§ 6.18 p.m.
§ LORD ALPORT rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what reductions are proposed in the allocation of resources to the Overseas Services of the B.B.C. and what is their policy with regard to the future of British information and cultural services, operating overseas, generally. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask a question standing in my name on the Order Paper. There has been recent dramatic evidence of the continuing impact of the B.B.C.'s Overseas Service on public opinion abroad. When Mr. Solzhenitsyn wished to protest against the decision of the Russian Government to force Mr. Ginsberg to leave Moscow, and when he, at the same time, wished 801 to make his first full appeal to the Russian people over the heads of that Government, he telephoned the B.B.C. from Zurich and asked them to put out his statement on the B.B.C.'s Russian Service. The reasons why he chose the B.B.C. are clear. The Statement would, he knew from his own experience, be heard in Russia and listened to. We remember the world reputation which the B.B.C. established in the Second World War and we know from our own experience, too, that that reputation has been maintained during the last three decades. The B.B.C.'s Overseas Service is, from the British point of view, a major national asset.
§ My Lords, I shall return to the politics and the philosophy of the problem a little later. However, first let me set out the financial factors as I understand them. In doing so I hope I may make it clear that this is in no way a Party political debate. Indeed, I am asked by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley (who had intended to speak but in view of the length of the list of Peers wishing to take part in the debate has decided not to do so) to say that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, warmly support the views which I hope to present to your Lordships during the next few minutes. Indeed, the Conservative Government imposed a cut of nearly £400,000 on the B.B.C.'s Overseas Services in the financial year 1974–75, adversely affecting the Caribbean Service and the service in English to Africa; and, in addition, imposing certain reductions in the technical efficiency of the presentation of the Overseas Services in general.
§ It is now alleged—and in asking my Unstarred Question I am seeking reassurance from the Government—that a further reduction of 10 or 12 per cent. is being considered, involving some £1.5 million out of the B.B.C.'s present overseas budget of £15 million. The effect of this could be that in many parts of the world the B.B.C. would not be heard in the vernacular. In the league table of what is a very competitive field, Britain would sink below such countries as Egypt, and perhaps 200 out of a total of 1,000 highly-trained staff would be declared redundant. Your Lordships will have seen a report in to-day's paper of a statement made by the Secretary of the Association 802 of Broadcasting Staff, evidencing the anxiety and worry which that possibility brings to members of the B.B.C. at the moment. In addition, much capital expenditure, which is essential to ensuring that the B.B.C.'s voice is heard effectively amid the hubbub of voices which to-day characterises the world of broadcasting, would be abandoned.
§ My noble friend Lord Cromer has authorised me to say from his experience in the United States that the improvement of the B.B.C.'s North American Service is vital, from the point of view of audibility in the United States. My noble friend Lord Trevelyan, who would have wished to take part in this debate, has also authorised me to say that in the light of his long experience of service in many parts of the world the maintenance and development of the B.B.C.'s Overseas Services is vital to the effective presentation of British policy in the Middle East and Asia. A number of your Lordships will be taking part in this debate and will be giving your own views in due course. I merely take the opportunity at this point of thanking noble Lords for joining me in this discussion. From my own smaller experience, I must say that I am horrified that at this point in time a reduction should be imposed on the B.B.C.'s services to Africa.
§ I remember, long years ago when serving in Africa, hearing from the B.B.C. the news of the Normandy landing. I recollect more recently how dependent were those of us who sought a viable solution to the problems of Central Africa upon the authoritative news and the powerful support which we received through the B.B.C.'s Overseas Services. I know—and other noble Lords will also know—from friends in India, Pakistan and many others parts of the world how directly they look to Britain, through its voice (the B.B.C.) to preserve their friendship and their faith in Britain. It may well be that many people here are content that our country should be diminished into the role of a European off-shore island. In the world outside, however, there are millions who, despite the overwhelming material resources of Russia, China and the United States, seek from Britain the inspiration and reassurance which we alone can give.803
§ I say that we have a moral responsibility in this country: we have also material considerations to bear in mind. Since our argument is not really with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but with the Treasury, let me say that the B.B.C.'s Overseas Services represent the flag which to-day trade follows. In forty languages, for over 100 hours each day, the B.B.C.'s Overseas Services broadcast to the world. Much of this time is devoted to matters relating to British efforts in the areas of science, technology and industrial development. As your Lordships will know, a central unit acts as a collecting and co-ordinating point for industrial and export news which goes out in the appropriate linguistic services. As examples, the British contribution to the construction of the Niteroi Bridge in Brazil and the Bosphorus Bridge have recently been featured on the Portuguese Latin American and Turkish Services respectively. Further, between 25 and 30 per cent. of the mail received by the Arab Service in 1973—a total of nearly 60,000 letters—referred to matters connected with its daily programme, "Trade and Industry", or mentioned in its magazine Huna London. In 1973, 1,000 inquiries related to queries arising from its export-orientated programme called "A new idea from Britain". But it is not simply that the B.B.C.'s presentation to the world of the prospects ahead of Britain from our North Sea oil has reinforced confidence in the financial viability of our country and counteracted the forces of defeatism and denigration. As I have already said, there are millions of people in every continent who want to believe in Britain and to maintain the political and cultural standards which they have learnt to regard as part of the British tradition.
§ I cannot believe that any British Government are so negligent of our country's responsibilities and so ignorant of the assets provided by the B.B.C. programmes as to throw away the effectiveness of an instrument of influence and good will, simply in conformity with the hoary principle that cuts must, on some distorted idea of financial equity, always be right across the board. If it is the Government's policy—and I am sure it is—that there should be substantial cuts in Defence expenditure, amounting perhaps to hundreds of millions of pounds, it 804 seems to me all the more important that what is universally regarded as a major instrument of national policy be reinforced. If we can no longer influence the course of world affairs by the exercise of military, political or economic power, let us try to do so by the propagation of ideas, by standards of truth in the handling of news and by appealing directly to the minds and consciences of ordinary folk, just as the exiled Mr. Solzhenitsyn did in his own way to his own people through the B.B.C. a few weeks ago.
§ 6.28 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, in the hands of a master such as my noble friend Lord Alport, the Unstarred Question is both a powerful and a delicate weapon. Like a general debate, it can draw attention to some area of our national life which needs attending to, but it does not end with the polite withdrawal by the proposer. It puts the Minister firmly where I believe all Ministers belong—in a spot, and having to give specific answers.
As my noble friend has discovered on Parliament's behalf, this development is the latest stage reached by a veritable snowball of a rumour—and it certainly sends a chill down my spine—that the B.B.C.'s External Services are in danger of suffering their largest cuts so far. I must declare right away from these Benches that these rumoured cuts would be in addition to those forced upon my right honourable friend Sir Alec Douglas-Home when he was Foreign Secretary. It was bad enough then: it is worse now. Certainly my right honourable friend did his best to fend off some of the cuts which the energy and labour crises forced on our Government.
I understand that the External Services were orginally to have suffered a cut of some £600,000 from their budget for the coming year, but that the then Foreign Secretary reduced the cut to just under £400,000. May I urge on the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, to confirm his already considerable personal reputation—to extend it even, over the whole world—either by scotching these rumours of additional and far greater cuts, or by persuading the Foreign Secretary (as I shall hope to persuade him) that the present is, as my noble friend said, perhaps the worst conceivable time for bringing such cuts about. We should be mortally 805 wounding perhaps the finest guardian of our country's reputation in the world.
I do not think many Members of this House of Parliament will disagree with me when I say that the Free World is at the moment in greater disarray and therefore in greater danger, than at any time since it recognised the menace of Fascistic and Communistic totalitarian regimes, and clubbed together to defeat the former while trying to contain the latter. America is standing on the brink of a Constitutional chasm which could pull her away from what I believe to be her best performance in world affairs for a generation. The painful and nerve-racking steps of West Germany's Ostpolitik could be dragged from under her; France appears divided and her political system does not easily accommodate division.
I believe that whatever our own individual political joys or sorrows, we in Britain are forced to admit that the Heath Government was the second successive Government, not the first Government, to be defeated by political forces outside our conventional political system. One part of Britain, still considered the most stable Western country, is simmering with civil strife and only the great efforts of our Army and sacrifices of our people prevents it from boiling over into civil war. Indeed the European Economic Community is troubled overall: by the energy crisis, by unilateral initiative on the part of Member States, by hardening of political attitudes, and weakening of political will. Inflation seems to have put paid to international monetary reform. The price of oil seems to have put paid to the non-aligned countries' hope of industrial progress, and this at a time when the world was at last paying the underdeveloped a reasonable price for their commodities. I believe that all Western countries will get together to overcome their own difficulties and help, as help they must, others in even greater difficulties than themselves. But it is not a good time and it will not be quick going.
I do not think it is Chauvinistic—and I use the French term advisedly—to say that the B.B.C. External Service is the voice of the West most trusted by the world outside for information, impartiality and detachment from any particular Administration. For what my own 806 view is worth, I believe the Service has at present the critical task of representing what is best in the entire Free World at a time when the Free World needs its best representation. I beg the Government to listen to the great chorus of anxiety which has been formed in and outside Parliament, in and outside this country, by the rumours which I mentioned earlier.
I have given so far what I believe to be the immediate and urgent case for not extending cuts made in the last Government. Since I am enjoying the luxury—albeit the impecunious one—of these Benches, I would go further and hope that the Government will restore any cuts that be made, any branches that we lopped off. May I now come quickly to the more particular case, the case of our own national interest for retaining present support for this broadcasting service. In essence, this case has to do with overseas broadcasting as a vital arm of commercial and national diplomacy. Your Lordships will have listened to my noble friend's powerful advocacy of that case. I would simply suggest why I believe that now is again the very worst time to lay about one with the shears.
External broadcasting is a continuing, long-term operation, involving the building up of regular listening habits on the part of individuals all over the world who, for a number of reasons, choose to listen to the B.B.C. in preference to other broadcasters. This hard core of listeners becomes crucial in times of crisis; for example, during the recent coup in Portugal, the Middle East War of 1973, the East Bengal crisis of 1971 and the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968. It is crucial because it is in times such as these that many larger numbers of people get to know about our broadcasts and turn to them because of their reliable information. To cut this or that Service for reasons of temporary economic stringency means the loss of that hard core of listeners, the ending of the special relationship they feel they have with the B.B.C. and, through the B.B.C., with Britain. How difficult it would be to recapture that audience at short notice should it one day become politically desirable and financially possible!
We must therefore ask ourselves this question: with economic recovery a very real possibility within the next few years, 807 and bearing in mind that broadcasting is now one of the only effective direct means of influence left to this country, as my noble friend said, should we be wise to cut it down for short-term reasons of financial expediency when the savings involved are far too small to have a major bearing on the national economy? To maintain external broadcasting at its present level, in spite of our difficulties, would be a far-sighted act of faith. May I remind your Lordships of another farsighted act of faith—the fact that the External Services of the B.B.C. were established in the early 1930s during our worst previous financial crisis. We would thereby demonstrate to others that we have not lost confidence in ourselves. Conversely, to cut external broadcasting would surely be interpreted as an indication that Britain is abandoning her world role and losing the will to disseminate the values for which she is admired and envied.
§ LORD GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, would the noble Earl forgive me for one second? He has made the whole basis of his speech that the B.B.C.'s broadcasting is our broadcasting, meaning British policy being sold to the world. Would he accept from me—and I hope from some other noble Lords here—that we never thought that was so? I ask the noble Earl this: is it not the business of the B.B.C. Overseas Service to seek to give information, not to sell the British Government's point of view? If I may say so, he is doing a lot more harm than good with the speech that he is now making.
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, I must confess that I find that the most astonishing indictment from the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown. If he will read what I said, he will notice that in the second phase of my argument I said I should like to come to the particular case, the case of our own national interest. I am not sure if the noble Lord was present; perhaps he might have been otherwise engaged. The first part of my speech was devoted to the general role of the B.B.C. in the modern world. I doubt whether there are other noble Lords who would disagree with me on that item. However, I should be delighted to meet the noble Lord and thrash out the personal 808 argument between us on another occasion with Hansard in hand.
By its nature broadcasting operates differently from diplomacy, and I have been urging it as a wing of diplomacy, because diplomacy relies essentially on influencing a relatively small number of influential people in foreign countries. We have a great deal of evidence to show the extent to which broadcasting has this effect, but it also reaches a much wider public, among whom British ideas, values and achievements in every field are disseminated direct without any need for the assent and co-operation of local authorities. I understand the B.B.C. receives some 300,000 letters every year from all over the world, and the extent to which the B.B.C. is noticed by the Governments of many countries, and attacked by some—and I say to the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, the extent to which it is noticed in dealing with the affairs of such countries themselves, and not just our affairs—provides clear evidence of its impact and of the respect in which it is held.
My Lords, I have not mentioned those institutions which are contained by the second phrase of my noble friend's rubric, because I believe that where the general argument is concerned they are the other side of the one coin, and because I have not heard myself that they are so immediately threatened. In closing, I would just ask the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, this question. Might it not be possible to hive off some portion of the External Services grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Ministry of Defence? I know of course that defence, too, is subject to cuts. But it would seem to me that in the very real battles that go on between various Departments and the Treasury the advocacy of two great Departments of State would strengthen the case, not for more money, but for not having less; and I do not believe that the Ministry of Defence will refuse to acknowledge that the microphone may be no less mighty than the sword.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ LORD BALLANTRAE
My Lords, may I begin by declaring an interest in that for the last 19 months I have had the honour and pleasure of being Chairman of the British Council. What I propose to say in a very few minutes is not 809 an expression of opinion; not a plea for more money; not a plea even against cuts, though I hope that that thought may occur to noble Lords as I speak. I thought I would say something on what the British Council does because I do not think it is well enough known. I would begin by saying that I am speaking in no sense of dissatisfaction. A month ago I was allowed to take a small delegation to wait on the Secretary of State. It comprised myself, the Director General and Lord Goodman, who is a member of many delegations. We called on the Secretary of State who gave us a most courteous hearing of 45 minutes and listened to our points with the utmost sympathy.
I am not going to express a lot of opinions, but I want to recall to your Lordships one or two facts. The British Council was formed roughly at the time the noble Earl was describing in the early 'thirties, about forty years ago, and its task has been ever since then—and I am quoting from one of the early documents:To make the life and thought of the British peoples more widely known abroad; to promote a mutual interchange of knowledge and ideas with other peoples; to encourage the study and use of the English language",and so on. That has taken every sort of form—English language teaching, circulation of books, exchange of people, carrying cultural manifestations overseas. In recent years it has had other tasks added to it, notably administration and acting as agents for the Ministry of Overseas Development (as it is now known) in many countries overseas. Last year one of its bigger activities was Europalia in Belgium, a major cultural occasion which attracted much attention all over Europe.
We are represented in about 80 countries. During my 19 months I have been to 20 of them; during the last six months to 12. Those 20 are in Australasia, North and South America, Asia and Africa, and one is in Europe. Of the 12 I have been to in the last six months, it is not without interest that 11 are former Colonial territories. The 20 include Morocco, Tunis and Senegal; Vietnam; French territories; and the rest were British. The only non ex-Colonial territory was Thailand. One of the most interesting things, to my mind, was the thirst for British culture and English language in all these countries. Noble 810 Lords will remember that at the time of the partition of India in 1947 the feeling there was not to have the English language any more as the lingua-franca, but to introduce some other language. But the pendulum has swung right back and the demand for advice and guidance in spreading the teaching of English extends all over India, all over Pakistan, and all over these other countries, to a remarkable degree. There are demands for English language teaching, for technical training, and above all for books. In the last few months such people as Lee Kuan Yew and General Gowan have been pressing me for more books, more teachers and more aids to teaching. In all these countries I have met the Ministers of Education, in most of them also the Head of State, and all the Prime Ministers.
This is a two-way traffic. We send an enormous number of people overseas on contract as teachers or surgeons, technicians or engineers. They go on short or long term tours. And an enormous number of people come to this country. In the last year we have had 21,480 visitors from overseas: 550 were scholars or fellows coming here for a period of a year or more 625 were bursars coming for half a year; 450 were on study tours: 1,800 were on courses, and so on. They covered the whole spectrum from Cabinet Ministers to post-graduate students. They were from all over the world: 1,500 from the Commonwealth; 700 from the Middle East and non-Commonwealth Africa. Some were in education, some in medicine, some in art, some in technical and scientific fields.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord what proportion of the total cost of those visitors was borne by the Council?
§ LORD BALLANTRAE
My Lords, I am afraid I do not have the figure—I was afraid this might happen to me. In almost all cases we pay, but countries which can afford to pay do pay. We do all the agency work for them. For instance, certain countries send students to universities. We place them. But in very many cases, especially in developing countries which cannot afford it, the British Council takes on the whole cost. Where we feel the developing country can pay—and some developing countries 811 nowadays are extremely well-off—it pays, but we do the agency work.
I have a mass of figures here but I will not inflict them on your Lordships any more. I said I would not inflict any opinions on your Lordships, but I am going to inflict one. It is that during these 19 months of travelling I have been immensely impressed with the quality of the staff I have met both overseas and in this country. I was a little pained to read in Hansard last Friday that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, told your Lordships that the upper levels of the British Council were largely manned by Foreign Office—what was the word?—"drop-outs"; "dead beats". I can assure your Lordships that in my 19 months I have met no "dead beats", no "off beats", nor any other kind of beat, and no single ex-Foreign Office official, bar one who was trained by us, went to the Foreign Office for two years and is now back with us and on our books. I welcome this opportunity to make that clear to your Lordships. My Lords, I conclude by repeating this one point. If your Lordships had had the privilege and experience that I have had over the last 19 months you would be impresed, I am certain, by the quality of the work being done and by the quality of the people doing it.
§ LORD GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, would the noble Lord let me ask him this question, because all the Foreign Office "dead beats" are sitting in this House. However, because of the controversy I had with the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, may I ask whether the noble Lord would agree with me that the contribution which the British Council makes is achieved because it does not try to sell the British policy, but tries to present a British way of life?
§ LORD BALLANTRAE
My Lords, I do not want to get involved in a controversy between the noble Earl on the one hand and the noble Lord on my port quarter, but one of the things that is so interesting about the British Council is that its work with countries goes on, whatever the Foreign Office relationship may be. I can quote three countries, where in the past diplomatic relations have been broken off but where the British Council has been allowed to continue, without let or hindrance. In countries 812 where travel is strictly restricted for the foreign service, the British Council are very often enabled to go on maintaining their contacts. I believe that one of the most valuable things about the British Council is that, although there may be interruptions and a temporary loss of diplomatic relations at Foreign Office level, the British Council goes beavering on and on with its contacts.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, may I say how much the Foreign Office welcome the continuation of the British Council's work in these adverse circumstances.
§ LORD BALLANTRAE
My Lords, if there should be any doubt, may I say that I have finished what I wanted to say and that I thank your Lordships for the patience with which you have listened to me.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ LORD ARDWICK
My Lords, first of all, may I plead an interest, since these seem to be days when complete candour is demanded, in that I do twenty to thirty broadcasts for the External Services every year and that for this I am suitably but modestly rewarded. Nobody has ever been able to accuse the External Services of splashing their money about. Indeed, I have known these services from the inside as a fairly regular contributor over twenty years, and I think that the productivity of the staff of the External Services is as high as it is in any broadcasting body that I have ever seen. They get very good value.
Because of the hour of this debate, I have to defer the pleasure of drinks with an old friend, a ceaseless world traveller whom I sometimes think of as the "Flying Dutchman" of the Fylde. However, he said: "Speak out. Wherever one goes in the world, the B.B.C.'s External Services are Britain's best known and best respected institution." My Lords, if rumour is right, the best known and the best respected of British institutions is possibly in danger of amputation or of being cut down because a foolish, faceless, stony-hearted accountant somewhere in the Treasury, looking for bits to chip off Government expenditure, has hit upon something which is outside his experience.
If you are going to ask, "Why should we broadcast to other nations?" you may 813 as well ask, "Why do we have any information services abroad? Indeed, why do we have any diplomatic services above the bare minimum?" The answer is that we have a vested interest. We have a vested interest in a peaceful world, in a world which is moving towards freedom. We believe that in the long run the truth, or as near as we can come to the truth, is the surest route to peace in freedom.
How fortunate are we that the Overseas Service—the External Service as it is now called—was founded 44 years ago, not by some agile political warrior of the new style but by that man of stiff-necked rectitude, John Reith. How fortunate that, in spite of all the temptations, the moral standards that he laid down were maintained in those years of propaganda just before the war and in the actual years of the war. Of course, it was in the war years that the B.B.C. External Services built up their world reputation for fairness, accuracy and efficiency. It is possible to quote errors and to say that there have been aberrations. That is not surprising when broadcasters in exile are very often tortured by what is happening in the home country. Possibly there are no listeners throughout the world who think that the External Services are wholly perfect; but it is remarkable how few errors the External Services have made, how few aberrations there have been, and how quickly they have been rectified.
The B.B.C., as we have heard, can quote some quite remarkable figures of listening in Africa, in India, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, in spite of competition from the Russians, from the Chinese, from the United States, from Egypt, Germany and France. It is not only a question of numbers; it is a question of quality. All over the world there are political leaders, heads of State, Ministers, civil servants, university teachers, journalists, ministers of religion, the opinion-forming minorities in these countries, who are regular B.B.C. listeners. I have had the experience, and I think that every broadcaster who is a journalist has had the experience, of going abroad and meeting, say, somebody like the Prime Minister of Sweden. He knew me immediately, not by my work on the Guardian, not by my work on the Daily Herald, but because he had heard me so often on the External Services. Many of these people 814 are, or have become, devoted Anglophiles out of respect for the quality and integrity of our broadcasts.
Of course, one can add, too, as the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, did, that the services are of practical utility. The Overseas Services to-day tell the world much about our scientific achievements, about our achievements in technology and about the commercial products that arise out of those technical achievements. They can recount with pride and tell the world about the great contracts we have secured in civil engineering or about the industrial or agricultural units which we are now exporting.
We come back, however, to the question of information. There are two compelling reasons at this moment why, as the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, has pointed out, our views in Britain should be made known throughout the world—first of all on Ulster, this terrible phenomenon, which is so very difficult for the foreigner to understand, especially if he has listened to a compatriot of Irish descent. I do not think that there is any Irish exile, whether he comes from North or South of the Border, who would be wholly uncritical of British policy, although we are pursuing, I believe, an unselfish, bipartisan and enlightened policy and not clinging to a colonial possession, as so many newspapers, so many politicians, assumed at the beginning of this dreadful affair.
The second current need is to explain our various attitudes—again I use the plural—towards Western Europe and the Commonwealth. The London correspondents of foreign and Commonwealth newspapers and broadcasting stations are excellent men and women, but they, of course, see things through their own eyes and not through our eyes. Nor can we depend upon the travelling businessman. I do not assume for one moment that when our businessmen are abroad they lack either integrity or patriotism, but I do feel that sometimes the complexities of intervening governments of the modern kind escape them. These are political complexities at which they are not at their most expert. So I think that we have to put across abroad the British case, or cases, and the British view.
If the businessmen often fail to understand what a Conservative Government are doing, they may understand even less 815 what a Labour Government are trying to do. So I think we need to talk directly to our friends in other nations, to let them know not only what the Government are thinking but what the Opposition Parties are thinking, what the businessmen are thinking and also what the trade unionists are thinking. The point was somewhat forcibly made by my noble friend, but perhaps there was unjust criticism of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, because I do not think he said what my noble friend imagined he said. However, I think the point is well made that the External Services do not represent merely the view of the British Government, but the views of all the representative bodies in Britain; and this is especially important at a time of national crisis.
All our information services have a job to do, but the B.B.C., in particular, has a most important job. It has perhaps the most impressive job of all because it goes right into the homes of people. So even when we are cutting down we must take care to cut down on waste but not on some of our wisest and most rewarding items of public expenditure.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, the House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Alport for asking this Question. In a measure it is overdue because I am one of those, of whom there are many, who are aghast at the prospect of any cut in the Overseas Services of the B.B.C. or the grants to the British Council, or the like. As the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has just said this is a most important asset to this country; indeed, my noble friend Lord Alport said it was "a major national asset". Such contacts as I have are practically unanimous in their praise of the Services in English. I understand that the service is ordinarily well-balanced, perhaps compared with what it is at home. Curiously enough the only serious criticism I have heard was in connection with a religious broadcast with reference to the angle of approach to the World Council of Churches, as representing the balance of opinion in this country, and in regard to the policy of the Council on financial contributions to the so-called freedom fighters. Other than that my contacts—and they are many—are unanimous in their praise.
816 Be that as it may, as has been said in many speeches to-night the B.B.C.'s Service on the whole is an instrument of information and goodwill, and if I have any complaint to make about my noble friend's contribution to the debate it is that it was much too brief. However, I will be brief because I am sure that everybody (like myself) is waiting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. I only want to make two points, one of which I made the other day in a supplementary question about the Hindi broadcasts and the broadcasts in the vernacular to India and Pakistan, and now, of course, to Bangladesh.
There are thousands of people in this country who have longstanding friendships with those countries. We have colleagues, old comrades and associates, some of whom are old pensioners there, who set great store by the News from this country on how things are going with us. I believe it will be worth reading to your Lordships from the 1974 Handbook of the B.B.C. a reference to the Hindi service, which said:Technical developments made it possible to expand the Hindi service so that by October, 1972, five News Bulletins could be broadcast daily. At the same time the service has been able to improve its coverage of Indian affairs as a result of the restoration of harmonious relations with India. Letters to the Hindi service went up from about 5,500 in 1971 to an all-time record of 19,000 in 1972, and a further 16,000 arrived in October, 1973, as a result of a Press campaign advertising publicity material linked to the increased transmission time.Is it seriously intended that a service of this nature is to be curtailed, whereas, of course, it should be expanded? There is one technical point to which I wish to draw attention. The extract I have just read refers to technical improvements and curiously enough the point I now wish to raise comes from Spain. It concerns the service to the Costa del Sol, where there is a large British community, both permanent and British holidaymakers all the year round. The power of the Service in technical terms is inadequate. Admittedly the mountainous terrain of the hinterland must present problems but I think I am right in saying that these problems can be overcome, although they can only be overcome by greater power. Such improved power will not be possible if cuts like these are introduced.
817 I will not do more than refer briefly to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Ballantrae. I do not think he has put the case too strongly and we can accept that the service they render is as described by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick—accurate information with no reference to political bias and it is absolutely unparalleled in any arrangement that we have. I put it in that way because I sincerely trust that any cuts that may be contemplated will not extend to undertakings such as the Overseas Service College at Farnham Castle, of which I was the governor for a number of years. To my mind its work is of very great value to the problem of maintaining contacts with overseas countries who desire to understand our way of life.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ LORD HILL OF LUTON
My Lords, the House is indeed indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for tabling this Un-starred Question and for the admirable speech with which he introduced the subject. I am glad, too, that he put it on a non-Party basis, although perhaps that was inevitable, bearing in mind the cuts in the current year of some £400,000 that were ordered by a Conservative Government—cuts that have involved the loss of the Caribbean service and damage to other services. We are now considering further cuts to operate in 1975–76. I suspect that the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, is not in any defence that he may put up, and I hope that this debate will supply him with additional material with which to resist the suggestions that may come from the Foreign Office, or perhaps ultimately from the Treasury.
It is useful to remind ourselves that at the end of the War the British Overseas Services were broadcasting in more languages and for more hours than any other external service in the world. This lasted until the early 1950s, but today we lie sixth in the table. The Soviet Union transmits four times as much; the United States nearly three times as much; China nearly twice as much. Between them Russia, China and Egypt broadcast in 48 languages, while Britain and the United States do absolutely nothing. Those 48 languages are spoken by 500 million people. That is a measure of the steady contraction that has gone on since the 818 early 'fifties, against which this suggested further cut for 1975–76 is proposed.
My Lords, if one needs an index of the growing appetite for radio in a world in which we sometimes believe television to have acquired a dominant position, we can find that index in the figures for radio and set ownership between 1955 and 1972. In that period of 17 years, in Black Africa set ownership rose from 360,000 to nearly 14 million; in the Middle East, set ownership rose from two million to 21 million; in Russia and Eastern Europe, set ownership rose from 20 million to 80 million. Those figures suggest that the apparatus is there, and that the appetite is there. There is justification for real satisfaction, as has been expressed, for even at to-day's reduced levels, audiences are higher than ever before. Fifty million to 60 million people listen regularly at least once a week. There may be from time to time criticisms of quality and content but overall the standards are very high. The kind of broadcasting in which the B.B.C. believes, its independence, its professionalism, the objectivity of its news and comment on world affairs—perhaps its greatest achievement—have never been more important than they are to-day. As has just been said, in many parts of the world the B.B.C. is relied upon by political leaders, diplomats and newspaper editors. In some countries the only untainted information is provided by the B.B.C.
My Lords, I want to deal briefly with a few points of criticism and suggestion which have been made. Some critics, while recognising that this provision of accurate, objective and comprehensive world news is good, ask why the United Kingdom should have to bear the financial burden. The answer must be in part that the External Services are an historical legacy. We cannot retreat from the broadcasting past without harming the image of Britain. Indeed, it would be said that Britain had lost interest in disseminating values for which she is admired and envied—and she is admired and envied overseas, however much we may enjoy belittling ourselves at home. Another suggestion, and I believe this is argued from within the Foreign Office, is that the Services should be cut where British interests are thought to be minimal, a tempting argument for the Treasury, but the trouble is that nowadays minimal 819 areas of interest are liable at any moment to become maximum areas of interest. Up to 1971, the Bengali service might have seemed to be expendable. Yet by the end of 1971, the B.B.C. had a vast audience in that country and through it, I suspect, gained a huge fund of goodwill. There is another argument. Why not concentrate, it is suggested, on certain obvious target areas like Russia? I believe that would be a mistake. We thrive on our reputation as worldwide broadcasters with no propaganda intentions and no obvious political motives. I think the more comprehensive we are, the more effective we are likely to be.
My Lords, I would say that the External Services are like a tree—the more one cuts off, the more one affects the viability of the tree. To express this in practical terms, our language services provide a reservoir of expertise which affect programming as a whole. The most sought-after man in the B.B.C. in the last few weeks has been the Bush House Portuguese Programme Organiser. Whenever economy is in the air, why is it that people always seek to cut the information services? This applies to all Governments. The Overseas Services are regarded as freely expendable. This has gone on for years. There may not be so much that we can offer the world to-day, or so many people think. But the world thinks otherwise. I do not want to exaggerate, but the toleration, the fairness and the serenity of this country, the capacity to make democracy work, British calm and courtesy (it is difficult to find the right word)—these are some of the things the world knows about and admires in us. I do not find this easy to say, but it has to be said. These are very real qualities in the world to-day. We want people to know more of these things, not less.
My Lords, finally, as has been hinted already, our military power has steeply declined. Our economic strength, to say the least, is not what it was. These are arguments for strengthening the presentation of this country, its mood, its attitudes and values to the world. I can say this from the personal experience of studying the effect of our information services overseas. I can say that the world wants to know about us, about our books and culture, and about our way of life. It would be a nonsense further to cut one 820 of the few effective ways we have left to us of presenting this country as it really is to a world that wants to know. It is good for them and for us that they should know more about us.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, may I say what a pleasure it is to find myself following my noble and old friend and colleague Lord Hill of Luton who, in the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae's terminology, has just addressed us from my port beam. In a very general way I should like to support the case put with his usual cogency by my noble friend Lord Alport. My noble friend Lord Ferrier has said how much he wished his noble friend Lord Alport, had spoken longer, and I am sure we all do. But may I say to my noble friend Lord Ferrier, with the greatest possible respect, that that is a deadly dangerous thing to say to any noble Lord.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I have known many humane and public-spirited noblemen who, once that has been said, have lost no time in putting the matter right on the next occasion by not only doubling but quadrupling the length of their speeches. I am sure that will not be the case with my noble friend Lord Alport.
My Lords, no one knows better than I the need to keep a stern control over public overseas expenditure. Nor does anyone know better than I that when economies become unavoidable, the tendency is, as my noble friend Lord Hill of Luton said, to seek them at the expense of the kind of services we are discussing to-day. I cannot think back, but I may have been guilty of this myself; I do not know. Traditionally I think the diplomatic services themselves come off relatively lightly, but the axe is directed with a degree of real severity against what are considered the fringe or marginal services. I have seen the same thing happen on several occasions.
I should like to cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, over one thing, but I am not sure technically whether one can cross swords with someone in his absence. May I observe in a very good-natured way that when the noble Lord referred to the clerks in the 821 Treasury, it is the duty and function of those splendid public servants to analyse and put forward every possible economy, but the responsibility for choosing and selecting them rests not on them but on their masters, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, really agrees with me about that.
I think it is important that we should check from time to time whether we have got our priorities right in the context of the kind of world we are living in and the limitation of our own national resources. I think it is easy to underestimate the value of accurate, honest information services, an objective B.B.C. and the British Council staffed by very experienced people. As always, the results depend on the quality of the services rendered. I cannot claim any up-to-date general experience here, but I feel assured that the average quality must be pretty high, or I am sure we should hear and read plenty of criticism in such an articulate field as this. I conclude with confidence that the international prestige of these services is unquestionably high.
It seems to me that there are two relevant questions we have to ask ourselves. The first is whether there is a nationally important and worthwhile work to be done in this field. I am sure the answer is that there is. Very few nations, whether friends or critics of Britain, are not interested in what is going on here, but as all noble Lords will agree, I think, when we pay visits to other countries we often find quite natural illusions and misunderstandings about our modern institutions, our current social situation, our educational system and our politics. These often seem to others perplexing and full of contradictions; and by some people, of course, all British are regarded as slightly mad. But because of the mark these small islands have made in the world over the years and the centuries we are regarded with curiosity, and, in spite of some apparent defects in our current performance, not only with curiosity but with a basic admiration which is seldom given in quite the same way to any other nation.
There is one aspect in our national character which leads us to habitual self-criticism and denigration. I am not complaining of it, because I think on balance it is good. But this often leads foreigners 822 who may not know us well to reach dangerously wrong appraisals. For example, because of certain currently divisive manifestations, such as the industrial disputes we have and the Government-union conflicts, it is widely assumed that this nation as a whole is bitterly divided and at sixes and sevens. I personally believe the truth is quite different. In spite of sectional conflicts and selfishnesses, I believe it is true in fact that socially we are more one nation to-day than we have ever been before. It is vitally important, if we are to exercise useful and effective influence in the world, that our actual way of life, warts and all—that is not quite a correct metaphor, I know—should be well understood.
The second question I would pose stems from the answer to the first. If there is really important work to be done in this field, how high a priority should it have? I suggest the answer should be, a sufficiently high priority to make sure that what is done is done efficiently and well. Stop-go, for instance, is always inefficient and must make it impossible for Lord Ballantrae, for instance, to retain the right quality of staff which of all factors must be the most important of all. Years ago, when for a short term I was a High Commissioner, I know I valued tremendously the work of these three services, and they were more subtly effective I think than direct diplomatic services, which by their nature generally make a relatively small impact on the man in the street. Now I only have one contact with the British Council, which acts as the overseas arm of Voluntary Service Overseas, an organisation of which I have the honour to be Chairman, and I must acknowledge that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for our volunteers to perform their service without the invaluable help and advice we get from the British Council posts scattered all over the world. I should like to take this opportunity of telling the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, how much we appreciate that help.
I would say only one word about the B.B.C. Overseas Services, which without any question at all have built up over the years a unique reputation for objectivity and fairness, the sort of thing if once lost it would be impossible over a short period to restore. If our days of 823 direct power have passed our opportunities for influence have not. We are capable of exercising an influence in the world out of all proportion to our population. The B.B.C. Overseas Services have been a success story and if cut,—here I agree with what my noble friend Lord Gowrie said—many people overseas would think we had ceased to believe in ourselves. Their cost is extremely modest when their scope and reach is appraised. To curtail them on grounds of economy would seem rather like a commercial firm, when faced with the need for economy, choosing advertising as the item to be cut, which is generally very wrong indeed.
I do not feel justified in detaining your Lordships any longer, but I urge on Ministers that very careful consideration indeed should be given before damaging the present level of activities in these three fields. It would be easy, I think, to make a very strong case for increasing them because of many other things that are happening. But were they to be cut to their damage, then I believe that would prove a disastrously short-sighted and ill-chosen measure of economy in our national interests.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ LORD BETHELL
My Lords, we have before us this afternoon that strange contradiction in terms, a unanimous controversy. Nearly two months have passed since reports, which I am sure are well founded, began to appear, that the Treasury were proposing to cut the Foreign Office budget to the tune of 10 per cent. in the External Services of the B.B.C. An immediate outcry ensued in the Press, in another place and in your Lordships' House, but it is one in which, so far as I am aware, not one single voice has been raised in support of the proposed cut-back.
On April 4, at col. 1025 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said in the course of a Starred Question:… this is a matter on which quite clearly the whole of your Lordships' House feels strongly.There are few such matters where the whole of the House is apparently united. In answering that Question the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, gave us assurances that our words would 824 be taken into account. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a somewhat more definite assurance this evening. A month has passed since then and the controversy is continuing, in spite of no arguments being advanced in favour of what is proposed, and it is a little difficult to continue conducting the argument and maintaining the battle when one apparently has nothing to fight against. Nevertheless, we shall see.
There are clearly many difficulties in the face of those who support external broadcasting, the British Council and the providing of information for overseas. Money which is provided for the B.B.C. external services literally vanishes into the air. What is it worth? It is impossible to say. In certain cases, one can get some indication that something has achieved some monetary reward. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, mentioned the effect of the B.B.C. external services on our exports. He mentioned the good results that have come from broadcasts to Turkey and Brazil. Clearly, this matter can be presented in a a bureaucratic way. It can be put up in a case, and will no doubt be considered. The problem is that it is so difficult to get the realm of ideas across in discussions among Government Departments. What is the worth in pounds and new pence if millions of Russians listen to the Russian Service of the B.B.C.? We cannot say how many millions of Russians listen, but I can assure your Lordships that in my several visits to the Soviet Union I have met many hundreds of Russians and I have never met an educated one who did not tell me that he listened regularly to the B.B.C. in Russian. That is very often the first thing they tell me. Having ascertained that I come from this country, the first thing that they say is, "Ah, yes. You are British. I listen to the B.B.C." This is the one thing that they associate with "Britishness". I imagine that this applies to countries other than the Soviet Union, and particularly to countries where freedom of speech is restricted.
What financial gain can we put on the fact that one of the greatest living writers and men, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, winner of the Nobel Prize, declared his admiration for the B.B.C. within minutes of his arrival in the West, and that he gave his first interview, after that extraordinary episode when he suddenly found 825 himself bundled out of his country, presumably for good, to a representative of the B.B.C.'s Russian section, when the great organs of the world were clamouring around him in a little farmhouse in Germany begging for one word? Out of all these hundreds of people, he selected the B.B.C.'s Russian section. Of what worth is it to us? Of course, it is worth nothing in pounds and new pence, but I suggest it is worth an untold amount in terms of the value in which we hold the good name of this country, and this country's general prestige.
It is no wonder that the information services continue to suffer whenever there is a bureaucratic conflict. Those who benefit from the information services are foreign; they have no access to the British Civil Service or to the British Parliament—or, if they do, it is extremely indirect. It is difficult for us to understand exactly how many listen, and to work out what is gained. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Nobel Prize lecture:One word of truth is of more weight than all the rest of the world.We may, or may not, accept that, but certainly no one can possibly put a price on the friendship that we gain from our information broadcasts. No one can examine and weigh up the value to this country of the 300,000 letters (which my noble friend Lord Gowrie mentioned) which arrive annually at Bush House from listeners all over the world.
It must indeed be hard for the Treasury—and one must sympathise with them—in their impossible task of trying to weigh up the value of this great asset and trying to put a price on it, when clearly they cannot do so within the terms of reference to which they are used. It is equally appropriate that in such a case Parliament has to intervene because, if the terms of reference are impossible for a bureaucracy to fathom, it is all the more right that Parliament, which deals not only in facts, not only in clear-cut decisions, but also in ideas and emotions, should have its say. It is extremely encouraging that both Houses have spoken about this matter quite frequently in the last two months.
Declaring an interest is extremely fashionable at the moment, so I must hasten to add that in the last five years 826 I have spoken on the B.B.C.'s external services perhaps 20 times, and received fees which average perhaps £7 or £8. I say this not in order to rebut any serious suggestion that I may be speaking in this debate out of some corrupt motive, but in order to demonstrate the puny nature of the sums we are discussing. In the financial year 1972–73, some £14 million was made available for broadcasting to foreign countries. This must be seen in terms of a total Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget for that year of £179 million and a Defence budget of £3,216 million. This leaves us with a situation where the External Service of the B.B.C. comprises some 7 per cent. of the general Foreign Office budget, and 0.4 per cent. of the Defence budget.
I suggest that the achievement of these broadcasts is way out of proportion to the sums we are discussing. The gain to this country, to its prestige and good name, is way out of proportion. Indeed—I hesitate to say this in times of national stringency, when we are in some financial difficulty—at the first opportunity I shall be suggesting to your Lordships and the Government that we should increase the amount of broadcasting that we do to foreign countries. There are many reasons why we can do this, and why we are unique in being able to broadcast really effectively to so many countries in the world. I shall only mention two of these reasons.
The first, a purely practical one, is that because of our imperial past we have in our possession certain dots in the ocean, and it takes only a small dot to accommodate a transmitting station. Many of these transmitting stations exist on some of our dots and for this reason our broadcasts are more audible than those of many other countries. Also, because of our imperial past we have been able to make certain agreements and arrangements with Commonwealth countries, and have established transmitting stations on their territory with their agreement. There seems to be very little resistance to this—such is the reputation of the B.B.C. Through this great proliferation of stations, we are able to get our message heard by many more millions of people than would otherwise be the case.
827 The other reason why we are uniquely qualified to fulfil this role is the reputation of fairness that the B.B.C. enjoys that was built up during the Second World War when the B.B.C. carried the brunt of the provision of information to the enslaved countries of Europe, the occupied countries, and to the neutral countries who were hesitating about which side they should throw their weight on at the time of the Nazi menace to the world. And that reputation has been enhanced—whatever the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, may have said—by the maintenance of objectivity in B.B.C. external broadcasts. I am thinking particularly of the performance of the B.B.C. in 1956 during the Suez crisis when, in spite of severe pressure by the then Government, the B.B.C. maintained a balanced record of the events that were then taking place in the Middle East and presented the facts on both sides to the people of the world in the Arabic language as well as in others, and gained tremendous reputation by so doing.
It is true that in certain respects the influence of this country has declined in recent decades. Our Navy no longer matches the navies of any two European Powers. But I would join with other noble Lords in suggesting that our influence has not declined in respect of the admiration of other countries for British institutions, culture and national heritage. There may be noble Lords who, when they hear the word "culture", reach for their revolvers. I hasten to add that I realise that we do not live by culture alone; that if we are to offer our ideas we must also offer the hard things that we make and we must live, earn and produce. Our ideas are only the gloss on the firm foundation on which we live. But equally we do not live by bread alone and it is clear that ideas have a very great value which must continue to be put out to the rest of the world in spite of the difficulties at the moment.
It was Joseph Stalin who asked the rhetorical question, "How many divisions does the Pope have?" One cannot work out how many divisions he has, but in terms of world power and influence it is obviously quite a few. The B.B.C., in projecting this country, does not have the benefit of Holy Writ in order to inspire it to provide the truth. It does 828 not have a worldwide religion to back its moral power, but I suggest that it has the value of several divisions in terms of Britain's defence and foreign policy, and the value of several divisions is certainly greater than £14 million per annum. One cannot compute it exactly but I challenge anyone to say that this was not so. Solzhenitsyn, as an illustration of what I have just said, for many years was able to defy the whole might of the Soviet Government and the Soviet security service, armed only with his pen; to survive and in the end to come out with some success, having achieved an immense amount for his country and for the world. I suggest that in the same way the B.B.C., armed with ideas in which this country still abounds, and ready to present the facts—not Government propaganda but simple facts, without fear or favour—can achieve great results, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will be able to assure us this evening that the B.B.C. will be allowed to continue to do so.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, I think we all join in congratulating and in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for providing the noble Lord who will wind up this debate with such a splendid brief with which to approach his colleagues. I intervene in this debate for one particular reason, and that is that I cannot be accused of being a totally uncritical observer of or listener to the B.B.C., and if on this particular question I am strongly in support of what they do, perhaps that counts for a little more than if I had been notorious for supporting the B.B.C. on all possible points.
But before I get to that matter, may I say a word about the British Council and about the Information Services. On the British Council I should like to thank and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, on what he has said. I myself did my first job with the British Council by helping with the Reading Room in Vienna in 1936 and my last job when I left India 30 years later having witnessed, and I hope helped, the spendid job done by the Council in India. The noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, was quite right and very reassuring when he said that there are times when the British Council can keep some kind of nonmilitary flag flying when, for reasons 829 which I always consider to be diplomatically futile, diplomatic relations are broken off.
I refer to the British Information Services for a moment because they usually get left out of a debate of this kind, and that is very wrong. In these modern days an information service covering the kind of material we are talking about does not need to be large, but it needs to be good and it needs to be there. The reason it needs to be there is that Sir Val Duncan's invaluable Report in 1969 on our overseas representation went a little wrong on that point in the sense that there are countries in which it is necessary to let the media know—not the man in the street, because you cannot reach 500 million men in the street through one man—but to let the people who matter know what our policy is, so that at least to the people who are in touch with the local media there may be proper guidance. You cannot always achieve that so quickly or so accurately through the means of broadcasting as you can straight from the official source. So do not let us forget the official Information Services when we are, quite rightly, on this occasion, specifically talking about the B.B.C.
Now if I may go over to the B.B.C. External Services, I claim a similar interest to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. Indeed I had a very thrilling affair with the B.B.C. Overseas Services once in protecting my interest, and at the end of a long argument they gave me £2 more, thereby rocking the taxpayer. Why does one want this service at all?—a question which several noble Lords have asked. The answer is a very straightforward one, that unless you belong to the minority, intellectualist, defeatist movement in this country you know that essentially this country has something to give. Although it is becoming rather unfashionable to say so, we should continue to give where we can, in the psychology of giving to the world, even if we have less in the material way to give than we had before. After all, the giving that we do under broadcasting is not all foreign exchange.
My Lords, let us now consider for a moment the machinery. What happens in these cases of suggested economy is that not only the Treasury but sometimes a Minister suddenly says, "Cut everything 830 20 per cent.", or whatever you like. One cannot always blame the Treasury who may be the instruments rather than the originators. One may then have—and this is perhaps what is left out of the argument—a great battle inside Whitehall, and the battle, as one noble Lord has said, is about priorities. What are you going to spend your money on? The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has spoken about the proportion of our money which goes on the B.B.C. Overseas Services. It is such an infinitesimal part of our overseas effort that the damage in a 10 per cent. cut is out of all proportion to the money that is likely to be saved by the United Kingdom Exchequer.
Now a word on the actual reception. I am an inveterate twiddler and when I go, as I did for three weeks this spring, to Northern Italy—and it is here that I must differ with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell—I find that over there you get the B.B.C. Overseas Service all right, although it is an intricate business. As many noble Lords will be aware, the chart shows the necessary technical adjustment of wavelengths that one has to do, and the accurate tuning that is necessary if you have an ordinary short-wave service. But what I can assure your Lordships of is that, if you sit there in Northern Italy, you will be overwhelmed by air swamped by material from Moscow—material in Russian, in Spanish, in other Slav languages as well as in Portuguese and Italian. You name it, you get it.
There is this overwhelming screed of stuff which comes at you every day. It is not cost-effective, obviously—that would be ridiculous—but it hits these audiences all the time, with abuse of our institutions, disparagement of our policy in Ireland and so on. The B.B.C., with the great wisdom which it has always shown in this matter, does not wage political warfare against this; instead it makes the voice of clearness and steadiness heard. But, none the less, this screed exists and I am sure that the British public would be horrified if it were able to move itself to some part of Europe like that and hear what goes on. The still small voice of the B.B.C. is at least there to calm people's nerves and, indeed, attract people's attention, precisely because it does not do these things which are, I can assure your Lordships, pretty overwhelming on the ears.
831 What this causes me to ask the Minister to say a word on if he will—and I have given him advance notice—is: Do the Government feel assured that in our international negotiations, however they are done, we really have our fair share of the spectrum of frequencies? Sometimes one worries about this. It may be all right, but I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure us about it. Apart from that, I repeat that it is a great comfort both to our own citizens abroad and around the world, and to many people in foreign countries, to hear—in the open or in the dark, or in secret, as in so many countries—the voice of the B.B.C.
My Lords, let me turn for a moment to a point which has not been completely dealt with, and which I think formed the issue of a slight misunderstanding between the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, and the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. I am sorry that Lord George-Brown is not here to hear me explain what I think he meant. The point is that the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, wrote in his book the following sentences, which I have contracted a little:Every Foreign Secretary comes up against the B.B.C.'s refusal even to listen, or let alone take guidance, on some matter that causes concern. But there are occasions when the Foreign Office may in fact know more about the subject than the B.B.C.'s reporters and communications".This can happen in the Home Service, because at one time there was a trend of this kind, which I am happy to say has somewhat decreased. But there were certainly times when it seemed as if the Government said something about foreign affairs, and not only the B.B.C. but others rushed off and stated the opposite—because that was somehow the fashion of the moment.
That has never been the case with the B.B.C.'s Overseas Service. One of the reasons for that is that the Overseas Service can get rid of a great deal of triviality, of haste, of all the things which sometimes make home broadcasting more jittery and more competitive than the Overseas Service needs to be. Anyone who has sat and twiddled and listened to the Overseas Service knows that if you want to get a little more time for your interpretations and your descriptions of events, not only in Britain but around the world, it has a mark, a merit and a quality of its own, 832 and it is that which tells in the overseas broadcasts; and, indeed, which not only causes many foreigners to listen but even causes some of us to make arrangements to tune in to particular World Service broadcasts, when we want a somewhat longer analysis by qualified people of a certain difficult situation. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, was absolutely right in saying that the Overseas Service is not a promotional effort in any way. It simply tells the story, analyses it and leaves you to make up your mind. But at least, as noble Lords have said, it gives a clear and, as near as possible, well-informed, unbiased and, I repeat, unhurried interpretation of what goes on.
My Lords, I come finally to a point of some controversy—but perhaps it should be said: that is, the question of substance. No Government information service and an impartial system of broadcasting will give a good picture of this country when we are doing reasonably well—we as people, we as Government, we as Parliament. You cannot fake the score either way. Therefore, the success in the way we all want and in the way we all know of the B.B.C.'s Overseas Service in the national interest will depend finally on us. So I think, in the spirit that the noble Viscount. Lord Amory, has just expressed, it is in the interests, not only of the nation but of our instruments of information, that they should have something to say, something that is comforting and constructive, and that means we must somehow get over this present hump in our self-dissatisfaction.
We need consistently a foreign policy with continuity, with not too much posture, with enough ambition, but not beyond our capabilities and not a timidity or a looking inwardness towards a past isolation. In the end, the success of our information efforts will depend on our performance. And because I am quite sure that our nation is capable of recovering that performance, or indeed of going on to a better performance because of reforms that have been made over the last quarter of a century, so I hope that at the end of this debate the Answer to the first part of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, about cuts in the Overseas Service will be, "None, Sir", and that encouragement will also be given to those who labour in the information services and in the British Council.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, the subject which we are discussing now could hardly be more timely, and I add to those already expressed my thanks and gratitude to my noble friend Lord Alport for having initiated the debate. These are the days, to use rather a colloquial expression, of media bashing. We attack the B.B.C., the Press and television, not only in this country but throughout the world, to some extent perhaps with justification. But one of the problems with which I think we are faced in this country—I speak as the director of a small company of management consultants which does business with a number of overseas countries, in Europe and elsewhere—is that we are in danger of selling ourselves short by all too often portraying our shortcomings. My noble friend Lord Ferrier brought this out admirably during his speech.
Surely the Overseas Services of the B.B.C. are quite the best way of correcting this? If I may give an example, my Lords, a young physiotherapist in the local hospital near where I live in Surrey has a mother who is currently living in America. She had heard at the time of the coal dispute in this country that everybody was without fires, that there was a food shortage and that people were practically homeless. Some really horrifying portrayals were made. Naturally, her mother flew home to see what had happened to her daughter and found that, in fact, conditions were practically normal. The weather, thank heavens! was mild and she had been at least reasonably well fed—and on a physiotherapist's pay that is not so easy these days. Despite serious industrial unrest, the country was in fact reacting almost normally and in the three-day week unions and management were pulling together better than they normally do. The corollary of that was that the mother stayed on for a few weeks because her daughter had some holiday time owing to her. They went to Cornwall and had a very nice holiday in a reasonable hotel.
I am prompted to ask what kind of information had been portrayed to America at that time, because I received, as I am sure did many noble Lords, letters from America which were not dissimilar to this. I say "thank heavens" for somebody like Alistair Cook, whose 834 Friday evening broadcasts are a consistent delight and who really gives a balanced view of what happens both in this country and in the United States of America. I think that we have a great deal for which to thank men like him, who, when there are problems, not only in this country but in America and else where, put matters into proportion.
In his absence, I should like to extend my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Ballantrae on his chairmanship of the British Council. Having had a spell in New Zealand myself shortly after he left at the end of a distinguished career as Governor General, I know how highly he was thought of there. The British Council, again, has at times received some very unfair knocks, and it will undoubtedly benefit enormously from the chairmanship of a person as dynamic as he. The only experience which I have had of the British Council took place in Finland, where I went with a Parliamentary delegation about seven years ago. I met there a British Council representative, and certainly British culture, books, textbooks and other educational matters were available in abundance. There is a country where English is very widely spoken and where the work of the British Council is vital.
I have made only one broadcast in the Overseas Service. That was about three years ago, and I must declare an interest because I too received a modest fee. The broadcast was to Roumania where my wife and I and a number of other people paid a visit of a private nature arranged by British European Airways and the Roumanian State Airways. I was asked to do this broadcast, and I hope that it contributed something to the good commercial relations which we and Roumania and some other Eastern European countries have at the present time. I think that these broadcasts to such countries are important. We must remember that they have a political philosophy which is different from our own; but I do not think that they are intractable, and there is much that the B.B.C., with its innate fairness, can do—and I believe that the B.B.C., both here and abroad, has on the whole an image of fairness. Of course there are times when it is possible for the Left or the Right to accuse the B.B.C. of being I partial; but it is very difficult these days 835 to be completely impartial, whether one is broadcasting in this country or in Scandinavia or in the Far East.
I think that the conviction which prompts my noble friend's Question is borne out by the B.B.C. publicity services 1974 external budget Press comment, which contains something like 50 pages of letters, almost all of which condemn the proposed, or what many of us have been led to believe are the proposed, cuts. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will confirm or deny in the course of his speech whether cuts are proposed.
I quote here very briefly from just one letter from New Zealand, from Mr. David Speary, from Wellington:I wake and go to bed to New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation re-broadcasts of the B.B.C. News, and how many more millions around the world do the same? I do not think that my actions are blind prejudice, but just knowledge and thankfulness for one of the small mercies available in this noisy and very uncommunicative world.When my wife and I were in New Zealand, we had very little time to enjoy any broadcasts on sound or on television, but it was always a great comfort to listen to the B.B.C. and I think that in countries where the same freedom is not enjoyed as we enjoy it, the B.B.C. External Services do an invaluable job.
While it may not be possible at this moment to increase their budget, I believe that in times when this country does not get enough credit for the good things which come out of it and the good deeds which are done by young, middle-aged and elderly alike, services of communication are more vital than ever.
§ 8.8 p.m.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, at this time in a debate, I feel that I must be rather like the Book of the Bible which records matters which have been left out of other Books. I try to refrain from repeating what others have said. I begin by acknowledging that, whenever I had anything to do with economies—some of which were thrust upon me during my years at the War Office—I found that if one suggested not cutting somewhere, one should suggest a cut somewhere else so as to be fair. In my case, as I am on the side of every noble Lord who has spoken and in favour of these services 836 continuing and even expanding, I would suggest recommending that 15 miles of motorway be postponed sine die and that with the money thus saved you would be able to double the service of the B.B.C. with something to spare. If I am told that balance-of-payments money is not saved when you cut money spent on motorways, I am confident that in some cases, if you had to choose—and I do not suggest that we do—in certain countries the B.B.C. is decidedly more important than the Embassy.
I should like to dwell on the matter of what I believe is the independence of the B.B.C. I shared a certain amount of shock at the idea that it is an extension, in some ways, of our diplomatic activity; that its main task is the projection of our image to our own greater advantage; and that if the image is not a good one it will collapse. There, it may be, I will be crossing swords with the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, but I believe that if we were to founder as a nation and suffer some terrible disaster, the entire world would listen to the B.B.C. to get the truth about how it was happening—and to nobody else.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, may I reassure the noble Earl? We have had several swords crossed this afternoon, and this is not a real sword in this sense. What I was saying was that, supposing we had a national disaster, no matter how good our information services, B.B.C. or otherwise, were, it would be reported faithfully as a national disaster. That is all I was saying; not that they could improve it. On the other point—I hope I am not going on too long—as to whether the B.B.C. is more important than the Embassy, may I just say that if a British subject fell off a bicycle and injured a local person, would the B.B.C. then be able to do the consular business? They are working in different dimensions.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, the Consul would do it. I am suggesting that a Consul would be a less expensive way of doing the chap a good turn if he fell off his bike. Never mind; I appreciate what the noble Lord has said and thank him for having offered some correction to what I was saying.
My Lords, surely the B.B.C. is independent. It is told the number of hours it may transmit and the languages in 837 which it may transmit each set of hours; but nothing is proscribed (am I right? I hope I am), nothing is ever censored, nothing is ever vetoed. That is the essential part, because even truth, if it is purveyed in a certain way, will bore and defeat itself. Surely the French, under General de Gaulle, suffered from just that. They lost an enormous amount of ground because of the grandeur which was continually purveyed in a monotonous sense projecting the image of France. This attempt to project one's own image is surely self-defeating. To other people who like their own image better than anything else, it is an awful bore when countries plug their image too much; and that is not done. Surely the task of the B.B.C. is to present every item of world news, news that attracts people everywhere, and to present it as faithfully as they can, with different emphasis if there are important differences of view. That is not the object of some of the other services.
I really wanted to say that Bush House is surely the most apt place and name for what we are discussing to-day. This is the bush telegraph coming of age. We are on the threshold of an oral world society. There is nobody, under no bush, who cannot be reached if he has a shortwave transistor radio costing round about £20, or its equivalent; and many countries have a cheaper and more effective version of it than we have because, owing to their vast size and the distances involved, they have to have that sort of transistor radio in order to make their domestic broadcasts. But here we are, for the first time, engaging in an activity of world unity such as we all desire. We failed in war, we failed in economics; we are now having a struggle for truth through the spoken word, and the man in the bush is the man who is listening. I am told by the B.B.C. Controller that the Somali service in Africa is almost unparalleled in various ways. It is, I think, the only completely indigenous language, completely vernacular—I will come to an explanation later—used in all Africa, which must have something like 2,000 to 3,000 different lanuages. It is the only wholly vernacular language in which we broadcast. The President listens, the Ministers listen, the police listen, the governors listen, the businessmen listen to the B.B.C.
838 Recently, when a Briton visited the President he was told, "These Ugandans want me to protest about the B.B.C. I cannot do that. The B.B.C. are our friends. Half of the people listen to the B.B.C." As your Lordships probably know, the Somalis, the extroverts of Africa, wander everywhere; they always have done so. They are in this town, and all over. There are a couple of thousand of them in England. They are in many towns all over the world; and the B.B.C. gets letters in response to its Somali broadcasts from Somalis in 42 different countries. This is the beginning. They are an illiterate people. So are the people in most of Africa; indeed, in most of the world. They like being addressed, not in a lingua franca like Housa, Swahili, French or English: they like being addressed in their own language, about their own customs, their own songs, their own poems, done well by the B.B.C. That is what I regard as the threshold of a new world order, the oral society, from which nobody need escape and everybody can escape by twisting the knob when it is finished.
My Lords, I think one wants to go back to something which has not been dwelt on very much, and that is that the origins of our broadcasting overseas are, to the best of my belief, defensive responses to offensive and damaging untruths from other sources I think it started with the Axis in 1938, and developed from there. I think that the African services—the three I mentioned: Somali, which is in the vernacular, Swahili and Housa—came about as a result of the Suez crisis, and only as a result of that; and it is important to know what we have to defend ourselves against.
Before I leave Africa I must say that it is a vacant Continent as regards those to whom we talk. We do not speak to a single subject of Mr. Ian Smith in his own language or to a single subject of Dr. Vorster in his own language. And what about the Abyssinians—the independent people? They put on their notice board at the conferences of the O.A.U., "Date of Independence, 1000 B.C." Whether that is strictly true or not, it is difficult to disprove it, and it is certain that they were there before the year of Our Lord. We do not address a single word to them, and they are a great influence and of importance in the scheme 839 of things. We have had a great deal to do with them. Why do we say nothing? That is why I suggest that we shelve 15 miles of motorway and address more to these people. This is the way we are going to win society throughout the world—not by bombs and force of arms or by trade, or even by projecting our own image, but by being reliable purveyors of the truth, information.
I see that I have exceeded my allotted time, and I have whole sheaves of things which I had hoped to find time for—the evil untruth which is being broadcast by the Soviet Union day after day after day. I commend people to take for a time the Monitor. We are discussing also this part of the overseas service, the monitoring service. What is monitored of what our enemies—and they are only enemies because they make themselves so, not because we wish them to be so—say when they denigrate us with truth and falsehood mixed up in a quite abominable mixture? I have spoken for 12 minutes; it is too much. I am in support of everybody else who has spoken.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ LORD LYELL
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for the opportunity of adding my support to his Question to-day because I believe it is one which concerns all of us here. I am also very grateful to the noble Earl who has just spoken so eloquently. During the last 12 months I have been personally involved with the North Atlantic Assembly. In particular I have had to consider the problem of broadcasting to and from Warsaw Pact countries and in the course of my researches time and again I came up with the dissident movement within the Soviet Union. We have already heard from the noble Lords, Lord Alport and Lord Bethel], about how much Alexander Solzhenitsyn is thought about and talked about on both sides, in the Warsaw Pact countries and in the Free World, and I seek to add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for all that Solzhenitsyn has done.
We have also heard so much about the B.B.C. External Service and how it broadcasts for over 100 hours every day in upwards of 40 languages. This does not cover Abyssinia, but I think it gives as broad a spread as possible in the world of 840 every language in which we could have influence. I often believe that it is very important that we should consider the External Services in the light of the Duncan Report in 1969. This was only five years ago but even then Sir Val pointed out how the money which was spent on the B.B.C. External Services was such extraordinarily good value. I understand that in this current financial year the sum is only of the order of £16 million. I say, "only" but this is quite a disproportionate amount for the value we receive from this money. It is these fringe services which are apparently vulnerable—to outer Asia, Vietnam and other outlying areas. These are the services which bring so much pleasure and truth to nations which otherwise have very little to keep them informed of developments in the Free World. In most cases there is no free Press or any free radio. If they have a radio it tends to project quite ruthlessly the line of the Government or the people who run the radio station. There is very little, if any, objectivity which can go to the inhabitants of these far off lands.
We have heard a great deal about the alarming number of transistors all over Africa. This is very fertile ground for all the propaganda and information that can come from places like Peking, Moscow and so on, and I believe that anything that the B.B.C. can do to keep its position in what has been called, "the league table" should be done.
Another wonderful point for the B.B.C. is that its experience goes back forty years in broadcasting all over the world. There are stations everywhere in the world run by controllers and other people who have had a vast amount of training and experience here in Bush House with the B.B.C. These friends of the B.B.C. and of Britain do so much in a constructive sense for the truth of the Free World. Also, the B.B.C. has a very large audience in this country and in Europe, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, and I could add my own experiences in the Mediterranean and in the Alps. One can gain knowledge of what is going on here in this country and elsewhere in the world 24 hours a day. One can consult the invaluable chart that comes from the External Services and every hour on the 841 hour one can have five or ten minutes of up to date, reliable and truthful news. I believe that this is one of the greatest benefits that comes from the B.B.C. or possibly anywhere else in the world.
Another aspect which I have not heard mentioned and which I believe could, with respect, be mentioned at this stage is that of the Royal Navy together with the Merchant Navy. All over the world the officers and men of these two Services, I believe, are largely dependent for news on the broadcasts of the B.B.C. Overseas Service which may be 10,000 or 12,000 miles away. They, too, can benefit from the External Services, and I believe that we should so far as possible keep up the Service so that they can be kept in touch with developments at home. I understand also that, among other listeners in Russia, there was a survey of Soviet Jews allowed to emigrate to Israel which showed that 75 per cent. of those questioned admitted that they listened regularly to the B.B.C. service in Russian. We have heard more concrete evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, when speaking about Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I believe that the Russian Service, as well as the Services to other members of the Warsaw Pact, does have an effect far beyond the financial investment we put in. Any reduction in this Service will bring down the Overseas Services into a position where the B.B.C. no longer reigns head and shoulders above its competitors. The extent of the proposed reductions which we are likely to hear about, I believe, will truncate not just one or two Services but apparently whole groups of language broadcasts. I think the B.B.C. will have to make disproportionate efforts to start these again in future and it may well be impossible. We may lose ground totally in the areas in which we decide to stop broadcasts.
The World Service provides in English this free gift of a 24-hour news service. It can at all times be relied upon, it is truthful and I believe it is much admired everywhere. When I was in Ankara for the North Atlantic Assembly in October, 1973, the only reliable news that anybody could get was through the B.B.C. External Services. We were receiving news of developments in the Middle East within minutes of it being broadcast on the B.B.C., and not only were British delegates glad to receive these news bulletins but 842 also the Americans, the Germans and the French. All the delegates to the North Atlantic Assembly were thrilled about the B.B.C. overseas broadcast in English. Many did not know about it. In conclusion, I hope the Minister can use his considerable influence to ensure that any possible prospective damage is not done to the B.B.C. Overseas Services and that the B.B.C. can continue this wonderful service to those who listen and leek after the truth all round the world.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ LORD DAVIES OF LEEK
My Lords, at this late hour I do not intend to speak for more than three minutes, but there are two or three things which I should like to say. First, I should like to congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for having introduced this debate. I had not intended to take part but have found it so fascinating that I have listened to every speech. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, for the tribute he paid to the British Council. One of my best friends has served in Burma, Japan and Sri Lanka in a top job in the British Council. I should like to say that he was not a "dead beat", because both he and his wife took the trouble to learn about the poetry, music and dancing, and the splendid culture and paintings of those countries, together with the different religions concerned. In my opinion, they were an asset to this country and to the British Council. I am sure there are many others like them. I should also like to say how much I agreed with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton: like him I, too, would willingly sacrifice 15 miles of motorway any day in order to keep this Service going.
As someone who for 20 years or more has appreciated the monitoring services of the B.B.C.— because I specialise, more or less, in the Far East and South-East Asia—I would say that the monitoring services are absolutely invaluable. I sincerely hope that the Government will see to it that these services are kept alive. We are becoming a nation which knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing—at least, this will be so unless we take great care. Consequently, as I said the other day, Parliament will gradually become "an echo machine". It has the power to legitimise, but is losing the power to legislate—if your Lordships can follow 843 what I mean. We are losing the power to legislate and are becoming just "an echo machine", legitimising what comes forth from the Executive. This debate is of great importance and I hope that the Government and both Houses of Parliament will take note of it.
Lastly, it seems to me that we denigrate ourselves in several ways, and it is difficult to understand why this should be so. This week-end I had the pleasure of opening an exhibition of water colours—I myself dabble a little in oils and water colours, though I am not very good—and it suddenly dawned on me that we pay great tribute to overseas artists while perhaps not valuing sufficiently the great painters who have come from this country. We have many splendid English water colour artists and we have had many artists in poetry, art, and sculpture—take, for example, my Lords, Salisbury Cathedral which is a poem in stone, or music in stone, if you like. Nevertheless, we often seem to idealise people who come from overseas. I was in Switzerland the other day and the Swiss listen to our B.B.C. services. They also said what has been said to-day: that we may have lost our power, but it is not forgotten in Europe that for 12 months we stood alone, with no America and no Russia. We had the courage then to stand for something in the world which was not merely money but the destiny of mankind.
Finally, let us remember in this debate that, "First there was the Word" and this global village that we call the Earth is being made more of a village by the power of the "bush telegraph". Do not let us lose it, because if we do we shall be giving up a place of leadership in the world which I believe the British spirit is destined still to keep alive.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ LORD GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, we have had a most interesting and very useful debate. Your Lordships, I am sure, will join with me, as so many have said already, in expressing our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for having made our discussion to-day possible. We are particularly grateful for the admirable way in which he introduced the debate. His cogent speech showed his concern about the future of British policy on overseas information and cultural exchange, and specifically 844 about the future of the B.B.C.'s External Services. A number of speakers have also drawn attention to the equal excellence of other branches of the agency of information and cultural exchange; and I think it would be well to remind ourselves of the range of activity and of the agencies involved in this effort.
The British information and cultural services operating overseas falls into four broad groups. There are, of course, the B.B.C. External Services, which are concerned with radio, broadcasting, monitoring (as the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, reminded us), transcription and tape services. They provide a unique, truthful and objective news service which is of international value and therefore of very great service to this country. They effectively promote a better understanding of Britain and of British views and policies, and a knowledge of British products, expertise, technology and development. The estimate for that group of information services is £18.8 million for the current year.
Then there is a group of which the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, appropriately reminded us: the official information services and the fine work which is done by diplomatic posts and the overseas side of the activities of the Central Office of Information. These carry out information activity under the direction mainly of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Overseas Trade Board and the Department of Trade. They do this for all media overseas. The estimate for this in the current year is £12.5 million and two-thirds of the cost is spent on direct or indirect export promotion. This is supplemented by the work done by the Press Departments of Whitehall Ministries, who work with visiting and foreign correspondents.
Then there is the third arm of the Information Services—the British Council—to which the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, drew attention in his admirable speech. This is concerned with English language teaching and other educational work, which many of us have seen for ourselves in various parts of the world—with publications, with the development of two-way personal contacts and the presentation abroad of the British contributions to the Arts and Sciences. The Estimates for this year allow for £12.4 million, and thus a total 845 (with other lesser contributions) for all information agencies of something between £43 million and £44 million. We must not forget, however, the other official and non-official bodies such as the British Tourist Board, the overseas contracts and work of the T.U.C. and C.B.I.; and the work of chambers of commerce and analogous organisations in this country which have wide international contracts and valuable ones.
The official information and cultural services can never claim entire credit, nor take the entire blame for our good or bad image abroad. They must always take into account these other sources of news, views and impressions. It is true that the B.B.C., British Council and the official services operate selectively, but they always endeavour to effect a close liaison among themselves and also with the other non-official bodies and individuals who do magnificent work for this country in this field in every part of the world. The purpose of these services is to present abroad a comprehensive picture of Britain and the British way of life, our achievements and objectives. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, towards the end of his speech, put this very eloquently. His whole speech will repay reading to-morrow. I thought that that passage summed up in a very inspiring way what the purpose of these services is in a world which is sometimes dominated by the abominations of totalitarianism. It is not a propagandist exercise; that would be self-defeating, and we are a little wiser than that in Britain. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, it is the weapon of truth and tolerance that these services use in putting to the rest of the world most credibly what Britain is about.
Of course in properly highlighting our successes we do not ignore our defeats. I sometimes think we are more ready to propagate our defeats than advertise our successes. Through these services we attempt, quite rightly, to place our defeats, our shortcomings, in perspective. The services try to correct the often distorted image of this country which is presented abroad. I deeply believe that this second function is right and necessary. London's position as a centre of world communications and of the media, the status of English as the leading world language, and the wide resonance of our 846 domestic Press, television and radio is always going to ensure that our bad news, as well as our good news, is trumpeted abroad.
There is a constant need to try to counter this and ensure that bad news is not exaggerated and good news not ignored. Equally, as has been very well said, as our comparative economic and political power in the world has diminished, so we should try all the more to make use of major assets such as the established reputation and audience of the B.B.C. External Services and the acknowledged excellence of the other services we have been discussing. It may well be that Britannia no longer rules the waves, but that is no reason why she should not have a go at the wave-lengths. Power is one thing; influence, as we have heard, can be as great as power. There is no argument about the value of these agencies. They are the best and most honourably conducted in the world. The argument is about money, resources. I was very glad to see how this debate revealed a consensus of view that the information and cultural services that I have described, generally speaking, do a very good job for Britain in these directions. I want to repeat that this is certainly the view of Her Majesty's Government and, addressing myself to one segment of the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, put down in order to bring about this debate, the segment that referred to future policy, our policy can be simply stated as the fullest possible support for these services and the objectives they serve so well within the limits of available resources.
I was much attracted by the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie. I am quite sure that, on reflection, my noble friend Lord George-Brown will agree with all of us that the intentions of the noble Earl, very cogently and clearly stated, were exactly what my noble friend was so concerned about. I thought, however, that the noble Earl tended to preach a counsel of perfection to the present Government a little early after the cuts imposed by the last Government. If I may turn now to the other point—
THE EARL OF GOWRIE
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I made as forceful a claim as I could that we had initiated cuts. The best was able to do 847 in defence of my right honourable friend the then Foreign Secretary was to say that he had seen that they were not too bad.
§ LORD GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I am sure the noble Earl will be no less generous to my puny efforts in this direction. May I now turn to the other segment of the Question put down by the noble Lord—the question of resources to be devoted to these activities. He quite rightly was most concerned about one aspect of the services—the B.B.C. External Services. But the expenditure we can make on these services, like the others, turns on the general question of public expenditure. There is no escaping this fact. I listened with particular attention to what the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, had to say. As a former distinguished holder of the Office of Chancellor he will agree with me that when Governments, especially in-coming Governments, find it necessary to conduct a review of public expenditure—and this, in fact, is common form the—review must include a review of expenditure in all Departments, and on everything that concerns the public. It is a matter of priorities. The value of a debate such as this and, if I may say so very much as a newcomer, the great strength of this House, is that it can assemble on a given subject of great importance the results of informed experience so that public and Government can the more easily and the more justly arrive at the right order of priorities.
I make no Party political point when I remind your Lordships that when the present Government took office ten weeks ago we inherited an exceedingly difficult situation. We found that significant cuts in overseas information expenditure had already been decided upon by our predecessors, and that there was in addition a need for a review of all sectors of public expenditure. I shall come back to the review a little later. For the moment, let me turn briefly to the allocation of resources to the B.B.C. External Services and to the quite serious cuts which were imposed upon them at the beginning of this year. They involved the termination of several items: the weekly radio tape service of the African English service, the Caribbean English Service, the 848 English by Radio and T.V. Magazine, and the weekly orchestral programme in the World Service. The post of correspondent in Turkey, Iran and Pakistan was closed. Then there were the reductions: a reduction in the size of the Huna London Magazine in Arabic; in the level of activity in the transcription service; in the publicity budget, and in the monitoring services' coverage of Central African broadcasts. There were substantial postponements of capital works on the Caribbean and Cyprus relay stations, and on the modernisation of Bush House equipment and premises. The total saving from all these cuts, capital and recurrent, was £730,000.
I suppose it is not for me to defend the cuts decided upon by the last Government as lately as last January, but I think in fairness it should be said from this side of the House (in any event, I am going to say it) that the B.B.C., and indeed the other agencies of information, were fully and closely consulted when this list of sacrifice was drawn up; and the B.B.C. believed that, regrettable though the cuts were, they were probably the least damaging cuts which could be made within the total savings on broadcasting called for by the previous Government. Of course, the question of resources, financial and otherwise, is not the entire story. We must be careful to see that other resources, or, rather, facilities are available to us, without which all the money in the world would be quite useless. Here I would refer to the query of the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth. He asked whether we have our fair share of frequencies. The answer is, Yes. There is no great problem so far as the short wave is concerned; it is the medium wave which is crowded. But, in any case, the whole question is to be examined at an international conference under the auspices of the I.T.U. at official level next autumn, and at Ministerial level early next year.
The position of the British Council is not very different in relation to public expenditure and the incidence of cuts from that of the B.B.C. External Services. We all without exception in this House regret the reduction in the Council's grant-in-aid decided on at the beginning of the year. At this point perhaps I might refer to the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, who said that possibly 849 there could be a sharing of the grant-in-aid between, let us say, more than two powerful Departments. I find that the position is this. The grant-in-aid used to be carried on the Vote of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, and will henceforward be carried on the Vote of the Home Office. In that sense two major and ancient Departments of State will, I hope, join hands in doing everything they can for these services.
I listened with great interest to the various tributes paid to the British Council's work by my noble colleagues. I can assure them that Her Majesty's Government share their view of the value of the Council's operations. Its work in furtherance of professional and academic exchange, in educational aid, and in particular in teaching and promoting the use of the English language, provides British influence of a kind which is, and will continue to be, needed. Once more I must not fail to mention the valuable work done in the overseas information field by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Central Office of Information, both of which suffered cuts in the economies made at the beginning of the year. I do not want to quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, whose speech I so much admired, but perhaps I might offer a corrective to one thing he said about how things are done in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He suggested that there is an argument within the F.C.O. that some services in areas of minimal importance should be cut. The fact is we should like to retain every service. But an equal fact is that from time to time all Departments, including ours, are required to review their expenditure and to undertake the painful task of making choices. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, the noble Lord himself has been a distinguished member of more than one Government and in more than one Cabinet, and he will know that there is no escaping answering to a requirement that each Department should review its expenditure and address itself to this difficult and often painful question of choosing between one service and another.
I have been asked to indicate to the House what the level of resources is going to be. While the current review on public expenditure is proceeding—and it is proceeding—it is of course impossible 850 for me to give any figures to the House. What I can say is that the review is still in progress and no decisions affecting the allocation of resources to the B.B.C. External Services or any of the other overseas information services have been taken. I can also say to the House that your Lordships should not be led astray by the very large figures of alleged cuts which have been bandied about in some quarters, and even as lately as yesterday, by, if I may say so, people who ought to know a little better. This much I can say. The somewhat alarming rumours which, quite rightly, have prompted concern and agitation in the Press and have led to this debate are grossly exaggerated. We cannot escape the normal, periodic review of public expenditure but we shall do our best, knowing the value of these Services, to keep whatever cuts may emerge from this review as small as possible, and, certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, put it, avoid doing damage to them.
We expect—as we always have received—co-operation from the B.B.C., the British Council and the official services in this exercise. We, for our part, will closely consult them in reviewing expenditure; in fact, we are doing so now. They for their part, I am quite sure, will co-operate closely with us in conducting a review which will be the most acceptable possible under the circumstances. Indeed, to this end I can inform the House that the B.B.C. have invited the Civil Service Department's Management Services to examine and report to the B.B.C. on the efficiency with which the resources of the External Services are managed.
The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, introduced into his most valuable contribution to this debate a point which does need to be made; namely, that we must always be on the look-out to reduce, to minimise, waste. It is encouraging to find a service like the B.B.C. inviting the Civil Service Department's Management Services to examine and report to them on what can be done—perhaps to avoid and eliminate waste. It may be that there is nothing to report. My own impression is that the B.B.C.'s External Services are doing a magnificent job. It would be very difficult to indicate the point at which they were wasting resources, but they have 851 asked that this inquiry should be conducted and when the report is made to them—it will be confidential to the B.B.C., of course—I am quite sure, from what I know of them, that if action is necessary it will be taken by the B.B.C. and by its External Services.
There were a number of specific points raised during the debate, and I do not propose at this late hour to deal with them. I have made very careful notes of them. Some of them I have dealt with, but they will all be on the Record and that, as I have said, is the value of a debate like this. I can assure your Lordships that all the points about all the Services made to-day will be fully borne in mind when the time comes for the Government to take decisions on the review. My Lords, I began by describing this debate as useful. I conclude with the same remark. The discussion has been useful, because it has reasserted an informed consensus that these Services are of high quality and efficiency; and, indeed, necessary for this country's progress and standing in the world. I hope 852 that what I have said shows clearly that Her Majesty's Government share this view.