of the House that I should say that we hope that this, I think only the second of his speeches in this House in a period of years, may be the forerunner of many more, and that he will be able to give more time to our deliberations than has been possible in the past.

I think your Lordships will agree that we had a most touching speech from Lord Gridley, full of grim memories, and we are grateful to him. Also, we had from a number of your Lordships—Lord Glendevon, Lord Norwich, Lord Hankey and Lord Erroll of Hale—speeches relating to their own personal experiences of the activities and success of the British information services overseas. From Lord Rhodes, Lord Bourne and Lord Nathan we had speeches on the same lines covering other parts of the world and other parts of British information services activities.

This has not really been a debate at all. It has been a one-sided argument, put forward for the benefit of the Government, all of which leads to one conclusion only; namely, that so far as your Lordships are concerned, the importance of the British information services is increasing and they deserve all the support which the country, Government and people alike, can give to them; that they are the instrument for the future, taking the place of other more traditional forms of the exercise of influence and power overseas; that they are of advantage to our economic and political efforts, and to the cultural contribution that we can make to the world.

I must declare quite frankly to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont—I am sure he will not be angry with me—that his reply did not do justice to the subject which we are discussing. At one point early in his speech the noble Lord said that there was to be an imaginative and dynamic development in the information services. To be quite honest, he then proceeded to outline that the policy of the Government at the present time seemed to be based upon Drogheda and Plowden. He also gave us some information of a new "hot line" which appears to be a method by which ministerial statements are conveyed in the minimum time to foreign broadcasting stations. I must say—and I am sure that mine is not the only cynical mind in your Lordships'House—that I felt that the liability in which that would involve us was so great that, so far from it being a development to be applauded, and upon which the Government should be congratulated, it was one which we should feel greatly alarmed about in regard to the possible effects upon the reputation of this country overseas.

I do not say that entirely in order to try to be lighthearted in this serious subject. The whole of this section of the noble Lord's speech showed, I thought, how little the Government understand the subject of information. People do not want to hear ministerial statements. They do not really want to hear the details of British Government policy. The noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, was absolutely right when he said that what they wanted to hear was the tremendous success of the British football team in the World Cup. They want to hear the achievements of the British people, not what political leaders are saying about what they are going to do or what they are not going to do, or how they are going to handle internal or external affairs in Britain.

This really applies to all Governments. Let us be fair: we all fall into the same trap when the responsibilities of office come to us. We think that all that matters is what we say and what our Government does. You have only to be out of politics, out of Parliament and out of the Government long enough to realise that the majority of people in this country, and the majority of people abroad, are not in the slightest bit interested in the sort of subjects that politicians regard as being the meat and drink of the economic and cultural life of the country. I say this seriously. I believe strongly that if in fact the speech of the noble Lord reflects the attitude of the Government to the information services, then this debate and all that we have said in it about the importance of the information services is fully justified, because they do not understand it.

There is nothing that we in this House can do about it at the present time. I only hope that what has been said here will sink into the minds of the Government's advisers and Ministers, and that they will apply themselves to proper planning, using a dynamic imagination, or whatever it may be, to ensure that the information services are properly used in the interests, not of the Government, but of the people of this country, the people of Britain. As I say, there remains nothing for me to do except to express that hope.

I suppose that one could refuse to withdraw this Motion by way of some empty protest. But I am told, rightly or wrongly, that if I did so, then in due course a pantechnicon would arrive from the Stationery Office containing all the documents that are relevant to the subject of British information services. My family are allergic to official papers of all sorts. In order to avoid that, yet hoping that we can leave in the minds of the Minister and his colleagues the feeling that we are most dissatisfied with what he has said and with the way in which he has approached this particular problem, I will not press the Motion. But I trust that that will be borne in mind. If I have made my point I am satisfied, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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